What does a health visitor do for me and my baby?

A professional helping hand can be great when you've just had a baby. Here's what to expect from your health visitor...

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Any new parent can probably remember that feeling of bringing your newborn back from the hospital and wondering how on EARTH you’re going to manage to look after her. Quite frankly, whether you’ve read all the advice or none of it, you don’t know whether you’re coming or going once this little thing is in your care.

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So the thought that a professional, in the form of a health visitor – who knows exactly what they’re talking about – will be coming into your home to see how you’re doing and help with any niggles, can be really reassuring.

But just what can you expect from your health visitor? And what happens if it doesn’t go as well as you’d hoped, as some of our mums have found?

Who are health visitors and what are the visits for?

All health visitors are trained nurses or midwives who then take an extra year of training to become a Specialist Community Public Health Nurse or health visitor. They usually visit parents-to-be before the baby is born and soon afterwards to check in and see how the new family is doing.

Karen Stansfield, from the Institute of Health Visitors, told MFM their role is to “not to judge or inspect homes [of new parents] but instead to offer support and help to mothers and their partners and families.”

She adds that health visitors can offer support in a variety of ways and on several different topics including feeding, sleep, growth spurts, and your own emotional health.

“Importantly the health visitor is there not only for the baby but for parents and families,” says Karen.

“We know that having a baby can be the most rewarding and exciting time but it can also be stressful in the beginning and that’s why health visitors can support answering any questions parents or families may have and provide reassurance.”

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Who gets a health visitor and how often do they visit?

EVERYONE is entitled to health visitor care, but the number of visits and amount of assistance you get can vary widely according to local NHS resources and your own family’s needs.

Here at MFM HQ, a mum of twins said she’d had several ‘developmental’ visits when her kids were pre-school age, but another of our mums said she’d had just one visit, when her daughter was around 2 weeks old, and has never seen a health visitor since.

According to the Institute of Health Visitors, the support given varies from family to family as the needs of different parents and children vary so much – meaning the experience you get might differ radically from that of another new mum friend.

What can you expect?

When you first get a visit from your health visitor, you’ll probably find it’s a bit of a “checking in” exercise . You may get asked how you’re doing, physically and emotionally, as well as being asked how baby’s doing, of course.

The health visitor will almost certainly weigh your baby at this point too, and will be able to offer any tips on struggles you’re having, for example, with things like breastfeeding (if you’re that’s what you’re doing), guidance on baby-proofing your house, and will also be able to advise you on understanding your baby and explaining all about the immunisations your baby will be offered in the coming weeks and months.

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What if it doesn’t go well?

Sometimes there might be disappointment when it comes to a health visit – for various reasons. One of the mums on our Chat forum, Twin1Tasha, wasn’t impressed with her health visitor because, she said, although she was nice, she “talked like a textbook”.

As with all other healthcare professionals, some will have a communication style that works for you, and others maybe not so much. Should you find you just don’t rub along well with your health visitor, it’s worth remembering that, even if there’s a bit of a clash of personalities, or you’re not mad on their style of communication, they are there to help and there are probably some useful bits of information you can get from them all the same.

The good stuff

And the good news is that lots of our mums have found their health visitor experience to be really positive.

Another mum on our Chat forum, mum2one2, says that her health visitor “lives in the real world and gives advice that you can see is from her having children, as opposed to reading it in a book”. And Karen says, “My health visitor is an absolute star and is always there if we need her.”

So it’s worth welcoming the visit with an open mind and you might just be surprised.

Extra support is helpful, too

Most health visitors will have a list of new parents to see in their area, either individually or as part of a team of health visitors. This means they could be exceptionally busy, and may have to limit their visits to less time than you’d find most useful.

With this in mind, it’s worth remembering that no one expects you to rely solely on your health visitor for guidance: try to build up a network of help if you can–  whether that includes your partner, other mum friends, family members or even your GP, so that, fingers crossed, you’ll see your health visitor contact as part of a wider blanket of help – if you need it.

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