This site is intended for health professionals only

Baby LifeCheck: helping to support new parents

Moira Scales
Health Co-ordinator
Sunderland Primary Care Trust

Moira Scales, Health Co-ordinator working in Sunderland Children's Centres and also employed by Sunderland Teaching Primary Care Trust, explains how the city has been involved in implementing NHS Baby LifeCheck

As a health co-ordinator, I work closely with health visitors who support new mums and dads, and carers who often don't have the confidence or the resources to get the vital information they need about their baby's health and wellbeing. As a result, they often find themselves facing a mountain of new worries and can feel that the first few months of their baby's life are both overwhelming and challenging. 

Health visitors are usually the first point of call for worried parents when they have a concern or query. Unfortunately, they can't be on call 24 hours a day, so a service such as NHS Baby LifeCheck helps to bridge this gap outside of working hours. NHS Baby LifeCheck supports the work that Sunderland's health visitors do by giving parents access to useful information, key messages and guidance at a time that suits them. This new service from the Department of Health has opened the door to information for parents whenever they need it.

Launched nationally in August 2009, NHS Baby LifeCheck (www.nhs.co.uk/babylifecheck) is a free and easy-to-use online service that guides mums, dads and carers of babies aged five to eight months through a set of multiple-choice questions. Covering topics from weaning and sleeping to immunisations and home safety, it aims to reassure parents and let them know what they are doing well and how to get more help if they need it. It also suggests things parents might like to think about to help ensure their baby is healthy, happy and safe during the five-to-eight-month period - a key time in a baby's development when lots of "firsts" happen, such as weaning and teething.

NHS Baby LifeCheck produces a personalised results page with information on specific topics, as well as directing users to further information and local or national health services. Since its launch, the website has received nearly 136,000 visitors. In Sunderland, we launched NHS Baby LifeCheck in November 2009 and, although only in its infancy, it has already had a positive response from parents and carers who have used it.
The launch event, held at Sunderland Children's Centre Monument, invited local parents to complete an NHS Baby LifeCheck. The event attracted interest from the region's media who helped to promote the service across the city and beyond.
Since the launch in Sunderland, we have continued to promote the service to parents. Families have been introduced to NHS Baby LifeCheck during health sessions and home visits.

One-on-one contact with parents and carers gives us an opportunity to discuss the benefits of using the service. The health visiting team and children's centre staff have been fully briefed on NHS Baby LifeCheck so they can recommend it to mums, dads and carers during home visits and children's centre activities, and even help them to complete the questionnaire in private. Public computers in children's centres, libraries and customer service centres across the city provide parents who don't have access to the internet at home with the opportunity to access the tool.

Sunderland's multi-agency team, including midwives, GPs and schools, all also play a vital role in promoting the NHS Baby LifeCheck to parents and parents-to-be.
NHS Baby LifeCheck has been warmly welcomed by both parents and professionals across Sunderland. The feedback has been very positive, with mums and dads commenting on how the service successfully covers a wide range of important issues while being positioned at a level that everyone can understand.

NHS Baby LifeCheck provides parents with a reminder of the things that they have previously been told by professionals, but may have been forgotten in the rush of caring for a new baby. It also acts to reinforce key messages; for example, home safety and when their child needs vital immunisations.

A simple exploration of NHS Baby LifeCheck could answer a parent's questions easily and save them time contacting their health visitor or their GP surgery. However, health co-ordinators are available via Sunderland children's centres to offer support and listen to parents should they still have concerns after completing an NHS Baby LifeCheck.
NHS Baby LifeCheck also helps to bridge the gap between parents and local services. The results page directs users to local health services available to them, where they can obtain further advice and information. A lot of the time, parents may not be aware that these services exist and therefore NHS Baby LifeCheck is also a means of creating a stronger community network.

Now that NHS Baby LifeCheck has been launched in Sunderland we plan to fully embed it into practice. Sunderland children's centres will work closely with staff and other professionals to ensure that they can help new mums and dads with the service. This will further drive the promotion of NHS Baby LifeCheck across the Sunderland region.

We look forward to the future benefits it will bring families and ultimately improve health outcomes for the children of the city. We would encourage other children's centres, health visiting teams or GP surgeries to consider how they can best use NHS Baby LifeCheck in their work to support new and
inexperienced parents.

NHS Baby LifeCheck is part of a three-strand programme made up of NHS Teen LifeCheck - for teenagers aged 12-15 and NHS MidLifeCheck - for adults aged 40 years plus. The LifeCheck programmes are beneficial not only for the individual using the programme and a health visiting team such as Sunderland, but also advantageous for wider frontline practitioners. NHS Baby LifeCheck helps to support the delivery of a range of Public Service Agreement (PSA) targets. The programme can support the targets for "better quality of life" and "stronger communities" and help frontline practitioners to meet these goals.

NHS Baby Life Check is available at:
www.nhs.uk/babylifecheck

For more information about all the NHS LifeChecks and for downloadable marketing materials go to:
www.lifecheckers.co.uk