Health visitors work closely with midwives, practice nurses and GPs, and community services to support your whole family while you adjust to becoming new parents.
They are based in children’s centres, surgeries, community or health centres and will offer you support in your own home as well as in local services.
They are there to support you, not judge you, so don’t worry if you don’t look your best or think your house is looking untidy – that is completely normal with a new baby. Health visitors visit all families in the UK who are expecting or have had a baby, to offer support and answer any questions you may have, so it is important that you understand their role and how they can support you as parents.
What does a health visitor do?
A health visitor’s role is to support the health and development of babies and children until they are 5 years old and start going to school as well as parent’s health and wellbeing. They can give you help and advice on anything from feeding, routines, immunisations, and contraception, to your emotional and mental health They can offer:
- advice on your child’s growth and development
- advice about safe sleep and sudden infant death syndrome
- parenting support for mums, dads and carers
- information on local support networks such as antenatal classes, father’s groups and breastfeeding support
- support for single parents
- information and advice on minor illnesses, seeking further medical support and preventing accidents
- to supporting you in maintaining a healthy lifestyle including services such as stopping smoking or substance misuse, physical activity and healthy diets
- support with you and your families emotional wellbeing
- your sexual health and your relationship
- communicating with your baby
- supporting your child’s development.
Your health visitor can also help you find specialised help with difficulties such as:
- antenatal and postnatal depression and anxiety
- unemployment, financial worries and homelessness
- an unhappy, abusive or violent relationship
- family conflict
- serious illness, whether this is to do with yourself, your child or within the wider family.
- support following and during hospital admissions, including your baby being admitted to the neonatal unit or having been seen in the accident and emergency department.
- disability, this may be a disability you or your partner has, or it may be a disability your child has been diagnosed with
- settling into a new culture for families new to the UK.
If you have a concern or query about your health or anything that is happening in your life, you can talk to your health visitor about it. You will probably have lots of questions so don’t be afraid to ask as many as you need to. If you don't understand or remember the answer, you can ask again.
“As a new mum with a baby that I was worried about asking silly questions or that I was doing something wrong. My son had been in hospital and lost had weight. I was worried about his feeding to the point I was very anxious that he was getting enough and putting on weight. My health visitor was great and checked in regularly. I felt like she was there for me as much as for my son and that was hugely reassuring.”
When will I start seeing my health visitor?
Your health visitor will offer to come and see you before your baby is born, this may be offered at any point from 28 weeks of your pregnancy. Together, you can discuss how your pregnancy is going, what support you may need when you become a new parent and any questions you may have about becoming a parent.
In your baby's early months, your health visitor will support you with:
- support on the neonatal unit if your baby is preterm or sick
- breastfeeding or infant formula-feeding
- registering the baby’s birth
- coping with illnesses and when to seek further medial support
- your baby’s immunisations
- recognising the signs of postnatal depression and anxiety, when to ask for help and signpost to local support
- bedtime routines and safe sleeping
- how your baby is developing, both physically and emotionally
- communicating and playing with your baby
- healthy eating and vitamin supplements for the whole family
- your recovery postnatal, physically, emotional and your relationship.
Weighing your baby
Your baby will be weighed during their first 2 weeks, it is normal for babies to lose some weight after birth. If your baby is slow in regaining their weight your health visitor can support you with feeding your baby to help them regain their weight or advice you when to see your doctor.
If your baby is growing and developing well, then they will not need to be weighed frequently, you will know that they are growing as they will grow out of clothes and nappies and will be having lots of wet and dirty nappies. Well babies do not need to be weighed more frequently than once a month until they are 6 months old.
Your baby’s growth will be recorded in their Personal Child Held Record (Red Book), for more information about these charts please access https://www.rcpch.ac.uk/resources/growth-charts-information-parentscarers
Your health visitor will inform you where you can get your baby weighed, however if you have any worries about your baby, including their growth or feeding, contact your health visitor for support and advice.
Your baby’s ‘red book’
Your health visitor will give you your baby's personal child health record (PCHR) or ‘red book’, either just before or just after the birth. In some areas, the hospital may give you your baby's red book or it may be available online. This is a great resource and contains lots of really helpful information and advice for you as a parent so do take a look. You can also record key information about your baby which is great to look back on when they are growing up.
There is also a section where you can make note about what you may want to ask professionals when you see them, or note what was said by them, ask the professional to write a summary of your visit in the red book to remind your self of what was said.
In the red book, you can keep a record of your baby's immunisations and information their growth and development. You can add details yourself about your baby's milestones, any illnesses or accidents they’ve had or any medicines they’ve taken.
How many appointments will I have?
Your health visitor will see you for scheduled visits at various stages during your baby's early years. If you have a partner, it’s a good idea if you can both be there for each visit. This will give you both the opportunity to ask questions and talk about anything you would like to discuss.
Every family is different, but there are some visits from the health visitor service that are offered to all families as part of the National Healthy Child Programme. These include:
- an antenatal visit at about 28 -32 weeks
- a new birth visit when the baby is about 10-14 days old
- a support visit at 6-8 weeks after the birth
- development reviews for the child at 1year old
- a developmental review at 2 – 2 ½ years old.
(Please note, that in Scotland, Wales and Norther Ireland, you may be offered additional visit, ask your health visitor about your local service and what you can expect)
“We also run child health clinics for growth monitoring and support as well as extra home visits to families if needed. We often have meetings with other professionals such as GPs, social workers and those working in children’s centres. It is a flexible service and is led by the needs of the child and what support the parents feel that they need.”
Kate, health visitor
You may find it hard to get hold of your health visitor at times, due to staff shortages. Some health visitors may have responsibility for lots of children over a large area.
Most teams have a ‘duty’ or a centralised number, so if you are unable to get hold of your health visitor then you should be given a number you can call to speak with the duty health visitor. The nursery nurses/staff nurses would be contactable by this same number.
What can I ask my health visitor about?
health visiting team can offer support and advice on wide range of topics about your baby, yourself as a new parent or the wider family. These may include:
- your baby's skin, including dry skin, fungal rashes, nappy rash and cradle cap
- feeding and vitamins, including breastfeeding, infant formula feeding and introducing solid foods
- bonding with your baby
- your baby's behaviour
- growth and development, including, play, communication, and hearing
- your baby's umbilical stump
- eyes, including “sticky” eyes and squints
- your families emotional and mental health
- wider support for you and your family including housing, finance access to family help services
- advice on relationships
- where to access peer support or support for specific conditions and disabilities.
Remember that they are there to help and support you in between your scheduled visits, especially if you are struggling emotionally or in any other way. Make sure to tell your health visitor about any concerns, including any worries about your or your partner’s physical or emotional health.
“I would always offer appointments or visits so the parent has a safe confidential space to talk about how they are feeling with no judgement and structured in a way to help support emotional wellbeing . There are lots of different services available depending on where you live which your health visitor will be able to talk to you about. They may also ask for your consent to let your GP know how you are feeling so that both professionals can work together to support you.”
Kate, health visitor
Can you ask to change health visitor if you don’t gel?
You can speak with the health visitor team leader and ask for a new health visitor. You should be able to contact the team leader on the duty number. Be aware that there may be a bit of a delay to your care while this is organised.
How do I find the number for my local health visitor?
Your health visitor should give you their contact details should be provided when you first meet them. These details also be written in your red book.
Other places to find support
Your health visitor is not an emergency service, if you or your baby are unwell then you should contact your GP or the NHS 111 services. There is also good advice available on the NHS website.
You can also find support and services through your local Sure Start children’s centre, if you live in England or your local surgery or clinic.