It’s fitting, really, that in the month I’ve assigned, “Weaning with Respect Month”, another self-appointed baby sleep trainer has taken the opportunity to embarrass himself/themselves by showing he/they knows/know nothing – no, less than nothing, if such a negative value were possible – about newborn babies, their nutritional needs, their slumber needs, and basically anything about anything related to any of their needs.
Yes, this really happened.
Now, I feel it’s pretty important at this point to say that I don’t blame the Russomondo parents for needing help after only one week with a newborn baby. After a week with my newborn eldest, I thought I’d discovered what a nervous breakdown feels like, and it was way worse than I’d imagined. I absolutely couldn’t believe that this being was now dependent on me, that I was now not waking up but being woken up. I felt like I’d never, ever, ever be allowed to wake up on my own terms again. And that he definitely did NOT feed the way I was told to expect he would.
So I don’t deny them their justified desperation and their sense that their lives as they knew it might have ended in the maddest way possible. I really don’t, because I get it.
But I only wish that people with duff solutions to new parents’ understandable panic and exhaustion wouldn’t be allowed to dispense their mis-information like band-aid medication to whoever is willing to hear it (or can afford to hear it). And then for their poisonous pearls of wisdom to be scattered abundantly across social media, shared shared shared and shared, as if it’s been handed down a mountain in slabs of stone as official new guidance on what you and your baby need to be doing or else you’re all going down. A bit (or a lot) less sleep – temporary, transient, this too shall pass – is what parenting a newborn is.
Of the heinously-embarrassing and more-than-borderline dangerous ‘solution’ described in the piece by Fox News online, a few tidbits jump out at me as particularly perturbing.
1. “When [Alyssa and Michael] came in they were desperate. They were sleeping maybe three to four hours at night,” Lewis told FoxNews.com. “I said, ‘I’m going to get you through this and by next week at this time or within two weeks you’re going to be sleeping seven-plus hours.’”
Whilst I didn’t enjoy (understatement) the newborn phase of being woken up regularly in the night, I needed my baby to feed and wake every few hours. Why? I don’t know if you’ve seen what happens when a one week old infant doesn’t feed for seven hours straight: it’s lumpy and it’s leaky and it needs to be suckled now.
2. “Just because they’re crying doesn’t mean it’s a bad thing… it’s their effective way to communicate with us…We don’t want them to realize that every time they’re crying they need to have a bottle or a breast shoved into their own mouth.”
Yeh so shhhhhh, it’s a big secret, we don’t want them to know we know that they need us.
Yes it IS really farking effective, the old crying-for-attention-because-you-can’t-yet-talk method. So effective, in fact, that it’s bloody difficult to ignore unless you’re hellbent on not listening to or not understanding what your baby is telling you. When the baby’s communication is effective but the parents are told not to respond to that communication, how can anyone think that’s the right thing to do and give that as advice? How?! HOW?!
3. “Thanks to the Jassey brothers, the Russomondo family can now sleep safe, sound and through the night.”
The only people who count as ‘family’ in this case being the parents, the ‘safe’ part being seriously questionable and the ‘sound and through the night’ part being really quite sad.
And I’m not kidding when I say this article makes me sad. Because the thing is, despite my sarcasm and how despicably absurd this advice is, it’s not a joke.
I have no medical degree with specialism in paediatrics. I know little about the biology or psychology of sleep rhythms in an infant. I know almost nothing about…a lot of important shit. But I know this: newborn babies are not meant to sleep through the night.
Here’s my advice on newborn sleep, for what it’s worth:
- Newborn babies need to feed when they need to feed. And sometimes they need to feed a lot. Go with it, safely share sleep with your baby if you want or need to. Turn to people who know what they’re talking about when you need advice, people whose parenting opinions are based on their knowledge of the science of human infancy and their experience as parents who slept as much as they could whilst respecting the needs of their little babies.
- Breastfeeding/lactation works on a demand-supply basis. Babies will TELL THEIR PARENTS when they need to eat, drink, or simply stimulate milk supply so that the mother’s body knows how much milk her baby will need.
- Newborn babies can sometimes sleep a lot in the daytime. Sometimes they don’t, though. Nap when baby naps (yes, that old chestnut).
- The capacity of a newborn tummy is very small, so they will often feed frequently and at all hours of the day and night because they NEED TO.
- You totally shouldn’t even think about sleep-training a newborn baby and if you’re giving that advice then I seriously think you need to go back to the chapter in the paediatric-school textbook where it mentions tiny babies and everything about them. And read it again and again until you get it.
I assume the paediatric-school textbook doesn’t say to expect a newborn baby to sleep through the night, but if it does, I stand corrected and also someone needs to look into that.
And then, despite my irritation-cum-anger-cum-wild-raging-sadness-and-despair about the fact that out there, somewhere, there is someone telling parents of a one-week old baby that he doesn’t need to be fed so often and needs to learn to sleep better by using this awesome ‘method’, I feel like it’s not anyone’s fault at all. Not really.
Because really we are subject to trying to meet the standards our society sets for us. I’m not talking about the perhaps mythical ‘who’s kid sleeps better?’ competition (does that actually exist), but real actual standards like having to make money to keep a roof over your head and pay rent or mortgage and tax and needing sleep to be able to live out the other parts of your life that you’ve got commitments to. I don’t actually think these doctors are distributing this advice with malice or perhaps even as much ignorance as I’ve implied about infant needs, but just out of a perceived necessity, imposed on them and us by a society that just doesn’t understand the importance of babyhood and attachment.