Disengaging from my Health Visitor

It can be a lonely and scary place swimming against the tide of opinion. Going out alone and standing up for what you think is right can be a hard thing to do, especially when it brings with it emotional ties such as your children. 

Before you read this post, it is important that I make it clear that this is in no way a rant against Health Visitors per se. I absolutely recognise that in many areas and for many families, the Health Visiting Service provides a really important function and source of information, advice and reassurance.
 
I sat down to write this post following my own recent experience with my local service since Emma was born. After becoming frustrated I posed a question on twitter and Facebook along the lines of ‘Has anyone ever withdrawn from the health visiting service’ and was surprised and dismayed with the responses I received.
 
Being out on a limb and taking an unusual position is challenging, however one of my favourite sayings in life is ‘If you stand for nothing, you’ll fall for anything’ and for me, my recent experiences have tested my own beliefs in what the service should be doing and has really affected me at home in terms of feeling anxious about the whole thing. This is not a good or healthy place to be in.
 
This post documents how I have reached this position.
 
When Daniel was born in 2012 the health visitor made contact and popped in for a chat. She was a bit too touchy feely for my liking, but signposted me in the direction of various places I could go to for advice, gave me details of the local baby clinics and made arrangements to revisit some weeks later. On the second visit we had a chat about how things were going and it was left at that. No more contact.
 
This is in the context of Daniel being my first child and arriving early due to me having pre-eclampsia. Daniel was also extremely poorly in the first two weeks after birth and ended up back in hospital for for 3.5 days with one to one nursing care (they literally had a nurse staring at him in his incubator for 24 hours whilst they monitored loads of machines etc). It is absolutely not an exaggeration to say that had we not taken him into hospital when we did, both my husband and I believe Daniel would have died.
 
Following numerous tests it was diagnosed as a mystery virus and his weight plummeted. He was a small baby when born at 5lb 5 and his weight dropped to somewhere around 4lb 10 and took him until he was around seven weeks I think to get back to birth weight. He sat below the bottom centile line for a long time. At 20 months old his weight now sits between the bottom two lines. Even when he started gaining weight it was a slower than average gain.
 
Emma arrived on her due date, a straight forward birth and I was discharged that same day. There were issues around slow weight gain which I have blogged about and at the time I felt under enormous pressure from midwives and the health visitor. She was fine in all other ways, just gaining weight slowly, as her brother before her had done. I was referred (against mine and my husband’s better judgement) to the hospital. However that appointment took six weeks to arrive, by which time her weight gain was fine so we cancelled the appointment.
 
Here is where things go wrong.
 
The ‘red book’ provides a guideline for getting babies and small children weighed. Once a baby has regained his/her birth weight the recommendation up until six months of age is for them to be weighed no more than once a month. After six months it’s no more than every two months. There is no minimum guide.
 
With Daniel I took him to clinic to be weighed as and when I felt like it. He was clearly growing and meeting developmental milestones and frankly spending a morning queueing to get into a clinic didn’t seem like the most useful way to spend my day. I did not take him every month.
 
Now I have Emma taking them both to clinic is challenging. I simply cannot keep a close eye on my boisterous and energetic toddler whilst undressing Emma and getting her ready to be weighed. At clinic there are lots of new babies and whilst Daniel wouldn’t purposely hurt them, there is a reality that at 20 months old he doesn’t understand how delicate newborns are.
 
My Health Visitor for Emma is someone new to me. And she is pestering me. She has visited the house three times (the last being around a month ago) and last week has phoned me at least four times, left three messages and sent me a text message. The reason?
 
I’m a bad mother – I haven’t taken Emma to be weighed for six weeks.
 
I was incensed when the text message I received Thursday afternoon suggested I was avoiding her calls – I wasn’t although I am now. With two under two I rarely have my phone to hand, and if I do Daniel usually wanders off with it to call Grandma! And in any case I simply cannot have a proper phone conversation with anyone whilst the children are around. When the kids are in bed, around 7pm that is when generally catch up on text and phone messages. As I’m sure my parents, sister in law, friends and cousins will tell you I am hopeless at replying. Its nothing personal, I just sometimes never seem to get round to it.
 
The message from the HV also said she would pop in the next day at 12:30 to see me. An awful time to , choose as that’s usually lunch time then settling both children for a nap. In any event I already has plans on Friday to sort out my new glasses and couldn’t guarantee when I would be home.
 
I sent a polite message saying I would plan to go the weighing clinic on Tuesday (which is a three minute walk from my house). She then phoned again Friday morning and left a message which politely suggested that whilst I couldgo to the Tuesday morning clinic it might be better for me to go to the Thursday afternoon clinic in the next village that she was running. In any case she would ‘check my file’ to make sure I’d been and then she still ‘needs’ to catch up with me so she’d let me know when you’d be popping in.
 
I am livid. Despite the issues Daniel had early on, my HV at the time recognised that I was more than capable of looking after him and helping him as he grew and developed. My new HV seems intent on making me engage with the health profession more than I want to. Emma does not have any medical issues. She does not have any identified developmental issues. At 17 weeks old she is doing all that she should be (and in some cases more). She is streets ahead of where Daniel was at a similar age in many respects. So why do I feel I am being bullied, coerced and harassed into complying with a system?
 
I took Emma to the clinic on Tuesday and will now be sending a letter to the local HV team and my GP to advise that I wish to withdraw from the local service, and should I have any problems I will access my GP, practice nurse of the HV team at the well baby clinic.
 
What has been really interesting is that when I have posted stuff about this on Facebook and twitter a lot of people have replied with ‘ah, but they’re only doing their job’. That may be but it doesn’t mean that the job is right.

All too often people comply with these things because they feel compelled too. Society tells us we should do, and not to do so marks you out as a trouble maker.
 
That’s fine. I am already a bit wacky – I ‘wear’ my children, I don’t give them pureed baby foods,. Emma will be weaned as and when she shows signs of readiness and we will follow a ‘baby led weaning’ process, as we did with Daniel. I do not recognise the notion of baby foods; only food that we all, as a family enjoy together. This is contrary to the information the local HV team provide. I have even offered to speak at weaning sessions about my own very recent experiences of weaning and how and why we chose the approach we did with Daniel, and will follow with Emma. This was declined.
 
I use cloth nappies and wipes (despite one GP I saw saying Daniel would be much better off in disposables) and I routinely question what they are telling me.
 
I do not believe that my family Doctor or health Visitor knows me or my children better than I do.
 
When I am told I have to see my GP because my son and daughter do not match a chart in a book I lose all respect for the process. In my family there are four females (my mum, auntie, me and my cousin). We all look different, different height, weight, skills and abilities. I would love to see the chart we all sit on. Same in my husbands family. Aside from physical facial features and hair colouring etc he and his siblings are all different builds, weights and heights and have very varied personalities. What charts do they fit on?
 
From my tweets on twitter I had comments such as
 
‘Gosh, I can’t get to see a health visitor for love nor money’.
‘that’s such a shame, my health visitor is brilliant’
‘aren’t you worried you will be referred to Social Services’
 
It also seems that in some areas parents are told that it is mandatory to have their child weighed once a month. My response to that was what if I had returned to work after the mandatory two weeks of maternity leave? How would they MAKE me take Emma for weighing?
 
Interestingly in some areas mums talk about a four month check – this doesn’t exist in my area. Importantly the NHS website describes the health visitor role as:

A health visitor will usually visit you for the first time around 10 days after your baby is born. After that, you will see your health visitor at the child health clinic, although you can ask to see them at any time. If you’re bringing up a child on your own or struggling, your health visitor will probably come to see whether you need any help.

A health visitor is a qualified nurse who has had extra training. Part of their role is to help families avoid illness and stay healthy, especially families with babies and young children. Health visitors are members of a team that offers screening and developmental checks as part of the Healthy Child Programme.

Talk to your health visitor or a member of the team if you feel anxious, depressed or worried. They can give you advice and suggest where to find help. They may also be able to put you in touch with groups where you can meet other mothers.

Your health visitor can visit you at home, or you can see them at your child health clinic, GP surgery or health centre, depending on where they’re based. Your health visitor will make sure you’ve got their phone number.

 
My HV is going way above the role outlined by the NHS and forcing me to engage with the team is causing me undue stresses and hassle.
 
Am I worried about the repercussions of formally withdrawing from the service? Perhaps but I’m confident in our parenting techniques and abilities. Until any welfare or developmental issues are raised to us then I absolutely refuse to continue to engage in the charade.
 
If I stand for nothing I will fall for anything. The time when my children are small is so fleeting that I do not, and will not, have that time marred and taken up by adhering to charts, tick lists and other peoples systems.
 
I’d be really interested to know what has been your experience of Health visitors? Have you decided to opt of the system? How did it make you feel?

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14 Comments

  1. 5th November 2014 / 13:34

    I once threw two health visitors out of my house. True story. My boy was getting tested for coeliac disease and the GP wanted a baseline weight. They came and told me his weight and height were fine and were super patronizing. Turns out my boy had coeliac disease, milk protein allergy and growth hormone problems. Trust your gut. We don’t always have good experience especially when things are not straightforward. My new one is lovely though. x #sharewithme

  2. 5th November 2014 / 15:18

    I had a similar bullying experience after birth of first child. He hadn’t put on his birthweight but was at low side of average doing ok. He was my husband’s 4th and the others are all big and healthy and much older. 2 x HV’s came around and started pressuring me to take him back to hosp – a week or two since birth – for monitoring. My husband chased them out of the house. On my own, I’d have been quite vulnerable and hormonal and unable to deal with it. As you say, one size doesn’t fit all, and they could see the baby was being looked after well and was born into a happy, healthy environment. I know they are trying to do their jobs, but many HV’s need proper training in seeing when a child is at risk and when they are just developing slowly but safely. Thanks for your post and hope you’re ok now. Incidentally, I had midwife who gave me mobile number for when I went into labour. When I called her, it went to voicemail with no other suggested numbers to call. She contacted me two weeks post birth to say she’d been on holiday. I think she said in the US but I pretty much hung up by then so don’t quite remember. xJo

  3. Caroline (Becoming a SAHM)
    5th November 2014 / 15:25

    This is a really interesting post and I’m a bit surprised, and disappointed in the rections you’ve had form some people on facebook and twitter. I have had mixed experiences with HVs, the HV that came to our house with Monkey, Clare, was lovely and I was pleasantly surprised as I had concerns after hearing people who had had bad experiences with HVs.I had no problems until it was time for Monkey’s 1 year check and theHV who did that really put my back up and badgered us for a while about the fact that Monkey’s feet turned out slightly (because of her recommendation we went thrugh the rigmarole of hospital checks etc and as we thought, he is absolutely fine and she caused a lot of stress for nothing). I was concerned about Monkey’s 2 year check and what would happen then but the HV we had then was lovely and supportive. We have just had visits from Clare again now little miss has been born and she has been as lovely as she was 1st time round. I think unfortunately they are all so different and some of them clearly just go too far, which doesn’t help anyone. I think good for you for standing up for what you know is right for your kids and for opting out. You don’t need that added stress in your life! xx #sharewithme (Sorry for the long comment!)

  4. 5th November 2014 / 22:19

    Absolutely massively good for you. Some people I know have been really happy with their health visitors, but all the interactions I have had with them have been not just unhelpful but actually downright destructive. After my first baby came, my health visitor told me off for not eating cakes (my not eating sugar has nothing to do with my children) because apparently eating cakes and biscuits is the only way to produce a proper amount of milk for my daughter (start ’em young, hey?) I was also advised twice to start bottle feeding because the girls weren’t gaining weight according to the made-up chart in the red book. Both were healthy looking, pink and satisfied. I’m not usually a person who struggles to stand up for myself, but they catch you at a very vulnerable time. I think, very often, people are better off trusting their own instincts and listening to the women in their communities than taking the HV advice.

    My second health visitor was also very pushy, and always came at a time when I could have caught up on some massively needed sleep. I felt obligated to see her, even though she would stay for over an hour and we would have nothing to show for it. I finally withdrew from the system and will not engage with a HV next time either. They should be offered as an optional service and their advice clearly shown as just one person’s opinion.

    Again, good for you for standing up for what you believe in and not being bullied into something you don’t agree with!

  5. 7th November 2014 / 11:23

    Wow. What a pushy HV.
    Like you I believe they have their place, but above anything their job is to reassure mums, not make them stress.
    I have had so many conflicting advice from different HV’s. With my first I hung off their every word and stressed about things they said. With my second I am more confident, I trust my instincts. I’ve only taken my second to be weighed three times and he is 7 months old. I was there practically every week with my first!
    You are right in that you know your children better then anyone. Stand up for what you believe is right, and don’t let them stress you out.
    #sharewithme

  6. 7th November 2014 / 12:45

    I really feel for you – nobody should have their parenting ability questioned this way (which is what your HV’s pestering amounts to). I’d be livid as well, in your position.
    I live in Italy and although the pediatric healthcare system is a little different, I can relate to what you say. I rarely agree with anything my pediatrician says! It’s not that I think she’s incompetent or anything, but we have a completely different approach to everything. I also reserve the right not to do what she says if I don’t think it’s right for my son. For example, the big thing in Milan is to “treat” coughs with nebulisers and drugs. Strong drugs which in the UK are only prescribed for asthma. I think it’s bonkers (my son does not have asthma) and I won’t do it, but my Italian mum friends are appalled I would go against the doctor’s advice. I think what people need to realise is that parenting really is all shades of grey, and you ought to be able to pick and choose what suits your own family. It does make you feel a bit lonely though, doesn’t it!

  7. 10th November 2014 / 11:16

    It is a shame you feel bullied and they are being quite pushy about seeing you and your daughter, I thought that they were there if you needed them and for the routine checks etc, I understand why they are doing what they are doing especially in the wake of some recent incidents in the press but it does seem a little pushy in your instance eg suggesting you attend a clinic on a certain day. Our health visitor team is there for the normal checks and appts and doesn’t really bother us in between. #sharewithme

    • 12th November 2014 / 19:23

      thank you – I think I just ended up with an overly cautious one to be honest. The HV I had with my son was much more relaxed! x

  8. 10th November 2014 / 19:40

    I am so sorry you haven’t had an easy experience. Interesting post though. I am also surprised the reactions you got on facebook and twitter. Always great to stand up for what you believe in though no matter what others think or feel if its not right for you then its not right. Thanks for linking up to Share With me #sharewithme

  9. 10th November 2014 / 21:15

    My eldest child was slow to gain weight too and I had two health visitors at the time. One was great- congratulated me on breastfeeding and told me to continue as I was as although she was small and gaining weight slowly she was obviously thriving. The other HV told me I needed to wake her for formula feeds and start weaning before 6 months… we went with our instincts but we did agree to monitor her weight at the clinic. This was for as much my own peace of mind than anything else. When my son was born I struggled massively to come to terms with his traumatic birth and he suffered with severe reflux too so the health visitior was a wonderful support for me. She the retired so since then the health visiting team has been random and patchy. I saw one of them perhap 2 ot 3 times with my 3rd and have just met another one as my youngest is 2 weeks old. THis baby was IUGR and already has weight issues so I’ve been advised strongly to come along to clinic as much as I can. But again for my peace of mind I need to know she’s ok as I’ve had a really stressful pregnancy and I want to know she is growing well. BUT I don’t feel pressured to go and no new mum should. The health visiting service can be invaluable to many families but each and every time that I have felt I don’t really ‘need’ them they have always agreed. i have never been hounded and never made to feel I should be doing something I felt unnecessary. So while I personally would not withdraw, I do understand your reasons for doing so. And in a way i have also done the same, although not officially. If that makes sense?! I’d be interested to hear their response x x

    • 12th November 2014 / 19:22

      Thank you for taking the time to comment. I never actually heard back from them, other than I had a call from my GP to ask me to take Emma to them for a check up, which I declined as there is nothing wrong with her. I still get her weighed at the clinic and I am sure I will get the invite for her 1 year check in due course. x

  10. 15th March 2015 / 09:56

    Good on you, it’s an optional service and you shouldn’t need to engage more than you want to. I find our local health visitors quite patronising and get unduly worried about weight. I got in touch with our dietician for O myself as the HV’s weren’t doing anything about it and the low weight turned out to be dairy and gluten intolerance. I especially disliked the HV I had for A last year (fortunately retired now), she realised quickly that I would do things my way and visited twice, I haven’t had him weighed since 4 months (came for a weaning talk and was more interested in the fact my toddler wasn’t toilet trained!!) he’s now 14months. If I am worried about anything we go to the Dr’s. If I was concerned about weight I would go to the clinic. Like you we babyled weaned, baby wear and also practice co-sleeping and wear cloth nappies, so we would often get disapproving looks. Good on you sticking to your guns. 🙂 xx

    • 20th March 2015 / 21:50

      thank you, it is hard to go against the tide isn’t it. I too tend to just head to the GP is anything wrong. xx

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