Mums’ mental health improves with Maternal nurse home visits

New research called right@home, found disadvantaged mothers’ mental health and wellbeing improved after regular maternal and child health nurse home visits during pregnancy, continuing up until the child turned two.

Trial at a Glance:

  • Australian research has shown a positive impact on the mental health and wellbeing of disadvantaged mothers after having a nurse regularly visit their home during pregnancy and up until the child turned two
  • Lower rates of depression, anxiety and stress and improved wellbeing were evident even one year after the final nurse visit from the ‘right@home’ early intervention program
  • Researchers stated the benefits of having the program embedded into existing services was critical and timely, providing a potential response to the increased economic and psychosocial stresses for families with young children due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

A team of Australian researchers has created a new early intervention program, right@home, designed for mothers experiencing adversity to help develop their parenting skills such as feeding, bonding and creating a better home learning environment. Data shows one in five Australian children are born into disadvantage.

MCRI Professor Sharon Goldfeld said nurse home visiting programs could address inequities in maternal mental health, and subsequently improve children’s development.

“Given the crucial role that maternal mental health plays in the overall health of mothers and their children, addressing inequities generates substantial societal and mental health benefits,” she said.

The right@home program was the largest multi-site randomised controlled trial of a nurse home visit program in Australia. It involved 722 women recruited from child and family health services at 10 hospitals across Victoria and Tasmania.

The intervention group, who received 25 home visits up until the child turned two, reported lower rates of depression, anxiety and stress and better wellbeing one year after the visits ended, compared to those who received the standard free centre-based nurse consultations in Victoria (nine visits) and Tasmania (six visits).

Global data suggests 9-16 per cent of women experience depression and 10-15 per cent experience an anxiety disorder in the perinatal period.

Mum Carla Bonacci, who joined the program a week before her daughter, Carlisseia, was born, said she would have struggled without the regular home nurse visits.

“I really needed the support, especially during the first few months after giving birth,” she said. “The nurses guided me through from helping with feeding and bonding to managing my daughter’s sleep.

“Being a single, first-time mum, I wasn’t confident but they gave me that reassurance, which has greatly helped my mental health and allowed me to be the best mum I can be.”

Professor Goldfeld said as the program was easily incorporated into the existing maternal and child health nursing system, which was where it had been tested, state governments should make it routinely available to vulnerable families.

“We do not want babies born into adversity to be on a pathway where they are unlikely to catch up with their peers,” she said.

“Everyone should have the opportunity to raise happy, thriving children who are more likely to do better in school, have good relationships in the community, and lead healthier lives.”

The right@home is a research collaboration between the Australian Research Alliance for Children and Youth (ARACY), the Translational Research and Social Innovation (TReSI) Group at Western Sydney University and the Centre for Community Child Health, which is a department of The Royal Children’s Hospital and a research group at MCRI.