I've took it upon myself to write an open letter to Gina Ford as my first blog on here because over the past couple of days we've had a bit of a spat together on Twitter, admittedly I may have started it by calling her mental, so I've taken it upon myself to write this and just explain where I'm coming from so maybe she understands why I tweeted her in the first place.
I didn't really know much about her until I saw a newspaper talking about Nick Clegg referring to her contented baby book saying "It was like following a sort of Ikea assembly instruction manual. It made us feel strangely passive as parents." So I thought I'd take it upon myself to have a look at her website and just see what sort of advice she was giving to many many parents.
When I first looked at her website which you can view here I found it looked very busy and I instantly saw 'book a personal one-to-one telephone consultation with Gina Ford, up to 40% discount for members' now to me, it automatically makes the whole website look like a money grabbing type of scheme, surely if you're running a website that is going to offer parents advice you'd do it for free? There are many other parenting websites out there who offer 24/7 advice for free, so that automatically put me off this woman, but I decided to continue before judging too quickly.
I then had a look at the page called 'The Contented Royal Baby', reading Gina's advice about breastfeeding angered my slightly, this is what she wrote;
"I have no idea whether Kate will take the feed on-demand approach or try to establish a routine. Should she choose to ‘feed on demand’, I only hope that she doesn’t take the advice too literally. My issue with the term ‘feeding on demand’ is that many newborn babies do not always demand to be fed at regular intervals in the day, and as a result may wake up every couple of hours to feed in the night, very quickly leaving a new mother tearful and exhausted. My advice has always been to offer a newborn baby a feed every three hours. Should a baby need to feed before this then of course they should be fed, but I try to find out why the baby is not going a couple of hours between feeds. Often it is the positioning that is wrong and I recommend that all new mothers seek advice from a good breastfeeding counsellor. In Kate’s situation, she could do no better than seek guidance from Clare Byam Cook, a leading breastfeeding counsellor, who not only has an amazing success rate, but will be the soul of discretion."
My 'issue' with Gina's advice on feeding on demand is that she seems to think that babies need to be fed at regular intervals, it doesn't seem like she likes the idea of a baby ruling the roost as it were, by what's she said she doesn't seem to think babies waking up several times a night is normal, yes mothers get tired, of course we do! But we don't have children to convenient us, everything we do should be done to be convenient for the child. We decided to bring them into this world, so we should surely be listening to them to give them what they want and need emotionally shouldn't we? So if they wake up seven times in the night wanting a feed or to be nursed to sleep why shouldn't we? They are babies, they can't talk yet, they can't tell you that they are hungry with speech, their only way to communicate is by garbling and crying (although there are many other signs to tell if your baby is hungry before they start crying, but it's hard to see them move their mouths etc when you're fast asleep!)
I agree with Gina that positioning can be a real problem for first time breast feeding mothers, it's a skill that you need to practise and find a way that works for you and baby and I also agree that breast feeding mothers should seek support from their local breast feeding team to help them and have constant support behind them.
I feel like Gina from that paragraph just thinks that all babies should automatically sleep through the night without waking for a feed from birth, maybe she doesn't mean to come across that way, but I think Gina needs to realise that babies wake up, they are suddenly ripped from the safety and warmth of the womb to this new massive cold outside world, they need reassurance that they are safe, whether that's by a feed or a cuddle several times during the night. I really don't understand why Gina seems to think babies should not be waking every few hours.
Gina then lists a list of her tips for Kate or any new mother, the ones I actually agree with her about are;
"Keep visitors to the minimum during the first couple of weeks. Allow enough time to get used to your new baby and being parents."
I completely agree with this, I remember when I became a first time mum I just wanted to be alone with my baby as much as possible, so we could have plenty of bonding time and rest and getting used to this massive change in my life, I was happy for my best friend and family to visit me, but other people had to wait.
"Do not skip meals: try to eat three healthy meals a day and have regular nutritious snacks and lots of fluids."
I also strongly agree with that tip, especially whilst breast feeding, you need the extra calories, you need lots of fluids, and you need to keep your strength up! Breast feeding really takes it out of you, so you need to eat and be hydrated so you also produce plenty of milk for your baby.
The tips I don't really agree with are;
"Do not allow the baby to become overtired. By the second or third week most babies can stay awake an hour or so, but longer than this can lead to a baby becoming fractious and refusing to settle."
I obviously agree about not letting your baby becoming overtired because it can be quite tiring for yourself as a parent to try and get them back to sleep, what I don't agree with is forcing your child to go to sleep every hour or so because they might refuse to settle, she may not have used the word 'force' but how else would you get your baby to sleep if they don't want to go to sleep, you're forcing that baby to sleep when he or she doesn't want to, so in my eyes that's forcing. If a baby doesn't want to go to sleep after an hour it doesn't automatically mean he or she is going to be a nightmare to settle, they will sleep when they want to sleep.
I don't think I can say that Gina may mean to cuddle the baby to sleep or to feed him or her to sleep because I know we're going to get to a point on her page where she doesn't think either of those are good ideas, so I do wonder how she means to get the baby to sleep...
I then looked at Gina's FAQ's on routines, I looked at the crying to sleep section first because that's what I usually am most interested in reading about on any parenting website, I like to read peoples views on it and their reasons for doing it if they do do it.
There is a question that is asked here which asks;
'My friend is following your book with her baby daughter who is now nearly five weeks old. She seems to cry for ages every time they put her in her cot. While I would like a routine, I do not want to leave my baby to cry for long spells. Yet several parents I have spoke to say that if you follow the CLB routines you have to be prepared to leave the baby to cry itself to sleep, no matter how long it takes.'
Gina's response was;
"This is simply not true. Nowhere in my book do I say that young babies should be left to cry for lengthy periods of time to get themselves to sleep. I do stress that some babies will fight sleep and they should be allowed 5-10 minutes crying down period. They should never be left for any longer than this before they are checked again. I also stress that a baby should never be left crying for even 2-3 minutes if there is any doubt that he could be hungry or need winding.
The ‘crying to sleep’ that some critics refer to is actually a method that I recommend to use with older babies who have reached six months or a year and are waking several times a night because they have learned the wrong sleep associations, brought on by demand feeding or being rocked or cuddled to sleep. In these instances I recommend a form of sleep training that has been used by childcare experts, paediatricians and Health Visitors for many years.
In my book, The Complete Sleep Guide for Contented Babies and Toddlers, I stress that sleep training and controlled crying is always a last resort to get an older baby to sleep during the night and should only ever be used once parents are absolutely sure that the baby is not waking up because he is hungry. I also advise that before commencing sleep training you should take your baby to see the GP to check there are no medical problems.
The reason that sleep training and controlled crying fails to work for many people is because parents read, or are told, that a baby over six months old does not need to be fed in the night and can sleep for a longer period. While babies over six months can, most certainly, sleep a long period every night, this will not happen if the baby is not eating enough during the day (and if the baby is waking up and feeding several times a night he most certainly will not be getting enough during the day to eat), so parents who use controlled crying can find that they will leave their babies to cry for many nights in a row but the problem will not be resolved because the baby is continually hungry. Resolving the hunger problem by ensuring the baby receives most of his milk between 7am and 7pm will eventually stop night waking.
In all of my books I include case studies where older babies are waking in the night and continually need to be fed. I explain how to gradually reduce the number of feeds in the night by increasing what the baby eats during the day. It is only once I see an improvement in the baby’s daily food intake (i.e. between 7am and 7pm) that I would then possibly recommend controlled crying and then only if I thought that the baby also had a sleep association problem.
The whole aim of the Contented Little Baby routines is to ensure from the very beginning that the baby's needs are being met so that he does not need to cry for any length of time. The guidelines I give are also to help mothers understand the different reasons why a baby may cry. If a baby is in a routine from a very early age the mother will quickly learn to understand and hence anticipate his needs. I have found that this results in the baby crying very seldom – around 5-10 minutes a day in my experience."
Now Gina does say that young babies should not be left to cry for long periods of time, but what she does say is that babies will fight sleep (which is true, a lot do! Too much to see, why would they want to sleep?!) so they should have a 5-10 minute crying down time, what she doesn't go into is what crying down time is, to me it sounds like another form of cry it out, so there's no wonder people think she's advocating cry it out if she doesn't explain her words and just uses a different term, I don't know if you need to be a member to view what on earth she's on about, but I wasn't willing to spend my families money to find out in all honesty, I don't really want to line her pocket.
She says they shouldn't be left any longer than this and should be checked on, which leaves me to think that crying down time is a form of CIO because you're leaving a baby to cry in a room by his or herself, no matter how long for that is a form of CIO in my opinion.
She says the baby shouldn't be left for even 2-3 minutes if there is any doubt the baby needs feeding or winding, which I agree with (obviously), but what if the said baby has just had a feed, decided that he or she wanted a little pause, parent leaves the room, baby starts crying, how is that parent to know whether that baby wants another feed without checking on said baby? If you're a first time parent you have no idea what you're doing half the time, so when you first start out you don't know the signs really that your baby gives off when they are hungry, so as a parent you need to check on that baby, go to that baby a million times if you have to, just to make sure that baby is ok, that they aren't hungry or windy, or just want a cuddle.
Gina then goes on to say that she recommends that parents use the CIO method when the baby is six months or a year, when the baby/child has been rocked, fed or cuddled to sleep.
This is what makes me RAGE!!!! EUGH! At six months that child is still a BABY! They still can't talk! There's a phrase that is often used in the AP community quite a bit which is 'babies don't manipulate, they communicate', which is true, a six month old baby can't manipulate you to do anything you don't want to do, communication is the parents responsibility, nobody elses, you as a parent need to listen to your baby to decide what they want, look at your baby! What is your baby doing? Are they reaching out with their hands for you? Chances are your baby wants a cuddle, is your baby making sucking motions with their mouth? Are they sucking on their clothes or hands? Chances are your baby is hungry.
As a parent you need to look after your baby to your best ability, so whether six months or a year old leaving your child to CIO because you've fulfilled their physical needs isn't acceptable in my eyes, think about their emotional needs too. I know if Robert ever left me to CIO in our bedroom if I was upset and wanted a cuddle then I'd get stressed and even more upset, I'd still wake up in the morning upset and even more unsettled.
I don't really care that Gina says ' childcare experts, paediatricians and Health Visitors for many years' have used the CIO & sleep training methods, if one of them told me that the sky was really bright green I wouldn't listen to them, so why should I listen to them if they tell me sleep training and CIO has worked for other babies for years? Just because it works to get a child to sleep doesn't mean it's healthy for them.
Gina makes a point in saying that babies need to eat more during the day after six months old to help them sleep longer at night, I don't really agree with this because if you're doing BLW (baby led weaning) this can be a slow process, babies will eat normal food at their own pace if they are BLW, most don't really start actually eating proper food till they are eight or nine months old, then there's the phrase of 'food before one is just for fun', so unless you're giving as much breastmilk or formula and spoon feeding rubbish baby puree's, then your baby is going to just eat what they want to eat when they want to eat, I do believe from six months you should start introducing solids with BLW but you can't force the food down your baby and I also believe to still give them their milk on demand, when your baby wants it, I would never force Eppy to take more milk than she needs, she'd only throw it back up, it's like when we force ourselves to eat when we're already full, we feel sick, well it's the same for a baby. I do think if a baby eats more during the day they probably will sleep a bit longer during the night, nobody likes sleeping on an empty stomach, but like I said, you can't force someone to eat when they don't want to.
Maybe Gina will now understand from my POV why I don't really agree with all her advice, not everyone is going to agree with her views, I'm sure she's actually a lovely person really, but would I ever want her looking after my children? No I wouldn't.
You can view Gina's website here.
Evolutionary Parenting's article on sleep training, view here.
If you formula feed (or even breast feed) you can get FREE advice here.
For FREE breast feeding advice you can get it here.
For gentle ways to help your babies and toddlers sleep check it out here.