maandag 4 november 2013

Lessons learned: Sleep Regression, Wonder Weeks & Science

So, due to toddler birthdays and other madness the Bombay post will have to wait... In place I am posting something which I have been mulling over for a few months now. It's about the book Wonder Weeks, which many mothers are great fans of, and the research history behind it.

But first, this needs to come with a disclaimer as I am about to stamp on a great many toes:

Just because something is not proven, it does not mean it is not true. It just means it has not been proven (yet).

I think you can now see where this is going.

Before I arrived in Singapore and started to delve into the English-speaking world of motherhood, I had never heard of "sleep regressions". I had also never heard of "wonder weeks".

So I asked around, and it turned out it comes from this research explaining that baby's brains grow in spurts and when such a spurt hits, you get a period of whininess, crankiness, fussy eating and bad sleep ("sleep regression"). This is followed by a "wonder week", when the baby has gotten used to his new abilities and turns into this delightful smal being marveling at the wonders of the world.

It sounded an awful lot like what I knew as "jumps", and that's because the book Wonder Weeks is nothing but the translated version of Oei, ik Groei.

Yes, Dutch readers, you may groan. See, "Oei, ik groei" has a very distinct reputation in its home country. And it's not one of sound scientific evidence. That is because there is no sound scientific evidence.

Here are some links to the discussion (all in Dutch, I'm afraid): the author and then-professor Frans Plooij explaining why he fired his assistant when she couldn't replicate his results and here is an interview with the fired assistant on the eve of the publication of her PhD thesis on the subject - in fact here is the link to the subsequent firing of professor Plooij from the university. For those interested in the nitty gritty science of things, here is the dissertation that could not replicate the original research.

The original research behind the book is based on fifteen mothers who filled out questionnaires, a couple of whom also were visited at home. Personal circumstances were not taken into account, and outliers were discounted. The author, Frans Plooij, states that his research has in fact been validated by English and Swedish research, but he does not provide links to these papers.

The thing that gets to me, and the reason I am posting this, is that it is usually mothers who pride themselves on their sceptic take on parenting literature, on their ability to figure out for themselves what is true and what isn't, who are taken in by the wonder week author. And many of them (if blogs are anything to go by) absolutely swear by his sleep regression theory. And of course they do, since the original research took the world like a storm, got translated into a gazillion languages and gave mothers everywhere relief: "so THAT's what's been going on!"

And none of them ever got to follow the critical discussion and debunkery that followed the publication of the original book, because none of them speak or read Dutch. This illustrates the importance of having a common language for science, because then the misconception of wonder weeks as scientifically sound could never have existed for twenty years.

Yes, the theory of the brain growth certainly seems very plausible, as do the jumps, wonder weeks and sleep regressions. There is however no empirical evidence that backs this particular theory up. This does not mean it is not true.

But, as a very experienced mother never tires of reminding me: "You don't get up happy every day of the week. Why should your baby?"

4 opmerkingen:

  1. Op een ochtend tijdens het oppassen op Elsemieke, alweer 2,5 jaar geleden, heb ik in het boek, Oei ik groei, zitten lezen. Als ervaren moeder was ik het helemaal niet eens met de ontwikkel stadia van de baby. Zowel mijn eigen kinderen als Elsemieke beantwoorde er helemaal niet aan. Elsemieke liep echt achter bij de stadia beschreven in het boek.De verschillen in wanneer een baby wat doet zijn enorm. Je maakt mensen alleen maar ongeruster met deze informatie. Misschien rustiger vanwege de jumps en waarom slaap mijn kindje nu niet, maar denken dat je kindje achter loopt in zijn/haar ontwikkeling is ook fnuikend. Dus weg met dit boek en gebruik gewoon je gezonde verstand! :)
    Oma Fien

  2. In Nederland wordt Oei, Ik Groei meestal wel met een korreltje zout genomen - maar in het Engelssprekend taalgebied wordt het gezien als wetenschap. Ik hoop maar dat zo her en der wat van die sceptische moeders dit kritische artikeltje vinden en zelf ook gaan nadenken!

  3. Thank you Katrijn!
    I had been drawn into the Wonder Weeks hype too. I began getting suspicious when I couldn't find any scholarly articles on sleep regressions. Thanks for alerting English speakers like me. Nicky

    1. You're very welcome! I hope more people find this article and find it helpful. The concept of "sleep regressions" in English is so pervasive, and so taken as common sense and common knowledge that I really thought someone ought to provide a little context :) And it's always good to hear from readers!!