For many new and expectant parents, having a baby can be an incredibly stressful time that requires specialist care and attention.

Gemma Mercy Gemma and her husband Luke pictured
with baby Tanner and big brother, Nate.

Picture: Alex Coppel (Herald Sun).

It’s why support from perinatal teams across the Catholic Health network are so valued by both mothers and fathers at their time of need.

To mark Perinatal Mental Health Awareness Week (PANDA) with its theme “Tell Someone Who Cares” – CHA throws the spotlight on Mercy Perinatal – which delivers care for parents with high-risk pregnancies.

Mothers like Gemma O'Brien, who has Type 1 diabetes, and credits Mercy for safeguarding her pregnancy and the safe arrival of her baby Tanner.

Gemma, 27, says she and her husband Luke are indebted for the support they received.

“I have lived with diabetes for most of my life but even for me it is challenging trying to understand the risks and even more when it came to childbirth,” Gemma says.

Tanner, now three months old, was born at 36 weeks’ gestation at Mercy Hospital for Women in Heidelberg, Victoria, and arrived at a robust 5.1kg.

MHW Obstetrician Associate Professor Alexis Shub, who treated Gemma through her journey, said:  "Big babies are more common with diabetes, and require special care, both during pregnancy, and after they are born to make sure that they are well.

“All women with diabetes in pregnancy need extra care, but especially those with diabetes present before the pregnancy starts. For these women, we provide care in a dedicated multidisciplinary clinic, where obstetricians, midwives, endocrinologists, sonographers, dietitians and diabetes educators work together to provide the best possible care,"

Alexis said. “We also have a support group for mothers with Type 1 diabetes so they can meet other pregnant women and learn from them.

For Gemma's first son, Tate, now two and a half, the birth came suddenly after it was noticed at 36 weeks that his placenta was failing. 

"It was decided immediately that Tate should be induced and he arrived safely the next day," said Gemma.

“With Tanner, also at 36 weeks, my fluid around the baby was up and my insulin levels were fluctuating. It was accurately forecast that he would be a 5kg baby, so it was decided that I should have an immediate caesarean,” she said.

It was Gemma's general practitioner who suggested that the probability of a successful birth was heightened if she retained the support of Mercy Perinatal throughout her pregnancy.

“I was surrounded by an array of caring people, as well other mums who were in similar predicaments. A diabetes educator was also available whenever I had questions. Alexis is incredibly knowledgeable and supportive," Gemma said.

“I also had 15 ultrasounds so while telehealth had been a consideration, it was not really necessary. The Mercy Perinatal team was just outstanding in providing assistance."

Immediately after Tanner’s birth, he spent four days in the MHW Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) before heading home. He has also had some visits from Mercy Health's domiciliary home care team called Mercy@Home, which keeps an eye on potentially vulnerable babies.

Perinatal services are also provided other CHA networks – including St John of God’s Burwood Hospital, NSW, which provides specialist mental health support for parents.

Both in-patient and day programs are provided through a holistic approach to address physical, emotional, social and spiritual needs.

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