The Role of the Health Visitor in Supporting Parents

Becoming a parent is one of the most joyful moments you can experience in your life; however, parenting also brings additional demands and pressures. No matter how prepared you may be the first few months of a newborn’s life could be very draining for parents. Caring for and being responsible for a new life, for some parents brings with it anxieties regarding their child’s health and well-being.

During pregnancy and labour, midwives specialising in normal pregnancy and birth, look after the mother and the baby for up to 28 days after the baby is born. From around 10 days after the birth of the baby, the midwife will hand over the care of you and your baby to a named health visitor. The health visitor will then care for your child up to the age of five years old.

In the UK, every mother has the right to access good antenatal and prenatal healthcare and advice. This is unfortunately not the case for many women around the world, see here to find out more information. In this post we will discuss the role of the health visitor and the type of support they provide.

What is Health Visiting?

Health visitors are trained and registered midwives or nurses who have trained further in community public healthcare. They work with individuals, families and communities to improve health outcomes and reduce health inequalities. The health visitor works with children from the ages of 0 – 5 years.

Health visitors work very closely with midwives, the practice nurses and GPs to provide support for your child. Health visitors also have health visiting teams consisting of nursery nurses, community volunteering organisations and children centre staff. They are usually based in GP surgeries, children’s centres and community or health centres.

The health visitor will visit you in your house up to 5 times from the period of your late pregnancy until your child is two years old, at this point they carry out a final development assessment of your child.

What is the Role of the Health Visitor?

The health Visitor provides support to families dependent on their needs and requirements. Different families require different types of support, so the role of the health visitor is to tailor the support according to a personalised assessment of the family’s needs.

The health visitor advises parents on the following:

  • The physical and emotional development of your child against development markers
  • Healthy eating habits for you, the family and the baby
  • Breastfeeding your child
  • The immunisation for your child
  • How to cope with minor illnesses
  • How to cope with colic and the continuous crying of your child
  • Recognising signs of postnatal depression
  • Signposting for mental health and well-being
  • Parenting advice for older siblings

Health Visiting Schedule

The health visitor will visit you in your home for scheduled visits. This is the opportunity for the health visitor to check your child’s development and also to offer advice if you have any queries and worries.

1. New Birth Visit

The health visitor will visit your home within two weeks of the birth of your baby; it is usually on the tenth day. At this point, the health visitor will take over the care of you and your child from your midwife. The first visit usually takes around 45 minutes.

During the visit, the health visitor will:

  • Check your details are correct, which have been handed over by the midwife
  • Discuss your childbirth and any resulting worries
  • Explain how to register your child’s birth
  • Check if you have any concerns about your child’s health
  • Advise you on breast or bottle-feeding
  • Advise on how to sterilise the feeding equipment
  • Advise you on the safety of your sleeping child and risks of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS)
  • Advise you on how to keep your child safe
  • Provide information on local support networks e.g. antenatal classes, toddler groups
  • Explain how to access your local health clinic
  • Discuss your child’s immunisation needs
  • Discuss any emotional and psychological concerns you may have about yourself
  • Offer parenting advice for older kids

2. A Six – Eight Week Check-up

During this check-up your health visitor will:

  • Check your child’s growth and development
  • Advise you about any feeding problems
  • Ask how you are coping – this could be the detection of any early ill-health
  • Provide parenting advice for mothers, fathers and carers
  • Provide advice on how often to get your baby weighed:
  • Once a month between the ages of two weeks to six months
  • Every two months between the ages of six and 12 months
  • Once every three months thereafter

3. A Nine-Month Developmental Check

The health visitor will visit your home when your child is between the ages of nine months to a year, checking your child’s physical, mental and emotional development.

The health visitor will check your child’s:

  • Eyesight and hearing development
  • Physical development
  • Sleep pattern and routine
  • The way your child communicates
  • The way your child behaves with and around others
  • Discuss any concerns you may have with your child’s growth and development
  • Discuss your and your partner’s health
  • Discuss childcare on your return to work

4. A Two-Year Development Check

Your health visitor will visit your home when your child is between the ages of two to two-and-a-half years. Before the visit, your health visitor will send you two questionnaires named Ages and Stages Questionnaire-3 (ASQ-3) and Ages and Stages Questionnaire – Social & Emotional Development (ASQ-SE). You need to complete these before the visit.

The ASQ-3 requires you to note down the number of words your child can understand and say, their physical movement and coordination and how they interact with others.

The ASQ-SE focuses on your child’s social and emotional development, you need to note down how well your child plays with others, their sleep patterns, their routine and eating habits.

Supporting the Whole Family’s Well-being

The health visitor team provide emotional well-being to the whole family dependent on their need. They listen, advise and direct families to specialist support for coping with problems. They especially focus on any changing circumstances the families may be facing such as:

  • Antenatal or postnatal depression
  • The need for social support
  • Serious illness
  • Disability
  • Family bereavement
  • Returning to work
  • Unemployment
  • Loss of relationships

Parenting is a very satisfying experience, especially when you feel you have the necessary professional support to guide you through the experience. The health visitor is your go-to person for advice and support for any concerns you may have with your child’s growth and development. Babies are adorable but also very demanding, increasing the pressure on your time, especially if you have older kids who equally need your attention. Health visitors can support you through this process, alleviating your worries regarding parenting practice.

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