I had a moment of weakness today. I typically try to avoid things I know will get me worked up, but today I lapsed and, having come across a link to this Tizzie Hall “Baby Whisperer” person, I clicked it. And sure enough, it ticked me off. Enough to write about it.
Her book is called “Save our Sleep” but it should also have the subhead “by Endangering our Babies”.
I had a browse through her website and pretty much the first line is this: “Do you have to rock your baby to sleep every night?” Oh, the horror. Imagine, having to rock your precious, sweet baby to sleep day after day. I knew I was in for it then.
I persevered a little further into her information and three things became immediately clear: 1) some of her advice is just plain bad parenting 2) whether her advice is good or bad, she has no right to be offering much of it 3) she cares more about selling you stuff than she does about your (or your child’s) well-being.
1) When you take parenting advice from a teenage babysitter, don’t expect it to always be good.
It turns out that Tizzie started giving parenting advice at the ripe old age of 9. She tells us all about the thousands of families worldwide who have sought her parenting advice, and that’s great for her. She also tells us that her credentials – her only credentials – are babysitting. That is not a recipe for excellent parenting advice.
Let’s start with her take on why you shouldn’t assist your baby to go to sleep, ever.
Let’s say you find rocking your new baby to sleep an easy option. What happens when your baby gets too heavy for you to rock?… What happens if you have a second baby before your first starts to self-settle?… At some point you will have to stop the rocking. But at what age will your new baby understand why you have stopped rocking her to sleep?
So if you follow the babysitter’s logic, you also shouldn’t breastfeed because at some point you’ll stop. You shouldn’t permit your child to take dance lessons this year because next year or the year after you may not be able to afford them. At some point you undoubtedly will lose your patience and yell at your kids, so it’s important to start yelling routinely now to make sure they aren’t surprised by it later.
Tizzie isn’t unique in this view, of course. This kind of “you might not always be able to do things well so it’s best to just to do them badly in the first place” mentality is common throughout baby programming literature. It’s also fear-mongering. Did you notice how the last sentence of that paragraph tugged on your heartstrings? No one wants to hurt their new baby’s feelings. But that sentence misses the point completely: your baby is a new baby today, not 2 or 12 or 20 months from now. If withholding comfort will upset her after she has those 2 or 12 or 20 months of life experience (and trust in you) under her belt, how on earth do you think it will make her feel today when she actually is your new baby? If something that works today doesn’t work next month, then you can change it next month. Parenting is not a prison.
Another bit of bad parenting advice that we get from Save our Sleep is to give food as a reward for behaviour that pleases you:
I get a lot of clients contacting me when their baby is sleeping until 6am. I always tell them don’t make your baby wait until 7am for the feed. They have done so well over night, and should be rewarded with their feed.
This actually goes beyond bad parenting to bad humanity. Food is a basic human right. Prisoners get fed even though they are literally living in the government’s naughty corner. Babies should get fed because they’re human and they deserve it, not because they’ve performed their parent-pleasing circus act correctly.
2) Opinion-sellers have no business giving medical advice.
As we mentioned above, Tizzie’s credentials are as follows: babysitting, recently parenting 2 children and almost 2 decades of selling her opinion. It does not appear, or at least she doesn’t mention, that she has ever sought any sort of training or education to back up the opinions she sells. No intro psych class, no ECE certificate and certainly no medical degree of any sort. That should, by any moral or ethical standard prevent her from giving medical advice. But it doesn’t.
I recommend that breastfed babies should go no longer than three hours in the day and five hours at night without a feed.
That right up there ^^, that’s medical advice. And what’s more, it’s bad (read: dangerous) medical advice. The American Academy of Pediatrics, the Canadian Paediatric Society, the CDC, Health Canada and just about every other group of people who are actually qualified to give infant feeding advice recommend a minimum of 8-12 feedings per day, on demand, with no more than a 4 hour interval.
Restricting the frequency and duration of feeds (which she also recommends) is not how you feed a baby, it’s how you wean a baby. If you take that initial bad medical advice, you’ll put your baby at risk for hypoglycemia and poor weight gain and yourself at risk for low milk supply (not surprising, since that’s kind of the point of weaning). If that last one happens then you may also end up having to follow her next piece of bad medical advice: starting solids prematurely.
Not only does she recommend starting solids at 4 months, she recommends you make that decision based on your baby’s sleep pattern rather than developmental cues that actually have to do with feeding. (In other words, she’s once again telling you to use food as a way to manipulate your baby into an approved behaviour.) But it gets better – she says that the World Health Organization agrees with the 4 month recommendation. That’s a flat out lie. Since 2001, the WHO has recommended exclusive breastfeeding for 6 months. They recommend it so strongly that they even recommend it for HIV positive mothers.
3) Make no mistake, she wants to sell to you, not save you
Point number three may sound harsh*, but a 5-minute browse of her website makes it undeniable. But let’s first talk about the fact that she makes her living selling books, just like thousands of other authors. Fine. She has a right to make her living in any lawful way she chooses and I won’t criticize her for that, but most of her website has nothing to do with sleep advice, including many aspects of her own advice.
In addition to selling you sleep advice, she also sells instruction for (diagnosing and treating) allergies and eczema, GERD, pool safety, plagiocephaly, Down Syndrome, dermatology and decorating. All of this with only the previously discussed babysitting background, remember. And she also endorses/recommends/sells you everything else from toys to test strips for checking the alcohol level in your breastmilk.** But again, I’ll admit that marketing associated products is not totally out of the ordinary.
What is out of the ordinary is inviting your clients to share their information with you, and then charging them for the privilege of doing so. If that does not strike even the most obtuse observer as unethical, I don’t know what will. No, that’s not true, I do know: that fact that she recommends you let your baby sleep with a blanket over his face, even though it might kill him. Oh ya, and she’ll happily sell you the blanket.
What she does not recommend are soothers, even though they are recognized to reduce the risk of SIDS, because they rouse the baby from sleep (incidentally that’s precisely why they prevent SIDS) and that undermines what she’s trying to sell you. She’s very aware, by the way, of the SIDS-soother relationship, but here’s her take on it:
Dummy use appears to reduce the risk of SIDS, however I feel when you look at the side effects of using a dummy the reasons to not use a dummy outweigh this fact.
The side effect she goes on to list is ear infections. Now let’s see, ear infection… dead baby. Ear infection… Yup, as a parent, I’d probably opt out of the dead baby. But of course, then her program might not work so well, so she won’t make as much money. Maybe that’s the side-effect she’s actually concerned with.
If all of this doesn’t break your heart enough, I suggest you check the book’s reviews on Amazon. Obviously, there are good reviews – any method will work for some babies. But even the positive reviews frequently said that the sleeping came at the price of being completely stressed out by the rigid routines, or that success was only achieved after modifying the routines. Other reviews talk about needing to wean in order to make it work, increased crying along with the increased sleep, and worst of all, failure to thrive.
There is literally nothing else I can say, except that I’m so glad that there are other books out there that advocate loving your babies and treating them with dignity. Even books that advocate driving across town in the middle of the night to rock your fully grown baby back and forth, back and forth, back and forth. Because those are books I can get behind.
For some thoughts on finding your way through the long nights with thoughtfulness and respect, check out my long overdue follow-up post here.
*I had a really hard time not naming this section “Her brother died of SIDS, now she wants to sell your baby the same fate.” But I was trying to be a tad less jerky than that
**In the interest of fairness I’m going to point out that I did NOT find any actual bottles, nipples or formula advertized for sale on her website. However, the WHO Code was violated by recommending spoons for babies under 6 months.