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Everything You Need to Know About a Maternal Child Health Nurse

9 min read | 21 March 2021

In this week’s episode of Pure Parenthood, we’re joined by Claire Peake, from Epworth Freemasons Hospital. We discuss everything you need to know about a Maternal Child Health Nurse. Claire is a Maternal Child Health Nurse, registered nurse and midwife at Epworth Freemasons Hospital.

Listen to Season 2, Episode 4 above or on Apple Podcasts or Spotify​.

What exactly is a Maternal Child Health Nurse?

In Victoria, a Maternal and Child Health Nurse (MCHN) is a qualified Registered Nurse and Registered Midwife with an additional qualification in Maternal and Child Health.

A Maternal Child Health Nurse will focus on the growth and development of your baby, as well as supporting the entire family unit as a whole. This usually includes helping new parents with their health and wellbeing, their baby’s development, behaviour, immunisations, feeding and settling. Additionally, a MCHN can connect families to local support networks within the community, write referrals and run new parents’ groups for first-time parents.

When you are pregnant it is the midwives, obstetricians or general practitioners who are usually your lead care providers, however, in Victoria, when you leave the hospital your care is taken over by a MCHN in your local council. You will have regular appointments at set key age and stages to track the growth and development of your baby or child.

How does the role of a MCHN differ from a Midwife or Nurse?

Midwives have expertise in pregnancy, birth and the first 6 weeks postpartum, whereas Maternal Child Health Nurses focus on the growth and development of babies and children up until 6 years of age.

In general, your MCHN is there to be a great support system for you in the community. You may not have 24-hour access to your particular nurse, however there is the Maternal and Child Health Line that is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week which connect you directly to experienced nurses on the other line. 

MCHN’s also provide families with evidence-based information regarding the health and wellbeing of the child and family. They aim to develop and maintain collaborative relationships with parents and families and help connect them to services within the local community. You will see a Maternal Child Health Nurse for ten key ages and stages where they will focus on health promotion, weighing and measuring your baby or child, checking your child is up to date with their immunisations and assisting with any referrals that may be needed.

When do you see a MCHN for the first time?

A nurse will conduct a home visit usually in the first 7-10 days following the birth of your little one. This is an opportunity for the nurse to see how things are going in the home environment. The nurse will also check where the baby is sleeping during the home visit and weigh your baby. The focus of the first home visit is mostly based around gathering information, discussing any concerns, assessing feeding and ensuring recovery from the labour and birth is going well.

What support should you expect when you see your MCHN?

Each time you see your Maternal Child Health Nurse, you will receive lots of advice and support on a multitude of topics. Some of these topics may include:

  • Growth, development and newborn behaviours

  • Feeding: Breastfeeding or bottle feeding, starting solids and healthy eating

  • Sleep and settling, including the period of Purple Crying

  • Prone play

  • Immunisations

  • Postpartum recovery

  • Self-care

  • Car safety

  • Safety in the home

  • Family relationship and wellbeing

In Victoria, you will see your MCHN for 10 key age and stage visits. The first visit will be at home, with all subsequent visits being at either your local council or other location.

The 10 key age and stage visits are:
  • At home visit, 7-10 days after the birth

  • 2 weeks of age

  • 4 weeks of age

  • 8 weeks of age

  • 4 months of age

  • 8 months of age

  • 12 months of age

  • 18 months of age

  • 2 years of age

  • 3.5 years of age

Your baby will be weighed and measured at each of these sessions, however the topics discussed will vary depending on the age and stage of your little one.

What is ‘the Period of PURPLE Crying’?

The Period of PURPLE Crying relates to common characteristics of an infant’s crying during the first few months of life. PURPLE is an acronym that stands for:

  • Peak of crying

  • Unexpected

  • Resists soothing

  • Pain-like face

  • Long Lasting 

  • Evening

The peak of crying usually happens at 2 months of age and then usually settles around 5 months of age.

How do you become a MCHN?

To become a MCHN you need to have already completed a Bachelor of Nursing and Midwifery and worked for a minimum of 1-year Full Time in each area before applying to study the Post Graduate Diploma or Master’s Degree in Child and Family Health. This can vary depending on the route that you study and which university you attend.

A Maternal Child Health Nurses top tips for first-time parents

  1. Normalise newborn behaviours.

    There is so much focus on the pregnancy, birth and immediate postpartum periods, however there usually isn’t much information for new parents taking their baby home for the first time.

  2. Read your baby's cues.

    Your baby’s body language gives you important cues about whether they are tired, hungry, ready to play or needing a break. It is important that parents learn their babies’ particular cues, which will then allow them to respond appropriately to their baby’s needs.

  3. Limit the amount of visitors you have

    in the first few weeks of bringing your little one home. Allow some time to settle and recover from both the labour and birth.

  4. Routines

    . Try not to put too much pressure on yourself to start a strict routine until the baby is around 6-8 weeks old.

  5. Ensure you

    frequently burp your baby

    throughout feeds and throughout the day.

  6. Ensure to do

    lots of tummy time

    with your baby. You can start this straight away.

  7. Care for dry skin

    . It is normal for your little one’s skin to be dry. You can use gentle, non-perfumed moisturiser on their skin after a bath.

  8. Ask for help if you need it

    . Having a new baby can be a very anxious time for some parents. Utilising your support system, whether that is your partner, friend or family member. Asking for support to help or give you a break, even if it’s just for an hour so you can have a shower.

Resources available for new parents:
Download the episode transcript here.

This article was written by Claire Peake from Epworth Freemasons Hospital, in conjunction with Season two, episode 1 of Purebaby’s podcast, Pure Parenthood. Claire is a Maternal Child Health Nurse, registered nurse and midwife at Epworth Freemasons Hospital. To learn more about Epworth Maternity, visit their website or Instagram.

Purebaby also offers a range of helpful information and tips via online webinars sessions and our newborn checklists.

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