Health problems for mothers and babies commonly occur or become apparent in the weeks following the birth. For the mothers these include postpartum haemorrhage, fever and infection, abdominal and back pain, abnormal discharge, thromboembolism, and urinary tract complications, as well as psychological and mental health problems such as postnatal depression. Mothers may also need support to establish breastfeeding. Babies are at risk of death related to infections, asphyxia, and preterm birth. Home visits by health professionals or lay supporters in the early postpartum period may prevent health problems from becoming long-term, with effects on women, their babies, and their families. This review looked at different home-visiting schedules in the weeks following the birth.
We included 12 randomised trials with data for more than 11,000 women. Some trials focused on physical checks of the mother and newborn, while others provided support for breastfeeding, and one included the provision of practical support with housework and childcare. They were carried out in both high-resource countries and low-resource settings where women receiving usual care may not have received additional postnatal care after early hospital discharge.
The trials focused on three broad types of comparisons: schedules involving more versus less postnatal home visits (five studies), schedules involving different models of care (three studies), and home versus hospital clinic postnatal check-ups (four studies). In all but two of the included studies postnatal care at home was delivered by healthcare professionals. For most of our outcomes only one or two studies provided data and overall results were inconsistent.
There was no evidence that home visits were associated with reduced newborn deaths or serious health problems for the mothers. Women's physical and psychological health were not improved with more intensive schedules of home visits although more individualised care improved women's mental health in one study. Overall, babies were less likely to have emergency medical care if their mothers received more postnatal home visits. More home visits may have encouraged more women to exclusively breastfeed their babies. The different outcomes reported in different studies, how the outcomes were measured, and the considerable variation in the interventions and control conditions across studies were limitations of this review. The studies were of mixed quality as regards risk of bias.
More research is needed before any particular schedule of postnatal care can be recommended
Increasing the number of postnatal home visits may promote infant health and maternal satisfaction and more individualised care may improve outcomes for women, although overall findings in different studies were not consistent. The frequency, timing, duration and intensity of such postnatal care visits should be based upon local and individual needs. Further well designed RCTs evaluating this complex intervention will be required to formulate the optimal package.
Maternal complications including psychological and mental health problems and neonatal morbidity have been commonly observed in the postpartum period. Home visits by health professionals or lay supporters in the weeks following the birth may prevent health problems from becoming chronic with long-term effects on women, their babies, and their families.
To assess outcomes for women and babies of different home-visiting schedules during the early postpartum period. The review focuses on the frequency of home visits, the duration (when visits ended) and intensity, and on different types of home-visiting interventions.
We searched the Cochrane Pregnancy and Childbirth Group's Trials Register (28 January 2013) and reference lists of retrieved articles.
Randomised controlled trials (RCTs) (including cluster-RCTs) comparing different types of home-visiting interventions enrolling participants in the early postpartum period (up to 42 days after birth). We excluded studies in which women were enrolled and received an intervention during the antenatal period (even if the intervention continued into the postnatal period) and studies recruiting only women from specific high-risk groups. (e.g. women with alcohol or drug problems).
Study eligibility was assessed by at least two review authors. Data extraction and assessment of risk of bias were carried out independently by at least two review authors. Data were entered into Review Manager software.
We included data from 12 randomised trials with data for more than 11,000 women. The trials were carried out in countries across the world, and in both high- and low-resource settings. In low-resource settings women receiving usual care may have received no additional postnatal care after early hospital discharge.
The interventions and control conditions varied considerably across studies with trials focusing on three broad types of comparisons: schedules involving more versus fewer postnatal home visits (five studies), schedules involving different models of care (three studies), and home versus hospital clinic postnatal check-ups (four studies). In all but two of the included studies, postnatal care at home was delivered by healthcare professionals. The aim of all interventions was broadly to assess the wellbeing of mothers and babies, and to provide education and support, although some interventions had more specific aims such as to encourage breastfeeding, or to provide practical support.
For most of our outcomes only one or two studies provided data, and overall results were inconsistent.
There was no evidence that home visits were associated with improvements in maternal and neonatal mortality, and no consistent evidence that more postnatal visits at home were associated with improvements in maternal health. More intensive schedules of home visits did not appear to improve maternal psychological health and results from two studies suggested that women receiving more visits had higher mean depression scores. The reason for this finding was not clear. In a cluster randomised trial comparing usual care with individualised care by midwives extended up to three months after the birth, the proportions of women with Edinburgh postnatal depression scale (EPDS) scores ≥ 13 at four months was reduced in the individualised care group (RR 0.68, 95% CI 0.53 to 0.86). There was some evidence that postnatal care at home may reduce infant health service utilisation in the weeks following the birth, and that more home visits may encourage more women to exclusively breastfeed their babies. There was some evidence that home visits are associated with increased maternal satisfaction with postnatal care.