Guidance for Health Visitors

Working together for maternal health and community cohesion


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What is it?

Socialising walking groups can have a profound impact on maternal mental health, wellbeing and community cohesion. Mothers, who meet regularly to get active together outdoors with their babies and children, report improved physical and mental health and valuable friendships. Supporting the leaders and members of these groups is part of our core mission and we rely on Health Visitors around the country to work with us.

Why does the Institute of Health Visiting invest in Ready Steady Mums?

The workload of Health Visitors is astonishing, and many explain how you have to focus your care more and more on only the most urgently in-need families. Whether or not mums have formed friendships with a close group of peers during pregnancy, Socialcising can provide the community support many Health Visitors see as missing.Starting up a Socialcise group can give mums a new sense of identity and confidence.Many mums are touched by the positive feedback and appreciation they receive from other mothers who have joined their walking groups, despite initial reservations about ability or self-confidence as a leader. The benefits achieved are aligned with the objectives of the Institute of Health Visiting, and Ready Steady Mums is about unlocking a huge volunteer capacity within communities.

How do I encourage potential Socialcise Group Leaders?

Health Visitors are very important influencers in the lifestyle choices mothers make, and can be powerful advocates of an active lifestyle and “can do” attitude to life as a mother.

From working closely with thousands of mothers as Socialcise Group Leaders and members, we have identified some important enablers and sticking points for taking part in a Socialcise programme. Here we advise on how you can encourage mothers to set up walking groups and overcome barriers to exercise.

  1. Pointing out the value of being accountable to a friend for getting out for a walk can be the trigger for many mothers to take up Socialcise walking groups. We often hear “If I told my mate I would be there I am far more likely to turn up”.
  2. “I don’t know where to start” can be a very powerful excuse not to start at all. Many Socialcise groups start as a weekly walk around the park for two friends with their prams.
  3. Many mothers may initially consider “leadership” to be incompatible with motherhood. However, they have often found that becoming a Socialcise Group Leader is a first step that leads to remarkable increases in self-confidence, and taking on leadership challenges in the workplace or community. Talking to someone else who has set up a group before can help make it seem more possible.
  4. At Ready Steady Mums we always encourage mothers to set a motivational goal – and to choose one that is positive, specific and inspiring. If they then share their goal with loved ones and friends it can become even more powerful as a motivator to stick with a plan. Our Facebook community group is a good forum for mothers to declare their goal (and meet their cheerleaders!).

Health Visitors sometimes find a helpful way to encourage a mother to start new Socialcise groups is to emphasise the opportunity to develop herself as a leader. And it sounds obvious, but it’s also essential to relate to mothers as capable women with potential to be community leaders.

When is the ideal time for a mother to set up a Socialcise group?

Socialcise can make a huge difference during the days and weeks after the birth. It is widely recognised that social support networks are vital for new mothers, and Health Visitors often express frustration that they want to do more about postnatal depression, but lack the resources to deal with milder cases. They observe that, where they have succeeded in convincing mothers to start Socialcising in the early postnatal period,, mothers are more likely to have a quick recovery from the baby blues than a descent into PND. During this period, Socialcise groups are most likely to be effective when set up as walking groups with only 2-3 members.

Encouraging new mums to set up a Socialcise walking group during one of your first meetings can be extremely empowering. It’s often as simple as suggesting some “fresh air and gentle activity” rather than the more common “coffee and cakes”. Sometimes the ideal Socialcise group is simply a continuation of the friendships formed during antenatal classes.

We have observed that many mothers also choose to start their groups around three months postnatal, and we also find that second or third time mothers are more confident in taking the lead in creating a new Socialcise group.

How can I help share information about Socialcise?

Please download, print, and share these information cards with mothers you wish to reach.
For mums: how to lead a Socialcise group (240 KB)
A poster: To advertise an existing group (1 MB)
For Health Visitors: about Ready Steady Mums – a new iHV programme (1 MB)

Health Visitors also have a major opportunity to bust some myths. For example, many Health Visitors tell us about mums who are nervous about the computability of breast-feeding and walking. Walking, with proper hydration, is shown to be safe alongside breastfeeding. Furthermore, associated stress reduction can improve milk production. Mums say in those early weeks that linking the benefits of them looking after themselves and doing some gentle walking with healthy development of their child is more powerful than many other health arguments.

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