I was alarmed to read the sleep ‘advice’ in the Your Family piece in the Evening Telegraph.
Although I am well aware that all parents have different ideas on the correct way to help their babies to sleep, I feel I must speak up as the advice was in direct contravention of accepted universal guidelines. At best, it could make stressed new mums with poor sleepers feel bad about comforting their child, and at worst it could result in harm to the child.
Firstly, the advice to start solid, complimentary foods at four to six months is contrary to that given by the Department of Health, which is based on extensive research by the World Health Organisation. The guidelines state that babies need only breastmilk or formula until they are six months old. Weaning early increases the risk of allergies and infections. It can also greatly increase the risk of a baby choking. Weaning should only be carried out when a child is about six months old, has lost their tongue thrust reflex, can sit up and can reach for foods themselves.
The article also suggests that weaning can help a baby sleep through the night. There is absolutely no evidence to support this theory. In fact, breastmilk and formula has more calories than any puree, and so will help the baby to feel fuller for longer than solid food.
The advice also suggests moving baby to their own room ‘as soon as you feel comfortable’. This is the opposite advice to the Unicef guidelines to help prevent Sudden Infant Death Syndrome. This states: “Having the baby sleep in a separate room to the mother is an established risk factor for Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS).
All parents should be advised to keep the baby in their bedroom at night for at least the first six months, regardless of how the baby is fed.”
The article also implies that mothers should not respond immediately when their baby wakes. Again, this is in direct contravention with that advice offered by Unicef. This states: “As soon as your baby starts waking, offer her a feed, that way she doesn’t get too upset and difficult to settle.”
The Unicef advice is based on helping tired parents get the most sleep possible. Responding to a tiny baby’s cues is not the ‘wrong’ thing to do. In fact, research shows that those babies who are responded to immediately grow up with a very strong, healthy attachment to their parents. As older children they are actually more settled and secure than those who are left to cry.
Remember that the only way a baby has to communicate is to cry. You would never leave and adult alone, crying, so why would you even contemplate leaving a newborn alone?
Waking in the night is normal for young babies. It is not a ‘problem’ to be ‘tackled’. In fact, frequent waking is what keeps babies from falling into the deep sleep thought to be associated with SIDS. New mums should be assured that their instinctive response to meet the needs of their crying child immediately is the right one.
Perhaps next time your columnist offers advice, she should check to official guidelines first. They are available here: http://www.unicef.org.uk/Documents/Baby_Friendly/Leaflets/HPs_Guide_to_Coping_At_Night_Final.pdf
and mum of three