Child abuse as entertainment: UK’s “Bringing Up Baby”

A television show in the U.K. titled “Bringing Up Baby” is a new type of reality show that aims to put parenting methods of different eras to the test. Sounds interesting, no? It would be, if it were not for the fact that one of these methods is child abuse, pure and simple. The three methods are:

  1. Dr. Spock (1960s): In a nutshell, love, love, love. Throw out the guidebooks and just love your child. Try breastfeeding, but don’t worry if you end up feeding artificial milk.
  2. Continuum Concept (1970s): Breastfeeding on demand, emphasis on physical contact, constant physical contact with the caregiver for the first few months, cosleeping, and “it takes a village” approach.
  3. Dr. Frederick Truby King (1950s): In the words of the show’s website: Discipline — Predictability — Early detachment of baby and mother — Order — One size fits all — Start as you mean to go on

This third approach from the 1950’s is what I am focusing attention on, because this outdated method of childrearing is so horrendous, so abusive, that it has been refuted scientifically and from the medical community. Again, from the website, here are the details of this method:

  • Feeding every four hours
  • Night feeds get dropped as soon as possible to minimise length of time parents’ sleep is disrupted
  • Baby sleeps in own room from day one
  • Limiting the amount of contact between baby and carer – 10 minutes of cuddling per day
  • Baby spends several hours in the garden every day

Let’s pick these apart, shall we?

Scheduled Feedings

King’s approach requires parents to start their babies on a feeding schedule: feeds are only “allowed” every four hours. Commentator James Walton describes it:

Feeding, for example, takes place only every four hours, with no sentimental nonsense about bonding, or even making eye-contact. In between, including at night, they can cry as much as they like: they’re going to get neither grub nor consolation.

Any respectable pediatrician will say that scheduling feedings so far apart is, firstly, setting up a new mom to fail at breastfeeding, and secondly, putting that newborn at risk for failure to thrive. Another popular champion of scheduled feedings was the Book “On Being Babywize” by Ezzo, and it has been refuted by the American Academy of Pediatrics. At least the Ezzos were a bit more generous–they allowed feedings every two and a half to three hours in the initial weeks.

Denying a screaming, hungry infant food in the name of some parenting ideology is horrendous in the extreme. It is unconscionable to do so, as the show describes, for the purpose of “showing baby who’s boss.”

The American Academy of Pediatrics states:

Newborns should be nursed whenever they show signs of hunger, such as increased alertness or activity, mouthing, or rooting. Crying is a late indicator of hunger. Newborns should be nursed approximately eight to 12 times every 24 hours until satiety.

(AAP Policy Statement, “Breastfeeding and the Use of Human Milk,” Pediatrics, Dec. 1997)

As for night feeds, perhaps the parents who wish their beauty rest can hire a nanny to feed their child rather than subjecting her to fits of hungry screaming. Really, it’s quite laughable how they describe it, dropping night feedings “to minimise length of time parents’ sleep is disrupted.” Anyone with a young child can testify to the fact that if you were looking for uninterrupted sleep, you made the wrong choice having a baby.

Baby Sleeps in Own Room

I know this is a prickly subject, and I don’t include it under my heading of “child abuse,” so I will leave it well alone except to remark that health organizations in the U.K. have advised parents to reduce the risk of SIDS by placing their child’s crib (or “cot”) in the parents’ bedroom rather than in a separate room. This point of the program is hardly the most damaging so let’s move on…

Limited Physical Contact

The King’s child rearing program limits physical contact between parent and baby to 10 minutes per day. The rest of the time is hands-off. Claire Verity, the advocate of this method on the show, remarked:

“I don’t understand why anybody needs to touch a baby or pick a baby up.”

Hmmm…ever heard of those children who were raised in Eastern European orphanages, with limited physical contact and interaction with others? The results are not pretty. It goes to show how vitally necessary touch, affection, and attention really are in the life of a child.

In the 1950s, believe it or not, psychologists didn’t even discuss this issue of parental love and affection for the child. They thought it was psychologically damaging to show love for a child and too much touching and holding a child would scar it mentally and emotionally. Pediatricians told parents that touching children too much would expose them to germs and increase their chances of getting sick. Parenting advice from this era was based on these bogus, erroneous notions.

We now know that physical contact is not just a display of affection, it’s critical for neurological development, especially skin-to-skin contact. Bonding with baby is not just a silly sentimental motherhood thing, it’s something hardwired in our genes, it’s how we grow and develop as humans. Just as scheduled feedings leads to deprivation of biological needs, limited contact deprives babies of emotional needs.

Show Baby Who’s Boss

Yes, these are the exact words the show uses to describe this childrearing method. By the way, if the child actually objects to having her food limited, her human contact and comfort limited, or if she objects to sitting in a pram outside, alone for hours at a time, then the dogma of the King method says: too bad, baby. As much as the child cries, she will not get another feeding until morning time, will not be released from her stroller outside, or will not be cuddled more than the alloted ten minutes per day. Remember, we are trying to show them “who’s boss.”

There is something sick and twisted about thinking of parenting merely as an exercise in controlling another human being. If that really is someone’s cup of tea, I can think of a host of other, more appropriate jobs: like prison warden or CIA interrogator.

I almost feel sorry for the parents who implement these ideas. But then I think about their poor children who are deprived of adequate nutrition and comfort and I am filled with revulsion. Go live out your twisted delusions of grandeur somewhere else, people.

It’s rather sad how far we’ve gone as a society–is it now considered entertainment for us to watch helpless human beings treated this way? Shame on Channel 4, and shame on Huggies for sponsoring this show. I am anxiously awaiting its cancellation.

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Coming soon inshaAllah, God willing… part 2: an Islamic perspective (when my son lets me get to it!)

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4 thoughts on “Child abuse as entertainment: UK’s “Bringing Up Baby”

  1. assalam alaykum sis,

    mashallah your blog is REALLY NICE! pls keep writing, i LOVE the stuff you’re posting :)!

    this article is really interesting… you know, before i gave birth to my little girl, i was recommended the book “new contented little baby book” by gina ford. she actually promotes something VERY similar to this method. from day one, i found it really odd to just “time” when i should be feeding my baby, knowing that she genuinely wanted to be fed at certain times by herself that would be contrary to the “routine”. i found it too military like lol! but the whole point of it was to make sure things were convenient for the parents..subhanallah i know that i’ve had many sleepless nights and my life has changed a lot but i would never want my little girl to go through that. it just feels so unnatural. i’m sorry this is a short reply, she’s actually crying calling me for now so i should attend :)! wassalam

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  2. wa’alaikum as salam

    jazakillahu khairan, I’m glad to hear from someone and I look forward to hearing more from you 😉

    yeah, funny how these “methods” go against basic motherly, or indeed HUMAN instinct. The human instinct is to cherish, nurture, preserve and nourish the weak and helpless. In magazines and popular literature they always talk about how the mom has to just put aside her ambivalent feelings about cry-it-out routines and just do it. Why do something that goes against a protective, beneficial instinct?

    It’s one of my major pet peeves, this issue… and I think you’ll find that it’s something unique to the western culture in the modern era–we don’t want to admit that when we have a baby, we do have to put our lives on hold to a certain degree, *we* have to mold and adapt, rather than requiring the new baby to adapt to US.

    Especially with feedings, that’s just so dangerous when we get into this mindset of trying to micromanage the baby. SubhanAllah, imagine the accountability of answering before Allah if our child is called to testify that we purposely withheld food when she was hungry! Scary to say the least.

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  3. Hi there, and hope this finds you, little Abdullah and the rest of your family happy and healthy. 🙂

    I came randomly across this blog, and I have to say how often I find myself agreeing with you – so I had to write and say how absolutely correct I feel you are in this instance. The sudden prevalence of the Gina Ford/Claire Verity et al ‘baby boot camp’ approach to ‘parenting’ has me quite alarmed for the future of the generation being subjected to it. Yes, these babies might seem ‘contented’, quiet and obedient on the surface…but how much of this is coerced behaviour, exhibited simply because they’ve learned by experience that their needs will not be catered for? It seems so heartless – WE chose to have the baby…the baby didn’t choose to come along just to annoy us, give us sleepless nights and ‘boss’ us around!

    I’m currently expecting my first child (very excited!) and I already become upset at the very IDEA of leaving my baby to cry, making him/her fit around my schedule just so I can get a little more sleep (and depriving the baby of feeds at the same time, at the risk of diminishing my breastmilk), etc. Although I’m generally an instinctive person and hope to simply do what feels ‘right’ (within reason!) in parenting my baby, if anything my approach would correspond to the Spock “love your baby, respond to your baby and you’ll generally get things right” approach.

    Of course…this may not work for me and I may find I’m floundering at some point – don’t we all? But I’m confident that love, responsiveness and flexibility is the way forward in caring for a baby. Yes, at some point they’ll need a routine and discipline, but there’ll be plenty of time for that when the baby is old enough to even understand such concepts. Until then…yes I’ll be exhausted and I have no doubt there’ll be times when I feel I’m not coping – since when was having a baby supposed to be an easy ride?? – but I’ll also be providing my baby with the care, attention and LOVE it needs to thrive.

    Sorry for the rant, but blame the pregnancy hormones – I personally consider these methods to be nothing but a form of sanctioned child abuse, however strong that may sound.

    Keep writing! You do so beautifully, and I’m now going to go away and read more of your interesting and well-considered blog. 🙂

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  4. Just to clarify on the ‘this may not work for me’ comment in my diatribe above…I don’t mean by this that if it doesn’t work for ME, I’ll just give up – after all, it will still be working for my baby. However, there are far more appropriate sources of support, ideas and information than a book that tells you to manipulate, deprive and ‘train’ a newborn. 🙂

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