Newborn sleep programmes – mummies don’t need more guilt

This post might be a bit controversial so I hope I don’t offend anyone, but I want to write about sleep training programmes for newborn babies. I am not a fan of them! If they work for you I don’t begrudge that, but what I don’t like is the way they are marketed using mummy guilt to make a sale.

I won’t name sites, but you probably know the type I mean. They advertise heavily on Facebook with case studies e.g.

“Meet baby <insert Trendy name> who is 8 weeks old. Her mum contacted us because she wasn’t getting any sleep at night. After just 3 days on the programme and some minor tweaks to her naptimes Trendy now self-settles in 5 minutes and sleeps from 7pm to 7am”.

My first thought when I saw this was bullshit. If something is too good to be true it generally is. My second thought was if it is real Trendy’s mum is pretty selfish thinking her baby should sleep through the night at 8 weeks. I know adults (myself included) that don’t go 12 hours without a snack so how could you expect a baby with a tiny tummy to.

Gradually repeated exposure to the adverts intrigued me, and I started reading their articles. This is where the guilt trip kicks in when they say if your baby isn’t getting the right duration of naps during the day “they can actually lose their ability to concentrate and absorb new information”. Whoah, if my baby isn’t napping right am I hindering their development? That is a genuine question I have seen mums ask on discussion boards, and I’ll admit it played on my mind.

I did end up purchasing a programme at 4 months old, when I was starting to think we should get some routine established. When you buy you get access to the closed members discussion groups. This is when you realise the guilt doesn’t stop there. It is full of people posting because they are following the programme but their baby still isn’t getting the right naps, and they feel guilty and want to know what they are doing wrong. I also saw a post from a mum desperately lonely because sicking to the nap times meant she couldn’t join baby groups or activities, but felt too guilty not to stick rigidly to the programme.

Don’t get me wrong I don’t think these programme are a complete waste of money. I know they need to make money, and I am sure the creators genuinely think they are helping mums. No doubt lots of people have been helped by them. Understanding how sleep cycles work can be useful and they do contain some good tips for setting good habits, creating a good sleep environment and nap time suggestions. If they were marketed as that it would be fine.

The thing is no two babies are the same, so how can you expect them all to follow perfectly a one size fits all programme? You might have a baby that responds well to these programmes and that is great. Other people have babies that just don’t sleep well, and they need to be supported without making them feel they are doing something wrong .Some people have daily routines that just don’t fit a generic programme, like fathers that work shifts, or other kids school runs which have to be done at set times. They don’t need to be made to feel bad because they are comparing themselves to other parents whose babies sleep better. Unfortunately the promotion of these programmes repeatedly tells us all babies can sleep perfectly, and if they don’t it is out fault for not following the programme perfectly.

When I was pregnant I went to a talk by the well known Irish sleep consultant Lucy Wolfe. She said one thing that really stuck with me, along the lines of “There’s no such thing as a sleep problem before 6 months”. Now as a mum myself I can see the sense in that. I think our job is to work out what our babies need to sleep and provide that for them, not train them.

Personally I have seen my baby’s sleep developing as she grows. I have used the programme to give me some guidance on how long she can be awake before she gets overtired, but other than that I have been pretty flexible and just followed my baby’s cues, rather than sticking rigidly to a programme. She showed us when she was getting disturbed by the tv and was ready to go to bed in a dark quiet room. At first she would only sleep in the cot if she was rocked fully to sleep first, but now I can put her into her cot awake and she sometimes falls asleep. This transition happened as she grew older when she was ready, not because we forced it. She still doesn’t sleep through the night, and I’m fine with that, I just hope when she grows some more and is ready she will.

I’m happy with the way things are, but I do sometimes feel a pang of guilt if she is crying in my arms during the settling process, so I kind of wish I’d never seen those adverts and read those articles in the first place that planted those seeds of doubt.

It can certainly be helpful to read up about sleep patterns and I found the Baby Sleep Site and Baby Centre UK have some good content , that covers a lot of what is in the sleep programmes – but without the guilt.

Beyond 6 months these programmes may become more useful. I don’t know because I am not at that stage yet. However my gut feeling is that if you are having sleep problems a personalised consultation may be more useful than a generic programme. A sleep consultant who can tailor suggested nap times to your schedule and look at the specific issues you are facing can offer tailored advice.

If you are struggling with newborn sleep remember it will pass. Don’t let anyone make you feel guilty. If you are providing your baby with a good sleep environment (safe bed, dark and quiet) and doing what you can to help them sleep then you are doing a great job. If you want to try one of these programmes and are really suffering from lack of sleep, you could give them a go, but if it doesn’t work out don’t feel bad. Lots of other people haven’t had a miracle just like you, and don’t compare your baby to Trendy. You baby is unique and so are you, so do what is best for you.


Useful resources:

Baby Sleep Site

Baby Centre Uk

Lucy Wolfe


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