I am a social worker and parent in Australia concerned about the western practice of a method called 'controlled crying' that is used on infants to get them to sleep. This blog talks about the use of this method and other parenting methods. Search all the information on this site to be better informed about the practice of controlled crying. For any comments or questions, my email is

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Mums told to ditch controlled crying

Here is a media article about Anni Gethin and Beth Macgregor's new book, "Helping your baby to sleep". As I have mentioned this is a great book (and my experience is listed in the book too!) and is very well researched.

There is abundant research that clearly indicates that leaving a baby to cry for any amount of time is harmful, however, people continue to assume that it isn't harmful. Just because something is a common practice, doesn't mean it's not harmful!

In the few research articles supposedly 'supporting' controlled crying or 'graduated extinction' (I can only find three), the only method used to measure the infants emotional state is maternal observation and a completed survey. Basically the mother watches the infant to see if they appear 'normal' or not. How can this be a credible measure of an infants emotional health? And even if the mother could tell if her infant was somehow different from before controlled crying, (which is most likely impossible!), then would she write it down in a survey for others to read? I doubt it. This is only one of the problems with this research.

The media article above mentions Dr Harriet Hiscock. It is her research that is quoted as support for controlled crying and is the only Australian* piece of research stating that controlled crying is important for mothers who suffer from PND. I fail to see how using a harmful behavioural technique on an infant can improve a depressive state in another person. How is this a valid scientific argument? Isn't there clear problems with the methodology? Is a normal infants behaviour a direct cause or even a symptom of PND?

At the moment the Victorian Government is training 200 maternal and child health nurses to use controlled crying on babies. They cliam this is evidence based practice. However, 'evidence based practice' is defined as using a large body of evidence to support a method. The Victorian Government uses just one study, and the validity of the methodology of this study is widely questioned.

Robin Barker is an author and mother who is also quoted in the article. She states that there is no concrete evidence that it harms babies, but fails to note that there is no concrete evidence that it doesn't. And I wonder why she mentions nine months old as an appropriate age? When is the right age to leave a baby to cry on their own? I was told 20 days was fine for my baby by a qualified Registered Nurse and Lactation consultant. I have been told by Harriet Hiscock that only from 6 months of age is controlled crying suitable. And Robin Barker states from nine months of age. I'm confused! Perhaps there is no real 'safe' age for this practice? Since no one can prove that it is NOT harmful, I tend to agree with Professor James McKenna, acclaimed SIDS expert, who describes controlled crying as social ideology masquerading as science.

*I am aware of another study conducted in New Zealand, with a similar invalid methodology and similar conclusions.

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