Dear Health Visitor, I Must Confess I Lied …

Posted by Louise, a mother living the United Kingdom. She blogs at “Health Visitors” in the UK health system are community nurses who provide routine developmental checks, care and support to newborns and their parents, including advice on feeding, sleeping and all aspects of newborn care.

Dear Health Visitor,

I must confess, I lied. I didn’t set out to be untruthful, but I felt like I had no other option at the time. I should obviously take full responsibility for my untruth; after all, I had the audacity to be a first-time mum with the sheer cheek to want the very best for my baby girl. You see, I didn’t actually leave my angel to cry. I didn’t really look past her gaze at nighttime to avoid eye contact. I didn’t even offer her a sip of water instead of my breast. She didn’t, in truth, actually sleep for those 8 hours that I told you about.

In fact, she has never slept for 8 hours in a row…not when you take into account all of the snuggling, smiles, little kisses and breastfeeds that naturally occur throughout our night. Yes, Health Visitor, I did say “our night”; my little girl and I sleep side-by-side, drifting in and out of our own special sleep dance, perfectly in tune, feeling warm, safe and happy. I guess that’s something else that I wasn’t exactly truthful about at the time. You can find more info about desert mobile medical.

You see, Health Visitor, I led you to believe that your advice, excuse me, your instructions, were right for us. I led you to believe that your dated and unsafe methods actually “worked”… if “success” is determined by the behavior of a child instead of the feelings. If only I had been honest from the start, perhaps the footprints that you came to leave in the next unsuspecting mother’s life would have been softer. Perhaps, just perhaps, you might have questioned your own methods and goals, seeking evidence-based, research-led data that would broaden and accelerate your understanding of the subject matter you preach daily. Or perhaps not.

903529_65792420For you and your team, my innocent baby was simply a tick in a box, but I didn’t actually ask for “help” if you remember.

It was your colleague who rang me at 10 weeks postpartum, when my iron levels were still so low after I had nearly died of a postpartum hemorrhage that I could easily have been admitted to hospital. “Are you getting out much? I haven’t seen you at the drop-in weight clinic, and 10 weeks is by far enough time to be back to normal.”

It was your colleague who told me at a breastfeeding “support” group at 4 months that any more than one night feed was nothing more than “pure manipulation” on my baby’s part. Funnily enough, there was no mention of growth spurts, sleep regressions, or baby brain maturity rendering my daughter physiologically incapable of “manipulation.”

It was your colleague who told me repeatedly, again at the breastfeeding support group, that my baby fed too frequently and to offer her water instead of the breast. Funnily enough, there was no check for tongue-tie, which was totally missed until 18 months. Or allergy, which was missed until a major type 1 reaction occurred on the introduction of solids. It seems that the ‘Health’ in ‘Health Visitor’ is there for no more than decoration.

It was your colleague who told me at my daughter’s 9-month check that children who aren’t put in their cots at 7 p.m. and left there without contact for the proceeding 12 hours will turn into “teenagers who sleep with their parents.”

But it was you, dear Health Visitor, who quietly watched, gently checked-in and slowly nodded. It was you who chip, chip, chipped away at my motherly instincts and confidence. If only I hadn’t answered truthfully in the postnatal depression test; if only my results hadn’t flagged me as borderline so that I was placed on monthly drop-ins for an “innocent chat.”

I was honest here, Health Visitor. I was telling the truth when I said I was happy, that I had never felt more content and fulfilled than when my darling daughter gazed lovingly into my eyes at the breast. I was being honest when I said that the only reason I scored highly on the “anxiety” section was because I couldn’t shake the memory of crashing during childbirth–the memory of my wonderful husband holding our baby with nothing but terror in his eyes while a team of doctors worked on me, as all the while the world grew fuzzy-white and I fought to stay awake. You see, Health Visitor, my “problem” wasn’t with being a mother, it was with the memory of almost NOT being a mother…of almost missing out on every single second of pure joy that my child brings me. It was with a slow, unapologetic nod and change of subject that you met this truth.

You are the expert after all. You know sleep deprivation when you see it. In fairness, you were quite right; I was tired, but the difference between you and I is that I don’t see tiredness as a bad thing. Being tired was a crucial part of my new mum experience. It allowed me to switch off the world outside and focus on the only thing that mattered: my baby.

It was you, Health Visitor, who instructed me on every single drop-in visit to leave my daughter to cry in her cot, alone, “for as long as it takes, even if she is sick.” It was you who instructed me on every single visit, to “keep it up for as many days or weeks as is necessary, and if you need to change the sheets to remove the vomit, don’t look her in the eye.” It was you who told me that “every mum has a breaking point.” You were determined to reach mine, weren’t you, dear Health Visitor?

I simply must confess to you that I lied. I did not follow your orders. I did not leave my daughter alone in her cot to cry and puke and learn helplessness. Instead, I cuddled, cradled, snuggled and breastfed my baby girl so that she can learn what it is to be human. Because isn’t that what we are missing in all of this? Isn’t it eye contact, innate communication, respect, kindness and love that define us as human? It is with nothing but pure love that I treat my daughter.

I see your instructions as nothing more than neglect, and it is because of this that I am sorry. I am sorry that I led you to believe that I had taken your advice; in explanation, I simply wanted your visits to stop. I am truly sorry to all of the other mums who had to endure your mantra. I am so very sorry to all of the other babies that had to endure the consequences of your orders. I hope that now, with hindsight and with my admission, you will understand that your role is not just a day job. You are on the front line, so to speak. You have the access to truly make a difference in the lives of hundreds of families. Let’s turn away from learned helplessness and perhaps in so doing you will learn helpfulness … we can but hope.


Mama Bean

21 thoughts on “Dear Health Visitor, I Must Confess I Lied …”

  1. Wow, I’m absolutely appalled that this is the “advice” being given by health care professionals in the UK. I’m an AP mama of two, and also the daughter of a public health nurse/International Board Certified Lactation Consultant who works in a program for new mothers and babies in Canada. I know my mother would be horrified to hear that her “counterparts” in the UK are dispensing such utterly harmful nonsense. Is there anyone we can write to in complaint?

  2. If we don’t listen and observe our natural instincts we shall lose them. Bombarded with false values via the media and false information dispensed as dogma by so called “Professionals” it is time we paused in our daily lives and evaluated what we should do. Not what we are told we should do.

  3. I don’t like these type of posts. They infer that parents who don’t breastfeed their kids all night and let them sleep in their beds are bad parents and I take offense. What do you call it “Attachment Parenting”. I have two children. A girl and a boy. Both my labours were fine and I have two beautiful children. I live in Western Australia and have taken both children to their required health checks at their required times and have encountered different health nurses each time. I’d like to think I am intelligent enough and have enough support through family and friends to know when the advice is crap.

    My daughter who was first born and didn’t sleep and I was feeding her every hour from birth until 7 months old. By this stage I was out of my mind. I contacted the health professionals here in WA and they told me that she was just wanting my company at night instead of sleeping. So over two nights of not going into her I had her only waking once in the night for a feed. Not only was I happier but she was more rested and settled. We have encouraged both children from birth to sleep in their own beds and yet should they be frightened or sick they still come to us and spent the night in bed with us. Use some common sense. If your child is sick of course you’re not going to let them sleep in their own vomit and have the courage to tell the health nurse. Don’t complain about her on a blog.

    I believe in bringing my children up to be independent and self sufficient while also preserving my own sanity. I haven’t slept with my children every night yet they are the two most affectionate and loving children who I adore but are more comfortable in their own bed unless they feel the need to come to us. It is their decision not their HABIT. I have no doubt that my children will be loving, generous, fabulous adults despite the fact that they didn’t sleep with their parents every night. By the way, I breastfeed my children night and day until THEY decided it was time to stop. My daughter stopped at 18 months and my son at 15 months.

    How dare you as a parent criticise the way other people chose to rear their children. I have been offered lots of advice over my time while pregnant and after and I chose what advise is relevant to me and what is not and that includes advise from health professionals. Health professionals are just one source of advice, surely advice from friends and family is more relevant. Also you should know what’s best for your children, your their mother. If you are so upset with the advice received from the health professionals then report the to the medical body that they work for, don’t just complain about them on a blog and in the process put yourself on some sort of pedestal because you follow a new idea in parenting.

    I don’t allow my children to sleep with me on a regular basis and they will still become fabulous adults.

    1. I couldn’t agree with you more! To say that anything short of full AP is neglect or harmful to a child is nonsense. It is shameful to present to mothers that there is only one acceptable style of parenting. Every family is different and every mother has children with different needs and circumstances. No mother should feel inadequate for not subscribing to one method of parenting. Articles like this make me mad because they point fingers to shame one side instead of lifting up mothers as they spread false information. For most of us out there this is common sense. Unfortunately, common sense is not so common anymore.

    2. I’m sorry, Merle, that you feel this way. I don’t see in the post where the author is trying to criticize other parents. I see where she is defending her choices, as you are doing so here, but without judgment. It is certainly your choice of where your children sleep, and it’s wonderful that you have a close relationship with your children. Attachment Parenting is not about dictating where parents put their children to sleep; it’s about giving parents balanced, research-based information and empowering them to advocate for their choices, whether that sleep arrangement be in the family bed or the crib.

      1. Erica and Merle, I honestly wonder if you read the article with an unbiased view or if you read it expecting to see the article in a bad light. There was no finger pointing, except I supose at the nurse for making the mother writing it feel like a bad mom. I think this is a lifting up post that was a mother defending herself for doing what she felt was best.

      2. I agree with you RB. I’m not sure where my rant came from but it had nothing to do with the original post. The post was talking about health nurses and not parenting styles. I apologise if I have offended anyone.

    3. I didn’t read any aspect of this post that was against mothers who choose not to breastfeed. I just read it as it was about the authors experiences.

      Perhaps people could read into your reply as being against co-sleeping.
      I could also suggest that you are being very critical of where the author sources her advice from as you mentioned that “surely advice from family and friends is more relevant”. Well possibly not if your friends have no children and like me you were an orphan! Perhaps I should see that as an attack on me as I may not make a very good parent as I don’t have my family to advise me?!
      Perhaps the author could take exception to the phrase “you should know what’s best for their children, you’re their mother” as this would imply that the she in fact doesn’t know what is good for them. So really how dare you feel you have the right to say this to someone.
      And lastly your reference to preserving your own sanity. Are you implying the author is insane?!

      My point from all of these is that in anything we write, no matter how innocently you can never please everyone with it. I think perhaps you should take a step back from things sometimes and read them objectionably rather than getting all upset about things that are from someone elses perspective.

      And just for the record….. it is in fact not a new way of parenting……. the human race has been around for quite a few million years but when were beds invented?!

    4. I understand the reason why people take any comment on parenting as a criticism but that is clearly not what the author is doing. She was upset about the way the healthcare professionals were “advising” her — to do things that were against her motherly instinct.

  4. I couldn’t agree more with your article. The Health Nurses are the same in Canada. If you even mention you co-sleep with your baby people look at you with suspicion and you feel a threat of being reported to the Children’s Aid Society. Even at 18 months, if you’re still breast feeding your baby there is something wrong you and the Health Nurse recommends you should start weaning. I love, love, love your article.

    1. Whhhat?? But Health Canada recommends that you breastfeed until at least two years old! If a health nurse ever told me to start weaning before two years, I’d tell them to check the Health Canada Website for some up to date information!!

  5. I’m in the USA and cry it out is really common here. So is sleep training and eating training and thinking a baby can manipulate(I’m sorry, but since when is trying to communicate a need manipulation). The other day a friend posted that her infant son was screaming when she didn’t do things fast enough, asking for help. Out of literally 2-3 DOZEN replies I was the ONLY one that did not say ignore the child. Let him scream. Get earplugs. Don’t pick him up. Walk away. It makes me want to cry for all those poor babies that have no idea why their parents won’t help them.

    1. A friend on facebook posted about her 4-month old having trouble sleeping through the night. The baby is in a little cot in the mom’s room.

      The friend’s mother posted that she co-slept with her babies and it helped them sleep through the night. Plus it made breastfeeding easier. She also posted the “rules” (like no drinking/meds, don’t sleep with back to baby, don’t put baby in between mom and dad).

      My mother posted that when my siblings and I were babies, we slept in our own rooms from day one and cried it out. Babies need to learn independence and how to comfort themselves. Don’t let the baby manipulate you!! And also the friend should probably start feeding that baby cereal so she sleeps through the night.

      I’m not close with my mom. I moved far away and I only see her during major holidays (on purpose). The friend, however, is close with her mother. Although they live a couple hours away, they talk on the phone and they genuinely like each other.

  6. Yeah. Actually I didn’t lie. I told one health visitor I wouldn’t leave my eldest to cry, when she said it worked, she’d done it with her own children, I said it was up to her if she chose to neglect and abuse her children, but I wouldn’t be doing it to mine. I also showed another health visitor the sidecar crib that allowed my youngest to sleep next to me safely. But she still “had” to tell me the dept of health warnings about the “dangers” of co-sleeping. But I appreciate that I am confident, bordering on the bolshy, and feel tremendously sad that so many new mums are told to ignore their paternal instincts and do such horrible unnatural things.

  7. I think the trouble is that health visitors appear to have a lot of personal discretion and so your experience can vary tremendously. There are a lot of good up-to-date ones out there as well.

    But yours will probably never read your essay. I have yet to meet a health visitor who uses the net for anything more than basic email.

  8. I’m so sorry this was your experience of health visitors. I’m very glad that you didn’t follow their ‘advice’ and that you are confident enough to parent your babies in the way that feels best for you. I just want to respond to some who might think that this is the way all health visitors in the UK are – they’re not I promise! I am not a health visitor but I work closely with many of the teams where I live and they are almost all the opposite of those that you met. yes there are still a few old ways of thinking around if you look hard enough but in my experience through my work and as a mother, the Health Visitors in the UK are an amazing resource for parents who are there to listen, support and provide information when asked. They know a lot about current research and parenting ideas and are non-judgemental and will work with a families way of doing things.
    I feel your passion and I am so sad you have had this experience, I just wanted to stick up for the amazing HVs that I know!

  9. I am a Canadian AP mom living in the UK and I have to say, happily, that my experience with the midwives and health visitors I have dealt with is on the total opposite end of the spectrum. They took care of both of us when I was struggling with PPD so far from home and my own mom. I had the most amazing labour and delivery at a midwife clinic, just me, my husband, and one midwife. The breastfeeding support groups that the health visitors recommended to me was amazing. I am sorry this was the experience of this mother, but it is in no way representative of ALL health visitors in ALL of the UK.

  10. im a hv in the uk. i wanted to say we are not all like that. some of us are very up to date with knowledge of neurophysiogical development of children and ensure all of our practices are evidence based. we work with families to ensure we give them advice based on current scientific evidence of what will give the best outcome for your child. i have mums who dont breastfeed or immunise and i dont judge as it is their decision. i dont get my flu jab as recommended so why would i judge others? i work with them so that i can tailor any advice or help i give to their individual situations. i take pride in my work and i love my job. please dont judge us all by the actions of some poorly educated hvs out there. we are not all the same.

  11. Dear Mama Bean,
    I’m saddened by your experience and shamed by the association of being a health visitor. I have tried so hard to be intuitive and responsive but am hammered by a gargantuan system who as you rightly say is directed by tick boxes and leaves nothing to the autonomy of practitioners. After 6 years of treading the path of bureaucracy whilst feeling strangled by prescriptive approaches to supporting families I have decided to quit. Being chastised for minor departures from the aforementioned script, which was only an issue for my peers and management and not the post natal group I was supporting was the final straw. Power to you Mama Bean, but please take pity on the HV’s I leave behind – I refuse to believe I am the only one who felt the tightening of the shackles, and the fear of my colleagues was palpable and endemic. Ridiculous and sad situation – not least for those families we trained to support. xxxx

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