Áilín Quinlan meets the various health professionals giving advice on the new parent-focused HSE website, mychild.ie
It's 3am and your baby won’t stop crying — what to do?
Or maybe your toddler suffers from night terrors or is prone to screaming tantrums and you’re all out of ideas on how to cope?
Visit mychild.ie, the new national pregnancy, child health, and parenting website which boasts contributions from a vast range of experienced Irish healthcare professionals including doctors, public health nurses, psychologists, midwives, parenting experts, and dietitians.
Worried mums and dads should find it both accessible and useful — over 4,000 parents across Ireland contributed to the design of the site and the three new pregnancy and child health books which accompany it.
The site offers practical tips, advice, and information for parents on everything from pregnancy and labour to caring for babies, toddlers, and young children.
A helpful, parent-friendly approach is a hallmark of the site; mothers experiencing difficulty breastfeeding, for example, can now arrange to livechat with a lactation consultant through the site, which has also been carefully designed for easy access via mobile phones.
The new My Pregnancy book is a 224-page guide to be given by a midwife to pregnant women at their first antenatal appointment.
Parents will then receive the next books in sequence, My Child: 0 to 2 years, and My Child: 2 to 5 years, from their public health nurse.
Officially launched earlier this month, mychild.ie is clearly divided into sections such as Pregnancy, Labour and Birth, Babies and Toddlers, and Breastfeeding.
It is essentially a one-stop-shop where parents can access accurate and trusted information and advice from pregnancy all the way through the first five years of their child’s life.
The idea, its designers say, is to counteract the sometimes misleading or conflicting information from the dizzying array of online sites, apps, and social media by providing evidence-based advice and guidance, continually updated, from qualified Irish experts.
One of those who contributed to the site is Dr Fiona McGuire who, after 10 years as a GP in Kildare, Athlone, Mullingar, Longford, and Meath, now works as senior medical officer at the HSE Department of Public Health in the Midlands: “This is evidence-based information which is based on best practice, the most up-to-date research in the context of Ireland, and on wisdom accumulated over years of experience.
“It’s also deeply relevant to the Irish health service because the material has been contributed by healthcare professions working in Ireland,” says McGuire, herself a mother of two children, both aged under five.
In this context, she explains, the website informs on a diverse range of common concerns about which, in her experience, parents routinely consult their family doctor — from pregnancy and post-natal depression to infant vomiting, diarrhoea and colic through to constipation, potty-training, toddler tantrums, to weaning a child off the soother, and even preparing for school.
“It also gives advice on how to support the development of a child’s language skills, covers common illnesses in older children such as chicken pox, and also deals with problems like head lice — and it explains about immunisation up to the age of five,” she says, adding that the advice on nutrition, for example, is contributed by a paediatric dietitian.
“I am pleased with it as a GP; it’s great to be part of something that has never been there before for parents.
“We have never before had such a comprehensive resource for parents with relevant, evidence-based information from health professionals that parents trust,” says McGuire who adds that parents will be signposted to the site by their GP, public health nurse or midwife.
“When you’re a GP, you meet parents very early in the pregnancy journey, so a lot of initial contacts are about how to be healthy during pregnancy.
“It’s good to be able to signpost people to this information — for example, diet and exercise during pregnancy or what vaccines you should get in pregnancy.”
McGuire is also pleased with the detailed information on the symptoms of pregnancy and the weekly blow-by-blow breakdown of what’s happening in the body during pregnancy, adding that she expects it to act as a solid support to both parents-to-be and parents of young children.
“It covers a very wide range of issues; we’re adding to it all the time and will continue to do so,” she says.
“There’s so much information on social media now that you cannot always be sure of the reliability of information that you get online.
“Parents have access to more information than ever than ever before, but you don’t always know if the source of the information is relevant — and the 4,000 parents we surveyed said they wanted relevance.”
New parents can be overwhelmed by the sheer amount of verbal information and advice they receive when a baby is born, observes Brenda Mellett, a public health nurse with 17 years’ experience in Limerick city and county.
Mellett, who was recently appointed as a child health programme development officer in Mid-West Community Healthcare, believes the website will enable parents to reinforce the advice that they get from their public health nurse.
“For example, if it’s the middle of the night and your baby’s crying, parents can simply log on to the website and find ways to help the baby stop crying or to encourage sleep,” she says, adding that it also offers practical real-life help with another common problem area — breastfeeding.
“Mothers can livechat with a lactation consultant,” she says, adding that mums can also avail of “loads of tips and advice” on the website.
“Sleep is another big thing for parents, and the website offers advice on helping to get children into a good bedtime routine,” she says.
“I believe it offers real, practical support to parents. It covers every topic imaginable that could possibly arrive in every family, from taking care of yourself as a parent to feeding and caring for children and their physical, emotional, and behaviour development,” says Mullett.
She strongly approves of the section dealing with the use of tech and social media by babies and toddlers, which, she says, is an issue that public health nurses regularly encounter in the community.
“We have put a big emphasis on this in terms of the importance of spending time talking to your child.
"The website explains that no tech is appropriate for those under 18 months, and that children between two and five should spend a maximum of one hour daily on a screen — apart, that is, from video calls.
“Sometimes parents might not take in the advice, but when you can direct them to the website or the book, your advice is reinforced.”
The information on everything from antenatal education to pregnancy, labour, and birth is extremely good, according to Cathy O’Sullivan, who has worked in midwifery for over 30 years and is now involved in training midwives, public health nurses and physiotherapists in the provision of antenatal education.
O’Sullivan authored the section about labour and birth, and features in video clips in the area of antenatal care, including pelvic floor awareness and well-being.
“In these classes, women ask how they will know they are in labour — that’s a huge thing for them. They also want to know how to get through labour and train to give birth.
“The website contains a full section on antenatal education, birth and parenting.
"So if a parent looks up labour for example, there is very straightforward and understandable information about labour and giving birth, as well as the transition to parenthood,” she says, adding the content comprises of “a combination of international research, the accumulation of years of experience in the area and recognised best practice.”
“Everywhere I go, I tell people to look at the mychild website because it contains information from pregnancy right into parenthood.
"It is a continuum and it’s relevant to people who are in the Irish healthcare system. It’s also instantly accessible.
“We’re forever looking outside Ireland when it comes to expertise, but we have the experience here ourselves and this website reflects the expertise of all the Irish contributors.
"The team was made up from every aspect of the health service — midwives, doctors, public health nurses, physiotherapist, dietitians — there is even an infant mental health specialist.”
For more info, visit mychild.ie