Some of you will have heard me speak of other people in my field of work: many capable, competent, qualified and caring people who do a great job. You may also have heard me speak of those I call Somewhat Less Qualified: people with five-minute internet “diplomas”, and those with no relevant qualifications at all: just the gift of the gab, plus or minus a well-timed publishing deal.
It is hard to find somebody who does what I do: actual Mothercraft Nurses are uncommon nowadays. The need for the care we provide has not. The gap has been partially filled by people whose websites give equal emphasis to generic mentions of what their philosophy might be and how much they charge for their services. It’s a business. Sure, many of these people are well meaning. Their websites tell me they succeeded in settling their own kids, their neighbours’ kids, so they thought hey, why don’t I do this while the kids are at school. That would be great, if the courses they paid a lot of money for placed more emphasis on science based, peer reviewed knowledge and less on how much to charge for a Phone Consultation (I do not charge a cent for a Phone Conversation. Never have, never will.)
Despite my tone, I am generally loath to poo-poo on the advice my clients have been given prior to us meeting: with three exceptions. Firstly, safety. Never compromise on safety. Secondly, I will always respectfully disagree with advice which is at odds with the baby’s developmental state. You cannot force a baby to do what he is not yet capable of doing. Thirdly: I will never, ever support “sleep training” that tries to force a baby into category two. I only condone methods that combine an awareness of what is developmentally appropriate with a gentle approach.
It is so important to be really aware of a few simple facts regarding babies:
1. They are not scaled down adults; their bodies and brains are immature and constantly growing.
2. This growth means change. What he did last week is not always an indication of what he will do this week.
3. All growth spurts, developmental leaps, etc come in “two-steps-forward, one-step-back” format. They rarely happen in one giant, simple “click”.
4. No matter how hard you try, you cannot “train” a baby who is not physically ready to do what you want him to do.
Babies are not puppies. They cannot be “trained”. Semantics, I hear you say. Perhaps. But when dealing with sleep deprived and anxious parents, I find that the language used is very important. So what do I do then, if it’s not sleep training? I teach my parent clients what I call responsive settling. In a nutshell:
1. Learn to know your baby. Get an understanding of where he is at developmentally.
2. Learn what is average, and what is normal for his stage, and remember the difference between the two:
3. All babies are individuals. Babies without a health issue or disability follow a fairly predictable path, but allow for your baby’s individuality along that path.
4. Don’t rush it! Your baby may not yet be capable of what you want him to do.
5. Find a qualified and experienced professional person to help you on your way: if they can’t expand on the points above without resorting to terms like “sleep training”, keep looking.
“Sleep training” is a big business now. Be careful to take a good look at the actual qualifications and experience of anyone you consider asking for help. Don’t be afraid to ask lots of questions, and if they can’t explain their methodology to you in a way that makes both you and your baby feel at ease, then they are not the right fit for you and your family.