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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