This post was most recently updated on May 19th, 2018
I don’t think it ever seriously occurred to me that what I had just pushed out of my body wasn’t a human being. I was definitely completely certain it wasn’t a puppy (despite my strange pregnancy dreams) or a robot. After a bit of kip, a cuddle and a coo, I was quickly convinced that this thing in my arms was a small human and, in a woozy, dream-like way, hesitantly decided to name it, and attempt to treat it the way I’d like to be treated (that was the way I was brought up, you know).
So, given a few very obvious differences (my small human wouldn’t be joining me in my 11am coffee and digestive ritual) I proceeded to care for said infant along the lines of: what would I want if I was small, helpless, a bit freaked out at being in the big wide world, with a very small tummy, hyper-sensitive skin, and a ‘normal’ that was warm, dark, wet, moving, noisy, heart-beat-throbby.
I wonder what I would have made of it if someone had tried to tell me I actually had given birth to a puppy? It seems many of my clients are spending quite a few quid to learn that they have been blessed with a creature that they have to tame. This creature, if one doesn’t train it, break it’s spirit and show it who’s pack leader, will grow up to be a chaotic nuisance, gnawing on the furniture and leaving puddles on the laminate.
Recently, the famous and probably richest of these puppy-trainers has been in the news. She causes passionate people to raise their heads and shout on both sides of the debate. Mothers bellow that their babies are happy and healthy and sleep 12 hours a night. Others counter that humans aren’t made that way, and what unseen damage are we doing trying to treat our babies like rabbits; hidden in a burrow for hours, while we ‘get back to normal’.
Along with many, I get upset by baby-trainers. Not only because I think we have babies, not puppies, but because I’ve learnt some of the science behind my very instinctive response to my first-born. We KNOW that neuroscience, child psychology, the science of infant feeding and the research on specifics like SIDS all provide us with ample evidence that meeting a newborn’s in-built, pre-programmed needs keeps him safe, well-fed and watered, emotionally stable and able to reach his optimal neurological and developmental potential. This is not the place for a big, long ‘science-y bit’, but here’s some further reading http://www.isisonline.org.uk/
It’s only since becoming a doula that I’ve realised how polarised parenting has become. It seems that the overarching social attitudes, at least here in Britain, are that children should be seen and not heard, should not impact on the mother’s life and are a serious threat to the sexual and economic availability of the mother. It’s easy to see how history has led us to this point; war and economic uncertainty impact hugely on childrearing practices – across time and cultures.
There are now a few of us – mothers, breastfeeding supporters, scientists and others who realise where we’ve been going wrong the last few generations, but we’re swimming against the tide. After all, there are people who’s JOB it is to be expert in this stuff, right? If I had questions, perhaps about my baby’s sleep patterns, I might ask my…say…Health Visitor, GP or Community Midwife and expect an evidence-based, knowledgeable reply, given with the skills to help me weigh up pros and cons and make an informed decision, based on the facts as we know them, here in 2012. You’d think so, wouldn’t you?
In a local Children’s Centre the other day, whilst waiting for the mum and baby group to start, I was browsing the parents’ library. ‘The Good Sleep Guide’ grabbed my attention. I am interested in human sleep patterns and the way a baby’s brain and sleep cycles develop in infancy, so I picked it up, hoping that it might be written by a specialist researcher in the field and have some new research evidence for me to study.
I was disappointed. Turns out this book, by Angela Henderson, is more of the same. Angela is a mother (one up on the author of Contented Baby-fame, I suppose) who has not studied infant psychology or development, has no credentials in the fields of sleep-research, infant-feeding or….well, anything, as far as I could make out.
Weirdly though, apparently this book is a bible for Health Visitors. Apparently, the Controlled Crying techniques she describes in great detail are being used by health professionals who we pay, with our taxes, to have the most up-to-date, evidence-based answers. We train them so that they can be our eyes and ears when we’re too busy and emotionally overwhelmed as new mothers to do the reading and research for ourselves. We train them so that they can support mothers to trust their instincts, love and care for their child in a way that is right for their family and to distribute information to parents that will have a beneficial effect on society…don’t we?
Here are some quotes from Angela’s book – a book which is apparently being recommended to mothers by Health Visitors all over the country.
“Myth: Breastfed babies should be ‘demand fed as often as you/they wish”
“Extremely frequent breastfeeding on demand can cause sore nipples”
“If you need more indepth advice on the timing of feeding routines, I suggest you consult The Contented Little Baby Book”
“Each feed should last 10-30 minutes”
“By 6 months, your baby may have inadvertently been ‘trained’ by you that she has to cry to get what she (currently) needs in order to get to sleep again. Having developed bad habits, babies will not want to change”
None of these statements have any basis in fact, or show even the slightest understanding of normal baby behaviour, how breastfeeding works and, having read the whole book now, show that her methods are SOLELY based on her own mothering experiences and the books she has read. There is NOT ONE reference or citation to credible research in the whole book, not even in a bibliography.
Not only does she promote Ms Ford, who this week has reminded us wives that we should have no say in when we offer up our bodies to our husbands after childbirth, but also Richard Ferber, who’s Cry It Out methods of sleep training worry child protection experts as well as scientists and ‘crunchy mums’ like me.
I did a bit more digging, and I found the website for this book, covered in quotes from Health Visitors. For example:
“Congratulations on producing such a clear, straightforward guide which has made a difference already to a number of parents, not only resolving the sleep problem, but increasing their confidence in their ability to assert themselves as properly in charge of family life. I would like to order ten more.”
So, where do we go from here? It seems to me that we have no hope advocating for babies’ rights to be comforted, fed and watered when they’re hungry and thirsty and soothed to sleep with their mother’s yielding body when the professionals paid to serve us are being influenced by…to put it bluntly…crackpots.
Update: I wrote this post back in 2013. I thought by now (2018) we’d have come on a bit in our understanding and care of new parents and babies. In fact I think it’s getting worse. The library of books advising parents to train their babies with techniques that demand they ignore their baby’s cries is growing daily. Add to that an increasing army of ‘sleep consultants’ who charge an arm and a leg to visit parents and lecture them on routines that risk mothers suffering mastitis and reduced milk supply and babies not gaining adequate weight. And now we have expensive unqualified women preying on new mothers around the world via Skype!
If you’re a new mother reading this: you’ve got this. Deep in your psyche you know how to love and care for your gorgeous baby. And if you want some support. If you feel confused or have questions. If you need a listening ear and some validation, make sure you choose your supporter carefully. If you’re breastfeeding, read this to navigate the titles and qualifications and know who you are talking to.