Health visitors - my mixed experience
I’m fully aware that this post will be slightly controversial, but I am all about providing an honest viewpoint on things and the following is based on personal experience.
In the early days after having Flynn I had the most wonderful health visitor who, I will happily admit, I judged at first glance. In walked a very young lady who was full of energy and not what I expected a health visitor to be like. She offered non-judgmental advice and was mega helpful with lots of tried-and-tested solutions for both myself and my son. I had a wonderful experience and still do when I speak to her.
This all changed when I braved the weekly weigh-in clinic run by the wider health-visitor team and that dreaded moment your little cherub is stripped naked and weighed. Waiting for the result and for the health visitor to plot their weight on the chart is like waiting to be told whether you’ve got a second interview for a job – bloody nerve-racking.
My worst fear was confirmed; Flynn had lost weight and this was after the initial weight-loss expected post-birth. Cue my face dropping and tears appearing in my eyes (according to my husband). Then out of nowhere, the health visitor (not the same as the lovely one I refer to above) states rather than asking, “Oh this is probably because he isn’t feeding properly from you”. My heart sank and my confidence disappeared in one foul swoop. As a first-time parent and my first time breastfeeding and feeling like I wasn’t doing it right, those words were horrific to hear. I went home and cried and cried and cried. I refused to go back to the weighing clinic and even considered giving up breastfeeding.
After a lot of talking with my husband, I decided to address the weight loss head-on and attend a breastfeeding clinic run by the NHS and, thereafter, I had a consultation with Vanessa Christie of All about baby & me. I eventually discovered I had an oversupply of fore milk (the stuff the babies drink initially which quenches their thirst), which isn’t as calorific as the hind milk (the stuff that starts to appear after the initial flow of fore milk and is high in calories – think gold-top milk).
My son did put the weight back on and the situation wasn’t as serious as I originally felt it was, but that health visitor could have been a lot more diplomatic in how she addressed the situation. To add, I carried on breastfeeding until my son was nine months old and he continued to gain weight perfectly well.
As your child gets older, you tend to take them to get weighed less regularly. However, last month I decided to take my son back to the weigh-in clinic as he had suffered with a chest infection and then was unwell again shortly after. I knew his appetite had reduced and he was constantly being tricky with his milk and solid food. After the aforementioned experience, you can imagine how much I dreaded going. I explained to the health visitor (a different one to the ones referred to above) that Flynn has been unwell and on antibiotics twice in the last two months. No reply.
So he went onto the scales and I was holding my breath waiting for the health visitor to speak. Then she says that he has dropped a percentile and a bit. I’m sad to hear this, but know that when I’m unwell the last thing I want to do is eat and so I don’t feel too bad. All of a sudden, however, she asks “Are you making sure you’re feeding him home-cooked food? Because if not, this may be why he has lost weight.” WTF WTF WTF was all I could think. For the record, I do feed him home-cooked food for breakfast and dinner, but he has a shop-bought pouch for lunch and sometimes dinner if we’ve forgotten to defrost something home-cooked in the morning. I have friends who give their babies pouches for every meal and guess what? Those babies are thriving.
So after this experience, I began to question whether health visitors have too much power? Parents converse with them on multiple occasions during the first year of their child's life, which is also their most vulnerable period when feeding, sleeping, eating and illness issues crop up. It is also a time when sleep is at a minimum and so usually rational parents have less tolerance and tend to take things to heart. As I have mentioned in other blog posts, the first year of a child's life is when parents really do lack consistent information and guidance, and need a coping mechanism in place to avoid feeling helpless or, even worse, like a rubbish parent. Comments such as the ones I received can turn a parent's world upside down in a split second.
Now I am a true believer that nobody in this world goes out to be intentionally mean or insensitive. With health visitors, is it that they’re expected to take too much on? Or that they have to deal with highly sensitive or stressful matters without the right training to know how to get the best from a situation? I’m not talking about the physical aspects of the job, but the intangible issues, how to empathise with people and manage expectations. What do you guys think? I welcome comments here - both positive and constructive criticism.