What is it?
The phrase "beware of baby trainers" warns the parent to be cautious of advice that recommends a rigid schedule-based style of parenting, typically at the expense of trusting the parent's instincts and the baby's cues.
How can we encourage it?
At the core of attachment parenting is a parent/child connection based on mutual trust. This trust is developed as the parent reads and responds to the child's cues, leading to effective communication and deeper connection between the two.
As this mutual trust and connection grows, the parent/child relationship becomes increasingly natural and instinctive. The parent trusts the child's cues as well as their own ability to meet the child's needs. The parent becomes the expert on their own individual child.
What the advice of baby trainers does, however, is undermine that cue-response cycle, thereby disrupting the mutual trust and connection between parent and child. It discourages the parent from trusting both their instincts and their child's cues, placing the baby trainer as the expert in place of the parent. It promises highly desirable results if the parent "trains" the baby by following a rigid, often harsh, schedule-based style of parenting.
What baby trainers offer is a one-size-fits-all approach to changing a baby’s behaviour, whether in regards to feeding, sleeping, or interacting with the parents. These strict rules, however, fail to take into account the baby’s feelings and individual needs. Unfortunately, the results of baby training typically bring short-term gain coupled with long-term loss. While the short-term results may be convenient, the damage to the child and to the parent/child relationship may be long-lasting and irreparable.
One of the big baby-training dangers is its threat to breastfeeding. Babies fed on a schedule rather than on cue are at risk of slow weight gain, early weaning, dehydration, and failure to thrive. Because the mother’s milk supply adjusts based on demand, the mother who feeds on a schedule is at risk of low milk supply due to her body’s inability to take into account her baby’s growth spurts, metabolism, or changing nutritional needs. Breastfeeding provides more than nutrition, however; schedule-based feeding prevents the pair from nursing for emotional comfort.
When the parent is watching the clock instead of child, important cues are overlooked. Crying is a late sign of hunger, and yet the scheduled baby is often pacified because it’s not “feeding time” yet.
Despite the dangers of excessive crying, baby trainers typically advocate some form of leaving a child to cry in order to establish a new sleep schedule. Parents are often warned not to allow the “bad habit” of co-sleeping. This early push for a child to sleep alone and all night brings with it many dangers, including an increased risk of SIDS, and further fails to meet the child’s emotional needs.
Baby trainers will often protest that their sleep schedules are not intended for younger babies (while others unabashedly promote a “from birth” plan to have the new baby sleeping through the night early on). The parent, however, lacking trust in the baby’s cues and in their own parenting expertise and intuition, is in danger of applying the advice to the extreme.
Many baby trainers also advocate pushing early autonomy through the use of “playpen time”, in which the child is expected to entertain themselves for a predetermined amount of time. Parents are discouraged from holding their baby “too much” for fear of producing a clingy, spoiled child, ignoring all evidence that says otherwise. Babies thrive on touch, and this hands-off style of parenting affects both the child and the parent/child bond.
Contrary to the advice of baby trainers, attachment parenting encourages the parent to discover their own individualized style of parenting within the attachment-promoting boundaries of AP. These boundaries, at their most basic, encourage the parent to know their child and respond to their child’s cues, trusting those cues and the parent’s own instincts above those who claim to know better than you do what’s best for your family. A high-touch, attachment-based approach to parenting builds confident parents and emotionally-secure children, allowing the children to achieve healthy independence at the appropriate developmental stage.
What if it doesn't happen?
Too many parents fall prey to these baby trainers at the expense of trusting their own instincts. With the abundance of parenting books available, it can be difficult for parents to know what to believe or which books to avoid. The temptation to follow the advice of a baby trainer becomes particularly tempting when the parent finds themself desperate for change in the midst of a challenging situation, most often related to sleep. When reading or listening to baby-training advice, the parent should proceed with caution in order to maintain their parenting instincts and keep the attachment relationship intact.
Watch for red flags
There are a few common threads that run through popular baby-training advice. These red flags warn the parent that the advice can have harmful and long-lasting consequences to either the baby's health or the parent/child relationship. Some of these red flags include advice that:
- contradicts AAP breastfeeding recommendations, including parent-directed or schedule-based feeding
- presents an adversarial "us versus them" view of children, including the idea that babies cry to manipulate rather than communicate
- promotes a rigid "one size fits all" schedule
- discounts the baby’s feelings and individual needs
- discourages parents from responding to the baby's cries
- encourages parents to leave a baby to play alone for long stretches of time
- warns against holding the baby “too much”
- recommends physical chastisement for babies
- denies the parent’s intuition or expertise in regards to their baby
Watch your baby
When accepting the advice of baby trainers, it becomes even more important to carefully watch the baby. Continue to read and respond to the baby’s cues, putting their individual needs above the training advice. Watch closely for signs of slow weight gain, dehydration, lethargy, developmental regression, detachment, and failure to thrive.
Trust your instincts
If it feels wrong, it probably is. Mothers are biologically designed to respond to their baby’s cries. When left alone, parents will instinctively comfort a crying baby, feed a hungry baby, and keep their baby close to them. Be wary of any advice that recommends doing otherwise.
Seek gentler alternatives
While the temptation to accept even harsh baby training advice is understandable in the sleep-deprived parent, explore gentle alternatives first. For instance, many of the popular sleep-trainers, including Ezzo (Babywise), Ferber (Solve Your Child’s Sleep Problems), and Hogg (The Baby Whisperer), recommend training methods that require leaving the baby to cry, ranging from some form of controlled crying to the extreme cry-it-out method. Gentle alternatives include Elizabeth Pantley’s The No-Cry Sleep Solution, Dr. William Sears’ Sleep Problems Information or Nighttime Parenting book, and Dr. Jay Gordon’s Night Weaning Method. The same principle applies to other forms of baby training.
Repair and reconnect
For parents who have followed the advice of baby trainers at the expense of their instincts, expertise, and trust in their baby’s cues, it is important that the parent/child pair reestablish connection going forward. At the basis of this connection will be healthy communication, mutual trust, an awareness of the child’s unique needs, and a sensitive response to those needs. Parents can use play to connect with their child and help them work through their feelings. A straightforward discussion and apology can be immensely healing for both the parent and child.
Having an understanding of attachment parenting before my child was born gave me the confidence to trust my instincts and my child's cues. I was naturally wary of any suggestion that I watch the clock rather than my baby. I recognized the red flags in advice that pushed a "hands-off" approach to parenting - put the baby down rather than hold him "too much", nurse when it's "time" rather than when the baby is hungry, ignore his cries lest I be "manipulated".
Rather than the chaos I was warned of, I discovered that my babies soon fell into a natural cycle. As I watched, a predictable pattern emerged in their eating, sleeping, and wakeful periods, and yet lacking the stress and worry of having to ensure they ate and slept at a specific time. Rather than being a burden, attachment parenting allowed us calm and peaceful interactions as I learned to read their cues and meet their individual and ever-changing needs.
Attachment parenting warns parents to be wary of advice that recommends adopting a rigid schedule-based style of parenting or changing a baby's behaviour for convenience purposes. This advise undermines the parent's own expertise in regards to their child, discouraging the parent from trusting their instincts or their baby's cues.
These one-size-fits-all rules fail to take into account the baby's feelings and individual needs. They are a threat to breastfeeding, leading to failure to thrive when taken to the extreme. The parent learns to watch the clock, missing opportunities to learn and respond to their baby's cues. Parents are often encouraged to leave their children to cry in order to establish the desired sleep patterns, despite the dangers associated with excessive crying. A hands-off style of parenting is often encouraged to the detriment of the child and the parent/child bond. Because the parent loses the ability to trust their intuition and the baby's cues, they become susceptible to taking the advice to a dangerous extreme.
When listening to or reading baby-training advice, the discerning parent will watch for red flags, such as advice that discourages them from comforting a crying baby, feeding a hungry baby, or keeping their baby close. When implementing a baby-training method, it becomes even more important to watch the baby closely both for cues that indicate an individual need as well as signs of physical danger such as slow weight gain or dehydration. Whatever the advice, the parent should always trust their instincts. When change is needed, gentler alternatives should be explored before harsh baby-training methods. For parents who have followed the advice of baby trainers at the expense of their instincts, expertise, and trust in their child's cues, it is important that the parent/child pair reestablish connection going forward.
Babyhood lasts only a short time, but the ramifications of this stage last a lifetime. Long-term health and attachment should not be exchanged for short-term convenience. Rather than undermining the parent's expertise and intuition, attachment parenting encourages the parent to know their individual child and respond to their child's cues, leading to confident parents and emotionally-secure children.
Getting wise to "Babywise" by Katie Granju
The Baby Book and The Attachment Parenting Book by William Sears, M.D. and Martha Sears, R.N.
Our Babies, Ourselves: How Biology and Culture Shape the Way We Parent by Meredith Small
Now it's your turn! Add your link using the Mister Linky below to share your thoughts, experiences, resources, or struggles as they relate to baby training. I look forward to reading them! See you next Monday for our seventh installment - Balance!