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'Our motives revolve around trying to break the cycle of unresponsive parenting'

Deborah O’Dea and Janette Hopkins have launched the Hello Baby course to combat perinatal depression

Deborah O’Dea and Janette Hopkins have launched the Hello Baby course to combat perinatal depression

In the UK, it is thought that 10-20% of women will develop perinatal depression, yet the health visitors in Blackpool sense their numbers are much higher than national data suggest. Janette Hopkins and Deborah O’Dea are introducing the Hello Baby course to ensure each new mother does not become just another statistic.

Hello Baby is a five-week course for new mothers who were either antenatally identified with perinatal depression, have developed it after birth or have attachment and bonding difficulties. The group, facilitated by Ms O’Dea, consists of four to five mother-infant pairs meeting for 1.5 hours each week.

During the sessions, Ms O’Dea provides the mothers with information on their infant’s behaviour so they can recognise their baby’s cues, appreciate vulnerabilities and begin to respond to promote healthy development. Ms Hopkins, nurse consultant for public health and previous health visitor and senior lecturer at the University of Cumbria, was instrumental in commissioning the course through NHS Blackpool.

“When Deborah brought the idea for Hello Baby to the table, the head of children’s services and I agreed it was a good idea,” says Ms Hopkins.

Blackpool has high rates of teen pregnancy, single parenting and low-income housing; young mothers often lack the support they need. Hello Baby courses provide a foundation of knowledge and training for mothers.

After three trials, the results are encouraging. Each mum’s progress is tracked through a pre-and post-course questionnaire. They are asked about their feelings, course expectations and perceptions of pregnancy and parenthood. Interaction with babies increased and depression decreased in all cases.

“One of our participants even decided to stop using her antidepressants because she felt so improved,” says Ms O’Dea. The specialist health visitor was instrumental in the perinatal mental-health work for Hello Baby, and started the programme based on the teachings of American paediatrician Thomas Berry Brazelton who had witnessed high rates of deprivation and depression in mothers.

“Our motives revolve around trying to break the cycle of unresponsive parenting but also to decrease depression in women,” says Ms O’Dea.

“I encourage mothers to look at what their babies can already do before they’re a few weeks old. A baby can see, a baby can hear, a baby can feel emotions. When mothers can identify what their baby can already do it strengthens the attachment.”

Eventually, Ms O’Dea and Ms Hopkins hope to roll out the course to children’s centres in Blackpool. Currently, midwives are working with the trust to spot problem cases and recommend mothers.

“We also want to get pregnant women in the group to keep the focus on prevention before birth,” says Ms O’Dea.

Hello Baby is part of a bigger push by the government to showcase the positive impact of health visitors. The Health Visitor Implementation Plan was launched in February 2011 to create 4,200 extra health visitor jobs and re-identify the profession. For Ms Hopkins, the initiative is long overdue.

“Intervening early will empower a family and help them engage with their child easier,” she says.

“I’ve seen the devastating impacts on a family from lack of bonding.

“I saw entire families break down. I saw mums isolate themselves. I saw economic hardship. Hello Baby fits in the big picture by strengthening the family and bridging the gap between what we know and what we need to know.”

Bethany Christo

● The Hello Baby initiative won the child and adolescent category at the Nursing Times Awards 2012

Readers' comments (1)

  • Great idea for new mums who are struggling to cope.

    Although I did not meet my health visitor until my son started nursery school!

    Unsuitable or offensive?

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