Why I think blanket statements about parenting are dangerous and unhelpful.
“Tip number 3, don’t leave under 1’s to cry in the name of sleep training. If he or she is going to learn to link their sleep cycles together being in a bassinet right beside our bed so that as soon as they start to stir they get picked up and put on the breast and don’t fully wake up and go back to sleep then get put back into bed, I would say that’s a baby learning to link their sleep cycles. “
“Rather than put them in a room down the other in of the house and screaming for 20 minutes which teaches you to wake up fully in between sleep cycles……..Clever baby knowing to wake up in the middle of the night 2 or 3 times in the middle of the night for the first year of life.”
~Nathan Wallis – Seven Sharp
These kinds of blanket statements about how to parent really worry me, and not because I am worried about my business, I worry about my clients and vulnerable mums who watched this show. They watch these shows and believe that they must not let their baby under 1 cry, or they won’t develop empathy (the show last night was about how to teach empathy), or will be damaged in some way.
This kind of statement places a huge unrealistic unfair pressure of parents.
In fact, these kinds of statements are a recipe for post-natal depression and post-natal anxiety in new mums.
Sleep deprivation and post-natal depression
It has been proven over and over that sleep deprivation is a huge contributing factor for post-natal depression , therefore stating that mums getting up 3 times a night for the first year is what he expects and encourages for everyone is crazy. This is asking mums to survive for the first year on 2-3 hours of consolidated sleep a night.
Fragmented sleep is almost as bad as not sleeping at all.
Prof. Avi Sadeh and his team at Tel Aviv University in 2014 showed that fragmented night sleep, getting up 3 or more times, is as bad for your mental and physical health as only sleeping 4 hours a night. These mums getting up 2-3 times will be lucky to get 4 hours consolidated sleep a night.
“These night wakings could be relatively short — only five to ten minutes — but they disrupt the natural sleep rhythm. The impact of such night wakings on an individual’s daytime alertness, mood, and cognitive abilities had never been studied. Our study is the first to demonstrate seriously deleterious cognitive and emotional effects.” Professor Avi Sadeh
Five to ten minutes, so just enough time to get up and breastfeed your baby back to sleep 2-3 times a night. The result……. Diminished daytime alertness, mood, cognitive ability etc.
Unrealistic pressure on parents
The new parents of 2018 are already suffering from information overload, and hundreds of bloggers miss representing science to frighten parents.
Blanket statements like the above lead new parents, that if they let their baby cry in the first year they won’t develop empathy.
Nathan uses the example of the children who are abandoned in Romanian orphanages to back up his point about empathy.
“Children who are raised in an orphanage for a few years have what is referred to as a black hole where empathy center should be.”
Is he actually trying to relate behavior sleep training to abandoning your child in an orphanage for a couple of years?
The Center on the Developing Children at Harvard University has indeed studied the adult brains of these babies who were abandoned in Romania for years, and there are definite negative correlations between abandonment and brain development, including empathy. But there is no mention of this being applicable to the situation of sleep training. 
None what so ever.
So relax, kick off your shoes, and ditch the mum guilt, the unrealistic pressure and do what is right for you and your family. You do you, and I’ll do me.
Linking sleep cycles and self-settling
Responding every time your baby stirs for 12 months is a sure way to ensure that your baby never gets the chance to go back to sleep, even when they are ready to do it on their own. In fact babies, especially newborns, are noisy and active sleepers, they stir they grunt, and snuffle and sometimes they go back to sleep. If you take Nathan’s advice and feed them as soon as they stir, you could well be disturbing them when they are actually still asleep.
In fact, evidence shows that there is a direct relationship between how long parents take to respond in the first 3 months at night, and babies who can self soothe and sleep through at 12 months. The parents who delayed their response in the first 3 months ended up with babies who could self settle and sleep through by 12 months. 
In was a delay in responding…….Yes even in those newborn months!
Now this isn’t to say you should CIO with newborns, but you can stop and listen to your baby.
Get to know their noises and cries. Assess the noises, decide if they are in active sleep and don’t need anything, or if they are crying, are they hungry? Cold? Uncomfortable, or over tired. Do they need some assistance to go back to sleep, a cuddle, rock or pat, or are they needing a feed? This pause to assess, actually promotes self settling, linking sleep cycles and sleeping through the night.
Yes you can wait and sleep train at 12 months, Nathan doesn’t appear to have a problem with it after 12 months, unless that is tomorrow night’s show on seven sharp. But I can tell you that it is a lot harder to change a feed to sleep association at 12 months that it is at 6 months or even 3 months.
There is no right age to address a feed to sleep association, and some people are happy with this style of parenting long term. That is also fine. But if you are not wanting to feed to sleep for 12 months or longer, knowing you are creating that habit in the first 3 months is knowledge, and knowledge is power. You can act on it, or you can wait. There is no blanket statement from me.
It’s normal to wake up at night, I agree.
Sleep architecture is designed so that we wake up several times a night, all humans do. Babies toddlers, adults we all wake between sleep cycles.  Once we have learnt to self-settle, we simply roll over and go back to sleep without calling out to our parents for help to get back to sleep.
Whether your baby wakes up fully or has a partial arousal between sleep cycles and goes back to sleep is not dictated by whether or not you breastfeed them each time they stir. In fact this study , showed that room sharing babies have more night time wake ups, than those sleeping alone. This would therefore show that by room sharing, and breastfeeding upon each stir, your baby will in fact wake more overnight, not learn to link their sleep cycles and sleep through the night.
I’m not disputing that night waking’s are normal, they are. I’m also not saying that you can’t feed your baby back to sleep, you do you, and I’ll do me.
No blanket statement from me.
What about formula feeding mums?
Let’s stop and think about the formula feeding babies, again this blanket statement to breastfeed your baby each time they wake at night is excluding the 45% of parents who are either formula feeding or mix feeding by 6 weeks of age!
Society already slams us with statements like “breast is best”, now there is pressure to breastfeed each time your baby stirs or risk developing a baby who doesn’t have empathy as an adult. This is simply adding to the ridiculous pressure to breastfeed when it doesn’t work for a large percentage of women.
Again, adding to the risks of post-natal depression, feelings of guilt, feelings of failing and anxiety around your baby possibly being damaged by not being on that breast each time they stir at night.
No. There is no evidence that this is remotely factual.
The bottom line?
This piece of TV entirely overlooks the overwhelming body of direct scientific evidence that outlines the importance sleep and sleep training. Research that shows the significant and lasting impact of chronic sleep deprivation and the negative impact of long term (I would call 12 months long term!) fragmented sleep on the mental and physical wellbeing of a mum. Not to mention research showing, in study after study, sleep training has been found to be effective, safe , and beneficial.
The bottom line? No mum wants their baby to cry, and plenty of mums don’t want to be getting up 2-3-4-5 times a night for 12 months.
Leaving a baby over 6 months to cry during sleep training does not constitute abandonment , nor does it constitute toxic chronic stress , and this scare mongering of parents has to stop.
There are plenty of ways to improve a baby’s sleep in the first 12 months, 20 minutes of crying is not your only option, but for those parents who resort to letting their children cry have not failed, and are not creating unempathetic monsters. They have come to the conclusion that the gentle methods have not been successful or are not suitable for them and their child at this time. They’ve realized that the chronic sleep deprivation they are experiencing is not sustainable, or healthy for their family.
Sleep is a biological necessity not a luxury.
Center on the Developing Child at Harvard University (2012). The Science of Neglect: The Persistent Absence of Responsive Care Disrupts the Developing Brain: Working Paper No. 12
Burnham, M. M., Goodlin-Jones, B. L., Gaylor, E. E., & Anders, T. F. (2002). Nighttime sleep-wake patterns and self-soothing from birth to one year of age: a longitudinal intervention study. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, and Allied Disciplines, 43(6), 713–725.
Mao, A., Burnham, M. M., Goodlin-Jones, B. L., Gaylor, E. E., & Anders, T. F. (2004). A Comparison of the Sleep–Wake Patterns of Cosleeping and Solitary-Sleeping Infants. Child Psychiatry and Human Development, 35(2), 95–105. http://doi.org/10.1007/s10578-004-1879-0
Franke, H. A. (2014). Toxic Stress: Effects, Prevention and Treatment. Children, 1(3), 390–402.
Dørheim, S. K., Bondevik, G. T., Eberhard-Gran, M., & Bjorvatn, B. (2009). Sleep and Depression in Postpartum Women: A Population-Based Study. Sleep, 32(7), 847–855.
Ferber R. Solve your child’s sleep problems. Simon and Schuster; New York: 2006. (Original work published 1985)
Anna M.H. Price, Melissa Wake, Obioha C. Ukoumunne, Harriet Hiscock, (2012), Five-Year Follow-up of Harms and Benefits of Behavioral Infant Sleep Intervention: Randomized Trial, Pediatrics
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