Thursday, December 18, 2008

Why don't parents trust research?

lab work
A UK Guardian article titled "Family under the microscope" asks this question:

Why isn't there more research into parenting regimes for infants?

The article references (I assume) this 2006 study "Infant Crying and Sleeping in London, Copenhagen and When Parents Adopt a 'Proximal' Form of Care," by Ian St James-Roberts and a bunch of other researchers (that's the scientific way to say "et al").

The study followed three groups of parents: a group that practiced distant child caring (less holding and breastfeeding, strict scheduling -- also known as the mainstream Western method), a group that practiced so-called "proximal" care (lots of holding and breastfeeding, quick response times -- so, attachment parenting), and a group in the middle. The distant group experienced more infant crying, and the proximal group experienced more night waking, although the article notes that the researchers had to admit that if a baby is put to sleep in a crib in another room, many night wakings might go unremarked by a parent, as opposed to having that baby snuggled up next to you and rooting to breastfeed. The mid-line group seemed to have the best of both worlds: less crying and less night waking. Of course, that's "best" in Western terms, because other research suggests that night waking has a beneficial and protective effect for infants. (Motherland has a wonderful blog post on just this subject.)

To get back to the Guardian article -- I had a dual-sided reaction to it. On the one hand, I completely agree that we need more research in how parental methods affect infants in terms of sleep, quality of life, connection to parents, etc., and, in the long view, emotional and physical health as older children and on into adulthood. On the other hand, the sentence "It is pathetic that this is the only serious study of the question" made me think of all the serious studies I've read about the benefits of attachment parenting of infants, and of sleeping arrangements in particular (see James McKenna for one assiduous researcher into cosleeping), even some longitudinal ones (such as one study of military families that showed no adverse psychological effects later in childhood, McKenna's summary of long-term effects of cosleeping, or the 18-year study by Okami & Co.). For even more research on sleep and parenting, take a look at this Mothering article and this KellyMom page for more links and references to studies than I can go into in one little post.

The research is being done. So, for me, the more salient issue is: Why don't more people believe the research?

Now, I'm a rebel, clearly, or I wouldn't be parenting the kooky way I do. But I'm logical, too. One reason I chose this non-mainstream way of parenting is because I read the research and looked into the effects of different parenting styles on baby wellbeing. I looked at books that studied how babies were designed to be treated. And I took all that seriously, and responded in kind. You'd think I'd be one to question research the way I've questioned mainstream parenting, the medical establishment, my experience growing up, and so on, and the fact is that I do look at any research study with a critical eye. But it's strange to me that mainstream parents, who apparently are blindly accepting what the culture tells them is right and normal for baby rearing, wouldn't blindly accept research as well. So why aren't they? Why is the culture so at odds with the science, when this culture worships science?

Well, it's a dilemma. Eventually people were convinced the earth revolved around the sun -- maybe eventually all Western parents will be convinced babies like to be held, through science if not through commonsense and a tug on the heartstrings.

Photo of Dyon Scheyen (who's presumably not actually researching parenting in the photo) is courtesy of Jean Scheijen on stock.xchng.


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