How Doctors Can Seem Out of Touch With Sleep Training

Not too long ago, I received an e-mail from a long-term client, now working on her third son’s sleep (second with me by her side) and boy WAS SHE ANGRY! Why? Her doctor told her that her 6 month old “technically” didn’t have to eat at night anymore and she should avoid that “trap” that he had to eat at night. He said that he should be able to go 12 hours without eating (Can you?).

Now, to give this some context, this little baby had already had some feeding and weight-gain issues, so it was even more upsetting to her that he would be so flippant about this piece of advice. Add to that, and his next piece of advice was to let him cry it out. Oh was she steaming at the ears at that! She has been a strong advocate of Attachment Parenting all along. In our experience, a 6 month old breast-fed baby quite often still eats once, if not twice, a night. While many formula-fed babies tend to night-wean around 6 months old (not all), a smaller number of breast-fed babies don’t without a lot of effort.

Think this is just one doctor? Think again.

Yet another client e-mailed us that her doctor recommended giving her 8 month old Benadryl for two weeks in order to stop a rocking to sleep association. My jaw dropped at this piece of news, except I shouldn’t be surprised considering all of the things I’ve heard over the years that doctors have told clients. Medication to change a behavior? I believe we can teach babies to learn how to fall asleep without medication. Of course, I know many of us are tempted to try to drug our babies to sleep at one time or another, but that’s not the answer! :D

I also remember one doctor told a client that naps were “optional” and it didn’t matter if her baby didn’t take one all day. Woah. I don’t know about you, but I find it extremely hard to concentrate on learning something new when I’m exhausted! Perhaps one day I can muscle through, but day after day? Chronic sleep deprivation is bad news.

Granted, doctors give very sound advice on a variety of topics, so I’m not trying to bash doctors here. I just find their strategies for sleep training sometimes lack depth, depending on the doctor. I can imagine they have a very short amount of time with their patients to get into the ins and outs of their parenting philosophies or the nitty gritty of the true source of the sleep problem. And, another thing. I have had a few pediatricians as clients, ironically, and at least one shared with me that they really don’t get a lot of training in the way of sleep when it comes to their medical training. And, it makes perfect sense, because the advice about sleep and sleep training varies very widely from doctor to doctor! It is for these reasons that we have created sleep resources for healthcare providers, doulas, midwives, and other professionals who come in contact with new parents. We feel like if you have something you can hand your patients, this will help guide them to the information they need that you may not have or have the time to share in detail.

So, what should you do about this if your doctor seems out of touch or is recommending something outside your comfort zone?

When it comes to your baby, you should always know that you know him best. You need to use your instincts and help them guide you to what you do for your baby. Remember that doctors are human and have their own beliefs, too. You may love your doctor for one aspect of child rearing, but disagree with their philosophy on sleep training, for example. And, that’s okay. I know it’s very scary to even consider going against the advice of a doctor or nurse at your pediatrician’s office. After all, they work with babies every day! But, as I say all over The Baby Sleep Site, the strategy you use for your baby’s sleep training will depend on your baby’s temperament, personality, your parenting philosophy, your patience, and your unique situation.

Now, don’t go crazy and think I’m saying you should not listen to your doctor about health concerns. All I’m saying is that it’s okay to get second opinions or find a doctor that is like-minded when it comes to certain philosophies. We interviewed a doctor or two when I was pregnant and we have switched to a new doctor since then (bedside manner is important to me). Keep in mind that Dr. Ferber varies from Dr. Weissbluth and Dr. Weissbluth varies from Dr. Sears, but are all doctors. They, of course, vary very greatly in their approach to sleep training, though. I do believe, however, that they are all very capable doctors. Find a doctor who is right for you…or recognize that it’s okay if they don’t agree with your philosophy about sleep training and night-weaning. When it comes to some things, it’s okay to listen to the advice and modify it to fit your parenting style.

How Has Your Doctor Been In Touch or Out of Touch? Share Your Story!