In January 2021, Alice Bender used TikTok to make baby sleep popular. Bender, who was 21 at the time, spoke on her iPhone camera while holding her 5-month-old baby, Fern, in his nursery and explaining why he didn’t have a crib. She claimed, “We literally buy these small baby jail cells so that we can just walk away and put our baby in there. “I don’t have a crib because I’ll never make my child go to bed at a certain hour. Babies are people, too, and it’s cruel to make someone go to bed when they’re not exhausted. Imagine if your partner forced you to go to bed even though you weren’t exhausted and confined you in a space you couldn’t escape from. You would probably abandon them since that would be abusive.
A lop-eared bunny hopped on the ground in the distance next to a piece of white wooden furniture that resembled a crib but was just a few inches off the ground and was missing half of one side. According to Bender, a floor bed enables a baby to sleep when they want to sleep and get up and walk around when they don’t.
Before Bender took it down, the post had more than 7 million views, garnered international attention, and sparked a tonne of tweets (“Next week on this lady’s tik tok: why I let my 5-month child drive”). She continued to give suggestions for baby sleep though. She wrote, “There’s no such thing as sleep training,” in a post from August 2021, and Bender pointed to the words as music played. But it is possible to train a child who was left to die.
A parent from the past would find a lot of this video’s content to be confusing. (That item in her living room that resembles a drying rack with a ramp on it is actually a Pikler triangle, a climbing toy for babies linked with Montessori that acquired popularity on social media during the epidemic and has a retail price of close to $600.) But some information would be well known. #cryitout is one of the hashtags used in the article and it alludes to a technique that was first mentioned in the book The Care and Feeding of Children written by doctor L. 1894: Emmett Holt. According to Holt, if a baby is weeping at night and nothing appears to be amiss, “it should just be allowed to ‘cry it out.'”
Depending on the particular approach, this practice is now known as sleep training, progressive extinction, or Ferberization, but the basic idea hasn’t changed. Because babies can’t tell the difference between day and night at birth and can’t calm themselves, parents must educate them to fall asleep. Bender’s movies represent the “gentle parenting” school of thinking, which is skeptical of anything as strict as “teaching” your child. Following the baby’s lead in deciding when to sleep and wake up is a key component of gentle parenting.
Parents are still engaged in this struggle more than a century after Holt’s book was published. The discussion is taking place on TikTok, where Team Sleep Training is broadcasting its own chicly crafted propaganda, as well as in Facebook groups, Reddit threads, Instagram comments, and other places.