Maternity care and the public health nurse

Introduction

Public health nurses are registered nurses with a specialist nursing qualification. They provide nursing and midwifery care in the community.

If you have had a home birth or domino delivery, your midwife will have already visited you. They will then hand over your care to your public health nurse.

If you have your baby in hospital, your local public health nurse will be told about the birth. They will arrange an appointment to visit you at home. This home visit usually happens within 72 hours after you have been discharged from hospital.

What does the public health nurse do?

After you have had your baby, your public health nurse will arrange to visit you and:

  • Carry out a neonatal examination (examination of your newborn baby) and also a maternal health assessment (a check-up for you)
  • Provide you with information and answer any questions you may have about looking after your newborn baby
  • Provide information on breastfeeding support groups, ‘well baby’ clinics and postnatal support groups in your area. You can have your baby weighed and discuss their progress at these clinics with your public health nurse and with other mums.

During the visit, the public health nurse will give advice on feeding, parenting and safe sleep for your baby. They will also give you general tips about child safety.

‘Heel prick’ test

You will also be offered ‘newborn bloodspot screening’ for your baby by the midwife or public health nurse. This is also known as the 'heel prick test'. Your baby will be screened to see if they are at risk of a number of rare conditions.

You will be asked for your consent. It usually takes place in your home. However, if you remain in hospital longer than 72 hours after the birth of your baby, it may take place in the hospital.

Read more about heel prick screening on the HSE website.

After the first visit, the public health nurse may visit you again if needed. The public health nurse is available at your local health centre and will continue to see you and your baby at intervals over the next 3 and a half years.

Developmental checks

The public health nurse will arrange with you check your baby's development at different stages against a series of "norms" for that age group. For example, at 9 months, they will check your baby's eyesight and hearing, motor development, vocalisation and general growth.

Developmental checks are generally carried out at:

  • 3 months
  • 9-11 months
  • 18-24 months
  • 3–3.5 years

You will be contacted by your public health nurse before each check to arrange a date and time. If you have not heard from the public health nurse, call your local health centre to make an appointment. If you are concerned about your baby's development between checks, contact your public health nurse for advice.

These checks are not mandatory. Examinations of your baby's development by your public health nurse are provided free of charge.

Read more about your child’s developmental checks on the HSE website.

Postnatal depression

Postnatal depression occurs in 10 to 15% of women within the first year of giving birth. Symptoms of postnatal depression may start as baby blues and then get worse. The symptoms may take some time to develop. Postnatal depression may be most obvious when your baby is 4 to 6 months old.

Postnatal depression can have a broad range of symptoms and they can vary in how severe they are. Find out more about the signs and symptoms of postnatal depression and the supports available.

The most important thing you can do if you think you are experiencing postnatal depression is ask for help. You can contact your public health nurse or GP anytime to talk about how you are feeling and get help and support.

MyChild.ie

The HSE’s website MyChild.ie has lots of expert information on all aspects of pregnancy, birth, babies and toddlers and being a parent.

How to contact my public health nurse

You will be automatically contacted by your public health nurse following the birth of your baby.

You can also contact your public health nurse through your local health centre.

Page edited: 4 December 2020