Baby care books that suggest parents should put their babies in a strict routine for feeding and sleep are popular. These books suggest that you can shape your baby’s behaviour and by doing so they will sleep for longer and need to feed less often.
Although this idea is appealing these books do not have an evidence base behind them to show that they work. What we do know is that caring for babies responsively e.g. responding to their needs, helps them feel secure and confident and that babies who feel secure often go on to have better outcomes in later childhood. Cuddling babies may even help their brain development. Although leaving your baby to cry sometimes is unlikely to do any harm, leaving them to cry often can mean they get very distressed and are then harder to settle and feed.
Our research explored whether parents found the advice in baby care books useful. We found overall that for a small group of mothers (around 20%) the advice seemed to work and they found them useful. It is likely that these mothers had babies who naturally followed a set routine. However, most mothers who read them didn’t find them useful and instead felt even more anxious and frustrated after reading them. There was even a link between how confident and happy a mum felt. Mothers who didn’t find the books useful were at greater risk of postnatal depression, feeling stressed and not feeling very confident.
Our research also shows that mothers who try to put their baby in a routine for feeding and sleep are less likely to continue breastfeeding. They are also more likely to feel anxious. This is likely because breastfeeding works best when it is done responsively e.g. whenever a baby wants feeding. Feeding often helps build a good milk supply whereas trying to stretch the time out between feeds can mean your body makes less milk.
Find out more:
- Read our article about the impact of baby care books upon maternal mental health
- Watch our animation on ‘why you might want to put the baby care books down’.
- You might also find our article on ‘good babies’ interesting https://theconversation.com/why-getting-babies-into-strict-routines-isnt-all-its-cracked-up-to-be-65070
- Listen to a recording of Professor Amy Brown speaking at an ESRC seminar series on the pressures new mothers face in balancing breastfeeding with pressure to put their baby in a routine and ‘get their life back’