Imagine how you would feel if you were shut in a darkened room, crying in genuine distress, and nobody comes to you - or if they do, it's every few minutes just enough for you to regain your breath before they abandon you again. Eventually you fall into an exhausted and uneasy sleep, and after a while of this process being repeated, you resign yourself that nobody is going to come to help you.
It would be bad enough for this to be done to an adult, but not only is this routinely done to babies, but is even advocated by many, if not most, health visitors. Anyone causing that level of pain and distress to an animal would rightly have the authorities down on them like a tonne of bricks.
In recent years a body of evidence that this process is harmful has been building and Miriam Stoppard recently wrote this excellent article in the Independent bringing the main bits of it together. Here's what the experts reckon things like the practice, euphemistically described as "controlled crying" (controlled for whom, I wonder) can do:
"This is because insecurity in early life leads to lifelong changes in a baby's brain chemistry. The levels of mood-lifting chemicals like serotonin and dopamine are lowered and blueprinted into a baby's brain in the first months of life. The professors believe with the wrong kind of mothering – letting a baby cry for long periods – this alteration of brain chemistry becomes hardwired, leading to timid, clingy children, neurotic, withdrawn teenagers and adults vulnerable to anxiety and depression."
So, given that 1 in 5 people are estimated to suffer from depression, perhaps it's time to try to prevent it from arising in the first place. I think there is now enough evidence for the various Goverment health departments in the UK to issue guidance to their staff that they should not recommend this sort of sleep training to parents under any circumstances.
One of the things that I was really worried about before my daughter came along was sleep deprivation. I really, really need my sleep and I turn into the Bitch Queen from Hell if I don't get enough. The solution for me was to have my baby next to me, then, after the very early days when I'd sussed that I didn't really need to change her nappy after every feed unless there was a good reason, she could get what she needed at night with minimal effort.
I would say that she woke 3-4 times a night until she was probably two and a half, and that was the way that worked for us to ensure that everyone got enough sleep. There are plenty other ways to help babies sleep which don't involve crying, which can be as distressing to the mother as it is for the baby.
In my experience, health visitors rarely have any other solution for sleep issues than controlled crying to offer. I've had mothers say to me that they've been taken apart by their health visitor for having their baby in their room past 6 months and have been told in no uncertain terms to get them out and were given instructions to carry out controlled crying. If a professional tells you to do something then you do tend to take it seriously, so those professionals should not be giving out advice that is potentially harmful to the baby. And, of course, if all your health visitor has to offer you is something you are implacably opposed to, then you are more likely just to struggle on and become more and more sleep deprived over time.
I am glad to see that established experts like Miriam Stoppard are taking the evidence that these sleep training techniques can be harmful seriously.