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The History of Sleep Training in Germany

We've all heard people say that babies need to be taught to sleep through the night and that it is necessary to let them cry it out to achieve this. However, the Western child rearing practices of having babies sleep in separate beds (often in separate rooms) and ignoring their cries at night has not been around forever. When did our culture move from gentle approaches to promoting healthy sleep to ignoring the cries of infants in an attempt to teach them to self-soothe?

Everyone is familiar with authors like Ferber and Weissbluth (or if you aren't, it's okay...you don't want to be), but the idea of leaving babies to cry it out did not start with him. The only history of the cry it out method in English-speaking countries that I have seen is a brief discussion in Aletha Solter's article Crying for Comfort. She writes:
After the industrial revolution in the 18th century, the notion of "spoiling" became widespread in industrialized countries, and mothers were warned not to hold or respond to their infants too much for fear of creating demanding monsters. If the home was big enough, parents moved cradles and cribs to a separate room. With the infants sleeping alone in another room, it was easy for parents to follow the cry-it-out advice, even if it went against their gut instincts.

The decline in breastfeeding further contributed to the separation of mothers and infants. With bottle-feeding from birth on, the last remaining link to the mother's body was removed, resulting in the deplorable, detached methods of child-rearing that predominated in Western civilizations during the 20th century.

Dr. Luther Emmett Holt, an American pediatrician and child-rearing expert, was the first person to make the cry-it-out approach explicit and popular in the US. Over 100 years ago, his best-selling book, The Care and Feeding of Children, was the child-rearing bible of the time. The book is structured as a series of questions and answers. One question is, "How is an infant to be managed that cries from temper, habit, or to be indulged?" The very wording of this question reveals Holt's bias. His answer: "It should simply be allowed to 'cry it out.' This often requires an hour, and, in some cases, two or three hours. A second struggle will seldom last more than ten or fifteen minutes, and a third will rarely be necessary."2 Several generations were raised according to this advice.

Dr. Benjamin Spock, the medical and parenting guru of the second half of the 20th century, recommended a similar cry-it-out approach in his best-selling book, Baby and Childcare. Modified versions of the cry-it-out approach can be found in many current, popular parenting books.

While Solter's brief summary is interesting, it does not tell us a lot about why or how Dr. Emmett Holt's advice became acceptable and popular. In addition to understanding what he advised, more historical context would be useful to understanding the conditions under which his recommendations were made.

After reading some of my posts, one of my German readers, Karin Bergstermann, sent me a copy of an article she published on the shift in infant sleep advice from the early 19th century to today. Her article, "Seit wann müssen Kinder schlafen lernen?" (Since when do children need to learn to sleep?) first appeared in the German Midwives Journal (Deutschen Hebammen Zeitschrift) in August 2010 and has since been republished online with her permission on a German anti-sleep training website (you can use Google Translate to get a rough translation of it, but it doesn't make for particularly smooth reading). I found the article to be fascinating and with Bergstermann's permission, am providing an English summary of the article for my readers.

Since when do children need to learn to sleep? ("Seit wann müssen Kinder schlafen lernen?")

Bergstermann begins her article with a description of the current cultural context  -- one where mothers are pressured to ignore their own instincts and implement sleep training methods that will teach their children to sleep through the night. If the child does not sleep through or sleeps in the parents bed, this is seen as a parenting failure. Our society expects children to sleep when and where the parents want them to. Bergstermann asks where this expectation comes from.

To answer this question, Bergstermann analyzes parenting advice in Germany going back to the 1830s. The literature of the 1830s, includes books by doctors and medical professors (e.g. Christoph Wilhelm Hufeland, Adoph Menke) who wrote about infant sleep. They note that, for example, by about six months of age babies could get used to sleeping at specific times of the day and that an appropriate sleep environment should be created to facilitate this (e.g. turning off lights at night, avoiding noise). They do mention that mothers could attempt to night wean their babies (e.g. by using methods other than nursing to settle the child) and that they should not rush to comfort the baby immediately, but should instead see if it resettles on its own. However, they also note the importance of caring for babies day and night and indicate that if the baby does not resettle on its own and if gentle rocking does not help that no other tricks should be used to get the child to sleep.

Bergstermann then looks at the work of other authors in the late 1870s and 1880s. These authors (including Hermann Klencke, Ernst Kormann, and William Thierry Preyer), wrote about introducing regular sleep schedules early in the baby's life and also talked about expectations with regards to "normal sleep" (e.g. newborns don't sleep for more than 2 hours at a time, children won't sleep through regularly until about 17 months). However, they also emphasized that no child should suffer from thirst at night and that parents should not be ruthless in the introduction of sleep schedules.

Marie Susanne Kübler (who wrote books for housewives in the 1890s) and Dr. Otto Köhler (who wrote a book about the care of infants in 1921), both agreed that around eight hours of sleep was an absolute necessity for mothers (otherwise they would have problems with milk supply). They both recommended mother-led feeding schedules (e.g. mothers feeding based on feeling in their breasts or feeding at specific time intervals instead of feeding on cue). However, Köhler also noted that not all babies would easily sleep through for eight hours and that it was better to give them a nighttime feeding than to have them disturb everyone with hours of crying at night. Overall, however, this time period seemed to mark the beginning of sleep being characterized as a problem and the child being considered the source of that problem. (Interestingly, Kübler's book, "Das Buch der Mütter", came out in 1891, which is about 3 years prior to Emmett Holt's book that I mentioned in the introduction).

In 1933, pediatrician Dr. Philipp Niemes wrote that sleep is incredibly important for mothers and babies and that nighttime rest needed to be strictly enforced. He wrote that it was especially important not to pick up the child at night, even if it screams. He said that tending to the baby at night could lead to overfeeding, which would lead to more illness. Around the same time, in 1930, Dr. Walter Birk and Dr. A. Mayer wrote that newborns call out in the night, but that nighttime feedings were unnecessary to the child and disruptive to the mother. They also suggested a variety of tricks that could be used to get the child to sleep better. Ultimately, if none of those tricks worked, the mother must absolutely enforce nighttime rest. The most "heroic method" for a young mother, in their opinion, was to let the baby cry it out.  In their work, the infant's behaviour is suddenly characterized not only unhealthy, but also bad and in need of correction. Sleep had become a battleground and the child was the enemy. Bergstermann notes that the influence of Nazi ideology here is unmistakable and that the need to portray the child as a problem in need of correction was definitely politically motivated.

Ultimately, Bergstermann notes that the desire for a good night's sleep has always existed, but the way that sleep disruptions (especially from children) are dealt with has changed over time. This has created a great deal of pressure on parents and has resulted in them resorting to techniques that they can hardly bear (like cry it out) rather than tending lovingly to their babies at night.

My thoughts

Overall, as I read Bergstermann's review of the literature, I noticed two major shifts. The first was when the advice turned from information of a medical nature (developmental information on normal sleep from doctors and medical professors) to "housewife" advice (tips and tricks that would benefit the mother, but that don't necessarily consider the best interests of the child). The second shift was when the advice became politicized, turning it from something mothers may want to consider to something they were expected to do, creating the "good mother" and pitting her against the "bad mother" who spoils and coddles her child.
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Reader Comments (50)

Very interesting post, makes one think. I have to admit, we do a measure of "cry it out" for the sake of everyone's sanity. When you have triplets, however, you simply cannot do it all. Although our "cry it out" never seems to go beyond 10 minutes, because I usually know by that time it's more than "I don't want to go to bed." (It's usually easily solved too, a lovey that's gotten tossed out of the crib in anger, a little girl who simply needs some rocking, or in one of triplet's case the potential 30 minutes of tickle time in Mommy & Daddy's bed.)

Being triplets also gets them rescued out of the nursery faster than my singleton would have been when she was younger too. They share a room, and we can't have them wake each other up in the middle night. Co-sleeping was never an option for very long with the trips, even as babies, not enough space. And selfishly, I really needed those 25 to 30 minutes of sleep between 3 hour feeding cycles.

May 9, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterLisa @Trippeduplife

When I lived in NY, I had an elderly neighbor who had been a refugee from Germany in the 30's. She told me that when her babies were 2 weeks old (!), her mother would bring them back to her house to train them to sleep through the night.

Really appreciated the historacle perspective! As much as it was pushed on me, I never could go through with the cry it out method. I read "baby wise" and used some (not all) of the methods, but mostly I went with my instincts. My daughter started sleeping 7-9 hours at night by the time she was 6 weeks old! I can't say I take the credit for it, I let her lead her own schedule & made myself (and my boobs!) available when needed.

Moms should trust their instincts more often instead of "norms" or what some book writen by a man says!

May 9, 2011 | Unregistered Commenter@theabbster22

I like reading this just because none of my kids slept through the night regularly until somewhere over a year old. I got more criticism from my MIL on that, since clearly I was breastfeeding too much. My mother says my kids must take after my dad's side, since my grandma had the same "problem" with her kids.

It never bugged me that much. A quick nursing is all it normally took, and much less disruption to my own sleep than just listening to the tears for more than the minutes needed to see if it was a quick cry for no particular reason or a need cry.

I don't know if I am a"good mother" or a "bad mother", but I sure am a TIRED mother. We do the same bed time routine everynight, but he still never sleeps longer than 4 hours. Over a year old now

May 9, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterWhitney

I work with parents and their children's sleep habits...but do not subscribe to the "cry it out'" method. Each child really is unique and sometimes it is about recognizing the signs of a tired baby and responding appropriately for that individual child.
I teach social work students Human Behavior and the Social Environment and always teach theories in their historical context...they make so much more sense. It is easier to understand why certain theories of child development became popular.
Thanks so much for this historical context of sleep "training" I will certainly use it in my practice.

May 9, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterLorette Lavine

This article seems to imply that there was some Golden Era before the Industrial Revolution when every mother was attached to her baby, slept with it, breastfed, etc.

Well, that's not the case at all. Women with any resources, especially upper-class women and definitely nobility, did not breastfeed their own children, and were not even the primary caregivers of their infants. Wet nurses were assigned to feed the babies from birth on, and regular nurses (sometimes the same as the wet nurses, sometimes not) cared for the children otherwise.

And don't think that the nurses were exceptional caregivers either. I have read several accounts of women despairing because their childrens' nurses were constantly drunk (!), slovenly/dirty, left the babies alone for long periods. Nurses *did* actually sleep with the infants, but this was not such a good thing, as they commonly rolled over onto the babies and suffocated them, especially the ones who drank heavily. I was reading the account of one English mother from the 1600s who was bewailing having had 4 children die in infancy...she finally had an infant survive the first few months, and then it was killed by its nurse, who dropped it on its head while she was intoxicated.

The few upper-class mothers who did care for their own infants were so rare and unusual that people commented on them. "She has no nurses for her children, she cares for them herself!" And the mother who breastfed her own children was a rarity indeed, although she was considered rather primitive, as this was not the job of a noblewoman.

Culturally, this came about because it was a huge job running a household without modern technology, and as we well know, almost impossible to do so while caring for an infant full-time. Women of that time were expected to produce as many children as possible (potential heirs and also labor sources for farming families) and nursing slowed down the pragnancy rate and increased the gap between children. Since a huge percentage of infants died in their first year, a woman had to be almost constantly pregnant in order to assure at least one surviving heir, critical to families with land or other resources.

Strangely, the connection between the drunken/slovenly nurses and infant mortality didn't seem to be made, or rather, if it was, it didn't seem to change practices. Even when women wrote accounts of having lost an infant to a nurse and were grieving over it, they often didn't fire the nurseor seek alternative help, but would keep her on and still have her look after subsequent babies born. Pretty shocking.

Not only were childrens' nurses mostly awful, but midwives were not exactly paragons of excellence either. Most had no knowledge of anatomy and only a rudimentary understanding of medicine and/or childbirth. A woman doctor and educator in the 1600s tried to start a school for midwives to get them to not kill so many babies and mothers in childbirth. It was very common for babies to die because the midwives of that time would simply *pull* with great force on whatever part of the baby that came out first.

Similarly, they would yank out the afterbirth and cause massive hemorraging to the mother, "childbirth fever" killed women because the midwives didn't wash their hands and transferred bacteria to the mothers and babies, often because they were literally caring for farm animals, mucking out stables, working in the garden up until they were needed at the birth.

May 9, 2011 | Unregistered CommentermsLaura

My point is...there was never any Golden Age in recent history where moms and babies all lived in perfect uninterrupted harmony. Moms have almost always been working moms and had to juggle many other tasks besides caring for their infants. Some cultures have had technology that allowed moms to carry their babies with them to the fields on their backs, but others cultures simply left the babies abandoned for hours at a time, or hung them tied to cradle boards. Yes, most babies slept with their mothers, but mostly out of necessity, because a family only had one bed if they had one at all. A bed was a luxury for most families though. Once a family got enough resources to have a multi-room house, then a nurse would be hired to care for the babies.

In wealthier European families, as I noted above, newborns were usually sent away to live with their wet nurses at the home of the nurse, and only came back home when weaned.

May 9, 2011 | Unregistered CommentermsLaura


I wasn't intending to imply that there was some Golden Era before the Industrial Revolution. I was simply looking at how advice about infant sleep has changed.

That said, I'm not sure that the way that infants were cared for in upper class families is the most appropriate comparison for the way that babies are cared for in average families today. Prior to the Industrial Revolution, women in working class families traditionally worked in fields that allowed them to combine child care and work. When machines were invented that were able to do the work that women used to do by hand, they either had to go into the factories (which was often discouraged) or stay home and be dependent on their husbands.

May 9, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterphdinparenting


Is he awake for a long time when he wakes up after 4 hours? My children were waking regularly at night until they were at least 2 years old, but it never took more than 5 minutes to get them back to sleep and they slept right next to me in my bed, so it didn't bother me that much.

May 9, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterphdinparenting


A lot of the older parenting books blamed overfeeding for night waking, which seems quite backwards to me.

May 9, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterphdinparenting


May 9, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterphdinparenting

I appreciated your comments and research. As the mother of 2 boys--3yrs and 6mos--this is very timely. I never used let my first son cry it out, but felt the pressure to "sleep train." I used Elizabeth Pantley's No-Cry Sleep Solution (very child-oriented). With my second son, unintentionally but pragmatically, I am co-sleeping (safely with apprpriate bedding and a sleep rail. I am nursing and he often nurses to sleep, yet I'm learning that he is not solely dependent upon me for sleep and, instead, seems happier and more secure because of our closeness. When I'm on the bed, on my side and he's curled up into me--fitting perfectly--it assures me this is the way nature intended it!

I have a question: have you done any research on the start of the use of cribs?


May 9, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterKrista

I'd be curious to see also how this ties in with changes in childrearing and family support. For example, it seems much easier to "tend lovingly to my babies at night" if I also have my mother, sisters, etc, around to help me during the day (or, to watch my other child/ren while I rock and nurse my youngest endlessly trying to get him to sleep...). I wonder how many of us who used the CIO method did so not because of pressure from others, but because the alternative was too exhausting without outside help and support.

May 10, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterMarcy

phd; I'm with you on this one: from a few weeks old until a few years old, my babies are easy to settle...less than 5 minutes....so I have never bothered much with all the fuss to get them to sleep thru the night! It's the most common question one gets sometimes though: "Is she a good sleeper?"
My oldest got up every night til he was four and a half. He'd get up, lumber across the hallway and crawl into our bed without a peep. Didn't wake us at all! =) I have four kids.

May 10, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterMelissa

Interesting history. Nevertheless, I am convinced that throughout the evolution of humankind, we have been doing things to get babies to sleep, being leaving them alone in a room to cry, giving them alcohol, giving them other herbs or drugs, or giving them solid foods. I don't think that the Middle Ages were pretty in this respect.

lol, you guys get special exemptions from EVERYTHING. sheesh, you have a lot on your plate. well done for just getting out of bed every day!

and your trips will have the benefit of growing up with 2 constant playmates and the special love they will share...

May 10, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterBronwyn Millar


There have probably always been parents who were beyond frustrated and exhausted and who did anything and everything to get their babies to sleep, whether outside pressure existed or not. Certainly if they had support, that may have helped.

However, I do think that there are probably a lot more parents these days who feel that they have to intervene because of the messages that society (and the baby trainers) send to them. Visit any mainstream parenting message boards and you'll see tons of "Baby reached X months...time to start the sleep training" messages. So many parents do it just as part of the assumed routine of child rearing.

May 10, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterphdinparenting

Yes, there have always been things that people have done to get their babies to go to sleep. In fact, in the article that I summarized it also talked about how some of the experts (e.g. the doctors whose books were discussed) warned parents against using various medicinal remedies to get their babies to sleep.

May 10, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterphdinparenting

Thanks for the post...


My daughter is a very happy well adjusted little 4 year old. She sleeps great. When she was 2 months we let her cry when she was falling asleep in her crib alone, BUT, we did not IGNORE her. The first night that we let he cry we went in every 10 min to soothe her, without picking her up. After only 2 nights she did not cry and feel asleep on her own. So, I think there is a balance of this approach, in that parents should help their children see that they are okay on their own and can sleep without being dependent on the parents, BUT as parents we need to help them see that we are there if they need us, and to trust the comfort in knowing that we are there.

May 10, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterInquisitivemind

I only recently found your blog and I am so happy I did! I really admire your work and your parenting values.

It is easy to see how the political climate of a society can dramatically affect child rearing (kind of scary, really). It is much harder to go against the mainstream, even if doing so is best for our children and ourselves. Your blog empowers us. Keep spreading the word!

May 10, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterSylvia@MaMammalia

Whew, I don't know if you've ever tried to garden while caring for a baby, but even with the best back carrier in the world (which I own), it is NOT easy! Really hard to bend down or squat with a baby on board, the babies typically don't like that movement of bending over either and make a fuss. And nursing in the hot sun is not ideal.

I mean, you can do a *little* gardening while caring for a small infant, but not much. Women tending large gardens or fields would have a hard time caring for an infant at the same time. And working in a field with a toddler is even harder. They destroy and flatten everything around them! Speaking from personal experience here.

This is why the cradleboard and other devices came about, that allowed women to hang up their babies in the shade, out of the reach of snakes and wild animals. They could go work in the fields and know that their babies were basically immobilized. OK, effective, but not really ideal childcare.

Women developed all kinds of strategies for being able to work and keep their children safe...probably the best was to assign a few women as caregivers while the other women went to the fields. Again, effective, but not exactly attachment parenting.

I co-slept with my babies and I'm an attachment parent...I'm just saying that it's probably more possible to live this way now than it has been any time in the recent past, at least since the days of hunting and gathering.

May 10, 2011 | Unregistered CommentermsLaura

This historical discussion is really interesting. Personally, I think regardless of cultural pressure, what we decide to do is influenced by our circumstances, i.e. available support (as mentioned above), work requirements, family obligations (other children's needs or grandparents being cared for) usually also on the mother's plate. I want to give us the benefit of the doubt and suggest that we aren't slavishly following the latest trends.

Also, I also feel that we can't generalise about "a mother's instinct". There is no universal instinct (as far as I can tell) and we are all highly socialised and especially as older mums affected by our life experience to the extent that if there is an instinct it can be quite suppressed!

I have two children and did not experience any drive to attachment parent that I somehow overrode. My main drive has always been to get enough sleep! But seriously, many of us are used to a great deal of bodily autonomy and it's a struggle to give ourselves over to AP approaches once we have babies.

May 10, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterTamara

Awww, thanks! I always struggle with every parenting theory because I'm never sure how it applies in the world of multiples - especially in the world of triplets, which really is a bit different than twins even. I don't know enough about attachment parenting to say whether I'd agree or not, but from what I've read, I don't think it would be possible in this triplet home.

Your comment of the constant playmates & special love is hopeful for me too. I just recently saw one of our girls really respond to the idea of her "sisters" in a special way, and I can't wait to see more of that type of interaction.

I agree with you and the balanced idea. If I go solely into one parenting theory over another, I always seem to run into frustration. I think I develop my own hybrid somehow and that tends to work for our family.

Thanks for this post. I've felt a lot of pressure from family and friends (and doctors) to CIO with my 21 month old since she was born. The few times that I've tried it, it has been a disaster for both of us, and I've come out of it feeling awful (not only am I a failure at sleep training, but I have an hysterical kid!). I have decided that I have followed her lead on feeding, playing, and everything else, and it's worked well...so I try to do the same when it comes to sleep. I'm fortunate to be home with my daughter and work very part time, which I think helps me to be flexible on this. Anyway, keep up the great work. I love the blog!

May 11, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterShoshana

I always find historical posts like this so interesting. We did not use any type of sleep training with my 2.5 year old. Yes, it was difficult but it was much more difficult to get myself, my husband and our three dogs calmed back down and back to sleep after my son would cry for more than a few minutes. Anyway, thanks for some historical perspective.

May 11, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterBecca


Check out this article "To Crib or Not to Crib" as the author goes over a bit of history of cribs and why & why not to use them.

May 12, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterCarrie

It makes sense, emotionally crippling children from infancy is the way of creating a docile population that looks up to the state as its caregiver.
However, there are some cry it out things in the medieval times, where children were believed inherently bad and they had to cry to let the devil out (though that was not related to sleep). This vision was pushed by religion... probably another way to create docile religious followers.

May 12, 2011 | Unregistered Commentermamapoekie

I agree with the post about balanced approach that works best for the family. I slept in the same room with my first child until he was about 8.5 months old, doing a mixture of co-sleeping and having him in a bassinette beside the bed. I always attended to his cries and needs quickly. But at approximately 8.5 months I started to feel like he was using me more as a soother to get him back to sleep then for real sustenance and it was wearing me out. I have always needed a lot of sleep and was told by the public health nurse that I did not need to nurse at night at this point. So after a trip where we stayed in a hotel for a couple of nights and it was worse, as far as him constantly waking and then using me as a soother to get back to sleep I decided to sleep train when we got home, using the crib that had been empty in his room since his birth.

We started going in every 2 min, then 5 until we worked up to 10 minutes and after a few days he would maybe cry for a minute and then go about relaxing by himself in his crib and did learn to put himself to sleep. We hooked up a little camera so we could check on him without going into the room, which really helped us with our own anxieties, because it is not easy to let your child cry, for us, not ever. But after a little while he would just play a little and relax himself in his crib. Now he goes to bed and naps like a charm, virtually never cries on being put down and appears very relaxed in his bed.

When he’d wake up crying at night I’d go in and give him a hug, lay him down, cover him up and say nothing other than “I love you and it’s sleepy time” and he’d go back to sleep. This worked really well. I don’t feel like we scarred him in any way or deprived him of anything. There were times when it was hard in the beginning; it is always hard to hear your child cry. But I felt strongly that it would be the best for us in the long run and that as a parent one of My goals is to be consistent helping my child to feel secure in being able to predict the routine and his environment.

And that is something that I haven’t seen much in this article and these posts, is an acknowledgment that for a lot of people variations of sleep training can and does work.

I am expecting another child, and will plan to do the same with him. But will take it as it goes depending on what feels best for all of us.

May 14, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterCari

You know, this is why I find it ironic that people deride Ferber for having advised mothers to let their babies cry. When you compare his advice with the advice that other experts were giving at the time he first developed his theories, what he was actually doing was moving a huge step closer to the idea that parents should actually comfort their babies instead of just letting them cry. The prevailing advice at the time was simply to leave a child to cry for hours, and Ferber advised that, instead, parents should either come in at intervals to check on and comfort the child, or stay with the child the whole time while moving further and further away from the bed. (Plus, he also came up with some important basic stuff about hours of sleep and body clocks and helped make parents aware of when the issue might actually be either that they simply had unrealistic expectations of how much sleep their child should have, or when the problem was actually one with the child's routine and thus the appropriate approach was to solve that rather than simply leaving the child to cry.) I can understand disagreeing with some of his advice, but, looked at in historical context, I'd say that, far from being the father of the CIO movement as he's so often seen as being, he was actually making the first important strides towards gentle approaches to infant sleep.

May 15, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterDr Sarah

I'd be interested in your sources here - this is the second post I've seen negating child-care practices in the middle ages. Mind you, I don't study family life, but in three degrees and 20 years, I've not seen sources talk about childrearing as such. I've read one account of breastfeeding gone bad (she was told by a "bad midwife" to bind her breasts) and several sad tales of dead babies and children. I've seen more on education (don't beat them _too_ much) and much less on childrearing. So, if you have sources, I'd love to see them.

And re: wetnurses - lots of those sources seem to me to be fears of the lower classes by early modern society (post-revolution anyone?) rather than actual cases. And in earlier periods, I've yet to see an overlaying case. Again, I'd love to see sources, if anyone has them. Maybe I'll write a paper...

I have lots to say on this topic as a mama, but I'm finishing my grading, so my professor hat is still on...

May 18, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterScholasticamama

Historian Barbara Tuchman writes in A Distant Mirror that there is scant historical information about children in the Middle Ages. For example:
"Medieval illustrations show people in every other human activity: making love and dying, sleeping and eating, in bed and in the bath, praying, hunting, dancing, playing, in games and in combat, trading, traveling, reading and writing, yet so rarely with children as to raise the question: Why not?"
She doesn't have a good answer.

One thing I really don't understand is the idea that a mother can sleep 8 hours straight. After about 6 hours, if my son hasn't woken me up, I wake up on my own because my breasts ache...

June 7, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterMrPopularSentiment

Older daughters, either of mom or a neighbour, were often assigned the task of taking care of all the village's children while the women were out in the fields. They would bring the babies out to the mothers for breastfeeding.

I totally agree with where you're coming from. Motherhood is better now than it's probably ever been, for the simple reason that we see kids as kids, not as mini-adults or pre-labour burdens.

By the way, even when the moms themselves took care of the kids, such as in the lower class households, it still wasn't all that great. We have more than a few medieval accounts of moms falling asleep and dropping baby into the fire.

June 7, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterMrPopularSentiment

The recommendation is clear here in Canada - crib is the *only* safe option. We bought a crib and we were determined to use it, and did for the first 2-3 days. But I was so tired after a tough labour and getting used to having my sleep in short bursts that I just couldn't do the whole "wake up multiple times during the night and sit with baby in a chair while he feeds" thing.

It started with my husband and I feeding the baby in shifts. We were exclusively breastfeeding, so my husband would simply latch our son to my breast while I slept. When my milk started coming in a bit better and my son became more confident in his latch, we realized that he could keep eating even if no one was holding my breast. That's when the co-sleeping started... For about two and a half months, he slept with us in bed. Whenever he was hungry, I just rolled over and pulled up my nightshirt and went back to sleep. As a result, he barely fusses at night and I'm easily getting the 8-9 hours I need.

But everyone, doctor included, keeps telling us that it's unsafe. So we recently started trying to get our son back into the crib. He's fine with it since he usually falls asleep on the couch beside me (fenced in with pillows) while I'm getting work done, and then I just take him to his crib when I'm going to bed. He doesn't even wake up. But, like clockwork, he's up every night at 2am for a feeding. At that point, I bring him into bed with me and sometimes he makes it back into the crib afterwards, sometimes I fall asleep. We're not too bothered either way. Our theory is that he's getting used to sleeping independently in the crib while simultaneously still getting the comfort of sleeping with us. Best of both worlds.

Incidentally, our crib is right next to the bed, so he's literally never more than hugging distance away from me. If he fusses during the night, I usually first wait to see if it turns into a real fuss or is just part of a dream. If it starts turning into a real fuss, I sleep my hand in between the crib bars and touch his face or hands - just to let him know that I'm there. If he keeps fussing, he comes out of the crib and into bed for cuddles. until he falls back asleep.

But I have to say, close as he is, it still breaks my heart not to be able to curl up around him.

June 7, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterMrPopularSentiment

Some of this may have a lot to do with the individual child's temperament. We tend to our son whenever he cries, day or night. We're always "on call." But he was sleeping mostly through the night (with the exception of his 2am feeding) by about 2weeks. So it's hard to know if your daughter is sleeping well because of CIO or if she's just a good sleeper.

If parents want to try CIO, go for it. But if you've been trying for a couple days and not getting anywhere, it's probably time to try something else.

June 7, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterMrPopularSentiment


Your breasts would ache at first. However, after a while your supply would adjust and they wouldn't ache anymore. But you may not produce enough milk for your baby once that happened.

June 8, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterphdinparenting

Ah great...something else from Germany.. :s Is there anything that is NOT from there? <_<
(I am German and have moved to the UK 5 years ago but seem to only find German things/ideas *sigh*)

Anyway, interesting article. My daughter has and still does cry but she's never left to do so. I personally think that leaving a baby to cry (CIO) or to control their crying (CC) is creating negative feelings and outcomes. There is no way I could leave her to cry herself to sleep or wait for 10 minutes (I can't bear her crying for even a few seconds)

We bed-share and although I still don't get great sleep that is because I'm not a good sleeper and has nothing to do with my baby keeping me up. When she was born she was in a little crib right next to me but she hated it and so after 4 months of being up half the night trying to get her to stay asleep (she woke as soon as I lowered her into her bed) I had enough. (We did part-time bed-sharing then and I wanted to go full-time anyway). We have never looked back. Even my sceptical and worried husband now is an advocate for it. :)


June 19, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterNev

Hi! would it be ok to copy some paragraphs on my blog and translate this article in Romanian? I wanna make this available to non-English speakers who advocate for CIO - to see where it actually began - which is 1830, it didn't always happen throughout history.

February 13, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterXelomon


If you want to summarize some of the points here in Romanian, that would be fine. If you want to do an actual translation, you should probably translate from the original German article and obtain permission from the author to do so.

February 15, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterphdinparenting

Thank you for the answer! I think I'll stick to resuming what you've said, German is unknown to me.

February 17, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterXelomon

I am having a very difficult time matching my beliefs about sleep and parenting with my situation of constant sleep deprivation. My 4 and a half month old used to sleep for 2-4 hour stretches at night (co-sleeping) but for the past month he only sleeps in 1 hour chunks. The other issue is that he is a BIG comfort-nurser and wants to suck on me while he sleeps. It often takes multiple tries to get him off of me and unfortunately I am just not one of those moms who can comfortably sleep while nursing or cuddling. I am all touched out and hitting a wall where I almost feel violated by my little one because he won't be comforted or put back to sleep any other way than sucking on me.

Then there are all the moms I know who do "sleep training" and their 4 month olds sleep from 6pm to 6am with one night feeding. It is so hard sometimes to keep my resolve not to do "cry-it-out." I am just hoping he will grow out of it soon because I just don't know how we can keep going like this. Many try to tell me that if he hasn't grown out of it by now he won't without sleep training and that co-sleeping past 4 months is actually detrimental to his health because he is not getting enough sleep either. I have read all the Dr. Sears books and the No Cry Sleep Solution. I have tried a pacifier but he won't take it. Anyone have any ideas? What has worked for you? Waking 10 times a night and being sucked on all night and most naps is making me start to see CIO as an option....

February 19, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterFreja

Freja, my daughter behaved like that everytime she had a "Crisis" - as in teeth eruption, or acquiring a skill as walking/talking, or just a growth spike (which can take up to 7 days, and the baby gets longer and/or heavier). Your son might be growing a tooth?
I understand the uncomfiness and the frustration - I think about sleep training (even with CIO) many nights when my daughter uses me as pacifier and doesn't let me sleep (her canines should appear soon). The more I wanna get away from her, the more she wants to be close to me. I didn't give up on cosleeping as I'm sure she wouldn't learn anything through CIO.
Maybe try some other books. And patience, lots of it... even this will pass.

February 19, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterXelomon

First, to PhD...I am loving the posts of yours I have read. Especially "Cry it out (CIO) Is it harmful? I love what you have written.
To Freja...My second son was like that also. We co-slept for the first 5 months I believe, and then he started wanting to nurse all the time. Neither of us was sleeping very well. So what we did, I would lay down with him and get him to sleep. Then either my husband or myself would take him and put him in his crib to sleep. (No crying, he transfered very nicely and would stay asleep.) He would usually sleep pretty well in his bed for quite a few hours, so I would get several hours of sleep without him to sleep in whatever position I wanted. Then, when he woke up in the middle of the night wanting to be fed, I put him in bed with us and he would nurse and immediately go back to sleep. That helped me tons having those few hours to myself to sleep, and then it was great getting to sleep with him as well. Maybe that could help?

February 25, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterSarah

@ freja
try a pacifier again. wait until he is in a deep sleep and then either slip the pacifier into his mouth as you slip out the nipple or just slip out the nipple without the pacifier. for my son, the pacifier helped him re-settle if my trying to get my nipple out of his mouth was waking him. I also cannot sleep with him nursing continuously so I understand how you feel. It also helps to have a bigger bed for me, I have a king and would nurse him at the far corner of the bed (wall on one side, me on the other) but far enough to the far side that when he is in a deep sleep I can move over to the other edge so I have freedom to move about when I sleep and not fear waking him. don't give up on him though. my son is 14 months old and trust me, its aphase. they go through these several times in the year where they are either approaching/in a milestone such as talking/walking/sitting up, or going through their separation anxiety phases where they get clingier for a few days/weeks or teething or sick. The first year they are growing so fast there is usually alot going on, know that as the year comes to a close, the ups and downs start to level out a bit and you get more of a break. If you give him a bit more of yourself during the separation anxiety phases most of all, he will get back to a point hwere he is ok without you much faster than if you push him away so to speak, in this case you will reinforce his anxiety and then his clinginess may linger. basically, this too shall pass. Alsol, has there been a major change/transition your family is going through that may be affecting him? Sometimes daytime changes or issues can make them extra anxious and needy at night. If so then when that transition stabilizes, be it a move, your going back to work or something of the sort, the clinginess will settle down as well. Don't give up on him. Trust me it pays off after they hit one year. I have an independent little man on my hands. He still has his moments of needing to be held by mommy or an extra nursing session but he sleeps most of the time through the night and unless he is sick, doesn't require night nursing anymore. it gets better.

April 12, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterhallo

Your post rubbed me the wrong way at first, but I see your overreaching point, and thank you for making it. :)

For the first time in history I think, women are able to research different ideas and document them for posterity for pore over and discuss.

With regards to what you're sharing:- my grandmother (long deceased) had 7 children, and she worked in the sugar cane fields with my grandfather. Her eldest daugher didn't get a chance to go to school because she had take care of the other 6 kids. My mother was the last child (7th), and she is very bitter about the fact that she didn't get to go to school because SHE had to take care of her eldest's subsequent 7 children. I guess the irony is lost on her :/

But the main point I think is - when you know better you do better.

July 4, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterDanielle

I was born in Germany in 1932 and my first child was born there too. At that time, in 1957, mother and child stayed 10 days in the hospital after the birth, and during the first days the babies were fed at 6, 10, 2, 6 and 10 pm and after 2 nights of crying they had gotten used to the larger gap between feedings and slept right through the night. My two other children, born in the USA in 1961 and 1966, were treated by me the same way and accepted without trouble the night as the customary time for sleep. All German babies, perhaps all European babies, were treated that way, until dr. Spock's book was published in Germany which recommended feeding on demand and cuddling and feeding at night.

Just to show you how millions of loving mothers believed in handling the night feeding problem this way without causing any trauma in the babies.

November 8, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterInge etzbach

In response to Inge etzbach,
How do you know that those NEWBORNS were not traumatized "after 2 nights of crying," and that they actually "had gotten used to the larger gap between feedings?"
What if those tiny babies simply gave up? That they were in fact learning that, at night, they are essentially abandoned and that no one will come when they cry?
It's just interesting to me to see the justifications used to defend the practice of ignoring babies and young children at night. Remember that babies can't tell us what they need and how they're feeling, so they HAVE to cry to communicate something important. This belief that babies are "manipulating" their parents, that they "just want comfort and closeness," as if those needs are not important to a baby or young child... Waking during the night is for much more than just feeding, it is for reassurance! Babies don't know what we as adults know, they don't know they're "ok," they don't know that Mom is just in the other room, ect. It is our job as parents to teach our children that they can rely on us, that they can trust us, that they don't have to be alone and frightened. Yes, some children may sleep better alone than others, but essentially what you're doing by abandoning your baby at night is breaking them.

April 25, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterAmy C

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