28 Aug

Book review: Why Your Baby’s Sleep Matters, by Sarah Ockwell-Smith

I am full of admiration for Sarah Ockwell-Smith in her firm and thorough representation of attachment parenting, particularly around the difficult subject of infant sleep.

Her Why It Matters book tells us how infant sleep really works, with technical information in the early chapters, and then a good section on the historical context of social attitudes to sleep, advice, and “experts,” which really feels like the most important part of the book. Having read a great deal about the science of sleep, these sections give some interesting statistics, but didn’t really break any new ground for me. The chapter on the Science of SIDS however was particularly useful and gave me much to reflect on.

Ockwell-Smith writes with a tone of despair that sometimes comes close to contempt for the naivete of society and the many common misconceptions and misunderstandings about infant sleep, and while what she says is satisfyingly evidence-based, referenced and well-explained, I do think the tone could be kinder and more compassionate. The fact is that she pulls no punches, hence my admiration, but this might not be the first book on the subject that I would offer to a parent.

[Disclaimer: I was given a free review copy of this book by the publishers. You can buy it from their website, and get a 10% discount with the code SPROGCAST]

17 Dec

Baby’s First Year, by Netmums with Hollie Smith

Having read the atrocious Netmums book on sleep, I had quite low expectations of Baby’s First Year. I was also looking at a 2009 edition, and presume that it has been modernised a little since publication. Nonetheless, I found it to contain a good range of highly practical tips, and a reasonably close representation of the evidence with regard to many of the subjects it covers.

Apart from the usual mythology about cabbage leaves and hindmilk, the breastfeeding sections are pretty accurate, although I was disappointed that breastfeeding is referred to as “extended” from seven months onwards. This easily-navigated little manual is also good on formula feeding, expressing, colic, and sex; but there is a huge gaping hole where the discussion of attachment and emotional development should be, which of course allows them to advocate the cruel and damaging practice of controlled crying. Tellingly, they refer to the “handful of child psychologists… [who] believe it could be damaging,” versus “a great many other experts” (none of whom are named) who think it’s fine. Nothing in the book is referenced, so really they can and do just say what they please.

The book is also quite poor on introducing solids, recommending waiting until six months but with only an aside about baby-led weaning (this being one of the topics which they may have updated, to reflect its increasing popularity).

Personally I am left cold by the many quotes pulled from Netmums message boards, but I guess that is their USP, and you can always skim them like I did. For a manual of the basics, Baby’s First Year is good on the first six months, but the second half is probably too general to be useful to most new mothers, who I expect would be figuring things out for themselves by that time, or seeking out more specialised guidance for the issues they might be experiencing. I’d tear this book in half before giving it to a friend, and wrap it with a copy of Sweet Sleep.

08 Feb

Book Review: Helping your baby to sleep, by Anni Gethin and Beth Macgregor

Helping your baby to sleep is a book about being kind and gentle to your baby: a persuasive philosophy in anyone’s book. It is divided into two sections: the science of responsive parenting, and the practice of gently encouraging a baby to sleep. Its starting point is very much the argument that “bringing about change by causing a child to be distressed can never be considered a success.” (p.xxi)

Like many, many such books, authors Gethin and MacGregor explain the mechanisms of sleep: cycles of sleep, survival needs, and what exactly does “normal” mean, anyway? Each chapter has a nice summary of key points, useful if you are reading this as a sleep-deprived parent.

Having laid out the scientific support for responsive parenting, the case against sleep training in chapter four makes complete logical sense, if somewhat distressing reading in places.

Moving on to the practical section, they offer a range of “slow fixes” for helping babies to settle and parents to get a less disturbed night, appropriate for different ages and situations, as well as a chapter addressing most of the common sleep difficulties that parents experience.

The book finishes with a helpful section on self-care and support for parents, which really needs to be threaded throughout lest parents give up reading while it all still sounds rather onerous. Of course parents want to be gentle and responsive, but attachment parenting books can appear to ask a lot of parents at a challenging time in their lives. It really helps to have the science of brain development and attachment so clearly laid out, alongside quotations and ideas from other parents. The cartoon on page 130 seems very apt. Buy it and see for yourself!