June 2020. America is currently teetering on the edge. It’s not hyperbole to suggest that it could disintegrate into civil war. It’s day 9 of mass protests, and the national guard, FBI and riot police are all out in force. The race riots of the 60’s look like a warm up compared to protests across all 50 states, as well as many countries overseas. Here in Australia many of us are reckoning with our own wake up calls to the ongoing police brutality and persecution of Indigenous Australians.
The sheer scale of the outcry to George Floyd’s murder at the hands of police has sparked awareness of the need to speak up in many places, both likely and unlikely. Over at The Beyond Sleep Training Project, they’re one of many parenting pages sharing content related to anti-racism, white privilege, and the need to speak up. Predictably there’s been a few comments from people claiming that sharing such content isn’t relevant to the page. (Newsflash, what’s relevant to any page is what the page creators feel is relevant.) But here’s the thing, TBSTP isn’t just any parenting page; it’s an anti-sleep-training page. Why is that relevant? Because Sleep Training is a tool for racism.
(Cue outrage and denial)
Still with me? Here’s 4 ways Sleep Training is racist.
Sometimes your past comes back to you in unexpected ways.
Whilst sleep training is the dominant paradigm in western parenting, and has been for quite some time. It is historically and culturally, an anomaly. A blip on the radar of human existence.
For good reason, since it goes against the biological norms of our species.
If you have ever wondered how we got here, how sleep training came to be "required" to be seen as a "good parent", read on:
When criticisms of sleep training circulate, there are always people who will say “but there are gentle ways to sleep train” and then give an anecdote describing how they implemented routines from birth, or offered comfort from next to the bed or whatever.
Sometimes, in an attempt to differentiate from Cry-it-Out/Controlled Crying, this is referred to as “sleep learning”.
So is sleep learning, really a thing, and is it any different to sleep training?
Well, yes and no.
“Day Care is so good for the kids who can go! They become more independent, they become more imaginative in their play, they dance, and sing and do craft, and it improves their social and emotional development, plus school readiness. My 1.5 year old is doing one letter a week at daycare”
Are you a SAHM feeling the pressure to put your child in day care even though you don’t have to?
Here are 6 reasons why daycare is not what your kids need.
Do you and your baby really need to suffer through the Infant Swim Rescue program's classes in order to have a baby who can rescue themselves?
We don't do it in Australia, here's what we do do instead, and why it's better.
Did you know that in tribal and traditional societies the minimum caregiver to baby ratio is 3:1? That’s considered vital for both baby’s development and mum’s health.
Here in the west we often have to fight our spouses to even get a 2:1 ratio on the weekends and for a couple of hours in the evening.
Our daycares are running a 1:4 ratio. Literally the opposite of what other “less civilised” cultures know is best practice.
Science tells us that women need a full year to recover physically from pregnancy - not a traumatic birth, not a highly medicalised birth, not a cesarean. Just pregnancy. And yet we don’t even get a golden month.
Our culture and our economy expect us to be back up and running within days of beith, even the major abdominal surgery that is cesarean, and not ask for help. Our sisters in America are often required to go back to work within days of birth. But even when we are lucky enough to have 12 months of paid maternity leave, we are still culturally conditioned to parent alone.
We feel guilty asking our spouses to step up and pull their weight because they’re at work all day, (so their sleep and self-care needs are more important). We feel anxious asking friends and family for help because surely we should be able to do this, and besides asking people for favours all the time is putting them out. And that’s if we even have people to ask. Too many of us live too far away from family, (sometimes even from friends too) to have anyone to ask. Alternatively we’re the only ones in our families and friends who don’t sleep train or formula feed or whatever, and asking for help means subjecting ourselves to an endless litany of “you’re making a rod for your own back”s and “just give him a bottle, then you can rest”
And then there’s our health providers. When we ask them for help, they too push sleep training, formula, and antidepressants.
It’s no wonder that our society has created this false dichotomy that it’s either mum’s sanity or baby's. Sleep train or martyr yourself.
But it doesn’t have to be that way.
I am reaching out to talk about sleep training.
I know you don’t believe there is a need to talk about it, but there is.
I also know that you believe that criticisms against sleep training come from a place of judgement. Privileged judgement at that.
I hope that I can present an alternative perspective.
You see, the pressure to sleep train (or sleep training culture) is so pervasive that like sexual harassment, it’s not a case of *if* a woman will experience it, but how much.
And that is exactly why we need to talk about it, and the structures that uphold such a culture.
Western civilisation has the highest rates of postnatal depression, anxiety and psychosis in the world. We are failing mothers, and their babies.
Thus sleep training is often held up as both a cure, and a prevention tactic.
White, middle-class mothers, especially those of us outside the USA, are, you suggest speaking from a position of sanctimony and privilege when we challenge the idea that sleep training is useful, or necessary, either for baby, or for mum’s mental health.
Yet, in countries and cultures that we have looked down on for centuries as less civilised, savage, primitive, where sleep training has never been heard of, where breastfeeding and bed-sharing into the toddler years is the norm, their incidences of Post Natal Depression and associated disorders are so low that there’s no equivalent term for the “baby blues”.
These women are certainly not what we could call privileged. Many of them struggle for basic living conditions, clean water, a toilet, enough food. They don’t have paid parental leave, or a government pension. Rather than being forced to return to work in order to meet their mortgage repayments, they are forced to return to work just to eat. Often their work involves heavy labour outdoors, or cramped horrendous conditions indoors.
Yet they have not either adopted the western belief that sleep training is necessary for their own mental or physical health.
The question of course should be, why? What is it that is fundamentally different?
Even when running through a list of the usual suspects, patriarchy, capitalism etc, we come up short for an answer. Their cultures are still patriarchal, ome much more so than ours, and whilst neoliberalism doesn’t directly apply, they too need to work in order to provide for their families.
So what *is* fundamentally different?
Essentially, it’s how motherhood is constructed, and how babies (and their lack of sleeping 8 hours) are viewed.
In Kenya or China or Fiji or Venezuela a baby that wakes frequently throughout the night (even up to age two) to feed or for comfort, or simply because they can’t sleep isn’t considered to be broken and in need of fixing. That’s just what babies are like, and mothers (likely) go into motherhood aware of this fact.
Even if they are ignorant, the experienced mothers around them will soon normalise their baby’s behaviour, and point out that this is expected. It’s not something to be managed, controlled, or prevented. It’s not something that means your baby “needs” to be “taught” any number of skills that all develop naturally (circadian rhythm, linking sleep cycles, to sleep independently, to self-soothe). It’s simply not something that mothers worry about.
Yet in the west, every conversation a mother of a child under 12 months has tends to involve questions around sleep. Often moralised questions that connect your baby’s value as a person or your value as a parent to how much independent sleep your baby is capable of.
These concerns around sleep, niggle at us, worry us. They undermine our sense of self-worth, our confidence and our trust that we are doing best by our child. And the “cure” for all this worry. Is sleep training.
Sleep training, which often leads to breastfeeding complications because baby is no longer removing the milk on a regular enough basis. Creating yet another area of “failure” for the mother.
Sleep Training, which requires mothers to go against their instincts, and ignore their crying baby, with some mothers even resorting to alcohol and noise-cancelling headpones to help them “stay strong”enough to “give their baby the gift of independent sleep”
Sleep Training, which every health professional, family member and random busy-body tells you will save your marriage and your sanity. If you can just get through it first.
Sleep Training, which when you fail out of sleep school because your child doesn’t comply, or you can’t bring yourself to stay outside the door for that whole 5 minutes whilst you can see on the video monitor that your baby is literally shaking or throwing up from stress, leaves you feeling like even more of a failure. Especially when the so-called “experts” then wash their hands of you.
First you failed to know what your baby wanted.
Then you failed to teach your baby “good sleep habits” from birth.
Then you failed at breastfeeding
Now you’ve failed to be strong enough, to persist long enough, to harden up enough, to do the program correctly, and as a result your baby is going to have developmental delays and behavioural disorders as a result of broken sleep. So you’ve failed there too.
All in all you’ve failed as a mother.
Failed Failed Failed.
It is this culture, this construction of how babies should work, and the utter lack of tangible, practical support for new mothers that allows them to truly recover from birth, bond with their baby and allows them to nurture their instincts that creates such high rates of post-natal disorders in the first place.
Postnatal disorders are preventable.
But sleep training is not, and will never be the cure.
The cure lies in evidence based respectful birth care, a return to honouring the postnatal period with practical help: a focus on mum’s recovery and rest, accurate breastfeeding knowledge, normalisation of what infant sleep is actually like, honouring of the mother in her new role, practical support for an extended period of time, and experienced mentors who recognise the biological norms for our species and can help families to find ways to meet the needs of each individual without throwing another under the bus, and whilst still respecting those biological norms.
In October 2017 Forbes released an article entitled “Fed Is Best Foundation Says Says WHO Breastfeeding Guidelines Fail To Meet Human Rights Standards"
If your first encounter with the Fed Is Best Foundation was reading the Forbes article, you would probably come away agreeing that the WHO is being negligent and denying babies human rights.
So, you might be wondering if their claim is valid.
Is the UNICEF/WHO focus on breastfeeding rates and the Baby Friendly Hospital Initiative putting babies lives at needless risk for the sake of politics?
What follows, is a three part series investigating the choices and policies of both the Fed Is Best Foundation and the Baby Friendly Hospital Innovative, looking at the failings and ethics of both sides.
Part 1 - Discusses who the Fed Is Best Movement are, how they began, who they align with, and what that suggests about their integrity.
Part 2 - Focuses on what the Fed Is Best Foundation hope to achieve in their negotiations with the Baby Friendly Hospital Initiative
And Part 3 - Looks at alternative approaches the Fed Is Best Foundation could take.
All three cover various problems with the Baby Friendly Hospital Innovative, interspersed through the discussion wherever relevant.
Finally I've included my first article on the Fed Is Best Foundation (Dehydrated Babies) for further background.
Hi I'm Nicole