What are “Combination Sleep Schedules“?
They are considered to be compromises between “Parent-led” and “Baby-led” methods. According to Babycenter.com, “…combination schedules provide the consistency that babies and parents need without the hassle of a more rigid, timed-to-the-minute routine.”
The best example of the method is Tracy Hogg’s “Secrets of the Baby Whisperer“, co-written by Melinda Blau.
I argue (here, and here, for example) that pretty much everybody in the baby sleep world offers some kind of compromise between both camps. It’s only a matter of degree. But Hogg (who left us far too early in 2004) provides us with the best explanation of a common-sense baby care, spun in a Yorkshire accent.
Combination or Common Sense?
I will not be the first reviewer to point out that, for all it’s acronyms and British accents, “Baby Whisperer” essentially offers good old-fashioned common sense. As such, Hogg places herself in the tradition of Ben Spock. Hogg concludes her book, in part, like this:
My wish for you is to relish every moment, even the tough ones. My goal is to give you not merely information or skills, but something even more important: confidence in yourself and in your own ability to solve problems.
Sound familiar? It should. It’s a version of Spock’s famous “Trust Yourself” formula that rocked the parenting world fifty years prior. By 2001, it was old-fashioned advice!
Need a SLEEP CONSULTANT?
But the book is not entirely derivative, and there is even a fair amount of innovation (Hogg’s acronyms, E.A.S.Y., and S.L.O.W. (see below) are unique, as far as I know). Her major contribution to the field is her emphasis on parents paying attention to their babies, engaging them in a kind of conversation. Hogg is on to something here. It is almost certainly the case that human communication begins at a very early age, perhaps the earliest of ages. Hogg is right to suggest to parent that they appreciate the “messages” that their babies send them, and to communicate back in real human language.
My only quibble with Hogg’s suggestion is her tendency to echo an annoying pattern of speech in which parents refer to themselves in the third person. “Mummy will be right back”. “Mummy doesn’t like it when you do that”.
Pronouns are hard. Pronouns are hard for anybody learning a language, even their first language. Anybody learning a new language knows that you understand more than you speak at every point along the learning curve. Children understand you when you say “I” and “me”. They will muff the pronouns when they try them out, but they understand you. For heaven’s sake, people, if we are to converse respectfully with our children, let us respect their ability to understand pronouns!
S.L.O.W. Down and Take it E.A.S.Y.
Hogg doesn’t say this explicitly, so I just did it for her: Baby Whisperer philosophy is based on slowing down, taking deep breaths, and listening to your baby. Both acronyms, as corny as they sound, help anxious hurried parents get to know their babies.
S = Stop; L = Listen; O = Observe; W = What’s up? (Hey, she needed a “W”, right?) In other words, absorb what you’ve heard and seen and evaluate what’s going on for your baby. It’s a bracingly simple and effective tool. I wish I had such an acronym to recite while walking the floor with my colicky first-born! Cleverness aside, it’s important to remember that your baby is a human being that is learning to interact with the world via communication. Hogg reminds us we do better to start early.
Another of Hogg’s contributions to the baby sleep literature is her clever E.A.S.Y. acronym. E = Eat; A = Activity; S = Sleep; Y = You. The innovation is the insertion of activity between eating and sleeping. This way, parents will avoid the temptation to allow their babies to develop bad sleep associations. To do this, it’s important to separate feeding from the moment of sleep. The activity needn’t be anything stimulating: to the contrary, stimulation prior to sleep is never a good thing. Hogg recommends changing the diaper, singing a song, reading a book, etc.
As for the “Y”, I suspect Hogg needed another letter to spell a nice word. Otherwise, I can’t see why she included it. Hogg really doesn’t need to tell mothers to eat, take a shower, sleep, etc. She doesn’t go as far as Baby Wise Gary Ezzo, who recommends “Date Night” for parents. Indeed, for parents without extended family or disposable income to pay a baby sitter, the latter really isn’t possible. Hogg’s Hollywood clientele could afford it perhaps, but not us normal folk. Surely mothers need to care for themselves, otherwise they’d soon be incapable of taking care of their babies. I’m just not sure they need to be told this. I’m going to stick with the suggestion that she needed the letter “Y”.
One More Abbreviation
Hogg ends the book with an excelling “troubleshooting” chapter, featuring the mnemonic ABC. A = Antecedent. What came before the sleep problem? (Kudos to Hogg for using the word “antecedent”: it’s a dying word, I fear). B = Behavior. What is your baby’s part in starting this sleep problem? C = Consequences. What was kind of pattern resulted from A and B? Usually, the problem to be solved is a bad sleep association, and Hogg walks us through the disassociation process. But I suspect that the ABC method could help unpack other sleep problems as well.
As I’ve said before, I’m a lumper and not a splitter. And as such I’ve argued that we’re all basically “combination schedulers” now. I say this because experts from Ezzo at the parent-led end of the spectrum, to Sears at the baby-led end, all recommend following a baby’s cues, but providing her with structure. To Tracy Hogg’s credit, she says this explicitly.