Tuesday, March 3, 2009

The great debate: Bringing Up Baby

For the last couple of weeks, the ABC has been broadcasting a British documentary series which "takes the guiding principles of three of last century's most influential childcare manuals - Dr Truby King's 1913 book Feeding and Care of Baby, Dr Benjamin Spock's Baby and Child Care and Jean Liedloff's 1975 The Continuum Concept - and observes six families as they put into practice their chosen method for the first few months of their babies' lives."

Each of these families is given a "mentor" to guide them through this process - and it is here that controversy has erupted. The advocate of the Truby King method, Claire Verity (above, torturing a small child), believes in four-hourly feeds from day 1 (make sure you hold the baby away from you when you feed - you wouldn't want it getting too cosy), minimal cuddling (10 minutes each day), no eye contact with the baby, and leaving the baby outside alone in the "fresh air" for hours each day.

The result, she says, is a baby that will sleep from 7pm to 7am each night from 12 weeks old and your life back within weeks. Now, I am a fan of sleep. And I like a certain structure to my days. And, believe me, I know how absolutely horrific sleep deprivation can be, having two girls under three years of age. I am even ok with controlled crying when the baby is old enough to cope with it. But on the program, sleeping through is put up as the "finish line"...when the baby has slept through, the technique has worked and all is fine with the world...your life is "back to normal".

What is the cost of this "reward"? Having to listen to your newborn baby scream for up to two hours until the magic four-hourly feeding time is reached; having to helplessly watch as your baby cries because it is left all alone outside for hours on end (you're not allowed to comfort it); and a real risk that you won't develop that all-important bond with your little one.

To me, it sounds like a punishment for both parties. One of the most magical things about having a baby is being able to hold her; smell her sweet baby smell; nuzzle her little downy head. Why on earth would you deprive yourself of those pleasures? They win over sleep any time.

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