I asked Health Visitor Harriet Gibbs for the complete low-down on what you can expect from your health visitor. We were quite baffled as first time parents as to what was normal, and also found our first meeting with the Health Visitor quite daunting – I’d just had a c-section and I was spring cleaning the house in anticipation of her arrival. Scary stuff. Hopefully this article on what to expect will be useful in preparing you for what’s ahead.
During pregnancy, and after your baby is born, you’ll meet many different health professionals and it can become a little confusing. Many people have heard of health visitors, although aren’t quite sure exactly what they do, people often associate them with weighing babies. Although monitoring growth is part of their role, this however, only forms a very small part of it. A health visitor is either a nurse or a midwife who has gone on to do additional training in child health, health promotion and public health.
Health visitors lead and deliver the Healthy Child Programme (2009). This is a universal service in which all families, from pregnancy until your child is 5, get support to ensure your little one gets off to the best start in life.
Prior to giving birth, from around 28 weeks, you may see a health visitor for an antenatal visit. Information about your pregnancy is shared by the midwives as health visitors and midwives work closely together. The visit usually takes place at your home and lasts for around 45 minutes. This visit is to introduce you to the health visiting service and what it can offer you and your family providing you with some vital information which will help you in those first few weeks with a newborn.
After your baby is born, you will be seen at home by your midwife. Your health visitor will contact you, usually when your baby is 10-14 days old, to visit you and the baby at home. This is often referred to as a ‘newbirth visit’. It is usually around this time when you have been discharged by the midwives and your care will be handed over to the health visitors. Your baby will be weighed, and their head circumference will be measured. Your health visitor will document this is your baby’s ‘Red Book’ (officially known as Personal Child Health Record). The Red Book allows health professionals and parents/carers to monitor their baby’s health and development. This visit is a great opportunity to ask any questions you have and to get support with feeding. If you’re breastfeeding, your health visitor can support you, offer advice and signpost you to many of the support groups available including putting you in contact with a qualified breastfeeding counsellor. Having a baby is a huge life event and brings with it many emotions. It’s important to recognise how you are feeling, however it can be difficult to establish whether the way you are feeling is a normal part of motherhood or not. Don’t be surprised if your health visitor asks you how you feel emotionally, it is a health visitor’s role to support you with your emotional health and wellbeing.
At around 6-8 weeks you will see your GP for your postnatal review, this will be both for yourself and your baby. It is also around this time that you will see your health visitor for a review where your baby’s health, growth and development will be reviewed. Your health visitor will contact you to arrange this. Once more, this is a great opportunity for feeding support and to discuss how you’re feeling. Don’t be afraid of speaking to your health visitor about your emotional health, they’re there to help you be the best parents you can be; happy mum equals happy baby! Becoming a mother can often leave you feeling overwhelmed as you adapt to the changes and adjust to the new way of life. The ‘baby blues’ is something nearly all new mothers experience in the first few days, but if these feeling last longer and you feel low in mood it could be a sign you’re suffering from postnatal depression. Your health visitor may ask you to fill in a questionnaire or ask some questions around your mental health and emotional wellbeing to help identify postnatal depression. Support can come in various forms and is tailored to suite the mothers needs and preferences. Postnatal depression is common and effects 1 in 10 mothers (NHS Choices, 2016). Talking about it and recognising the signs allows health professionals to put in place the support needed.
You will see your health visitor for various developmental reviews which take place at around 1 and 2 years of age. You will be invited to a well-baby clinic and given all the details of where these are held. It is advised that you get your baby weighed every month until they’re 6 months, every 2 months until they’re 1 and no more than once every 3 months over the age of 1 (NHS Choices, 2017). As well as monitoring growth at well-baby clinics, you can also pop in to ask any questions you may have about yourself or your little one.
You can contact your health visitor for advice on breastfeeding, bottle feeding, mental health, issues surrounding your health or your partner’s health, immunisations, introducing solid foods, nutrition, behaviour, childhood illnesses, teething, colic, rashes or concerns around development. Health visitors usually work Monday-Friday 9-5; they are not an emergency service, so if you are worried about you, your baby or child’s health, contact your GP, 111 or local A&E department
By Harriet Gibbs
Department of Health, 2009, Health Child Programme: pregnancy and the first five years of life, London
NHS Choices, 2016, Postnatal depression, [accessed online], available from: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/postnataldepression/Pages/Introduction.aspx, date accessed: 25/10/2016
NHS Choices, 2017, Your baby’s weight and height, [accessed online] available from: https://www.nhs.uk/Conditions/pregnancy-and-baby/Pages/baby-weight-and-height.aspx, date accessed: 19/10/201733