Sunday, July 1, 2012

Wait! - Part 1

I first read Bringing Up Bebe about two months ago; I reserved it from BPL after seeing it on the Barnes & Nobles best-seller table. Over the past few months I've read a parody on the Guardian, several posts in different sections of the Guardian site (the British seemed very perturbed by the book), and the infuriated response from the Forbes reviewer that I linked to on the previous post. Only one Guardian reviewer seemed to find the book to be reasonable, while the other reviewers and commenters generally seemed to criticize the French character and/or child-rearing methods. While I've never been to France, have no close French friends, and don't speak or read French, I thought much of the child-rearing advice to be quite sane. What seems to really drive internet posters into a frenzy is the idea of "The Pause".

Druckerman first notices "The Pause" concept when she is trying to teach her oldest child to sleep through the night. She polls French friends and aquaintances only to find that all of their children slept through the night before the children were six-months-old. Druckerman is initially dubious about these claims until she meets with a French pediatrician, Michel Cohen, who had started a practice in Tribeca (NYC). Dr. Cohen explains to Druckerman that babies have two-hour sleep cycles, and that they wake up between the cycles. When a baby wakes up, the parent should pause before picking up the baby; this pause allows the baby to reset itself and go into its next sleep cycle. Babies who are constantly interrupted between cycles by their parents or caregivers take longer to connect the cycles, and therefore take longer to sleep through the night.

This explanation is actually supported by research by American sleep scientists (p.49-51). At least one study has been done where parents were taught to pause before picking up the infant. These babies not only learned to sleep through the night, but thrived since they and their caretakers were no longer sleep-deprived. Sleep-deprivation, in fact, has been linked to difficulty in learning, immune system problems, and hyperactivity.

Unfortunately for Druckerman, she had not learned about "The Pause" and had to train her daughter to sleep when the girl was nine-months-old. Druckerman did this by following a modified version of "cold turkey" (or "graduated extinction"). She put her child to bed and let her cry for twelve minutes on the first night, then nine minutes on the second night. On the third night, the child was able to sleep through the night without waking up.

This advocacy of not picking up a crying child seems to really upset commenters and columnists. Parents are apparently envisioning millions of French children fruitlessly wailing for attention on their little cots while their cold-hearted parents are sipping wine, smoking cigarettes, and making love. Other parents may fear that the wailing of their children may prompt the neighbors to call child-protective services. However, these millions of French children apparently survive "The Pause" and the "gradual extinction" and learn to sleep through the night, as did the babies in the US sleep experiment. It's possible that a little patience on the part of the parents might be beneficial for the baby.


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