In my capacity as an iHV maternal mental health champion I have been able to train health visitors locally. I have also been able to improve my knowledge of maternal and infant mental health, which has been beneficial to my own practice. As health visitors we are in a unique position, as we have contact with families in pregnancy and in the early weeks and months after birth. Having the confidence to discuss and understand in more detail about maternal mental health has enabled an open discussion with parents at these contacts.
Maternal mental health has always been a difficult topic and women and professionals may shy away from the discussion. Professionals may lack confidence and feel unsure. Women may not admit how they are feeling, fearing this may lead to them being labelled. A sensitive assessment of maternal mental health is completed at every contact, especially at the antenatal and postnatal promotional visits, 3-4 months and 9 month review. During these contacts I have been privileged to listen to women speak openly about their experiences of life events, pregnancy, delivery and beyond. I believe this approach shows that maternal mental health is being taken seriously within the routine package of care that the health visitor offers. This should start to break down those barriers and stigma that do exist around maternal mental health.
I have learnt a great deal about sensitive and responsive parenting, attachment and bonding and baby brain development has been very. I have been able to share my knowledge and expertise with parents about how babies communicate through baby cues and baby states. This approach has enabled me to help parents to develop confidence in their own abilities and supports them into becoming parents.
Creating a trusting relationship with parents especially mothers is important as it enables an open comfortable discussion about feelings and emotions. Having access to the latest research has helped me to support families in a more effective way. I understand in how poor maternal health can affect outcomes. Crucially, as a health visitor I am now able to offer support to those women who are struggling with their emotional wellbeing in an evidenced based and sensitive way. I feel confident to ask those challenging questions and offer relevant support for women and their families. Importantly, it has given me the confidence to influence local policy and standards, which helps to support health visitors’ practice.
Helen Efstathiades, Health Visitor/Practice Teacher South Warwickshire NHS Foundation Trust, Fellow of the Institute of Health Visiting