Friday, February 4, 2011

Health Visiting Fail

I went and got Gussy weighed yesterday—he’s at a very healthy 14 lbs 4 oz, which is in the 80th centile!  He is now the biggest of all the babies from our antenatal group. My arms could definitely tell that he was growing quickly!

While we were at the clinic, I decided to ask the Health Visitor about some changes in behaviour that Gus had shown this week. For about five days, he had been eating all the time (i.e. even more than usual!), dirtying his diaper constantly, and not sleeping very well—napping for only about half an hour at a time and waking up more often in the night. I assumed it was just a growth spurt, but I though those usually only lasted a day or two, so I wanted her opinion on the situation, just to make sure that this was a normal variation rather than indicative of something to worry about .  Big mistake.

The HV just started going on and on about how he should be napping for 1.5 hours at a time in his own bed, he should be sleeping 8 hours without a feed at night (!), how I should just comfort him when he wakes up at night instead of feeding him, and how I shouldn’t be picking him up and/or feeding him every time he fusses because he’ll learn that he only needs to cry to get attention (as if that is a bad thing—he is learning that his parents will attend to his needs!) and I should instead pick him up when he is “good” (and we know how I feel about that terminology).

I was so annoyed. I tried to just smile and nod, hoping she would stop talking quickly so I could just leave. But I disagreed with almost everything she had to say! She didn’t seem to grasp that his naps and night sleep had been more regular and had changed.  Furthermore, I was happy with the way things were going, even with the extra wakings at night, as long as he was healthy. Maybe I hadn’t explained the situation properly, but once she started talking, I wasn’t interested in discussing it with her. (Except when she said Gus should be sleeping in his own room. I pointed out that the official recommendation is that babies should sleep in the room with parents until 6 months, to reduce risk of SIDS. She said, “Oh, I meant for naps.”)

Talking to Jon about this last night (probably better described as ranting to Jon about this), he pointed out that the advice that the HV gave isn’t unusual. Just because we have made a conscious decision to parent differently than that doesn’t mean that others don’t make a conscious decision to do the exact things she mentioned. It is true, sometimes I wish I could put Gus down napping in the afternoon and guarantee that he will stay asleep. But most of the time, I am more than happy to let him nap in my arms or in the Moby wrap. He is only going to be this little once, and I want to savour these moments. One thing the HV said was that if I lived in an African village where there were lots of people around to take care of me, then I could just sit around with baby all day, but we live in the real world. I just felt she was missing the point. I would much rather sit around with Gus than clean the house all day, and not just because I am lazy! She kept talking about how she was giving me goals to work toward. It is easy for someone like a health visitor to talk about goals, but I want to live in the moment. I don’t want my interactions with Gus to mainly be focussed on goals to achieve, unless that goal is to help to bring him up to be a loving, compassionate, secure person in this life and a saint in the next.

The thing that really bothered me about the HV’s advice was that I felt really undermined in what I was doing. I’m sure that wasn’t her intention and she wasn’t to know my beliefs.  But as I thought back on it over the course of the day, I just felt bad. I didn’t exactly doubt that we are making the decisions that are right for our family, but my confidence was shaken. And it makes me sad that a health visitor can make a mother feel this way. I am lucky that I have such a supportive husband to reassure me and that I know that the way we are parenting is a tried and true approach, even if different than the things the HV described. But it is so easy, as a new mother, to feel the guilt about what you are doing, and that should not come from the health visiting service, although several people I have talked to find that they do leave the HVs with guilt. Health Visiting has the potential to be, and in many cases is, such a valuable service. I have met a few HVs that can give you advice and reassurance about your child’s development and health while also giving you confidence in your ability as a parent. I just wish I had spoken to one of those yesterday!

In the end, I was reassured about Gus’s sleeping habits the old-fashioned way: by talking to other mums. Gus and I had some friends from the antenatal group over for coffee yesterday afternoon, and it turns out that all four of the babies have started waking up more in the night this week. (And one woman was told by her HV that babies only wake up in the night at this age when they are hungry—thanks for the contradicting advice, HV services!) Also, Gus slept much better yesterday and last night and is eating on a bit less frantic schedule, so it must have just been a long growth spurt.   I probably will go back to the HV clinic next time I have questions or concerns, but I’ll try my best not to take the advice quite so personally—and maybe avoid that particular Health Visitor!


  1. Good heavens: sounds like a certain nurse had a bad case of the "should"s!

    You are OBVIOUSLY doing a wonderful job of parenting and loving your baby. People can be so freakin' unhelpful.

    Perhaps you "should" have given HER a goal or two ...

  2. Oh that is frustrating! I agree that having your husband's support in all this is indispensable. We're doing basically the same parenting things as you, and while I'm completely confident in our choices, it doesn't take much to make me feel somehow guilty. Welcome to motherhood I suppose!

    You're doing great!

  3. I'm so sorry you had to deal with that Amy! You are a great mom and Gus is so well loved! Only you are his mom and know what is best. I have heard similiar comments with Dominic-not from medical professionals, but from other moms. Ugh it is so frustrating. It always makes me wonder for a second if I am doing the right thing.

    What is most infuriating about this type of thing, I'm sure there are many less strong and educated women who take her advice cause they are coming from a bully pulpit, leaving their instincts and feelings as a mom knowing best for her child behind.

  4. Thanks, ladies! It is so nice to get encouragement and know that I am not some weirdo for thinking the way I do. You all are great, too!

  5. Oh dear on GP block, I met similar HVs...just remember they have no training and a surprising number are childless. I saw some terrible harassment of new mothers - sounds as if Gus is lucky to have you. He is very cute as well!!