advice

what is a health visitor?

baby lying in weighing scales for their health visitor

A health visitor is a qualified nurse with special training and experience in child health, health promotion and health education. Your health visitor will offer practical advice and support in all sorts of situations, and on all aspects of childcare. She is interested in the health of the whole family, both physically and mentally, and is one of the most convenient points of contact for new mums. Your GP or local health clinic will be able to put you in touch with a health visitor.

what is their role?

There is a general perception that health visitors only deal with mothers and babies and this isn't true. In many areas, health visitors have roles and responsibilities for all age groups and also in the public health domain.

After your baby is born and your health visitor has taken over from your midwife (about 10 days after the birth), she will be a very valuable contact. She will be able to answer all your questions on subjects as diverse as feeding and behavioural development to vaccination and childcare. She will get in contact with you about 10 days to 2 weeks after your baby is born. Your health visitor may be able to offer advice on the spot, or will direct you to support groups that can help with specific problems. The role of the health visitor is to help the whole family look after and learn about their new baby.

As well as giving information to parents, your health visitor will offer child health programmes and screen for problems. This continuity of postnatal care is important, especially for women who are breastfeeding. Health visitors will encourage breastfeeding and help mothers to develop their technique, or support them whichever method of feeding they choose.

Your health visitor can also help with questions about health screening, pregnancy, menopause, contraception, depression, disability and isolation.

how often will i see my health visitor?

The responsibilities of your health visitor will vary depending on the area in which you live, but she will generally come to your house for the first visit. She will discuss with you the support you will need. You will decide together how many times you would like her to visit you, or whether you would like to attend clinic sessions, usually held at your local GP surgery or clinic. Your family will develop strong long-term relationships with your health visitor and she will advise, guide and support you with your parenting skills and family relationships.

what will the health visitor do?

At a clinic session, your baby will be weighed and measured. These measurements are plotted on a centile chart, which gives an indication of how your child is growing compared to the national average. It is also a social occasion giving you a chance to meet other mums in your area - maybe women who were in the same antenatal classes as you - and is also a great chance to swap information and ideas.

The health visitor will help you to make an informed choice about the need to have your baby immunised against various diseases. She will discuss with you any information that is relevant to you to ensure that the transition to becoming a parent is as smooth and enjoyable as possible.

happy baby being carried in their car seat

6-8 week check-up

Your health visitor, or your GP, will carry out a 6-8 week developmental check-up in the surgery. Some of the things that will be checked and measured are:

  • weight
  • length
  • your baby's head circumference
  • heart sounds
  • the neurological system
  • the hips
  • if the testes have descended
  • the spine
  • the baby's colour and general appearance
  • if the baby is responding to you normally

other help and checks

At present, by 8 months of age, health visitors carry out a hearing test and developmental checks to make sure your child is progressing well. They will be checking that your baby can sit up by themselves, is starting to roll when lying down and that their motor skills, such as hand and leg movements, are developing well, as well as their sight. She will check their hand co-ordination and skills at picking up objects. She will also check their hips again for congenital dislocation. There may be other development checks, which the health visitor will discuss with you.

Visits are according to need, so if you have a query, you can phone your health visitor or drop into the clinic. Some health visitors may offer specific times when they are available to give advice over the telephone. Your health visitor will be there to assist you and answer any questions until your child is 5-years-old.

Some health visitors set up support groups and classes for parents, such as parenting skills classes; help for giving up smoking, keeping fit, stress management; baby and parent massage classes.

Your health visitor can give advice on where to get specialist help on money, work problems, unemployment, grief, serious illness, unhappy relationships, cultural and language problems, family conflicts and disability. A health visitor works in partnership with families to develop a plan that meets their parenting and health needs. Your health visitor is a vital source of information, support and advice to parents and their families.