The following was printed in an article in the Daily Mail when discussing how one UK politician decided to take on Gina Ford, claiming her methods were “absolute nonsense”:
Given Ms. Ford hasn’t taken the Daily Mail to task and this fits with what I have read more generally on her methods (albeit in earlier books), so I can only imagine she finds this a good (or at least decent) representation of her methods (if not, then she should take issue with the Daily Mail, and should happily agree with what I’m going to write about these rules – note: the idea that the problem is with the Daily Mail when Ms. Ford is notorious for taking issue with any slight against her work seems off to me, but I accept that some people actively feel this is not a good representation of her work because they *selectively* used her methods and my own reading of her site and earlier version of book supports these “rules”). I’m going to have to agree with Mr. Clegg on his views of Ms. Ford’s work and provide you with a bit of background as to why these specific rules are not only “nonsense”, but when taken literally and without consideration for your baby, may quite possibly be dangerous to your baby’s well-being. I also want to add that these rules are not just Ms. Ford’s, but are representative of a lot of “baby training” rules that parents implement when told to by so-called experts. As such, they deserve a good review for parents who want to know more about the science behind these recommendations.
Rule #1: Put your baby to sleep in its own room from day one.
Note: I have been informed that this rule has been updated in newer versions of her book; however, online she states, “Getting your baby settled into his own room sooner rather than later can help you avoid disrupting and unsettling him at some stage down the line when he is used to being in your room” and admits that she mentions in the book that most families simply have their baby sleep in the room with them, *not* that this is her recommendation.
This counters the current medical knowledge and mounds of research (e.g., ) that have found that putting babies in their own rooms at a young age increases the risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS). Yes, rule number one increases the risk of death for your child. Why is this? We don’t fully know, but it seems that work by Dr. James McKenna and colleagues would suggest it has to do with the regulatory function of adults on infant physiology (e.g., ). That is, infants can struggle to regulate things like their blood pressure, heart rate, and even breathing, and close proximity to an adult has a huge effect on their regulation; we adults are truly helping their little bodies learn how to function.
Better Rule? Keep your baby close at night. Medical recommendations are to have your child in their own sleep space in your room within arms reach, but some babies require even more contact in which case you should look into bedsharing safely.
Rule #2: Feed your baby to a strict timetable, and only feed it at the allotted times
Note: Some have mentioned that you can feed your baby in between scheduled times in newer books, but then this makes no sense to me as to why you’d have a schedule at all. At that point, just feed your baby when s/he’s hungry. My fear with the remaining mention of a schedule is that many parents read a schedule and even with a caveat, they try to stick to that schedule at the detriment of their baby. Indeed, as Ms. Ford states on her website, “Any healthy baby weighing more than 6lbs at birth should manage to go three hours between feeds, three hours being from the beginning of a feed to the beginning of the next feed”, suggesting that this inability to follow such a schedule is possibly detrimental which is, in fact, not true. Many healthy, happy babies require feeding more than every 3 hours.
Feeding to a schedule used to be the norm a few decades ago… until they discovered it was associated with a host of unwelcome outcomes for babies. Babies who are fed on schedule instead have been found to show cognitive deficits later in life, failure to gain weight in the first week of life and greater weight loss in the first week, higher likelihood of developing jaundice, and most seriously can result in failure to thrive thanks to inadequate intake of breastmilk leading to dehydration and malnutrition relative to their peers who are fed on demand. Scheduled feeds also influence the duration of breastfeeding, with scheduled feeds resulting in a shorter breastfeeding duration.
Better Rule? Feed your baby on demand. When your baby is hungry, feed him or her, because your baby knows how much milk s/he needs more than you do. We don’t know when they start growth spurts, if they are actually getting enough at each feed to last hours (if they are, they will last a few hours), or if they just need some comfort. Feeding on-cue is a responsive style of parenting that benefits baby beyond just nutritionally.
Rule #3: Do not let your baby sleep past 7 a.m.
I can only assume this is to get your baby on a “schedule” sleep-wise as well; however, there is no evidence this is healthy at all. In fact, what we do know about sleep would suggest that this type of intervention is not helpful for the developing circadian rhythm. Why? Well, let’s start with the idea that research shows that disrupted waking (i.e., not waking naturally) decreases an infant’s ability to arouse which is linked to greater SIDS risk. Second, sleep disruption in infancy is also linked to abnormal cardiac effects linked to SIDS. Sleep scheduling more generally is also associated with a greater risk of crying in infancy and three times the risk of behavioural problems at six months of age. Furthermore, infants don’t have the same circadian rhythm as we do and thus cannot be expected to wake at the same time as us and sleep at the same; in fact, their circadian rhythm can take up to 9 months to fully develop and is intricately linked to other factors.
Better rule? Let your baby sleep on cue. If your baby is close to you at most times, chances are your baby will develop a circadian rhythm close to your own. But even if not, at least for the first 6-8 months your baby will be at a reduced risk for SIDS and isn’t that worth it?
Rule #4: Ensure your baby sleeps in a very dark and quiet room
Note: As mentioned above, this rule is echoed online on Ms. Ford’s page and thus seems to be a good representation. Indeed she supports this even when a reader questions it given the current SIDS recommendations.
This is one of those “common sense” ideas that have been passed down in our Western, modern society and yet doesn’t hold much water historically or scientifically. Historically babies nap while wrapped to mom (or another caregiver) and learns to make do without very dark or quiet rooms. Now, granted, historically society has not been as loud or as bright as ours is currently, but the fact remains that baby is close in proximity to their caregiver and learns to sleep “on the go” so as to allow caregiver to continue doing what s/he needs to do. As I have written elsewhere, this can lead to later problematic behaviours as caregivers become trapped to the house for frequent naptimes with a child unable to sleep elsewhere and can resent the child for this behaviour; notably, some babies do need this type of environment, but they are not the “norm” but should be given the utmost consideration. However, scientifically speaking, sleeping in a dark and quiet room during the day it has been associated with poorer sleep habits overall as it inhibits the consolidation of nighttime sleep and reduces the caregiver’s ability to develop a healthy biorhythm with the infant (see  for a review).
Better rule? See what sleep environment fits your child. Most children will be okay sleeping in a variety of environments, freeing caregivers up to move around and continue their lives. Some children will require this type of quiet and non-stimulating environment and that’s okay. The key is to follow your child.
If you are in need of individualized parenting help, I offer services via email, Skype, and phone on a variety of parenting topics. You can find out more here.