Thursday, May 7, 2009

Counter intuitive

I've never understood how people can read something in a book, something that goes against all normal reasoning, and believe it. How they can throw out their natural inclinations, their instincts, just because of something a book says.

New parents seem to be one of the most susceptible groups of people to this gullibility. More and more often, people are looking for advice in the form of a book instead of asking family or friends for help, or just trusting their instincts. I see it all the time as a doula. People relying on a book to solve their problems, answer their questions. Some expert said this, therefore it must be so, right?

Writing books for new parents is a multimillion dollar industry these days. You just have to conjure up some idea, then convince enough people that you are right. Do it well enough, and you'll earn not just money, but accolades and maybe even branding of your ideas.

The most poignant example of this that I can think of is Ferber. If you've had a baby in the last 20 years or so, chances are that you have heard the term. Read it in a book somewhere, heard it on a tv show or overheard other parents discussing it. Ferber is a pediatrician who wrote a book almost 25 years ago about the sleep patterns of infants.

What he suggested doing is training your child, in the 4-6 month range, to put themselves to sleep. His methods have become well-known to parents, most often as the loosely defined "cry it out" process. His basic idea is that parents should use that window of opportunity to train their baby to self-soothe. Great idea in general, but I take issue with the specifics.

We have always, from birth, tried to put the kids down awake for naps and at night. If they fell asleep nursing, so be it. If rocking them to sleep was the only thing that worked one night, I never minded. I won't be rocking them for long.

Ferber's method tells parents to put the baby down, fully awake and leave. Let them cry for a designated amount of time, then go in and rub their back. Don't pick them up though, because that would be interfering with the process. Then leave again and let them cry. Repeat until the baby goes to sleep, whether through exhaustion or self soothing. Repeat until the baby gives up, basically.

I've wondered what exactly this method is supposed to be teaching anyone. When your baby cries, your instinct tells you that there is something wrong. And that you should go figure out what the problem is. Instinct does not tell you to wait 5 minutes, then go rub their back, now does it? It goes against parental instincts.

What is it teaching the baby? Newborns need to know that their needs will be met. When they cry, they need to know that someone will be there to attend to them. They don't need to be left to scream. How sad is it to think that eventually the crying child will just realize that mommy isn't coming? And just give up. What is that teaching them?

We have been lucky with our kids. We haven't really ever had major issues at bedtime. As I said above, we have always tried to put them down awake. The only one of the kids that would fight bedtime with any regularity was Ashley. She had colic anyway, and it was often hard to tell why she was crying as a baby. We reluctantly tried to let her cry it out once. We didn't even last the first five minutes. It was heartbreaking, and totally unnecessary. It was torture for both of us. And just seemed cruel.

There are plenty of people out there who will swear by Ferber's methods. Who wholeheartedly believe that it works. I'm sure it does. I'm sure the babies will at some point just go to sleep. What I worry about is why it works. And why people would do something so counter intuitive just because a book told them to.

I do love to sleep, don't get me wrong. And I fully recognize that my children need to get an adequate amount of sleep. But I am not about to teach them that if they cry, I will not come. I don't care what some book says.

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