New spaces and possibilities: The adjustment to parenthood for new migrant mothers

DeSouza, R. (2006). New spaces and possibilities: The adjustment to parenthood for new migrant mothers. Wellington, New Zealand.

I recently completed a report for the Families Commission about migrant maternity, based on interviews with new mothers in Auckland and with the help of Plunket and many colleagues (see the acknowledgements in the report).

Parenthood and migration are both major life events which, while stressful, can be mediated effectively with appropriate support. International research indicates that parenting in a new country without support, networks or access to information creates additional stressors.

There is a paucity of research about the transition to parenthood in New Zealand for migrant families and this research project explores the maternity experiences of women from five different migrant backgrounds. It is a starting point for further research about migrant families and the development of a migrant family life-cycle research agenda.

Forty migrant women were interviewed about their experiences of the adjustment to parenthood in a new country in order to ascertain their support needs. Early motherhood was chosen as a focus because migration policy selects healthy women and therefore the maternity experience is often when many migrant women are first initiated into the New Zealand health system. In consultation with Plunket, five groups were chosen for the study; three were from the largest Asian communities, Chinese, Indian and Korean (Chinese make up 44 percent of all Asians, Indians 26 percent and Koreans 8 percent). Two other new migrant groups were also selected for inclusion for different reasons. European migrant women were chosen because they are the largest migrant group yet little is known about their needs. These are assumed to be similar to those of other Pa-keha- because of their familiarity with language and systems. Arab Muslim women were chosen because their faith and cultural needs are not well understood. One focus group was undertaken for each group. AUT University’s Centre for Asian and Migrant Health Research and the Royal New Zealand Plunket Society conducted the research together in March 2006.


It is hoped that the research findings will inform policy, the development of appropriate resources and other research in this area, and will assist both health professionals and migrant communities in New Zealand. The key findings of the research were that:

  • migrant women lose access to information resources, such as family and friends, in the process of migrating and come to depend on their husbands, health professionals and other authoritative sources. Importantly, the expectations from their country of origin come to inform their experiences of pregnancy, labour and delivery in a new country
  • migration has an impact on women’s and their partners’ roles in relation to childbirth and parenting. The loss of supportive networks incurred in migration results in husbands and partners taking more active roles in the perinatal period
  • coming to a new country can result in the loss of knowledge resources, peer and family support and protective rituals. These losses can lead to isolation for many women.


The findings of the research suggest that:

  • support services for women who have a baby in a new country need to be developed and services also need to be ‘father-friendly’
  • the information needs of migrant women from all backgrounds need to be considered in planning service delivery (including European migrant women)
  • services need to develop linguistic competence to better support migrant mothers, for example by providing written information in their own language
  • those developing antenatal resources must consider the needs of migrant mothers; for example, by having antenatal classes available in a number of common languages, eg Korean
  • workforce development occurs among health professionals to expand existing cultural safety training to incorporate cultural competence
  • health and social services staff must become better informed as to the resources that are available if they are to provide effective support for migrant mothers.


Further research is required to:

  • explore the experiences of New Zealand-born women to identify whether the issues raised in this report are peculiar to migrant women or to women in general
  • explore the information needs of migrant parents through the family life-cycle
  • identify the factors that support breastfeeding in the absence of social support
  • understand the experiences of migrant father
  • understand the needs of additional migrant groups, including African, Middle-Eastern and Latin American communities
  • review the effectiveness of cultural safety for migrant women by focusing on outcomes.