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Cutting to the chase when it comes to Sleep Trainer’s advertising

I love how the ABC’s show The Checkout dissects advertising to help people who are not trained in the area of marketing to recognise the tricks and smoke shields that have been employed to distract the audience while hammering home their true message. Sometimes it’s bleedingly obvious, other times, it’s subtle and hard to identify. One thing remains the same – they are trying to SELL you something. If they can’t get you or enough of your fellow potential customers to shell out, then they’ll be out of business.  

That does not mean that all businesses are sneaky or lack integrity. Businesses can be very honest and hold extremely high standards both in actual dealings with customers but also in their advertising. They may be clever with their advertising while not being sneaky. They may reach out to prospective clients without preying on them. But, even those businesses with the most outstanding moral code, would not deny (and shouldn’t deny because it is a business after all), that they are out to make a buck and any form of advertising needs to make back its own cost and generate extra business and money flow to make it worthwhile.

The sleep training industry and sleep training consultancies are no different.

Make no mistake, while they may genuinely believe they want to help you and your family, they also want your business.

I have seen an increasing number of sleep training business’ advertisements popping up on my Facebook newsfeed, which does not surprise me considering how many articles and conversations I have about infant sleep. Of course, Facebook has identified it as a potential ‘interest’ for me and so I bear the brunt of the same onslaught many new mothers would bear when they’ve been up googling, ‘why the f#%^ won’t my baby sleep?’ And I have to say, the marketing is particularly clever.

So often, I see advertisements and the posts attached that are claiming to be all so very open minded about whether sleep training is the right ‘choice’ for you and your family- offers of refunds, some partially accurate information on normal infant sleep (always with some kind of limitation on how long this behaviour is ‘normal’) and loads of, ‘if it’s working for you, great, keep going’ kind of talk.

What can look like these businesses have finally seen some sense and updated their advice against sleep training babies who are sleeping exactly as a human baby should, is actually a guise for a marketing tool that totally sucked me in while I was in my haze of sleep deprived exhaustion. It is a tool that makes you sound like they totally ‘get’ what it’s like to have a baby and to feel tired, and like they totally ‘get’ that waking is normal (to a point) and they even ‘get’ that some people may not want to ‘change’ anything and go a la naturale. Meanwhile, the kicker comes at the end in the sometimes subtle, other time not so subtle, ‘but if you want an out, we’ve got it!’ ‘ If you want to return to the magical land of sleep, step right this way!’ ‘If you change your mind and decide you want to train your child, I’ll be right here to hold your hand.’

That’s a very big kick in the guts that keeps on kicking for mothers who have been following their instincts and have been riddled with doubt with their wakeful baby, still wondering if this is something they should ‘just put up with’ or whether it can/ should be ‘fixed’.

Do you know how good those promises sound to an extremely vulnerable, completely exhausted mother who is living on struggle street day in night out?!? They sound like the magical freaking oasis you’d dream of after four days lost in the desert and you are out of your mind dehydrated and delirious.

No matter that what you get to drink at the end is basically freaking sand.

Oh hang on, but what about all the testimonials of how awesomely amazing and awesome and stuff this trainer Consultant person was/ is?!? They don’t sound like their throat is raw from drinking sand?!? What’s going on here?

Well, the failures like me most certainly sounded very hoarse, not to mention crushed and soul destroyed by the experience but as I’ve said before, we are the riff raff… most ‘success’ stories do sound like they’ve drunk some of the magic elixir and are full of praise and gushing with gratitude.

So am I just some bitter and twisted shrew? Surely if most of the clients finish happy then what’s the problem?

Well two problems really.

In the vast majority, (though not all), the baby being the other human client has been put through a huge amount of stress and trauma. You can break it down and call it short term, you can say it was worth it, you can dismiss it as ‘protesting’ but considering none of us can actually hear it from the baby’s mouth as they are too immature to be able to share their actual thoughts and experience here, I’m going to take the opportunity to offer an alternative to the narrative the sleep trainers and many of their successful clients will tell on behalf of the voiceless being in the picture. I strongly believe that if a baby undergoing sleep training could talk, they’d say, ‘I just want you Mummy. Please pick me up. Please hold me tight. I don’t feel good right now. I’m tired and scared. Why won’t you hold me mummy? I know you love me. Please pick me up mum, I’m tired.’

A baby does not need to be sleep trained. Ever. They know how to sleep, even if they need a huge amount of help to get to sleep and maintain it, they know how to sleep.

It is normal for a baby to wake and nurse frequently throughout the first year and beyond. A baby waking extremely frequently may very likely have underlying health issues that are exacerbating their normal wakeful behaviour. They do not need sleep training.

The second problem is the end product of a mother who now feels more ‘confident’ in how to mother her baby.

Now that doesn’t sound like a problem, that sounds like a good thing doesn’t it?!?

Yep, so glossy and good on the surface but so ugly underneath.

This faux ‘confidence’ has come at an expensive cost. This mother now feels she knows just the ‘right’ amount of response and comfort she should offer her baby.

Problem is, the only true answer to the ‘right’ amount of response and comfort can come from following her baby’s lead, not some regime or set of rules and limitations as set out by the sleep training consultant.

The mother went in thinking she had no idea how to settle or read her baby, sadly, despite what she thinks on exiting the program, she now knows even less.

And so, the dollars keep on rolling in.

The sleep training juggernaut continues to grow.

 Another happy, satisfied customer comes away with the sleep they were promised, along with the bonus of new found confidence and staunch belief that they, too should impart their new knowledge with mothers who cross their paths.

And so it goes.

And so it will sadly continue until we, who can see through the guise, can find our voices and unite to take a stand.

We need to first imagine a world that has moved beyond sleep training. A world that recognises and values a baby’s biologically normal sleep and nursing behaviours as expected and respected elements of development and in turn recognise, respect and honour the very real need for support for mothers as they make their way through this critical, though exhausting time in her life.

Our babies and mothers deserve better than to have companies profiting from this confusing and vulnerable time.

We can and should call for a change.

It’s high time we moved beyond sleep training.

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