I have to start this review with an apology. I received this book a while ago and had fully intended on reviewing it in October. Then the proverbial sh!t hit the fan in my personal life and everything got pushed aside. I was finally able to start reading this over the holidays and can write up on it now. Why apologize? Because this means there has been three months in which people may not have been buying and reading this book. That’s a lot of people that potentially may have avoided cry-it-out and scheduled feeds, people that may have been anxious about all things to do with newborn feeding and sleeping, people who have shut themselves away under the misguided notion that babies need strict schedules. So I’m sorry.
For those of you who like quick reviews, let me say this: This is by far one of the best books I have ever read for new parents. It is fabulous. All the things I rant about, like people thinking sleep problems require sleep fixings when really they’re often feeding or other issues or how nursing to sleep is good or how strict schedules are not necessary, are all covered in detail in this book. Buy it. Read it. Love it. Then share it with another new mom.
Now the longer version…
I want to start with who Dr. Pamela Douglas is because some of you will recognize the name, many won’t. She’s a general practitioner (doctor), IBCLC, and researcher based in Australia. She runs a clinic (Possums Education and Possums for Mothers and Babies) and conducts research at the University of Queensland. I highlighted one of her review papers here on EP when she conducted a full review of the studies of sleep training in the first six months of life, highlighting the risks associated with early sleep training (you can read that here). She is a huge advocate for cue-based care and the promotion of breastfeeding (though she accepts every family’s decision in how to feed their child but sees many of the booby traps women face and works to end these so women who want to breastfeed, can).
This book is an accumulation of nearly three decades of medical practice and research as well as her own personal experiences as a mother. To say it’s amazing is an understatement.
The book focuses on the three main issues that plague new parents (and sometimes repeat parents): Feeding, sleeping, and mom’s mental health. Unfortunately so many people treat these issues as independent from each other when they are so very intertwined. For example, a baby who isn’t feeding well is more likely to be unsettled sleep wise and a mother who is using a strict schedule and worried about baby’s sleep is less likely to be social and more likely to be highly anxious and thus suffer mental health problems.
Through her years in practice as a doctor, Dr. Douglas knows that when parents complain about their babies not sleeping well, it’s nearly always as issue with feeding (with exceptions for prematurity, health conditions, etc.) and yet the common approach has been to switch to formula and sleep train. Although this may solve some problems, as she points out in her book, sleep training often doesn’t work long term (with most parents have to repeat it, something borne out in research published last year on the use of modified extinction sleep training) and can cause greater anxiety in parents. She argues that the schedules and training that we’ve instilled parents to think is “necessary” only serves to undermine parents’ understanding of their child’s cues, breaking down the synchrony between them and resulting in even more anxious parents who require clocks to feel any sense of security. She talks about nursing on demand, nursing to sleep, and bedsharing in scientific and historical contexts.
As an ICBLC she knows all of the various ways in which breastfeeding can be going wrong and describes these in such detail that many moms reading may not even have to book that appointment for help. As a researcher, she also knows the value in making sure new parents stay social, get outside, and focus on their own mental health as well. In this, she bucks all “popular” advice to put baby to a strict schedule, make sure baby naps at home, and so on. Instead, she advocates naps on the go (after all, babies will sleep when tired enough if there are no medical conditions preventing issues) and making sure mom or dad take care of their own mental health.
The overarching goal of this book is to calm parents and it does a wonderful job of that. The information is easily digestible, logical, and filled with anecdotes so readers know they aren’t alone in the problems they face. I like to imagine what a society would look like if every new parent read this book (along with some others that I love). I do believe we’d see a dramatic shift in the treatment of babies and the overall happiness parents would have in their role.
But that’s not all…
This wonderful book for parents should also be a must-read for other family doctors or anyone who works with parents and babies. First there is the issue of the information in it. If all caregivers had this information then we would hopefully see an end to the various pieces of advice that sabotage breastfeeding relationships, that tell parents they need to sleep train or stop bedsharing, and so on. However, it’s more than that.
In the anecdotes, Dr. Douglas does such a wonderful job of showing how one should speak to someone facing a crisis or concern with their child that it’s a lesson in empathy, communication, and tact that all people can learn from. Through years of practice, she has mastered the art of conveying her information in ways that don’t threaten or put a new parent on the defensive. She speaks from the heart, with all the information a parent needs, but the suggestions are subtle and done without judgment or even “need”. By that, I mean that she’s always open to what parents want to do. She’ll suggest something else, but reminds parents, if it doesn’t work for them, they can always go back to what they’re doing (even though most are there reporting it’s not working, like most people, many of them still are reluctant to change). She made me wish she was my doctor (and that’s saying something as my doctor has been super supportive of breastfeeding and everything).
All in all, I can’t recommend this book highly enough. For parents, it’s the wisdom and information you need in the first year of your baby’s life. For caregivers, it’s a wonderful guide to improving your relationships with your patients by listening to them and being able to communicate in an effective and respectful manner.
So go buy it.
You can purchase The Discontented Little Baby Book by clicking on the link below.