If Pretending Made It So: We Need Education Not Denial

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Information. It is so vital to our survival. Misinformation, on the other hand is a killer. Can you imagine if you were told that a red traffic light meant ‘go’? What chaos would reign in your life, if you lived very long at all?

I have been sorely disturbed in recent months by the information and lack thereof surrounding the sleeping, feeding and care of our babies if it doesn’t fall strictly in line with the latest guidelines, based on the latest research.

As an example, I was at an event recently where a health visitor with 20 years of experience talking about infant sleep said the following (not a word for word quote, but along these lines):

I cannot recommend co-sleeping. It is dangerous and can lead to Sudden Infant Death Syndrome. Most mothers co-sleep at some point or another, even I did, but I cannot talk about it or recommend it.

And with that, she moved on. Now, I understand that she isn’t legally allowed to recommend it, and I understand that she has to cover her own back, but I find this approach incredibly pointless.

    1. I cannot recommend co-sleeping: fine. Don’t recommend it, but talk about it. Explain why you cannot recommend it
    2. It is dangerous and can lead to Sudden Infant Death Syndrome. Well, so can smoking in the house or residue smoke on your clothes, drinking, drug taking, too many blankets, too much swaddling, and a lack of serotonin in the brain and even formula feeding, but okay – let’s blame co-sleeping.
    3. Most mother’s co-sleep at some point or another. Oh dear. Those terrible mothers again, being all pesky and messing with government guidelines.
    4. Even I did. Well, I never! Maybe you could give us some insights?
    5. But I cannot talk about it or recommend it. But where’s the help in that? What’s a new mother to take from that? What guidance or instruction or, heaven forbid, help is there to be gained from that?

    Right, so my sarcasm isn’t helping either, but surely, surely, when you have a captive audience who have come to listen to you talk about sleep, there is no better time to educate.

    Tell us you cannot recommend it. Tell us government guidelines strongly discourage co-sleeping. Tell us that you don’t know what causes SIDS but that there are things that heighten or lower the risk and tell us what those things are. Tell us not to co-sleep if we’ve been drinking or taken drugs such as antihistamines. Tell us that having a fan on in the room reduces the risks of SIDS and making sure the baby is not too hot reduces the risks. Tell us that babies who lie on their backs in cots sometimes die too.

    Tell us that sometimes there just is no explanation. Tell us everything you know, then remind us that you cannot recommend it. But at least you’ve told us, so that we can make conscious decisions. So that if we do fall asleep in bed with our babies we know to make sure there aren’t pillows that can suffocate them. So that we can make sure they sleep above the blankets. So that we can make sure about what medication we take and whether they’re going to make us drowsy. Tell us.

    Sticking your head in the sand doesn’t help. Pretending it doesn’t happen, doesn’t help. Hammering on about what we should do when you know the reality is often different doesn’t save lives. Education does. Information does.

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    12 thoughts on “If Pretending Made It So: We Need Education Not Denial

    1. Victoria

      Great blog post! I have been making this argument ever since I started cosleeping. I always liken it to the abstinence-only education movement in the US, which has led to more teen pregnancies. Humans are going to do what’s natural, whether that’s exploring their sexuality as teensgers or sleeping with their babies. The rersponsible thing to do is empower them with education to choose for themselves and do it safely.

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    2. Julie

      YES! Exactly. Most parents bring their children into bed at some point. We are mammals. Can you imagine if mothers asked for information on safe formula feeding practices and the answer was simply, “We don’t recommend that.” But instead we say things like, “Breast is best,” and then make formula abundantly available and provide as much bottle feeding info as breast feeding. We know that breast feeding is healthier, but we also know that many babies will at some point be given formula, so we have standards in place to keep formula as safe as possible and as healthy as possible. And it’s come a long way because of that. So maybe (and for me that’s a big MAYBE) sleeping in a crib is healthier than sleeping between mommy and daddy. Some mothers find breast feeding too difficult to be worth the strain on the family – bad start, poor pumping conditions, whatever.. they want to move on to bonding with baby without the stress of this uphill breastfeeding battle… I’ve not been there, but I can relate because that was my relationship with the crib. It just wasn’t working even though I feared co-sleeping. When I learned to do it safely and in an educated and intentional way, I was so relieved. The pre-parenthood me would have been horrified by that. But she wouldn’t have batted an eye at a mother bottle-feeding her child formula. Which is so strange to me now, because, like I said, we are mammals. Funny how that doesn’t occur to us when making safety guidelines. Ignoring human nature will lead to ineffective guidelines.

      What I was going to say was, “Yeah, what you said.”
      Thanks for writing this.

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    3. I totally agree! I had a complete non sleeping baby who frankly bless her, made our lives hell. She’d sleep for maybe 2 hours at a time and this went on pretty much until she was 5. However on the times when we co-slept she was a little angel and just needed human contact to fully relax. If I’d been told this was an option rather than collapsing exhausted in bed asleep with her when she was a baby, I would have been far more prepared. It should be taught properly and given as an option rather than ‘No it’s bad, your baby will DIE!’. Good post, I hope it raises awareness.

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    4. Heather - Notes From Lapland

      Excellent post! i completely agree, how can not talking about anything, even if it was genuinely bad for your child, be of any help for anyone? Imagine them not talking about why it’s wrong to hit your child and not suggesting alternative ways of disciplining them? and telling mothers it is wrong based on no real proof and then frightening them into thinking what they are doing is so wrong that they can’t talk about it, what does that help? How does that help the mothers know the best practises or things to avoid? how does it help them make an informed decision?

      Sorry, went all ranty there for a minute. :)
      Heather – Notes From Lapland’s last blog post ..An Idiots Guide To Social Bookmarking

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    5. Education like that is no education at all. I mean, really, if you’re going to treat the topic like that, don’t even bother bringing it up. And on top of that, you have educators who are giving completely contradictory advice! That’s why I loved the NICU nurses and the hospital safety educators where I gave birth – they took a truly common sense approach that included research but recognized that not everything that can come off darkly in statistics is reflective of actual real life experiences.

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    6. Lisa Gonzales

      I agree!

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    7. Absolutely agree. Interestingly, here they are actually quite encouraging of co-sleeping and do give advice (at least, all the midwives I spoke to) on how to make sure you do it safely. They help you to do it in the midwife-led unit, even.

      But… putting a baby down on their front. Oh no. Never. And they refused outright to give any advice on how to do it more safely. And, in fact, advised to co-sleep instead. But my favourite midwife said that they really don’t know what causes SIDS but that they do know that, since they started telling people not to put babies down on their front, the incidences of SIDS had gone down by X% (it was a big %, though can’t remember exactly – may have been 80%). She said that she had had 4 children, 2 of whom slept on their back, one on their side and 1 on their front, but that she still wasn’t allowed to advise it at all.

      Anyway, it is fascinating how they can differ.
      Tasha (Coding Mamma)’s last blog post ..Baby-led weaning

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      Luschka Reply:

      @Tasha (Coding Mamma), Oh Tasha. The belly sleeping thing…
      *sigh* what REALLY annoys me about that is FINE, don’t let them sleep on their tummy alone at night in another room. I get that. Don’t do it, fine. But that doesn’t mean they can’t sleep on their tummy for their 1 hour nap while you’re in the room next door! K used to sleep in her playgym in the lounge on her belly… that is enough to get rid of the colic! They go so overboard with these things and people, out of fear, don’t use common sense!

      I’m surprised and glad that SOMEONE is okay with co-sleeping. I wonder if it has to do with demographics, since I live in an area with a lot of young/single/low educated/alcohol & drug abuse etc. Perhaps the health visitor who flipped when I told her we were cosleeping at 6 weeks just looked at our demographic rather than us as individuals?

      Thank for commenting! Always appreciate it!

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      ashley Reply:

      FWIW, I believe that the tummy sleeping issue has evolved, and now research has shown that infants have far lower oxegynation levels when sleeping in this position, which is dangerous. those lowered levels combined with normal periods of sleep apneas in infants (which can last 2-20 sec) cause stress in their bodies that their little lungs & hearts just can’t recover from. by 6 months, their systems can handle the apneas better, and possibly earlier when exclusively breastfed due to breastmilk’s strengthening of the mylean sheath in the central nervous system. lowered oxygenation levels are also why bottle feeding parents ought to search out ‘paced bottle feeding’ to mimic the breaks in drinking breastfed infants naturally get – they have to breathe! (http://www.peelregion.ca/health/family-health/breastfeeding/pdf/paced-bottle-feeding.pdf). Oxygen is important… but if you are going to “break the rules” in any way, you’ll notice stress and distress with your bub nice and snug close to you!!

      [Reply]

      Luschka Reply:

      Thanks for that Ashley, that’s interesting. I’ll look into that further. Do you have any other info on the research you mentioned?

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