Monday, 12 June 2017

5 Ways to Mislead Exhausted Parents: Baby Sleep Research is a bit like hunting rabbits in a hutch ... guaranteed clicks on headlines that read like this:

Mom and baby sleeping in same room associated with less sleep, unsafe sleeping habits

Oh, the allure of 'better' sleep! 

Tired parents all over the world are looking for exactly this, so they're hooked on every instance of this kind of bait.

What's wrong with getting parents to click on news reports of research that will get them more sleep?

It's unethical, for one thing, which annoys me. It's unethical because it uses the desperation and needs of a collection of people for private gain.

Parents aren't going to get any more sleep, and the research results bear no resemblance to the headlines, but it looks good, so they click, share, and prove the cynics right: you can never go wrong by fudging the truth to match people's desires.

What is really going on, here, and how is this misleading to parents?

Here are a few resources that explain what the study actually shows, and what is wrong with the methodology:

Reality Check: When Should Babies Be Allowed to Sleep In Their Own Room? In which the lovely Judy Arnall, a certified child development specialist and owner of Professional Parenting Canada, points out the conflicts between this 'research' and far higher quality research that the Canadian Pediatrics Society and the American Academy of Pediatrics use to make their recommendations.

Should Babies Sleep Alone? Analysis of the INSIGHT Study's Findings on Infant Sleep by Location, in which the conflicts of interest in the whole study (which, as noted within, is a long term project designed to evaluate interventions to prevent childhood obesity --uh... relevance?), by the lovely Evolutionary Parenting blog.

And here is the list...

5 Ways to Mislead Exhausted Parents:

1. Fail to Define Terms

What, precisely, is 'better' sleep? It is presumed, because that's convenient for parents and an easy sell, that 'better' = longer, but is that actually true? Is longer sleep 'better' sleep for babies?

Piece of relevant information, somehow omitted from the discussion:
Babies grow while they sleep, burning calories as if they were up and doing things, so they need calories throughout the night to thrive.
2. Fail to Mention Bias

When parents participating in this study believe that the 'right' way for infants to sleep is 'through the night' and 'on their own in a crib' --because the researchers have supplied them with exactly that information, and with encouragement to accomplish it... how will most parents respond to the face-to-face interviews with the people telling them The Right Way? 

And how will parents be entering the information in the reporting sheets, knowing they will be facing those people-with-strong-opinions? (remember the conflict of interest up there? One of the researchers is a professional 'sleep trainer' who believes-without-proof that babies don't need to eat in the night and infants should sleep alone in a separate space, in the face of decades of sleep lab-based research to the contrary)

3. Promise to Solve Reality

A dear friend points out that you can solve problems, but you can't solve reality. This kind of media coverage abuses parents' unmet need for more sleep by promising to solve reality: that small humans have needs in the night that are real and that they cannot meet alone.

How is that reality promised to be 'solved'? By helping parents feel validated in their desire to put the baby further away. 
How does having a baby further away stop the baby from needing things in the night that s/he can't do anything about alone?
It doesn't.

 4. Fail to Confront the Lies Because Profit

Yes, dear, of course your baby can-and-should sleep through the night so you can 'get a break.' Here's a great method I just happen to be selling a book about. I can help you accomplish that because I sell my services as a sleep trainer. 

It is remarkable that so many people who are so convincing just happen to be selling the 'cure' ... how amazing.

The lie is 'babies can be put on a shelf when you need a break, because reality is hard.'

Alfie Kohn says: if you wanted something convenient, why didn't you buy a poster instead of having a baby?

5. Fail to Acknowledge the Importance to Parents of the Infant-Parent Relationship

All this misleading 'information' for profit inevitably fails to address how important it feels to parents to bond well with their babies, and how these recommendations actively interfere with that bond for profit. Because the fact is
...there is no upper limit to how much people will buy when they're convinced they just don't have the right tool or technique or expert yet to solve reality...
... when the experts are convincing that reality can be solved. 

There is a never-ending parade of 'if that didn't work, try this' based on the lie that it is possible to refuse to meet a baby's needs to stop the baby from having needs. Here's a quote from one:
You don't want parents resenting their child because they don't get a break.

The issue, according to this 'expert', Jodi Mindell, Ph.D that the relationship between baby and parents will be damaged by parents meeting baby's needs. The founder of the 'free resource' for "evidence-based sleep information on children's sleep..."

And here's the money connection for you: 

  wow. I am shocked. Look at that: not free books.