Health Visitors and their sinister sleep complex

15 October, 2013

As we flew into London* last week, on a bumpy, hot, late flight from Milan my almost-three year old, Ramona, began busting out her catalogue of Terrorist- Siege-of- London songs at maximum volume. “London Bridge is falling down, falling down, falling down!” “London’s Burning, London’s burning, fetch the engine, fetch the engine!” Her voice boomed out across the sweaty heads of all the other flustered passengers… “FIRE, FIRE!”

Sweet little Nursery rhymes, which are, y’know, a bit dark. Sinister. Death, danger and fear flinging gleefully out of the angelic mouths of babes.

I bet there is one single word in German for this kind of thing… I’m going to call it Menacing Benevolence. (Menachinguten.)

Like a gun made out of chocolate. Or a gift wrapped turd.

Or Health Visitors.

Oh yeah. They turn up, all smiles and kindness when you’ve just had your baby. Breastfeeding is going well, and they coo over your bonny bundle so you don’t feel the need to get cross when they slip a Bottle Feeding guide into your sheaf of papers. You see them a couple of times for a weigh-in, they are pretty good at telling you not to worry about the snuffley nose. And then your baby turns six months and you get given a Sleep Programme to stop your baby waking in the night.

The title seems innocuous. Helpful. You didn’t ask for it but then, you DO kinda like sleeping and baby IS still waking up. The doubts creep in. Is my baby getting enough sleep? Am I stopping my baby from developing healthy sleeping patterns? How many other babies sleep through? Is lack of sleep causing my tiny one brain damage?!

You scan it….


(A sheet recently given to the mother of a six month old baby by their Health Visitor)

What the flipping jolly heck?! SICK?!

There must be very, VERY, serious implications for babies that wake in the night because these recommended methods of stopping night wakings are enormously extreme. They are so extreme that you need to warn the family and the neighbours about what is going to happen. Letting them cry alone, repeatedly, for periods of time possibly longer than any period they have cried for yet. Allowing them only a one hour nap in the day. You are told what to do if the child cries so much THEY ARE SICK. Nothing to eat or drink all night despite the simple fact that they could very well be quite hungry. These are some hardcore suggestions for babies that in almost every other species are still inside the womb.

Luckily you have Google; your Health Visitor and that slip of paper isn’t your only source of information.

What ARE the implications of babies waking in the night? Oh… Nothing? Just a little bit of evidence that suggests they are MEANT to? That sleeping lightly is a survival technique? That babies who have all their needs met throughout the day and night are better wired for love and empathy?


We have a sleep complex here in the UK and it is sinister. Not quite in the way that Nursery Rhymes are- I don’t imagine enough people have attempted to blow up London Bridge to impress a young lass to warrant a fear that singing these songs could cause actual damage. But Health Visitors and other NHS propaganda, along with the myriad of “expert” advice around sleep IS actually harmful.

Parents who feel the pressure to employ the techniques in this guide risk losing a real trust and connection with their little one. They risk flooding their baby’s brain with stress hormones released through ignored and continued crying. They risk missing out on valuable nursing time and vital bonding cuddle time. They risk having to move aside their precious baby, the very one they grew in their own body, the one who looks up at them in love, who slips their trusting hand in theirs, this perfect, unique child, they have to move her aside and clean sick from her skin and her bed because she cried so hard she vomited, and they have to do this without a cuddle, without a word, without a glance.

Seriously. I’m just so cross at the people who wrote this and the people who hand it out. I could swear like a Mother right now.

Sleep is an area in which parent’s are so vulnerable. We place so much weight on it when actually there is little we can do. No one can make a baby or a child sleep- we can simply create an environment where they might. The real spectrum of how many hours babies and children sleep is vast, I know babies happy and thriving on each end of it. The last thing parents need is guilt heaped on about something they don’t have too much control over.

What parents really need to hear from Health Visitors is a voice, louder even than my daughter’s singing, booming out a big, fat “Don’t worry!”

This waking at night thing is a tiny window of your life. Breastfeeding and cuddling through to the dawn will be over in a flash. They WILL sleep all by themselves, soundly and without needing you to comfort them. There are loads and loads and loads of parents who don’t worry about schedules or even routines, who just use their child’s cues and communication to plan bed times. And there are whole nations who sleep in the family bed, happily altogether, waking for cuddles.

You are not setting them up to have sleep issues their whole life long- exams and then a mortgage will probably be the cause of those. Soon they will be teenagers who will sleep more than you could ever imagine, corpse like on the bed; their feet with their shoes still on and their hands still gripping the kebab wrapper, and you won’t have to worry about a thing.

(Apart from that they come in too late and they spend all their money on takeaways and they smell a little bit like booze, oh crumbs, and also they are probably trying to bomb London Bridge because you sang them too many nursery rhymes.)

PS For more parenting/ travelling / thrifty blogging follow through Facebook or Bloglovin or even just enter your email to get them pinged into your inbox. I don’t rant and rave THAT much…

*Yeah I KNOOOW… We are we back in London… Of all the places! We came home after Croatia to pick up a repaired Betty the Campervan, which was meant to arrive 3 weeks ago. We were meant to be here 5 days before getting the ferry to Spain. But Betty is still in Italy! And now we’ll be 3 weeks late to Spain. We have been massively let down by the AA and now Tim is actually flying out there again tomorrow to pick it up while I stay here with Juno and Ramona. *mutter, mutter, throws mug of tea at wall in rage*

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  • Janine 16 October, 2013 at 8:08 am

    You mention “at least we have Google” but the real problem is, some people DON’T. Some people either don’t have internet or don’t know enough to go looking for more answers. Some people, here anyway, simply take the doctor/nurse/health visitor advice and follow that the best they can. That’s the real tragedy – Blog posts like this are preaching to the converted. Those health visitor papers (and similar junk exists here in the States) reach the people who are most vulnerable to the disgusting message.

  • Claire Rendle 15 October, 2013 at 8:36 pm

    I am absolutely disgusted by this so called guide!!! I just followed my instincts and what my baby was trying to tell me and all 3 of mine slept through the night before 6 months old with no crying until they were sick and no sleeping by the door! I didn’t have to warn siblings or neighbours as my babies were feeling loved and secure in the knowledge that I would still be there when they woke and that cuddles are available on tap. This is an awful thing to hand out – especially to first-time mothers! I’d like to shove it down the throat of whoever wrote it!!!

  • Zehra Cranmer 15 October, 2013 at 8:38 pm

    I read this while feeding my teething baby back to sleep for the third time, I’ll be doing it again at least 5 more times tonight. It is a such a short period of our lives that our babies need us like this & reading that leaflet was sickening & terrifying. Do people really do this to their children!!?

  • Sonya Cisco 15 October, 2013 at 8:41 pm

    That is bloody horrendous! My health visitor was an angel by comparison, not that I really bothered going with Syd, 3rd baby syndrome and all that. I cannot believe they are condoning such a harsh regime. Ggrrrrr.

  • Circus Queen 15 October, 2013 at 8:43 pm

    What the hell?! This “guide” is so extreme. Even parents who follow CIO, controlled crying, whatever you want to call it would look at this and wonder what this health visitor is on, surely?

  • Molly 15 October, 2013 at 8:49 pm

    I think it’s really tricky to differentiate between all health visitors, and that is part of the problem. I’ve seen three health visitors since being a mum and they were all SO different. One told me I had a baby with a behaviour complex (snort) because she wasn’t sleeping all the way through at the age of 7 months. But another told me not to worry and that I was doing a grand job. You’re right, sleep is a very vulnerable area for parents, especially new parents. It can get competitive (“My 6 week old sleeps 12 hours a night”) and you are constantly given advice even if you didn’t ask for it (“Let her cry” / “co-sleep” / “send the husband in to deal with it”) that it is incredibly confusing. One thing’s for sure – if I ever have another baby I will make sure I listen to myself and my baby and ONLY myself and my baby. I did that first time around too, but felt guilty for it, as if I was doing the wrong thing. What a waste of time that was. x

  • Mrs_scholes 15 October, 2013 at 8:54 pm

    I totally agree! We did ‘check and console’ – going back every 2 minutes until our baby fell asleep. But I always went to her in the night, and if she’d gotten worse, instead of fallen asleep, I would have tried a different technique.

    This handout is TERRIFYING and I am hoping anyone with any motherly instincts would ignore it completely.

    PS How come the baby is stuck by the door and falling asleep there? AM I TRAPPING THE BABY IN HER BEDROOM SOMEHOW? Perhaps for a very difficult toddler (dear God I hope not) but not for a six month old, whom I hope, can’t get out of the cot yet….

    • Jem 21 October, 2013 at 8:30 pm

      Check and console? Sounds like controlled crying by another name…

  • Josanne 15 October, 2013 at 8:55 pm

    I am one of those parents that has adopted a tougher stand on getting my child to sleep.
    We have always had issues with my now 2 yr 8m old daughter.
    After over 20 months of trying everything we could possibly think of, from cuddling and soothing her back to sleep, rapid return and letting her cry it out, we have decided to take a more controlled routine with her.
    I can say from experience that nightly waking for so long, with anything from 1 – 6 plus times a night, has taken it’s toll physically and mentally on me, and that in turn, with my extremely tired and grumpy child, we both suffer during the day also.
    For all of our sakes we need to sort out this issue.
    I have written about this several times on my blog, and am currently documenting it several times a week. Please feel free to have a read from another perspective.
    From the advice on the paper you were given, I would not, in any way, ignore my child if she had vomited due to crying so much. As long as she knows how much she is loved and is shown consistency (which I have lacked admittedly) and security, my daughter will be okay.
    At the same time, I agree with a lot of what you have written.

    • Jess 17 October, 2013 at 11:28 am

      So I’ve read through your posts, and something really stood out to me: you wrote that it goes against all your motherly instincts.

      I get how hard it is to have a toddler who doesn’t sleep through. My daughter is a few months younger then yours, for a couple months slept from about 7.30pm to around 7am, but other then that wakes up usually several times a night. The past months have drained all energy from me and my husband. I know you and I are not alone in that – the average 2-3 year old wakes at night.

      But why go against your instincts? I haven’t read every post on your blog, but I’ve read a few of them that reference the difficulties you’re having with getting a decent nights sleep. No where have you mentioned trying bed-sharing, or even just having a mattress next to your bed for her. You mention a few times that she hears noises – is there some music she can put on to listen to? In the middle of the night when there’s nothing else happening, every little noise can seem frightening.

      And sure, she may not actually remember it (although I have a couple friends who do remember being left alone as small children all night, no matter how much they cried for their parents). But every day we can choose to strengthen or weaken the relationship we have with our children. Not that we have to be perfect every day, but the choices we make consistently do effect the relationship we have with our children.

      • Josanne 17 October, 2013 at 8:16 pm

        Hi Jess
        yes we have tried co sleeping – it doesn’t work for us. As well as us all being squished up together in a hot bundle, it is something that we do not want to do. We want to promote a healthy balance where we obviously give her every bit of emotional support, but on the other hand want her to settle herself to sleep, as much as possible. This is the reason why we don’t encourage her to sleep on the floor in our room either. She isn’t left all night unattended, only encouraged to be able to be by herself and that this is ok.
        The noises she hears are next door mainly, and the odd bark from a dog and even our cat who is quite vocal at night, can disturb her. I know that children get scared by noise, and we comfort her when she is disturbed, reassuring her that it is ok. Yes, we have tried soothing music in the background too.
        I am confident we not damaging Lily by the tactics we are using right now. She will benefit from a structured routine. The past 20 odd months have not been particularly structured as we have tried different methods, from co sleeping to taking her back to bed countless times a night.
        If we are to give Lily peace at night and during the day (the days are just horrid for her – she’s exhausted too, but refuses to nap in the majority) then we need structure somewhere, and night time is the perfect place to start.

    • kerry 17 October, 2013 at 12:42 pm

      This may be something you already considered but have you looked at diet? I have 2 two year olds, and ave raised 6 and we did not have a sleep through the night with the 2 until we found out that they had food intolerance, once changed the diet we got wonderful sleep every night, accept when we were not careful wit food. I recommend a visit to a natural doctor. I also noticed that you have tried many things, often with toddlers consistency is the key, they need to know what to expect if last night they got cuddles and tonight they are locked into there room alone and tomorrow night they are allowed to stay up they won’t know what is expected any change could take 1-2weeks for a child to grasp so trying for 2 nights and then feeling that something is not working does not give the decided method time to work. You are exhausted and losing the ever changing battle with a two year old, most of us ave been there and will probably be there again. pat yourself on the back you are trying very hard to get this issue under control, also if you can take a break from your child or children take a nap and a bath and get a whole night of sleep, then you are rested and have a clear mind then make a concrete plan that will not change for 2 weeks, get every ones input including the 2 year olds, create a routine, and possibly and earlier bedtime to make up for night waking. good luck to you, I wish you peaceful nights

      • Josanne 17 October, 2013 at 8:29 pm

        Hi Kerry
        Thanks for your comments.
        I have said several times that I think Lily has some issues with something that she eating. We have been cutting out certain food groups to see if this makes a difference. So far it hasn’t. I’ll take on board your advice to seek help in this, as you may have a valid point.
        The different methods we have tried have been over a period of time, before we moved on to the next one, but maybe we still haven’t given any one of them a good chance of working. I don’t know!! It’s hard. We have stuck to this method for nearly a week now and it’s showing some results. We haven’t had to shut the stair gate, that we installed at her door, as we have merely told her that she needs to stay in bed, otherwise we may close it. There hasn’t been any of the drama that we have previously had, and she has even said that she wants to sleep all night. She is calmer and returns to bed without screaming or crying (apart from last night’s 15 minute wobble). It’s a brilliant effort by her, she knows it, as we tell her often. She is much more chirpy these past few days too. I use the naughty step as a consequence for naughty behaviour, and she hasn’t been on it all week!

        • tricia 17 October, 2013 at 9:26 pm

          Hi Josanne. I have a 2.5 year old. 🙂 We have always shared a room so this might be a little different. He has his own bed on a different wall than my bed. Sometimes he wakes up and says my name but usually he will fall back asleep. Sometimes though I can tell by his voice so I get him or he just crawls into my bed.

          Anyhow though here is my point. When he was having troubles sleeping I would use lavender oils or herbs in his bath at night. Or rub it on the bottoms of his feet. Young Living has the best oils. Now what I do is I put it in a diffuser that I plug into the wall. When he is sick I add some other oils to it as well. But since I started plugging it into the wall he falls asleep a lot sooner and does not wake up to crawl into my bed anymore.

          I hope that can help you some. Everyone has their own methods and advice but we are not in your shoes. You sound like a very loving mother and you are doing the best you can.

        • Mema 17 October, 2013 at 10:36 pm

          Yes, I agree about the food. As well my daughter was iodine and magnesium deficient. And that helped SO MUCH! It was huge turnabout for her. Mainly I just painted Lugol’s iodine tincture on her skin and her body absorbed it. I also weaned her shortly after as well (she was 3+ yrs old already and my body was done and I was already suffering thyroid issues for some time, which may have lead to her deficiency, so I knew I had to wean for both of us.)

          My daughter does have some leaky gut issues that I am working to heal, slowly.

          So do consider the food and possible deficiencies.

    • Mary Keynko 18 October, 2013 at 7:25 am

      Sorry – slightly off topic! If your child is waking in the night and crying or coming to find you -or crying when you put them to bed – it is because she needs you – for a reason! Leaving them to cry is horrendous – and to the lady further up who calls it “tough love” in her blog post well I hope next time you are crying and alone and feel abandoned all you get is a pat on the back and the door closing behind them – because that’s what you are doing to you child!
      And yes I do have children and yes they did wake in the night – until they were 3! I have never and would never put my children to bed crying, I would never and have never left my child crying on their own in their room. We would read stories, sing and sometimes just sit with them until they were safe and asleep. If they woke in the night they would come into bed with us – they would occasionally return themselves to bed when they were ready but more often than not we would all wake up in a heap together!
      And before anyone asks it has done them no harm at all – and if you don’t believe me – ask them!
      This advice sheet is appalling – we were very lucky with our HV she was a complete diamond and a great exponent of instinctive parenting, she would often ask “what do feel is the best thing for you both” and never dictated to us at all. in fact I saw her a couple of years ago (18 after she had retired) and she recognised me, gave me a huge hug and asked – my name – about “her babies” a really sweet lady – but I do know that other people have had horrid experiences – and that’s awful when you are already feeling vulnerable!

      • Josanne 18 October, 2013 at 8:08 am

        My child is a very much loved and well cared for, who does not get ignored for hours on end or brushed aside by a pat on the back and left. Rest assured the tough love methods are so beneficial to my child, and may not be your chosen method. She has boundaries and does not suffer because of them. Of course we soothe her, read to her, sing to her, make her feel as every bit special as she is. Some here are making assumptions that my daughter is going to feel abandoned and unloved by our methods. Rubbish! What works for you, you follow. I don’t judge you by the methods you use. Narrow mindedness causes more problems to parents who are genuinely concerned about their children’s welfare, and who are honest about what they are doing and are trying to achieve. Look at the whole picture, before jumping in and condemning, please. Reading a comment and making assumptions about that person before knowing the full story about the whole family and their relationship with each other is very shallow.
        Crying is normal, self soothing is normal. It’s the degree you need to look at. The picture is never one dimensional.
        I have agreed that the tactics on the sheet are dreadful. I’m not advocating them.

        • Susan in Portugal 19 October, 2013 at 1:29 am

          “Crying is normal” – yes, when you have injured yourself or the such – not when you have been left to cry – because the adult feels that you don’t have a valid enough ‘reason’ to be crying. ie .. needing to be HELD. To be loved. Isn’t enough. “Self soothing” is a euphemism – as babies don’t know how to ‘self sooth’ – they DO learn how to ‘give up’ though. I can only imagine how a babies mind works – when one minute ie most of the day – you are ‘singing to her, soothing her, reading to her … ‘ etc .. and then suddenly … nothing. You are left to cry. I find that … not only weird but hurtful. It’s not about ‘what works for YOU’’s about what is good for a baby … any baby .. ALL babies. And leaving them to cry – isn’t good full stop!

          I can’t imagine you , closing the door on a crying granny, whom perhaps you think is ‘dry, clean, comfortable, fed, watered, etc etc ‘ but whom simply needs company and cuddling …. human contact in other words…. So …… what make it ‘ok’ for a human baby ? Just like hitting an elder is wrong … what makes it ‘ok’ to hit a child ? What on EARTH distinction IS there ??

          • Josanne 19 October, 2013 at 9:04 am

            Oh Susan, really? Please, if you haven’t read any of my posts, then please do. You have made an awful lot of assumptions about me and my child, which are completely untrue.

          • Lucy 19 October, 2013 at 9:16 am

            Yes, I think it is really important to remember that mothers, for the most part, are always doing what they think best for their child.
            And I guess we all just differ enormously in what we think is best!

          • Josanne 19 October, 2013 at 11:57 am

            That is it in a nutshell!
            Let’s move on…
            Till next time Lucy…. 😉

  • Mrs_scholes 15 October, 2013 at 8:57 pm

    PPS ‘warn father and siblings’. How come the ‘father’ isn’t helping me with the bedtime routine, and discussing it with me in full, rather than just being informed that I’m going to let the baby cry until they’re sick?

    PPS How the heck do you change the sicky bed without either making eye contact with the child or getting them out of the bed? There are so many things wrong with that handout. Lucy please will you burn it for me? I can come around with matches if you need some.

    • Lucy 15 October, 2013 at 9:51 pm

      I would definitely have burned it!! The person who was given it had the wherewithal to post it on Facebook so everyone could be outraged 🙂

  • Karen 15 October, 2013 at 9:09 pm

    WHAT!?!?! What kind of crazy health visitor do you have knocking on your door, I working in the parenting advice sector with some fabulous HV and none of us would dream of giving this as advice, I’m shocked that this has been allowed! Thank god you are a confident and calm mum who has faith in your parenting, god knows what this does to any vulnerable mums out there!

  • Katy Beale 15 October, 2013 at 9:22 pm

    Holy crap. Is this out of the 70s? It looks it, like it’s written on a typewriter. You should complain to your doctor’s surgery. In writing. This advice is not generic NHS advice. It’s frankly dangerous.

    I could get very snouty about health visitors. I have met a few lovely ones, but mostly they are full of OPINION. I was asked “have I started a routine?” at 8 weeks. I said, yes – I feed the baby *on demand* when she’s hungry. She sleeps when she’s tired, she’ll figure out her own ‘routine’. They looked at me like I was nutty. If I wasn’t so hot and bothered from having to sit in the overheated waiting room for so long, I could have been a bit more lucid and told them that this is how most people breastfeed (or would without interference). I was pretty concerned they didn’t seem to know that ‘on demand’ breast feeding is the the best for a growing baby and helps regulate mum’s milk.

    Sheesh. I could go on. I just smile and nod as they offer me leaflet after leaflet.

    My sister’s HV asked her the standard question about sex after pregnancy, she replied, “not yet”. HV says, “that’s fine for you, but the men they cannot wait so long”. Her partner was SAT NEXT TO HER.

    No words.

    • Thalia Kehoe Rowden 16 October, 2013 at 10:07 am

      So many horrified question marks and exclamation marks required!


    • T 17 October, 2013 at 8:35 pm

      Please don’t complain to the GP surgery, complain to the manager of HVs. GPSs do not employ, manage, control of have any attention paid to them by HVs. They are entirely separate and drive us insane as well (am a GP, oh and a breastfeeding mother supporter, and am currently rocking my BFing 5week old before taking him up to my bed in a few minutes) with endlessly advising people to see the GP about totally normal processes, or giving insane advice such as that in this sheet (hurray! Let them cry till they vomit at 6 months when even the chap who invented cc says not to until at least 1year). Some are spectacularly excellent, sensible and lovely but there are also plenty of others.

  • Natalie 15 October, 2013 at 9:28 pm

    I honestly can’t believe that a health visitor would hand out such a sickening advice sheet. That truly is disgusting treatment of a baby who just needs love.

    Will you be taking this further? Who condoned these handouts!?

    Sorry, not a pleasant message-your blog is amazing btw-I’m just outraged.

    Best of luck with sorting Betty x

  • 76sunflowers 15 October, 2013 at 9:42 pm

    Wow. Just wow. I feel I’ve come across a 1950s guide to sleep. Inform the father?! Should he not be involved anyway?! And sod the neighbours! I don’t recall getting any advice like this from my HV who I hardly saw anyway. I admit to being a bit of a routine queen and did get my babies into a good sleeping pattern – but in their time. Soooo sorry to hear about Betty – yikes!

  • Hannah 15 October, 2013 at 9:50 pm

    I was a first time mum at 18 I was eventually shattered, vulnerable and suffering PND these were guidelines I gathered from other sources not my health visitor. I tried these ‘guidelines’ because I was so tired because no one was telling me this was normal and to enjoy my little girl. She would cry until she was sick and it was awful. Needless to say it wasn’t right for us and it wasn’t fair on her. She didn’t sleep through until she was 3 but that seems many moons ago now. When she did sleep on her own she was obviously ready and we’ve had no problems since 🙂 x

  • Kate 15 October, 2013 at 10:02 pm

    Wow! In agreement that this needs to have a complaint made about it. I have certainly been on the receiving end of some ‘interesting advice’ from health visitors but equally I have met some fabulous ones.

    Really shocked that this is something handed out by an NHS employee, it seems hardcore by any standards.

    Fingers crossed for Betty, really enjoy reading about your travels.

  • Mummylimited 16 October, 2013 at 9:06 am

    If it wasn’t you posting this I would think it was a horrible made up joke. I cannot believe it. It’s all so awful. I’m furious. Plus, no more than an hour sleep in the day?! For a 6mo old?! That’s crazy. My 2yo still has a nap longer than an hour.
    We are obsessed with babies sleeping through and I’m convinced this is why our bf rates are so low. From 4mo people start asking if they are. It’s bloody crazy.

    • Lucy 17 October, 2013 at 8:56 pm

      I absolutely agree that it is linked to low breastfeeding rates, for sure, which obviously come back round to the NHS eventually through kids that are less healthy due to less bf!!

  • Amy (KidFreeLiving) 16 October, 2013 at 9:48 am

    Clearly I don’t have a kid, but this was totally worth reading if for nothing but “Menachinguten!” (but even without a kid the rest was amusing too… maybe more amusing for me than some because I don’t have to worry about it! 🙂

  • John 16 October, 2013 at 9:50 am

    As a father I was only the secondary responder when our daughter used to wake many times each night (due to a lack of breasts – maybe there’ll be something we can get off Amazon for that, next time).

    We had a lot of pressure from health visitors, some friends, and family to be much less responsive when baby girl woke screaming. In the end, after 6 months of hell – hey presto! – she had a full set of teeth and started sleeping really well. We didn’t need a strategy; she was just teething, poor thing.

    Reflecting on that experience, I think maybe sleep strategies for the parents, rather than the child, might be more useful. After all, that’s why most of us are bothered in the first place, right? The ‘problem’ of a child not sleeping 7-8 hours a night is actually the problem of US not sleeping 7-8 hours a night, and the effect that this sleep deprivation can have on our mental wellbeing.

    I’m not being glib: I had to leave work and become a full-time carer to look after my wife and daughter because my wife had very nasty PND. But should we choose to have a second child, our sleep strategies will be entirely about how we can get more sleep – and deal with the sleep deficit – while remaining just as responsive and engaged with our baby all through the night.

    • Katy Beale 16 October, 2013 at 5:55 pm

      I think this is a really interesting angle.

      I’m a fully paid up member of the sleep deprivation club right now. There’s the tell tale signs – doubting my own judgement, a crisis of confidence, which this niggles at me especially when I’m at work. I try not to let it show!

      I don’t want to leave my baby screaming in the night or use any of the crazy tactics described above, but I do want to ensure my own sanity. I think (I can’t quite remember if I’m honest) that with my first I did the Cry It Out thing at about 10 months – I was returning to work and desperate to feel ok, I do believe that the lack of sleep contributed to my depression at the time. I think I had PND but couldn’t really see it at the time as I was in the thick, hazy, dark cloud of it all.

      This time round, I have much more support from family but still wish I knew a way for me to feel better mentally and baby to get all her needs met. I realise there’s no right answer!

    • Jess 17 October, 2013 at 11:37 am

      For my husband and I, ‘sleep training’ has definitely been about how we can get enough sleep, while still responding to our daughter’s needs day and night. We have a sleep-in day each, we negotiate when one of us needs extra sleep, and if one of us has just gotten to the end of the rope trying to get our daughter to sleep, we swap.

  • Thalia Kehoe Rowden 16 October, 2013 at 10:10 am

    Oh, heck, where do you even START with this sheet? Even for parents doing some kind of routine, this is extreme and awful. Cry till they vomit, then still no cuddles?! Sounds like Romanian orphanage neglect to me.

    And as for one hour’s sleep at a time during the day, where did they even make that up from? Crazy!

    Thanks for the rant, Lucy, it’s well deserved and a joy to read. Official complaints would be great, too…

    And all the very best for Betty’s recovery (and yours!).

  • Bea 16 October, 2013 at 11:15 am

    This is really awful. And you are so right about new parents being vulnerable. When your baby is born you’re told to feed by the breast on demand. Simple and natural. But then at my health visitor asked how my 3 month old daughter (my first baby) was sleeping. I said that she woke a lot and liked to nurse a lot in the night. She told me that ‘nutritionally, she shouldn’t need to feed more than once at this age’ and that I should try not to feed her more than once. When did it turn from on demand to restricted feeding? I feel so stupid saying it now, but I tried for many many sleepless nights to get her to sleep and not feed her more than once. The HV and midwives were also funny about co sleeping so I had her in the co sleeping cot next to me not against me in our bed, constantly trying to stop her from snuggling with me. The HV also said that she had to ‘self soothe’ and not to look at her or talk to her when I changed her nappy. I feel awful even typing that I did this, but I was vulnerable, I had so much trust in the HV and the system. I was afraid not to follow their ‘advice’. My daughter was very ill when she was born and is fine now but back then we didn’t want to do anything that might harm her. We were also completely inexperienced, being our first baby.
    So after a while I read some articles about nursing on Kellymom (which is great) and realised that what the HV had told me was just a technique. From people that like to sell books and make a lot of money. I decided to trust my own instinct and that of my husband and we have never looked back. We try not to read too many books about parenting or Google too much as this can be confusing.

    Our daughter is such a happy and contented 10 month old. She nurses whenever she wants and sleeps with us in our bed. Simple and natural.

  • Ali 16 October, 2013 at 11:29 am

    Wow! Truly amazing. I think it’s so sad that there are children out there whose parents will follow advice like this and through no fault of their own. If you don’t know any better and a professional offers you advice, you take it. This advice is awful! Something ‘Super Nanny’ would be proud of.
    I’ve spent part of my career offering support to parents & having studied developmental psychology I only recommend (& use myself) child lead routines. Routines are important, they allow children to feel safe and secure through predictability. A child who is neglected ( by being allowed to cry until they vomit, maybe??) will experience a huge production of Cortisol (stress hormone ) which is potentially dangerous. These chemicals take atleast an hour to leave the system so this poor child who has been left to cry and vomit, then ignored will continue to feel stressed long afterwards- that doesn’t make to a great nights sleep! And don’t get me started on trust building. I’ve worked with abused children who fall asleep following long periods of crying because basically they give up. Their brains decide their needs won’t be met so best survival technique is to shut down. It’s extreme cases but still.
    I’d recommend the health visitor who wrote this ‘gem’ reads ‘why love matters’ by sue gerhardt.

  • Rachel Vintage Folly 16 October, 2013 at 3:52 pm

    I absolutely agree with everything you said!!!

    Not all help is helpful is it? I recall clearly being told to ‘let her cry’, ‘she needs to know you aren’t going to come because she cries’, ‘she’s probably just lonely’.
    I would sit aghast and think sod off I’ll do it my way. I want her up know that I will be there if she’s lonely, I will come if she cries. Incidentally Beth was a very content baby so I didn’t worry too much. But for those who’s children are fractious, this kind of ‘help’ could cause serious worry and stress!
    Urgh! Drives me mad!

  • Xanthe 16 October, 2013 at 4:34 pm

    Am sad to have read your post for the first time EVER :'(

    *not because of anything you wrote of course, but that my postpartum self is too emotional to have read that awful printed advice! People TRUST health care professionals…

  • Lulastic 16 October, 2013 at 8:47 pm

    Thank you for all your comments everyone. Some real honest and heartfelt ones.

    I’m just absolutely convinced there are gentle alternatives to leaving your child crying. I understand it can be hard, really hard, but there ARE other ways. I also really believe that expectation is key to all of this, once you get your head around the fact that babies wake and will do for quite a while it’s much easier to handle – but almost all parents head into it believing their little one will sleep through, this myth is aided by HVs.

  • we3three 16 October, 2013 at 9:07 pm

    that ‘guide’ makes me feel ill. im with you 100%…its saddening that at our most vulnerable mums are made to believe that ‘sleeping through the sodding night’ is the ultimate goal 🙁

  • Ariadne 17 October, 2013 at 12:00 pm

    It can be ever so tricky to navigate the days without proper sleep but that information sheet is, much like you said a recipe for breaking trust and connection. I did not feel comfortable with sleep training for my own children and this is a resource I wrote for parents that want ideas of what to do instead and still cope well!

  • Tess 17 October, 2013 at 1:23 pm

    This makes me want to cry. I hope new parents trust themselves more than to follow this barbaric custom. My twins are teething at almost 8 months and EACH wake every hour, at LEAST. They have gone longer in the past but never STTN (which doesn’t even mean 12 hours, btw). I am tired, yes, and can’t wait for the day that I can sleep 3-4 or even 6 hours at a time, but I will survive! And it will pass, adD one day I will look back on these days with nostalgia and desperately miss having my little ones curled up to me at night, sleeping on either side or even, gasp, on top of me.

  • Jo Argent 17 October, 2013 at 1:51 pm

    Do you know which area, or health visitor gave out this information as I think it should be brought to the attention of the PCT or the local social services? This is extreme and dangerous advice which does not fit with how my local health visitors conduct themselves. Has the person who was given this complained about this health visitor? Someone should be doing something to prevent vulnerable children (and their parents) from being exposed to this none sense.

    • Lucy 17 October, 2013 at 8:36 pm

      I agree. I’ll do some investigating… X

  • ERF Mama 17 October, 2013 at 2:05 pm

    Horrendous to even think that someone would actually follow something like that. 🙁
    Makes me crinch to think about!

  • Sam 17 October, 2013 at 2:26 pm

    Is this form recent? It’s such a worry if it is.just wondering if you complained to the local pct at all? Want wishes

    • Sam 17 October, 2013 at 2:26 pm

      I meant warm wishes 😉

  • Norwegian mom 17 October, 2013 at 3:39 pm

    Sorry to say this, but my impression is that UK stayed in the 80′ regarding a)childcare and b) interior design.

    This was scary…

    • Lucy 17 October, 2013 at 8:34 pm

      HAHAHA brilliant 🙂

  • The health visitor sleep program. 17 October, 2013 at 3:40 pm

    […] Health Visitors and their sinister sleep complex | Lulastic and the hippyshake Reply With Quote […]

  • BluePixie 17 October, 2013 at 3:59 pm


    As someone who works for the NHS, I am pretty sure that the information we give out has to be evidence-based; we can’t just pick out the “facts” that we think seem most in keeping with our personal beliefs and start advocating whatever we fancy. This letter was not on headed paper, not part of an official booklet, nothing – it seems to be copied straight off a (bad) website or worse, copied straight from the book of some unsavoury “baby expert” or other. I feel very strongly that this needs reporting so that a) the HV in question can be instructed not to hand it out any more and b) so that she can be re-educated (or fired!). I could easily rant for another page and a half but thankfully the other posters have said everything I was going to say, so I will quietly walk away now before my head explodes at the stupidity and cruelty demonstrated by this idiotic set of “advice”.

    • Lucy 17 October, 2013 at 8:35 pm

      Welllll, actually I picked up an NHS flyer, kept it for ages as I was gonna blog about it, which suggested a lot of his stuff, just not so extreme. Definitely worked on the premise that babies at 6 months should be sleeping through and not fed. So, milder but still utter bollocks!! Xx

  • Susan in Portugal 18 October, 2013 at 1:04 am

    I am a 59 yr old grandmother am a Brit. I had my two children in 1980 and 1984. I was a nurse too. I was taught both as a nurse and by my HV’s .. NEVER to CIO and to always feed ‘on demand’ not by the clock – that CIO and feeding on the clock etc was very ‘bad’ for the baby and that lots of hugs/cuddles/snuggles were essential to a child’s welfare.

    Not only that – when my children were both born – they were put INTO the bed WITH me to sleep and tucked in firmly !! This was in a big central London Hospital !! One of the top in Britain at the time !

    I truly thought that this CIO and other nonsense like feeding by the clock, and spanking children had stopped when I was baby in the 50’s ! Sadly … some HV’s need a reality check. They need SOME sort of check to be sure …. they ALL should be on the same page not spouting personal clap trap !!!!

  • Michelle | The American Resident 18 October, 2013 at 9:36 am

    What an interesting post AND comments! I am a mix of everything above. I detoxed my body, exercised and ate only organic before I got pregnant, only ate organic and zero sugar while pregnant, breast fed till my daughter was 18 months, chose not to introduce TV to her until she was over a year, etc etc. BUT after co-sleeping initially I had a very unsupportive husband (now an ex-husband), who requested that I and my daughter sleep in the spare room because he needed his sleep in the night and as a newish expat I had no family and not many friends in London to help out with anything. I was exhausted all the time and becoming increasingly distressed and depressed (I didn’t realise I was experiencing PND), I told the health visitor that I didn’t think I was coping and she suggested I go home so my family could help (!). When I said I couldn’t do that she just made a sad face and said “oh dear”. Finally I joined a ‘natural parenting’ parent and baby group and after a couple of visits when my daughter was 8 months old a fellow mother (and virtiual stranger) said I looked completely terrible and that I really needed to do something about it and she told me about the sleep training. We tried it for four nights, every night my husband told me he couldn’t believe I was doing that to our daughter. I was sobbing, I told him I was scared I’d do something bad if I didn’t get more help or rest; he was disgusted. On the fifth night she slept through all night and ever since then to this day (she is now 15) she has slept 8 hour nights. At that time she also had two hour naps until she started part time at nursery when she was 3.5. I finally caught up on my sleep, finally started becoming the mother I knew I was meant to be and eventually became strong enough to leave the jerk and start a new life with my daughter!

    So. Moral of the story is that different things work for different people. Whatever helps you be a better parent, whatever enables you to give the best environment you can for your child to grow up healthy in mind and body must be the right answer. And of course this goes for all the other controversial parenting topics: baby led weaning, breast vs bottle, potty training, etc!

    I suppose HVs think they’re helping by suggesting things like that above, but anything that makes us feel bad, or makes us more anxious or worried or whatever is not helping. Listening to our particular situation explaining that there are several legitimate OPTIONS would be much more beneficial. To be fair, I do remember my HV complaining about being short staffed so I know there must be very little time to do what is really required, but surely they could just create a brochure with options and suggestions?!

    Great post, really interesting debate. xx

    • Josanne 18 October, 2013 at 9:53 am

      Well I am for one, very pleased that you dropped by and made your comments. All of them very valid and honest and shows both sides of the debate. Unfortunately your now ex husband was not at all supportive in either of your quests to help your situation out, but look, you did it! I have an amazingly supportive husband who keeps me strong when I think all is failing. I applaud you for managing on your own.
      As you so rightly pointed out you became the mother your daughter needed. This is what we need to keep sight of…

  • Carly 18 October, 2013 at 1:57 pm

    I am a Health Visitor and I am appalled by this! We should be educating parents on normal infant sleep (and night waking is way more normal than sleeping through!); and offering gentle, age-appropriate help, where that is what a parent wants.

  • Thalia Kehoe Rowden 19 October, 2013 at 8:42 pm

    Just thought I’d encourage you, Lucy (and others) that the New Zealand equivalent of UK Health Visitors, ‘Plunket’ has a resource website with pretty sane sleep info on it, for each stage of early childhood:

    No mention at all of leaving your baby until they vomit!

  • Kelly 19 October, 2013 at 11:49 pm

    I actually can’t believe this is even true it is absolutely revolting to think this is handed out!! It is outrageous!

  • Dr Wendy Wigley 20 October, 2013 at 8:43 am

    Dear Lulastic and the hippishaker
    As a health visitor by background and lead for a specialist community public health nursing (SCPHN) course that trains health visitors, I too was horrified and extremely worried by this guidance.
    Firstly there appears to be no indication that the organisation the individual works for endorses this ‘programme’ as I can see no organisational logo. Secondly this guidance is not supported by any robust evidence base. I am also alarmed that any health visitor is ‘slipping’ bottle feeding guidance into a mothers records – particularly if beast feeding is well established as this goes against UNICEF baby friendly practice. Please can I urge parents who receive information like this to alert the organisation who employes the HV. In my capacity as an educator of HVs and member of the UK Standing conference for SCPHN education I will alert them and the CPHVA that this guidance is being provided. In the meantime my advise is that if a waking baby is not a problem for you… Then there is no problem. (I have yet to meet an 18year old that still wakes his parents three times a night…) If your baby’s waking is a problem for you, then please seek one to one advise from a HV you resect and trust and who listens genuinely to your concerns…. I know they are out there because I’ve trained them.

    • Lucy 20 October, 2013 at 6:27 pm

      Hi there Wendy,
      Thank you for your comment, so so good to hear it! People have been really worried that this stuff is out there.
      Both myself and my neighbour received the bottle feeding guidance leaflet, despite being EXTREMELY, pro and established breastfeeders.
      I was based in Peckham when I had my two girls, the latest just six months ago, and my local health visitor clinic only had Gina Ford in her community library! I would have loved to have seen something like “The Science of parenting” in there!
      I’m interested in knowing if you over the evidence that supports attachment parenting principles? It just seems so odd that for every excellent HV there seems to be five rogue ones!!

      • Dr Wendy Wigley 22 October, 2013 at 7:30 am

        Hi there Lucy….
        We do cover parenting, attachment and the neuroscience in the infant on our course at the Univesity if Southampton… And I know my compatriots in ithe HEIs do the same. I think the problem is that in some areas there are some HVs who are practicing in a very outdated way and desperately need updating/upskilling.
        The government have invested in the creation of 4’200 HV posts into the English NHS provider workforce…. So it’s essential that these practitioners make a positive difference to the outcomes for children and their families. This is why it’s so important that people like you and this blog challenge practitioners or their organisation when poor practice is suspected. Nonetheless there are hundreds if excellent HVs in the county who are a valuable part of the support and advise networks many new parents require.

  • Helen Fry 29 October, 2013 at 8:33 pm

    I complained to the HB in question and recieved this response,

    ‘Thank you for bringing this issue to my attention. Please accept my apologies for the information that has been given out by the health visiting team regarding sleep advice. I will address this issue on a Gwent Wide basis to ensure that all out of date information is withdrawn’

    I do not think this HB were at all happy that the information was being given to mums. The official information was far more child centred and actually said sleep problems are only a problem if you think they are !

    All in all it would appear that this is not official advice and will not be given out again.

  • Karly - SleepPro 23 December, 2013 at 3:58 pm

    Wow this is extreme stuff! Babies need different amounts of sleep to others and some will sleep for long periods while others will sleep in short intervals. It’s difficult to decipher when one baby will have a need for something and another will not, so their should be different methods for each. I’d certainly never suggest letting them cry until they’re sick though!