Aboriginal elders are lending a hand at The Northern Hospital, offering their time to help care for newborn babies who can’t be with their families.

The hospital’s Koori maternity service enlists the help of elders such as Gunditjmara woman Donna Wright to cuddle babies.

Aboriginal health worker Jo Quinn, who runs the Koori maternity service, said the cuddling program was significant to Koori mothers.

She said ‘kangaroo care’ in which babies are cuddled as much as possible, can have real developmental benefits, helping babies sleep better, manage stress more easily and to exhibit better autonomic functions such as heart rate. It is also thought to aid weight gain and the social development of the babies.

Ms Quinn said the Koori Cuddlers program was based on the philosophy that it takes a village to raise a child.

“The program, which is probably the first of its kind in Victoria, offers a culturally safe space for a Koori mum, respecting their customs and traditions, and in turn, provides the comfort and reassurance they need at this critical stage of motherhood,” Ms Quinn said.

“The mums are comforted knowing their child is in the care of someone they look up to and respect in their community.”

Northern Hospital’s nursing director Debra Bourne said the program and the hospital’s Aboriginal Support Unit aimed to provide cultural support to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders patients and carers throughout their hospital journey.

The hospital also recently unveiled an artwork by Yorta Yorta woman Kahli Lutrell, which is now on display in the Day Oncology Unit.