Unapologetic Parent: The Big Business Of Baby Sleep Training

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Let them cry it out. Go in every five minutes when crying. Use a soother. Don't ever use a soother! Sleep with your child. Put them in a crib the day you get home from the hospital...

When it comes to parenting, there is no shortage of "experts" weighing in on everything from how to be a modern mom, to how to soothe fussy babies, and how to talk to our children. The list goes on and on.

But whether you're a doctor, a doula or a zealous first-time mom who started a blog, baby sleep is particularly big business. And that's because there are many desperate customers.

I know because I was one of them.

When my son was around four and a half months, he regressed from what seemed like an average amount of wake-ups in the night to up to six of them. And after a few Oscar-worthy moments of exclaiming, "I can't do this anymore!" I turned to the Internet for help.

"What I didn't realize until years later was that the research and consumption of 'expert' advice might have intervened with my motherly instinct"

By month six, I had read every sleep-training book available, and I was armed with the notion that I was going to teach my baby a valuable skill -- one that he didn't seem to be learning on his own. When one method didn't work, I'd move on to the next. My desperation combined with inexperience made me the perfect target.

But what I didn't realize until years later was that the research and consumption of "expert" advice might have intervened with my motherly instinct, and perhaps my baby's natural timeline. After all, how could one method possibly apply to so many different types of personalities? Some of the most popular theories on how to "train" your baby simply map out a plan for you to follow, no matter what kind of baby you have.

The Parent-Led Approach

baby sleeping

One of the most popular forms of baby care that falls into the "parent-led" camp is a book called, "On Becoming Babywise" written in 1993 by pediatrician Dr. Robert Bucknam and co-authored by Gary Ezzo. It outlines an infant care program that guarantees that your baby will begin sleeping through the night between seven and nine weeks of age.

But "On Becoming Babywise" has raised concern, because it outlines an infant feeding program that has been associated with failure to thrive, poor weight gain, dehydration, breast milk supply failure and involuntary early weaning, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics (APP). The book suggests that nighttime feedings be eliminated at eight weeks and in turn, your baby will respond by sleeping.

The Infant-Led Approach

baby feeding night

The AAP, on the other hand, recommends that newborns should be fed whenever they show signs of hunger, a.k.a. on-demand feeding. The Ontario Society of Nutrition Professionals in Public Health also suggests feedings based on an infant's cues, referred to as 'infant-led' or 'on-cue' feeding, day and night.

As parenting trends go, we can at least be thankful that we live in an age where mothers are encouraged to give as much love as they can, as this wasn't always the case.

In 1928, behaviourist John Watson wrote the book "Psychological Care Of Infant And Child." He warned readers about the dangers of too much motherly love. Watson said that nothing is instinctual; everything is built into a child through the interaction with their environment. Parents, therefore, hold complete responsibility since they choose their child's environment. It is interesting to note that Watson was raised on a poor farm in South Carolina and had various family troubles, including abandonment by his father.

Watson published his works at a time when "men of science" were assumed to know better than mothers, grandmothers and families when it came to raising children. "Too much kindness to a baby," he claimed, "would result in a whiny, dependent, failed human being." As a result, you may hear grandma or grandpa squawking from the corner of your kitchen, "That child will never learn how to be on her own if you never put her down!" The notion that a baby can be spoiled was ingrained in this generation by "experts" like Watson.

Attachment Parenting And Co-Sleeping

baby sleeping

Nowadays, more and more parents are practicing attachment parenting and choosing to share a bed with their child (co-sleeping or bed-sharing). Attachment parenting (AP), a term coined by Dr. William Sears and his wife Martha, is a child-rearing philosophy based on the idea that the mother should be close to her baby at all times. This means co-sleeping and absolutely no "crying it out" in the crib.

In Sears' "Baby Sleep Book" he says long bouts of crying releases the stress hormone cortisol and can impair brain function. On his website, Sears refers to a study done in 2002 that showed that infants who experienced persistent crying episodes were 10 times more likely to have ADHD as a child, along with poor school performance and antisocial behavior. The researchers concluded that these findings might be due to the lack of responsive attitude of the parents towards their babies.

There are other AP experts who also feel that leaving a baby to cry it out could potentially cause issues for a child down the line.

In their book "Sweet Dreams," Dr. Paul M. Fleiss and Frederick Hodges wrote, "Babies and young children are emotional rather than rational creatures. A child cannot comprehend why you are ignoring his cries for help. Ignoring your baby's cries, even with the best of intentions, may lead him to feel that he has been abandoned. Babies are responding to biological needs that sleep experts either ignore or deny."

Parental Judgement

angry mothers

So what happens when you mix current trends, scientific studies, an array of temperaments and a whole lot of experts on one subject? You get a lot of parents judging and scrutinizing other parents.

When one mother asked for advice on sleep training on a motherhood forum, another mother replied, "You let your kid cry? Maybe you shouldn't have had kids at all!"

Another said: "Sleep training? A baby is not a dog. If my eight month old wakes up and wants his mommy, he will have his mommy. Making a baby self-soothe is cruel. I want my baby to know that mommy will always be there for him. That's what makes a safe and happy baby."

But what about the women who have to go back to work eight weeks postpartum? Are they able to be the baby-wearing, co-sleeping, breastfeeding-around-the-clock type of mothers some experts say they need to be to nurture a well-adjusted, emotionally adapted child?

One mother wrote on a parenting message board: "For working moms like myself, we are simply not able to wake up two to three times a night to soothe our babies back to sleep. What also makes a safe and happy baby is fostering independence and building a secure attachment, so that if for some unexplained reason mommy can't be there physically, they will know and understand that mommy still loves them and they are not alone."

"I'm the working mum of a six-month-old baby and I've never woken up to feed him, because he's always in my bed," another woman explained. "So I can feed him, soothe him or anything he may need without the need to cry. Of course, if I hadn't discovered how to co-sleep, I would have woken up as many times he needed. He never asked to be born. It's my responsibility [to ensure] that he does not cry."

"There is no study or expert who knows better than the intrinsic voice within us."

As we parents know, nothing about parenting is simple. For each child who hits kids at play dates, there is another who sits quietly and colours. For each baby who sleeps twelve straight hours at night at eight weeks, there is another who wakes every night from night terrors at 12 months. I have each of these kids. How could I possibly parent them the same way?

When it comes to helping your baby sleep, it is impossible to measure the success of any one method or to make a rational, informed comment about somebody else's choices, because there are too many factors at play. However, if one thing is certain, it is that there is no study or expert who knows better than the intrinsic voice within us. Sometimes, we just need to block out the noise in order to hear it.

Trish Bentley is a writer and mother of three sons. Through her informative and relatable articles on parenting hot topics, "Unapologetic Parent" will examine the pressures and scrutiny parents often face when making personal choices on how to parent.

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