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Post-natal physio classes for CALD women at Dandenong Hospital

After every woman in Australia gives birth, she's offered a post-natal physiotherapy class, to help with recovery. It’s a basic service many may take for granted.

But for some newly-arrived migrants, it's a lesson they've never had before.

Mother of three Karima Haroon was one of them.

The Afghan refugee had her first child in Kabul, and says she had no idea what was happening to her body.

“We all know Afghanistan is a war-torn country,” Mr Haroon told SBS.

"Only lucky ones go to a hospital and give birth, unfortunately.”

She knows well just how dangerous the consequences can be.

“That’s why the rate of mortality is so high. Women bleed to death, their children don’t receive medical attention and they lose their babies. That’s the sad reality.”

A world away from that lax health care system, refugee women in Australia are having a baby in a hospital for the first time.

And a team at Dandenong Hospital in Melbourne’s south east wants to make their experience as educational as possible.

Hayley Irving is a Senior Women's Health Physiotherapist with Monash Health.

So she pioneered new classes conducted in Dari, Khmer and Vietnamese to cater for the growing number of non-English speaking mothers in Melbourne's south east, after she noticed they were missing out on basic information.

“Some of these women say in our classes, that they've never actually heard this information before ... they've never been taught it back in Afghanistan, what happens to their bodies after giving birth.”

Ms Irving says many learn life lessons after just one class.

“We know that one in three women will experience incontinence after having a baby, and we know that 50 per cent of women will have prolapse. So if you're looking at those stats, these women need to hear this information and know where to access care to prevent these issues and to treat these issues.”

The patients at Dandenong Hospital are among the most culturally-diverse in the country, with some 92 different language groups represented.

Since the introduction of these in-language post-natal classes, there's been a 75 per cent uptake among newly-arrived Afghan women

Mr Irving said it’s also a safe environment for women to share intimate information with others in their community.

"They’re disclosing information that they’ve never disclosed before," she said.

“A few weeks ago we even had one of the grandmothers attending the class and she stood up and pointed her finger at all the women and said, ‘Listen to this information, because back in Afghanistan we never heard this and this is why I’ve got problems. Listen and you can avoid this.’”

Karima Haroon, who arrived in Australia in 1999 and now helps other women at Monash health told SBS it's having an impact.

“The other day I met one of the ladies and the first thing she told me, she goes 'you know what, I'm doing my pelvic floor exercises, and I don't have any problems'. And I said, 'Yay!' These classes are obviously making a difference.”