How Health Visitors Make Mothers Feel like Crap

The Red Book of Doom

The Red Book of Doom

My eldest is nearly 3, in that time I have had one positive experience with a Health Visitor. 2 different postcodes. 2 different boroughs. At least 12 appointments. Only 1 that I walked away from feeling like a decent parent.

Health Visitors are a crucial point of contact for women at a challenging time in their life. The brilliant ones manage to lift us up and guide us, it rarely the case. Unfortunately this is rarely the case, instead these ‘professionals’  kick us down, into a tail-spin of self-doubt.

 Here’s how (too many) Health Visitors Make Mothers Feel Like Crap:

  • You rely on a textbook rather than real-life-first-hand knowledge.

  • You make ticking boxes your priority rather helping people.

  • You sprinkle seeds of self-doubt with no care for the fact that they grow into anxiety, worry and sleepless nights.

  • You use a chart to judge a childs weight and height. How about looking at the parents? My husband is a chunky ex-ruby player; no surprise then that my boys are following in his (thunderous) footsteps. They wont wear skinny jeans, but they will be solid and strong. AND, God forbid, come-up a bit ‘less usual’  on weight vs height percentiles .

  • You are slap-dash. If ‘THE CHART’ is so important, then be so good as to actual concentrate when you are marking the dot? ‘Somewhere-round-a-bout there’ doesn’t really cut it.

  • You do a 1 year review when my child is 8 months old. Is he talking? Hello? Bye? HE IS 8 MONTHS OLD.

  • You advise to test a nut allergy by administering a spoonful of peanut butter and watching him CONTINUALLY for 3 days. Show me any Mum who has that time on their hands.

  • You have not heard of baby lead weaning.

  • You never ever say anything positive: my baby is happy, healthy, hitting milestones. I had never done parenting before and am doing OK at it. A well-done wouldn’t go amiss.

  • You turn up unannounced just after baby is born. Bang-smack in the middle of the one and only time I actually managed to ‘sleep while the baby is sleeping.’ Not that you care.

  • You think it appropriate to have a fag on the way round to doing a newborn visit. Repulsively thoughtless.

  • You ask ‘are you feeling down at all ?’. Assumably, as a way of spotting post-natal depression.  “Funny you should ask, I’m feeling totally lost, have zero connection with my child and haven’t left my house in a week thanks for asking”. THIS IS TOO IMPORTANT TO GLAZE OVER.

  • You manage to leave a confident, self-assured, second-time Mum feeling like utter crap. I dread to think how more vulnerable Mums end up..

  • You make it sound like it’s the law to use stair-gates. I’m an adult. Its my kid. I get to decide.

  • You immediately cross-question a recent A&E. Checking-up is absolutely fine. But please, show some compassion: ask how the kid is first?!

  • You tell me the RED BOOK IS EVERYTHING but nobody ever refers to it.

  • You make Mothers doubt-themselves and their instincts. (I’ll let you into a little secret ‘women’s intuition is the ultimate super-power’. The more we embrace it, the better parents we become).

  • You see the first rule of parenting. DON’T COMPARE yourself to everyone else. Yet you make it your mission to do precisely that.

  • You are wasting a fantastic opportunity.  You have the chance to guide mammas, offer pearls of wisdom, reassurance, good advice and a shoulder to cry on.  What a privilege. But ONLY if you make it that…

I’m sure I’m not the only one who has come up against this – what were your experiences? I’d love to hear your stories in the comments below…

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  • Reply Kate B September 1, 2015 at 6:59 am

    Totally agree. When my first child was diagnosed with reflux by both GP and paediatrician HV helpfully suggested maybe he was just throwing up because my house was ‘a bit chilly’. Just had second baby, HV visit last week saw her ask to see the cocoonababy my baby was sleeping in at night – we had to bring it downstairs – as she’d ‘never seen one before and was just interested’. Yeah ok, half of South East London mums appear to have one so were you just snooping? Makes me so cross.

  • Reply Sarah September 1, 2015 at 3:43 pm

    I’m sorry this is the experience you have had with hv, but I don’t think it’s fair to tar them all with the same brush. I have 2 children and only had good experiences with the hv. I was encouraged to try baby led weaning if I wanted to, I was reassured about my youngest sons weight when the midwives had been a bit over cautious. I haven’t seen them a lot but when I have they have been good.

  • Reply A Blog of Untimely Decisions September 1, 2015 at 8:20 pm

    I expected to have a bad HV experience but it was on the whole positive! Our area have post-natal groups instead of multiple home visits and this was amazing- the info was ok but mainly we got to make friends and have an informal chat with the HV. They have promotes BLW and I have gladly been encouraged to give this ago. The only thing I have found a bit much was initial 2 hour visit… So many questions with such a tiny baby!

  • Reply CherylM September 1, 2015 at 8:30 pm

    Again I am sorry to hear that some mums have ended up with HVs that weren’t so good. My experience of both HVs I had were great especially my last one who helped me when I was at my lowest. Just popping in and listening to ur worries makes a world of difference to new mums. They should be there to support you and encourage you through the most difficult job in life- motherhood. Suppose in any profession there are good and bad. Still shouldn’t happen but does.

  • Reply Ttm September 1, 2015 at 8:33 pm

    I am really sorry to hear this. I have worked as a health visitor for many years and have been a practice teacher to student health visitors, I am now a health visitor lecturer. Health visiting practice is underpinned by research and evidence but most importantly the relationship built with parents and their children. I have had lots of really good professionals relationships with the families on my case loads working in often difficult circumstances the most important thing to remember is the child’s health and wellbeing. I hope that you have better experiences in the future and if you are not happy with the service being provided make it known.

  • Reply obeerg September 1, 2015 at 8:41 pm

    Oh My Goodness, I am so sorry. You are absolutely correct, smoking on the way to a new birth visit is never appropriate. Ever. Baby led weaning is a good thing, so is traditional weaning – whatever you like – you are the parent… and glossing over mental health problems? I have no words, except I am sorry you had to experience this…and the rest of the list has me shaking my head in shame.
    We do get fixated on weight charts and tick boxes. We get pressure from above to tick the boxes so audits can be done and the service can be sold off to the highest bidder. But its no excuse, we have to tick the boxes but we should also be paying attention to you and your child. You are the purpose of that entire meeting.
    I hope your next experience with a Health Visitor is positive, that you leave feeling you have done your best for your child and you are a capable and inspiring parent.
    Please know that not all Health Visitors are as you describe, some of us are reasonably decent and competent – or at least we try to be. x

  • Reply Denise September 1, 2015 at 8:47 pm

    May I apologise to the ladies that have had a negative experience with health visitors. I have been a health visitor for a long time and I sincerely hope that my clients feel well supported and not judged. Our role is to advise and suggest NOT to make a parent feel inadequate – as previously advised if the service does not meet the standard that you expect then please complain. This is the way services can be improved for you and your family.

  • Reply Rebecca R September 1, 2015 at 9:11 pm

    The health visitor with my first baby was male and felt the need to give breast feeding advice just uncomfortable! also took the baby off me for heel prick test! Another told me our baby had jaundice this ended up in us panicking taking him to A&E to have x2 heel prick tests and told he didn’t have it!
    Second baby had 5 unannounced visits from HV demanding to weigh him had to get him undressed with their trainee messing around with the sling not supporting the babies head..they turned him into a training exercise! Later admitted they didn’t need to come and had messed up something on their old fashioned pencil/paper booking system well that’s ok then?! Would have been so much better off without their interference and so would our babies! We are concentious enough to care for our babies needs…

    • Reply Denise September 2, 2015 at 4:10 pm

      Are you sure it is health visitors you are talking about ? Health visitors do not do the heel prick test midwives do and even though I have been a health visitor for over 33 years I have never used the sling style scales ( again a midwifery device in the past)

  • Reply Catherine September 1, 2015 at 9:19 pm

    My baby was born with cystic fibrosis so was under a paediatrician almost from birth. She had loads of issues with weight gain which caused a great deal of anxiety and stress, especially given she was fed via a tube through her nose between four and eight months. Me, as a first time mum along with the stress of having a child with a chronic condition, was seriously losing it for months. All of the HV’s I saw were absolutely useless. Although the baby was covered by the team of paediatricians she was under so was well monitored, I was not. I felt incredibly scared and alone and felt like the HV’s should have been there for me or at least should have taken the time to ask how I was. They most definitely were not and most definitely did not. I was lucky enough to have a fabulous husband and wonderful family nearby, which got me through those dark days. I shudder to think how I would have coped without this luxury though.

  • Reply Nesta James September 1, 2015 at 9:43 pm

    I had excellent help from my health visitors When my first child was stillborn at 40 weeks I honestly think I would have had a breakdown had it not been for the amazing support I had from the HV. I then had three children and each time my HV was supportive and so professional. I would not have been able to breast feed successfully had it not been for their patience and support. I used to look forward to seeing her!My children have had positive experiences with their HVs as well so I am baffled by this blog and quite offended. As it happens my younger daugher. trained as a HV and did her very best for her families. at all times, working long hours but providing the best care. I am sorry that felt the need to criticise a whole profession as you have done because in my experience my HVs were wonderful.

  • Reply Laura September 2, 2015 at 1:13 am

    I had a bad experience with my HV, adter 2children I barely saw them n when went to clinic for help they just agreed with possible reasons I had figured for my child’s colic n constant breastfeeding but never offered visit or evidence based research n reasons. Then when started to suffer PND with second baby I rang them and she waited 2weeks to visit me by which time I’d gone to gp n struggled through!
    This is why I have just finished HV training and start my job in 2 weeks. I love the satisfaction of supporting mums, reassuring them and making their experience of becoming a parent totally diff to mine. Yeh workload makes that hard but completing red book near end of visit, listening to parents and using common sense is important. Wish I had known all stuff I do now when I became a mum (following all the teaching) I hope I make a diff and encourage others to do so too.
    I’m sorry on behalf of the profession that you had a dreadful experience xxx

  • Reply midwiferymummy September 2, 2015 at 7:53 am

    I had good experiences with my first but i now refuse to see the HV’s with my second. All because he doesnt fit onto the little chart. My daughter was the same… Got really chunky until she was about 18m-2y and then slimmed out. My son is doing the same but started bigger and therefore is higher on thr chart. Ive been told that I am making him fat (he is breast fed and eats mainly veg and lean meat as i follow slimming world) and that ‘we don’t want him getting so big he can’t move’ after i just said how he had learned to climb on and off the sofas and is walking at 10 months. And that im putting fat on his heart!… And this was also after them getting me to reel off a list of food that i feed him (in a busy clinic with other mothers watching) i felt like shouting ‘ i just take him to McDonald’s every day’ or something similar to see their reaction… Peeved me off after they referred me to a dietician (who has never contacted me) so havent been back since. I shall just carry on BLW and BF and ignore their judging and focus on both my beautiful happy and very energetic kids 🙂 x

  • Reply Sophie September 2, 2015 at 9:51 am

    My son was 9 half weeks early was born I n December they cum out couple time told me I was feeding my child cuz he was loosin weight but was the scales n they haven’t been out since March… N he doin really well x

  • Reply Kay September 2, 2015 at 1:08 pm

    Totally agree. As far I could tell, the health visitor’s job was to give me leaflets (and what mum of a 4 day old baby has time to read 50 leaflets?). I am sure for vulnerable mums they are a great support but I found it just a waste of time. They turn up unannounced and monopolise loads of time when dads on Paternity leave have so little time anyway, what with endless midwife appointments on top (don’t even get me started on how pointless most of those are – jaundice tests anyone?). When ours arrived we were heading out for a much needed coffee and she said we couldn’t go and I shouldn’t be drinking caffeine anyway if I was breastfeeding?!? Looking back I should have told her to mind her own business and come back another time, but of course you don’t.

    When we went for a weigh in at 6 weeks, I was told that my baby had gone from 50% to 80% percentile and this could be a cause for concern. I pointed out that she was reading the chart wrong (how? it’s their job) and given my baby girl was 8lb 9 at birth obviously she was never in the 50% percentile. She doggedly refused to listen to that obvious logic and suggested that I should give her less formula (i’d already said I was EBF). Anyway, after that I never took her back to be weighed until her 8-10 month check (at 7 months) and was then told off for – shocker – weighing her at home and plotting her weight on the graph myself.

    I feel like they could be helpful but just aren’t.

    • Reply Denise September 2, 2015 at 4:15 pm

      Health visitors should now only visit by appointment not turn up unannounced ( it was different in days gone by) The leaflets should be part of the discussion with you and are left for your reference. The health visitor you are referring to sounds dreadful – if a client is busy then I will always book for a more convenient time ( How dare she tell you that you cannot go out !)

  • Reply Rachel September 3, 2015 at 3:00 pm

    I’ve only ever had good hv apps ! Which I was suprised about , had a lot of people telling me that they will be telling me my daughter should be doing things she is not doing yet ! Being my first baby as well was a bit worried about the year check as my daughter doesn’t stand up unaided/ walk or crawl ! But my hv was so lovely and told me not to worry as all babies develop and do things in there own time , I have never really been a worrier in the sense of what she should be doing as I know they do things in there own time and when they are ready x

  • Reply Mary Utuk September 9, 2015 at 8:54 pm

    Yup, when my eldest was going to have his 2 year check, the health visitor came while he was having a nap and I had to wake him up. Needless to say he was not happy and chirpy at being woken mid nap to be examined by a complete stranger but he wasn’t awful, just as grumpy as any normal 2 year old. The HV nevertheless said she was concerned he had behaviour issues and maybe she should refer him to a specialist!

  • Reply Holly Piper October 3, 2015 at 9:58 am

    Excellent post.

    I wasn’t too anti HVs until an incident a week ago….. I explained that I was dead chuffed my 3 year old had given up the dummy on her birthday as it had been a (what I thought was a totally unnecessary) concern. The HV responded with ‘yes, I could tell she’d had a dummy as soon as I walked in the door due to shape of her jaw and teeth’. Thanks. (She was also only there to do my one year old’s check.)

    • Reply Hannah Horne February 21, 2016 at 1:57 pm

      What a thing to say to such a massive achievement for you both! Any way I doubt it as I asked the dentist about this and was told actually up to age 5 it really doesn’t matter as that is when adult teeth start taking shape. Well done xx

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  • Reply Nini N January 19, 2016 at 10:02 am

    Couldn’t agree more. My first HV would never arrive when arranged which was really annoying as I would plan tactical naps etc around her visit. Arriving 45 mins early one day, she instructed me to wake my baby who had been sleeping for 10 mins and who I had spent 30 mins settling. When I refused, she said I was being difficult. She was obsessed with diagnosing PND and whilst this is really important to spot, is not the only thing that may be affecting a new mum. She failed to carry out the 6 week check and the six month one so when the the next check came along, there were no records. Thankfully by this time I had requested a change of HV and had a totally different and positive experience with a wonderful woman who taught me baby massage to help my daughter’s colic. They are not all bad, but too many of us have put up with terrible experiences at a very vulnerable time.

    • Reply Denise January 20, 2016 at 10:12 pm

      So sorry for your experience Nini N – as health visitors we are guests in your home and cannot demand anything from you. It is very difficult to ensure arrival at a specific time as our appointments can vary in length of time ( do not always know how much time a client may need)
      Please do not let your poor experience put you off accessing support or advice if you ever need it – we are mostly decent people who want to help/ support if possible

  • Reply Emma February 3, 2016 at 10:46 pm

    Really disappointed with this health visitor bashing, which seems to be de rigour in these kind of blogs. I trained as a paediatric nurse and after many years working on wards and in the community feel patronised that you think professional should go in inverted commas. I dont agree or work in any of the ways you describe and have never had a colleague who has either,in the 15 years i ve been doing this job. It just contributes to negative feeling about a service that is there to help and support parents. I m just glad other health visitors have commented on this too.

  • Reply Hannah Horne February 21, 2016 at 1:59 pm

    My experience of HVs was not good either. One amazing one and the rest were unhelpful and pointless.

  • Reply Stephen Lee February 5, 2020 at 9:00 pm

    They’re all pretty rubbish. Usually derived from the lowest ranks of the social strata with the corresponding level of culture and ability to apply critical thought. Inevitably they espouse the kind of pedantry one might expect of someone with likited life experience to draw on.

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