I read The Informed Parent recently to decide whether it would be a good resource for my clients, and found that the chapters on The Art and Science of Baby Soothing, SIDS, and Sleep Training were worth reading. This book distills a lot, a whole lot, of research that can confuse those parents who want some clarity in a sea of recommendations.
The problem? The authors, Tara Haelle and Emily Willingham, left me wanting for some good resources to offer parents once they have made their own conclusions about the available research. They did do something wonderful for me as a Happiest Baby educator: they included many, many research references to the 5 S’s that support the use of Dr. Karp’s techniques to calm newborns. If you ever wondered whether swaddling is bad for your baby’s hips or whether pacifiers would help or hurt your chances of successful breastfeeding, the authors have some science-based answers for you.
As an example of what their book offers parents, the chapter on sleep training appeared to summarize all of the research findings by saying that bad sleepers aren’t necessarily disturbed or deficient. The most helpful conclusion was that children whose parents were available to them emotionally during the bedtime period had fewer sleep disruptions. Parents might be feel less guilty, but this won’t help anyone go to sleep.
If a parent is frustrated, tired, and distracted, and has an authoritarian approach to sleep: “Go to sleep NOW, because I said so!”, I believe that they are more likely to end up with a child that doesn’t want to go to sleep at bedtime, and screams for bottles or cuddles at 4 am. But how exactly does this observation help anyone? Perhaps there are parents that recognize themselves in that description and decide to change, but I suggest that most of us do not see ourselves as emotionally unavailable, even when we are. My experience is that the parent-child pairs I have met who have an insecure-resistant mode of attachment (psych-speak for a child that desires parent contact but then reacts angrily or is resistant/fussy when given attention) are completely oblivious to how they contribute to their child’s behavior. It is going to take more that a summary of scientific studies to have parents recognize the effect of their interactions on sleep problemsC
I was disappointed that the authors included the “Purple crying” concept of Dr. Ronald Barr in their discussion of parents that shake a persistently crying infant. Nothing in this “approach” is scientific. Telling parents that colicky crying is normal, but not offering more than “put the baby down and don’t shake him” is reprehensible when methods such as Dr. Karp’s 5 S’s have actually helped so many families. Of course shaking is never OK! I really doubt that anyone that has had a screaming infant has ever felt that “knowing that crying is common and not abnormal” was very helpful. What you want at that point to avoid doing something harmful is a solution, not a platitude.
Read The Informed Parent and let me know what was helpful and what just made you want some successful easy-to-use strategies for babies and toddlers!
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