By Colin McGillivray
MITCHELL Shire is in the midst of a COVID-19 baby boom, with figures showing a spike in births across the region during the past year.
In an eight-day span earlier this month, 25 babies were born across the shire, adding to the 21 per cent increase in births in the 2020-21 financial year.
Wallan saw the largest number of births with 273, while Kilmore welcomed 135 new babies – an increase of about 34 per cent. Overall, 706 babies were born in the shire.
Mitchell Shire Council data also noted the number of children and parents accessing maternal and child health centres was at a record high, with a five per cent increase in the number of children under the age of seven in the past year.
Enrolments across sessional kindergarten services in Mitchell Shire rose 32 per cent between 2019 and 2021.
Kilmore District Health chief executive David Naughton said an increase in the region’s birth rate was to be expected as the shire’s population continued to grow.
He said birthing numbers at Kilmore District Health had remained stable and the region was well placed to handle an increase in births.
“There might be an increase in the birth rate, but the number of people birthing here has been about the same,” he said.
“You could be living in this catchment and go to a private service to have a baby or one of the big private hospitals in Melbourne – you might go to the Northern Hospital or the Royal Women’s Hospital.
“From our perspective we’re managing quite well with the number of births planned for Kilmore.
“With an increasing population you would naturally expect to have an increasing number of people who are birthing age and are wanting to have babies.”
Mr Naughton said where women gave birth was also dependent on their level of risk.
“We only deliver low-risk, planned deliveries here, so if you’ve got a higher risk rating then you’ll automatically go to somewhere else but you’ll come back to live here,” he said.
“We have somewhere between 220 and 250 women who would like to birth here each year. About a third of the people who would like to come end up going somewhere else because of the level of risk.
“What’s important with having a baby is that you have it in a safe, planned, organised way.
“Women like to have babies here because it is a really nice place, but if there is any level of risk it’s better that they go to a place where there is a 24-hours-a-day, seven-days-a-week service.”
Mitchell Shire Mayor Rhonda Sanderson said council advocacy teams were working hard to ensure the municipality had the facilities to meet future demand as the population grew.
In March, council opened the Wallan East Children’ Centre, which has the capacity to accommodate about 200 children.
Work is also underway on a Wandong Kindergarten and Maternal Child Health expansion, and Kilmore’s Marie Williams Kindergarten is set to be transformed into the Kilmore Family and Children’s Centre, an integrated facility to accommodate the population growth and the introduction of funded three-year-old kindergarten in 2022.
“It’s great to see so many people choosing to raise their families here in Mitchell,” Cr Sanderson said.
“Our maternal and child health service is first class and we’re delighted to be able to deliver this free service to families at what can be both an exciting and overwhelming time in their lives.
“Planning and managing population growth is challenging, but it is also very rewarding when you see facilities like those we have plans for here in Mitchell come to fruition.”