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).
Data collection and analysis
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.
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.
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