Research published last month by the Australian-based Murdoch Childrens Research Institute (MCRI) concluded that:
“…parents can feel confident using, and health professionals can feel confident offering, behavioural techniques such as ‘controlled comforting’ and ‘camping out’ for managing infant sleep.”
I started wondering where this idea came from in the first place and decided to investigate its history.
Controlled Crying – Origins
In the late 1800s Western societies began to rely more on science than Bibilical/spiritual leaders or individuals with personal experience to answer life’s dilemmas, including those writing about the care of children.
Women’s role in society shifted as more demanded the right to vote and worked outside the home. The movement of women into ‘male’ occupations provided a platform for those with feminist leanings to perceive womanhood as becoming more equal to men. For example, in his 1980 book The Changing Folkways of Parenthood Herbert Costner wrote:
“… the adoption of 'manly' occupations (by women) and the application of the 'manly' ways to the feminine sphere of activities, e.g. 'rational-scientific' methods in the care of the home, in the preparation of food and in the care and training of children, became 'self-respect' symbols to women whose self-image no longer included a conception of themselves as irrational and flighty, and, in general, inferior to men."
Mothers’ groups in the US - once led primarily by members of the clergy - began to invite those considered to be experts (rational/scientific) in the emerging field of child development. Possessing moral integrity (as with religious principles) started to become less of a societal focus than productivity and accomplishment. Parental values and child-rearing shifted to match what was fast becoming a more capitalistic society, resulting in more emphasis on children having the capacity to be effective producers and high achievers.
|Dr L Emmett Holt (1895-1974)|
In 1894 Dr L Emmett Holt first published “The Care and Feeding of Children: A Catechism for the Use of Mothers and Children’s Nurses” which remained popular until about 1934. He recommended strict schedules for feeding and toilet-training and minimal affection and advised that:
"A really contrary infant might try for an hour, or even for two or three hours, to get the best of his mother by crying. She must never give in, provided she is convinced that nothing is physically amiss with the child. Habitual criers should be left alone most of the time; otherwise they might become 'nervous.' Babies under six months old should never be played with, and of kissing the less the better."
|John B Watson (1878-1958)|
In 1928 John B Watson and his wife Rosalie published “Psychological Care of Infant and Child” and although highly criticized, the book became a best-seller. Prior to becoming regarded as an expert in child-rearing, Watson was best known for developing ‘behaviourism’ as a psychological theory. Unlike Sigmund Freud’s focus on introspection and consciousness, he advocated for an objective, scientific approach to the study of psychology.
The overall theme of Watson’s views can be pretty much summed up by the following example of advice to parents:
"Never hug and kiss them, never let them sit on your lap. If you must, kiss them once on the forehead when they say good night. Shake hands with them in the morning."
|Watson & assistant testing grasping reflex (Photo: F Hamburger Jr)|
Using methods which today would be deemed highly unethical, Watson tested his theories on how to condition children to express fear, love, or rage - emotions he viewed as the basic elements of human nature – by dropping and catching infants to generate fear (photo right).
Watson also used his two sons as subjects for his theories and promoted them as ‘the behaviorist's plan in action’. It’s interesting then to read that five years before her death in 1935 Rosalie, the mother of his sons, wrote an article for Parents’ Magazine called "I Am the Mother of a Behaviorist's Sons” saying:
"In some respects I bow to the great wisdom in the science of behaviorism, and in others I am rebellious. I secretly wish that on the score of [the children's] affections, they will be a little weak when they grow up, that they will have a tear in their eyes for the poetry and drama of life and a throb for romance. . . .I like being merry and gay and having the giggles. The behaviorists think giggling is a sign of maladjustment."
Later in life Watson publicly regretted much of his advice to parents saying that he ‘did not know enough’ to do a good job.
The Ferber Method
|Dr Richard Ferber|
According to Wikipedia ‘Ferberization’ is an approach that can be traced back to Holt’s book (see above) and “…is a technique invented by Dr Richard Ferber to solve infant sleep problems. It involves ‘baby-training’ children to self-soothe by allowing the child to cry for a predetermined amount of time before receiving external comfort.”
The first edition of Dr Ferber’s book "Solve Your Child's Sleep Problems" was published in 1980. In an article called “Sleeping with the Baby” written by John Seabrook for The New Yorker in 1999 Dr Ferber had changed his original views about co-sleeping ie "Although taking your child into bed with you for a night or two may be reasonable if he is ill or very upset about something, for the most part this is not a good idea…sleeping alone is an important part of his learning to be able to separate from you without anxiety and to see himself as an independent individual."
Dr Ferber told Seabrook: "I wish I hadn't written those sentences…that came out of some of the existing literature. It is a blanket statement that is just not right. There's plenty of examples of co-sleeping where it works out just fine. My feeling now is that children can sleep with or without their parents. What's really important is that the parents work out what they want to do."
Dr Ferber made modifications to this effect in the 2006 edition of his book (Wikipedia). With respect, I find it contradictory then that in a 2004 Q&A session published by the Children’s Hospital Boston in Pediatric Views, he hadn’t seemed to have relinquished much at all; either to his original views or the prevailing physiological and anthropological knowledge re infant sleep.
Following is the first question and answer:
"Q: At what age should a baby who still wakes at night be considered to have a sleep problem?
A: By 3 months old most babies are waking only once or have started sleeping through the night; they should definitely be doing so by 4 or 5 months old. So, for example, if an otherwise healthy 6-month-old (and certainly an 8-month-old) is having problems going to sleep, is waking up for extended periods, or is waking repeatedly during the night, then there is definitely a problem."
Seabrook also adds an insightful cultural observation in his article:
“Perhaps the American veneration for a night of unbroken sleep is another culturally determined prejudice, posing as science. Here, if you're awake, you're supposed to be busy with wireless communications. Sleep is the only private time you've got left, and it's not surprising that people tend to make a fetish of it.”
It seems many Australian parents share such 'veneration', but I see it, for the most part, as a cultural deficiency in postnatal support. I think something is definitely amiss when some are willing to pay a sleep 'whisperer' up to $2500 with no guarantees.
Most telling to me regarding the origins of controlled crying is the persistent negation of the role that breastfeeding plays in what we now know to be the normal neuro-physiological synchrony of mother-infant sleep. Sadly, I don’t think a whole lot has changed.
More Quotes: 1916-1931
"This disease (rickets) is confined almost exclusively to infants who are artificially fed. ...Just what exists in breast milk that prevents, and what is absent or present in cows' milk which permits or causes the symptoms of rickets to appear, has not been clearly defined.(A Practical Treatise on Infant Feeding and Allied Topics for Physicians and Students, 1916)
The responsibility for the failure to conserve the maternal milk-supply, while dual, rests with greater weight upon the physician, who, while realizing the value of natural and the dangers and uncertainties of artificial feeding, has failed to become fired with that enthusiasm which the subject demands."
"It is well that a growing infant should cry a little every day. ...The baby should be made to cry every day by slapping him on the buttocks." ...
“When the baby is just born and during the first few days of life, it is very little more intelligent than a vegetable.” …
"Badly managed and spoiled infants often cry vigorously when left alone, and when attention is given to them and they are taken up or talked to, the crying ceases.” …
“How often do we see the young infant stop crying at two weeks of age when it is picked up by either parent. Herein lies the potential juvenile court case. Unless the parents are guided by the physician, even at this early stage, the infant soon learns to put one over on its parents.”(The Normal Child, by Alan Brown, 1923)
"Few people realize the importance of vigorous, lusty crying in a healthy infant. It is as essential to the infant as exercise is to the adult. It is, in fact, the infant's daily exercise. All young babies should have a crying period during each day...The infant who cries regularly between 5 and 6, or 8 and 10 o'clock in the evening is doing what is called "reflex crying". It is not to be assumed under such conditions that he is suffering either discomfort or pain, but it is to be taken for granted that such crying is good for the baby and is as important as food."(Alton Goldbloom, 1928)
"The baby should sleep alone in a room or at least have a crib or a bed to himself. Never rock a baby to sleep. Never put a baby to sleep in your arms; it is a bad habit, tiresome for yourself and unwholesome for the baby."(Canada's Baby Book, 17th Edition, 1928)
"Regularity of nursing is most important. The infant should always be fed exactly at the stated hour and never at irregular intervals, as this upsets the baby's routine and soon leads to stomach trouble. If the infant wakes up and cries before the feeding hour he should be examined to see if he is wet, and if so, changed and then offered some plain boiled water. If the infant is asleep at the feeding hour he should be awakened. It is remarkable how these infants learn to wake up at or shortly before the appointed time. After a few days' training they behave like little machines."(The Home Care of the Infant & Child, F Tisdall, 1931)
Dear oh dear oh dearie me - what were we thinking!?
My next post will be about recent research and the critical analysis it evoked.
Bye for now & thanks for reading!
My next post will be about recent research and the critical analysis it evoked.
Bye for now & thanks for reading!
Sources for this article:
Free ebook “The Care & Feeding of Children” by L Emmett Holt
Article “Psychological Care of Infant and Child: A Reflection of its Author and his Times” by Suzanne Houk
Article “It's All in the Upbringing” by Joanne SimpsonWikipedia re Behaviorist John Watson (1878-1958)
Quotes 1916-1931 Dr Jack Newman MD, IBCLC