Each part of the UK undertakes this check at slightly different timings and can range between 9 – 13 months of age. It’s a developmental check that looks at whether the little one’s meeting their developmental milestones (motor skills – gross and fine, speech and social skills), safety in the home, eating habits, etc.
The letter arrived through the post letting us know when the appointment would be, and giving us a form to complete. It asked lots of questions about things that she could or couldn’t do. Some of the things I hadn’t even tried getting her to do – such as scribbling with a crayon! So over the next few days I spent a bit of time testing her. We also had to rearrange the date because they were due to come whilst we were away.
On the day of the appointment I was hoping she would be in good spirits and nap at the right time so she was awake and happy to be checked over, and show off her skills to the nursery nurse (who works alongside the health visitor as part of the child health team). As it was Amelia was in great spirits and trying hard to impress the lady- she was chatty and cruising around the place, and trying to play ball (literally) with her. We went through the form we had completed, and she ticked off her boxes. It was all going well. Amelia happily stripped naked and hopped on the weighing scales like she was sat in a boat, and she lay straight on the measuring tape. The nursery nurse was concerned that she had not gained weight in 2 months. I sheepishly then had to admit that I had been weighing her on the scales at home, and that Amelia was putting weight on just fine and maintaining her centile!
But then I felt the appointment became tense, and like an exam. I found she asked vague questions such as ‘how’s her diet?’ ‘How does she sleep?’ and so on. I wasn’t really sure how much depth she wanted to these answers. I guessed (and tried to use my medical knowledge as a guide) that it was related to whether she was having a healthy and balanced diet. Well I think she is doing well with food – she’s good at trying new foods, she doesn’t eat too much, but is starting to eat more, she loves fruit and vegetables. My only concern was that I wasn’t sure she was getting enough dairy food. She’s not a big yoghurt fan, and for a while she wasn’t so keen on her milk. As a result I was giving her follow-on toddler milk to take to nursery, whilst using a combination of cows milk and breastfeeding at home. I explained all of this to the nursery nurse, and that’s where I felt things got tough. She seemed a little tough with me from then on. I started to feel like I was being judged, for what I felt was trying to do the right thing! She seemed a bit concerned that I was still breastfeeding, concerned I was choosing to give toddler milk over cow’s milk, and concerned that I was giving her too much milk, and that she should be eating more food than drinking milk. She also saw the bottle from just before her morning nap and made sure to point out that I should be getting Amelia to take all her drinks from a cup or beaker now. I felt as though I had been reprimanded!
On we moved to safety in the home – what safety measures did we have in place? Again I wasn’t sure as to the level of detail expected. Our house is not the best for small people – it has a lot of stairs and a step up or down in to pretty much every room! As such I have only one stair gate, where it’s absolutely necessary, because there’s no other way of protecting her. The rest of the time we shut her in the room we are in, and we are allowing her to climb the stairs when its bath time or bedtime. We have also managed to teach her how to get down the stairs feet first rather than her old habit of trying to dive head first off everything. I explained all of this to her and was met by a blank expression, followed up with ‘And where do you keep cleaning products?’ I suspected this was perhaps what she was hoping to hear about right from the outset of that line of questioning! She also asked me how I disciplined Amelia. My first thought was ‘well she doesn’t do much wrong!’ So my response was to say that if, for example, she touches something she shouldn’t then I tell her no in a firm voice. Her advice was that I should always follow up a negative with a positive, e.g. in those circumstances I should direct her to something she can play with. Fair enough, and advice taken.
We then moved on to whether Amelia goes to nursery, and how she gets on. How she sleeps (and advice that I might have to change her feeding routine as she changes her napping schedule), and do we attend baby groups. I felt totally inadequate here. Since returning to work the baby groups we attended have not been on days and times that fit around work and her napping. We take her swimming on the weekend, but just for now we don’t make it to other baby groups. I felt like such a bad mummy by this point. She asked whether Amelia at least has the opportunity to interact with other children. Perhaps she wasn’t listening when I told her that Amelia goes to nursery three times per week…
By the time the appointment was over I was relieved and happy to see her out! I felt that I hadn’t learnt anything that I didn’t already know – We knew that Amelia was developing just fine. She does what other toddlers her age do, and she’s growing nicely. I was left feeling a little deflated and deficient in the parenting skills department. I was confused as to why she seemed so unimpressed by the fact that I was still breastfeeding to some degree. The WHO advice is to continue complementary breastfeeding until age 2 or beyond. I spoke to other mummies, who agreed that you are encouraged to breastfeed, and judged if you don’t. But once a baby turns 1, all of a sudden it becomes something you shouldn’t really be doing, and are judged for continuing to do so. Also, it felt that, as a working mummy, I was being reprimanded because we weren’t going to baby groups! Amelia attends nursery where she interacts with other babies and toddlers. We are in a fortunate enough position that she doesn’t need to go to nursery – she has plenty of loving grandparents who would happily help to look after her. But we made a conscious decision to pay for her to attend nursery, for the very purpose to encourage her development and have the benefit of being able to play with other children. When she’s not at nursery she is getting plenty of attention and nurturing from everyone around her. She’s a very social girl! As for safety in the home, I could make Amelia wear elbow and kneepads, and a crash helmet, and possibly wrap her in bubble wrap. But it doesn’t help her in the long term. We have chosen, instead, to try and teach her safety skills as she grows up. Of course she’s not going to fully understand, hence why we don’t let her roam the house freely! But she’s learning, and you can see she takes it all in.
I wanted to share this experience, and let you know how I felt, because I think a lot of mummies feel this way after these checks. But it’s just so important to remember that all babies and children are a different, and all family set ups are different. So try not to be disheartened about how you’re doing as a mummy, or daddy! As long as you are acting with the best intentions and in the best interests of your little one then you’re probably doing just fine! Yes, it’s important to put all of the bad stuff out of reach, feed them a healthy balanced diet, keep them safe from harm, and nurture their developing skills and behaviour. But you don’t have to be a super mum, or raise a super baby (well I think all babies are pretty super), you just have to love and care for them and do your best. Ask for help if you need it, and just remember that these checks are general, and most of the advice they are giving is general too, and not suggesting that you’re a terrible parent!
Anyway, I have just about gotten over this check. We’ve got quite a while before I need to brace myself for another, and plenty of time to perfect my mummy skills!!!