Health visitors play key role in tackling relationship problems reported by one in five new mothers

More than one in five new mothers experience relationship problems, according to a study published in the latest issue of Journal of Advanced Nursing.

In the study, led by John Simons of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, 450 women were screened by 25 health visitors who had received special training to enable them to identify and support new mothers who were experiencing relationship problems. Each health visitor had attended a four-day course run by One Plus One, which creates practical training and resources for health care professionals.

The study, funded by the Lord Chancellor's Department, showed that 22 per cent of the women reported relationship problems at the six-to-eight-week check-up. In most cases the health visitor was able to help simply by acting as a sympathetic listener and source of practical advice.

Over a quarter of the mothers said that they had frequently experienced at least one of the eight serious relationship flaws presented in the screening questionnaire. Some of the more serious problems raised during interviews with the health visitors included domestic violence and being abandoned by their partner.

A questionnaire completed by 351 of the women at the 12-week check-up showed that 40 per cent had discussed relationship problems with their health visitor.

More than a quarter (26 per cent) said that they felt less depressed, anxious or worried as a result of talking to their health visitor.

Although 60 per cent of the health visitors who took part in the study were concerned about the time required for screening, given current staff resources, almost all felt that the procedure had been of great value in revealing relationship problems.

More than two-thirds of the health visitors felt that the process had encouraged mothers to talk about problems that otherwise would not have been revealed.

"The stress of looking after a new baby may cause or intensify tensions between parents that can affect both their own well-being and the welfare of the child" says John Simons.

"Our study shows that specially trained health visitors can provide support that is valued by mothers during what can be a difficult period. Despite concerns about adding to existing workloads and time pressures, most health visitors felt that this initiative enabled them to improve their contribution to family welfare."


For further information and a copy of the full paper contact:
Annette Whibley
Wizard Communications
01926 330504

Notes to editors:

  • How the health visitor can help when problems between parents add to postnatal stress was co-authored by John Simons and Linda Morison of the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine and Jenny Reynolds and Joe Mannion of One Plus One. It appears in Journal of Advanced Nursing, volume 44.4, pages 400 to 411, published November 2003.
  • The funding from the Lord Chancellor's Department was awarded as part of its Marriage and Relationship Support initiative.
  • Founded in 1976, Journal of Advanced Nursing is read by senior nurses, midwives, health visitors and advanced nursing students in over 80 countries. It informs, educates, explores, debates and challenges the foundations of nursing health care knowledge and practice worldwide. Edited by Professor Alison Tierney, it is published 24 times a year by Blackwell Publishing Ltd, part of the international Blackwell Publishing group.
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