Why do the Media Happily Promote Dangerous Baby Trainers?

This is a question I have asked myself many times. There seems to be a great bias for the media, be that television, radio, magazines or newspapers, to promote baby trainers who mostly all use harsh, antiquated behaviourist methods of baby training that lack a sound evidence base, both for the effectiveness of the techniques and their safety profile.


Take for instance THIS ARTICLE that appeared in the Daily Mail over the weekend concerning Rachel Waddilove, baby trainer extraordinaire who, even by her admission, calls herself “old fashioned”. Ms. Waddilove appears to have no problem finding column inches and whilst you might expect the Daily Mail to publish an article like this it is somewhat surprising to find that The Independent follows suit with their bemusingly complimentary piece HERE. In this piece they highlight that Ms Waddilove calls for a “return to foundation parenting” – roughly translated this means that she tells all new parents to do the following:

  • controlled crying
  • Ignore WHO weaning guidelines
  • Ignore the mountain of research into attachment theory (In her Independent article Waddilove says “It’s not fair on the child. The idea is that a child chooses when to ‘detach’ from its parents, but if it’s always been attached, the child doesn’t know anything different and the detachment process can be very traumatic,”)
  • Be quick to discipline children – make sure the parent is always in control
  • Introduce formula to breastfed babies
  • Don’t rock your baby to sleep
  • Ignore SIDS guidelines and put your baby in their own room

controlled crying, baby sleep training

This would be laughable if it wasn’t so damaging, Waddilove clearly isn’t a fan of science, this section from the Independent article actually made me snort  “It’s nonsense – babies need to develop in a certain way. These ideas came from scientists who do experiments but know nothing about babies.” Had I really read that correctly? Ms Waddilove clearly knows more than the esteemed Doctors and Professors who have dedicated their lives to the understanding of babies, most of whom are also parents themselves. Yes it appears she really is advocating ignoring the wisdom of these scientists and the guidelines of FSIDS and WHO.

Don’t worry though, Rachel Waddilove is an expert, she clearly knows more than the world’s scientific communities, so it’s OK, we can ignore their evidence based information, because the scientists who wrote them don’t know anything about babies. Come on Independent, what are you doing? I’d expect it of the Daily Mail but I thought you were more intelligent?

The part of Waddilove’s advice I find most perplexing is her call to go back to the ‘old fashioned way’. Which ‘old fashioned’ would that be then? Victorian parenting? That from the 1950s? Or how about we do “really old fashioned” parenting, what about several thousand years ago and the parenting of the hunter gatherers, you know those parents who carried their babies, slept with their babies and responded to their needs? Ah, but this way of parenting is the new fangled way according to Waddilove with today’s permissive parents apparently being at the root of “the problem” (the ‘problem’ I might add being the NORMAL developmental needs of babies, such as frequent feeding, waking and needing physical contact for security).


Moving on from this re-hashed baby trainer information (really how is it any different from Gina Ford?) I was deeply saddened to see an advert for an upcoming TV programme being shared widely on Facebook last week. The name of the programme? ‘Bedtime Live’, to be aired on Channel 4 far too soon for my liking. I have had several emails from the production crew asking me to share their plea for parents to take part. Their website says the programme will be “For parents across the nation, putting their kids to bed is one of the most stressful times of the day but help is at hand; through an innovative interactive format, Bedtime Live will share the best practise for parents across the nation.”

cosleeping, bedsharing

So naturally they are looking for parents to take part who have problems with their little one’s sleep, problems such as frequent night waking, tantrums and co-sleeping. Seriously, you know those ‘problems’ that science (those pesky people who know nothing about babies) tells us are NORMAL, babies and toddlers wake at night, that’s what they do! (who really has the problem here? See THIS POST), they have immature brain development and they tantrum (again – who really has the problem – see THIS POST), they like close proximity with their parents to help them feel secure (what’s the problem here – see THIS POST) – in short this new programme is sensationalising completely normal baby and toddler sleep in order to entertain and make money. I can confidently predict that the ‘experts’ on this programme (yes I’ve heard rumours – the same old child less baby trainers who have no qualifications in child psychology and more shockingly Professor Tania Byron – lover of all things behaviourist) will ‘fix’ the problems through numerous techniques that are stressful for the children involved but they will give them a new punchy softer sounding name (usually with the word ‘soothing’ in there somewhere) and they’ll reassure the crying parents that “this really is for his/her own good”.


Seriously Britain WAKE UP, we need to stop this biased, dangerous media portrayal of parenting and related advice, if we don’t I fear where we are heading tomorrow (see THIS POST), what future are we building for our children? A generation seriously lacking in empathy.

Barack Obama recently shared his concerns on this idea “…There’s a lot of talk in this country about the federal deficit. But I think we should talk more about our empathy deficit — the ability to put ourselves in someone else’s shoes; to see the world through those who are different from us…..Not only that — we live in a culture that discourages empathy. A culture that too often tells us our principal goal in life is to be rich, thin, young, famous, safe, and entertained. A culture where those in power too often encourage these selfish impulses.” How can we change where we’re heading? How can we bring empathy back to society? Here is the only point I agree with Rachel Waddilove on, we can ‘go back to basics’, we can start with our children. If we parent them with compassion and empathy this is who they will become.

How do we do that? Well, it starts with discrediting the baby trainer, it starts with lobbying the media to care more about babies than they do about sales figures and profit. It starts with me, it starts with you, it starts with all of us. As David Chamberlain says:

“Parents themselves may be the ones to lead us into a new age of birth by setting new standards for how babies are treated. After all, whose babies are they? Parents always have the advantage of making the first move-as consumer they decide where to have their babies and what practitioners to employ. The current situation is a test of whether parents or professionals can react more quickly to new information.”


About SarahOckwell-Smith

Sarah Ockwell-Smith, Parenting author and mother to four.
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23 Responses to Why do the Media Happily Promote Dangerous Baby Trainers?

  1. Baby in the pic has a nice tongue tie!

  2. simonah00 says:

    Very well written. I agree totally. I am sick of the way society follows these dangerous habits.

  3. MelissaBee says:

    Great article. Thank you x

  4. Harriet says:

    Whole heartedly with you on this. Trying to do my bit too by spreading the words to put the book down and first follow your motherly instinct!

  5. Jo manning says:

    I do for the most part agree with you. But for me personally I have never gone to these baby experts to see how it “should” be done. I listened to my instinct and my child and we are both happy as a consequence, she sleeps, she eats and generally doesn’t throw a lot of tantrums. But as she is now a toddler and has a grasp of right/wrong I am fairly strict, I do allow her to cry without comforting her, I do for the most part assert my control and sometimes it upsets her but I think that is all part of the learning process. She needs to understand that there are boundaries and acceptable behaviours. Obviously this doesn’t apply to babies but even then I didn’t rush to comfort her at every cry, I as her mother knew which cries were the ones that told me my baby needed me and I responded accordingly.

    I can’t help but wonder in our quest to be perfect at everything in our lives; mothers wives, employees, businesswomen etc we turn to the media and experts to get ahead and do it “right” when really we should be looking inward and to our child to figure out what is best for that situation.

  6. Abby Michel says:

    It’s hilarious that you included a quote from Obama about “empathy”. One in which he talks about being rich and famous. When he’s stated that he openly supports partial birth abortion. Yeah, he’s a really caring guy.

  7. Emily lee says:

    I find it sad that you think you’re any different to the ‘baby trainers’. You are pushing your own views and opinions as much as they are. Who is to say you are right and they are wrong? The only thing which is dangerous is the way yourself and other trainers cause great stress and anxiety in parents because they listen to you instead of trusting their own instincts and responding to their babies needs. Every parent and child is different, you cannot use a one size fits all approach, parents must do what they feel comfortable with and what their baby needs, NOT what you tell them to do.

    • Lisa Quinn says:

      I wonder if you have read Sarah’s book as it not about pushing her views or opinions but about empowering mothers to believe and trust in their own instinct which is the most powerful thing of all. I am a childbirth educator and I often hear parents say that this ‘Expert’ says this and that ‘expert’ says that and sometimes these ‘experts have published books and sometimes it could be friends and family. I always respond with ‘what do you think?’ as that is what matters. Your baby, your choice.
      I had one father that announced he wanted to make his own mistakes and I applauded him for that.
      We see so many program’s today undermining instinct whether that is giving birth or being a parent. But none of these program makers offer support for the fear they have installed surrounding birth nor do they deal with mothers who feel guilty years later about how they were as a parent because the trusted and followed an experts instructions because they are being led to believe they don’t know how to be a good parent to their own baby.
      The pressure on being the best mother in the world is huge yet they already are they just don’t believe it.

    • Tamla says:

      There is a great difference between this and the baby trainers, for a start there’s no training involved, or telling you what to do, just empowering women to follow their instincts and not feel like they have to follow someone else’s idea of what is right when raising a child. As a new mum, I completely see the need for this voice amongst the many that are shouting for mums to leave ther babies to cry. When you’re tired and overwhelmed, it’s easy to forget that you have the choice to ignore these experts and it’s invaluable to have someone reminding you and supporting you indoing your own thing. It’s clear that you have very little understanding of what Sarah or babycalm is actually about. Perhaps do a bit of research before commenting.

  8. Sarah Venis says:

    Love this blog, I’ve been writing this in my head (without the extensive citations) since having my kids and being lucky enough to stumble upon Naomi Stadlen’s ‘Mothers Talking’ group (btw her book ‘what mothers do especially when it looks like nothing’ is wonderfully empowering for new mothers, it celebrates maternal instinct and shows by quotes from mothers the ‘work’ involved in getting to know your baby and build a relationship with them that goes almost totally unacknowledged by society http://www.amazon.co.uk/What-Mothers-Do-especially-nothing/dp/0749926201/ref=cm_cr_pr_product_top).

    The whole baby training world is a hideous uncontrolled experiment with no-one looking at long-term effects on the brain or mental health – no-one has proposed a prospective cohort study (as you couldn’t randomly assign obviously) following babies raised by these methods and comparing outcomes with babies reared by attachment/instinct. You can see the effects of not being attached and the effects of stress-induced cortisol on individuals but there are no population level data.

    The book I hated most was the Baby Whisperer as it purported to be kinder than some, but included a sentence about the wisdom of putting your newborn into their own crib and not cradling them to sleep, something like ‘oh that newborn feels so delicious to cuddle to sleep but you are just being selfish and not thinking of what is in the best interests of the baby’ – ie your strongest maternal instincts to bond strongly with your baby are wrong and selfish.

  9. i made a film about this and following our instinct – it’s called Babyhood. Please check it out – http://www.babyhood-film.com

  10. Girasole says:

    Brave article. Absolutely need to dump all the ideas of “training”‘and follow our hearts. So much of this training stuff is about convenience for parents and not good for our smallest, most vulnerable little people. Sadly, mums like me, with all the stuff we are told about expecting babies to sleep thru the night and “making a rod for our backs” for somehow spoiling our children with love,are forced underground in a sense. I’ ve breastfed for longer than six months and brought our older babies and toddlers into bed but do not broadcast it! Im lucky to have a supportive husband – we have both realised how quick the time passes…soon she will not want to sleep in our bed and we will miss her warm body snuggled safely between us. Yes it’s hard work but its such a privilege to have these little people in our life.

  11. Kate says:

    I find it sad that different parenting advocates need to put each other down in order to justify that their way is the right way.
    Im all for loving gentle parenting but I am not interested in reading articles by women putting other women down. By criticizing and demonizing other ways of parenting we end up looking just as bad as the person or parenting style we are trying to demonize in the first place. Its simple; respect each other. There are as many parenting styles as there are parents and babies! When we try “discredit” people we create a conflict that perpetuates more conflict. Mums have enough to think about without worrying about being judged by other mums.

  12. nikki says:

    well said as usual Sarah..

  13. UGH! And best believe the U.S. is even worse. I’m in Oregon, one of the most liberal and breastfeeding-friendly states in the country, and our local news even features baby trainers frequently, showing them in a positive light. (They always TELL both sides, but they only SHOW the interview and clips from the baby training side.)

    It’s easy for me to just roll my eyes until I realize that mainstream media is literally the only education that some people have when it comes to babies. That makes it a real problem.

  14. Mishelle says:

    Great article as usual. It baffles me how anyone can ignore this scientific research and saddens me wholeheartedly that there are little helpless humans who have parents who condone these selfish methods. On the advert online, it even mentions that its best to seek advice from a GP before any kind of sleep training. Why would this be if it was safe? Such a shame 😦

  15. Kathie says:

    Hi Sarah, I really liked your article. Unfortunately, i guess that I would fall under the terrible ‘baby trainer’ category in my role as a Maternity Nurse.
    Whilst I absolutely agree that babies are naturally designed to need to be close to their parents at all times, to draw comfort, sustenance and support from them, almost the first question I always get asked at interview, is ‘how soon can you get my baby to sleep through the night?’ It has become a parental obsession.

    We know, that it is because we have evolved past going to sleep when it is dark, mothers staying home to care for babies when the husbands hunt and gather, and financial troubles being more about did hubby hunt and gather enough, or is the cave well fortified and dry enough. It’s now all about late night distractions robbing parents of the early nights they should be taking, both parents having to work to survive (and who can continually perform at their best if their 1,2,3 yo+ is still waking frequently at night) and the pressure of social media.

    Far from the extreme methods stated above, babies get all the cuddles they could ask for in my care, are fed on demand (if a baby feeds properly and well they rarely need to feed more than every 3 hours anyway) and above all are never left to ‘cry it out’ But without exception, they all sleep in their own basket at night and can be coaxed to take their longer sleeps at night – working with what a baby does naturally when well fed and secure, and what a parent in todays society craves.

    It is an unfortunate reality that all MN’s are different, and that even if we were all programmed the same way, parents often aren’t able to afford the service and will turn to books. But let me say – some of the attachment parenting books are written as poorly as their conflicting counterparts, and offer parents no real solutions.

    It is a shame that all babies are different, all parents are different, and almost any book seems to be able to get published. I guess there is something out there for everyone.

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