In an interview recently, one of our prospective couples told me they were reading a book about how to manage infant sleep, and they had plans to put in place that would guarantee their baby would sleep through the night by 12 weeks of age. They asked if I would be able to help them put this plan into action.
As many of you have probably experienced, my concern raises a bit when parents start asking me about sleep plans from the newborn stage, especially those that are restrictive about food or known for encouraging crying or harsh methods. So because my defenses can come up a bit, I had to be very purposeful in my response. First, because they weren’t asking me if they should do this approach, only if I was able to help them. And second, because I know sometimes this is a “test” question to see if we will be able to support nonjudgmentally—and I wanted to serve them.
This also comes up in trainings sometimes. Doula students will ask, “but what if a client wants to…” fearing a client that wants something they could be very opposed to, such as planning a scheduled cesarean or induction for “convenience”, planning in advance to use formula because it is “just as good as breastfeeding”, or saying they don’t want to hold the baby too much because it will “spoil” them and they don’t want a demanding baby. Many of us feel strongly about certain approaches, especially those we have a lot of evidence in favor of.
Using Gas to Extinguish a Fire
Trying to convince a client that they are wrong can be risky–their passion grows and they want to be the exception where it does work! As much as it seems like they trust and want to learn from us, clients aren’t going to do what you tell them. You can get on your soap box all day long and not move them an inch away from their perspective. In fact, if you fight them, some will dig in their heels and find even more reasons to do this thing, just to show you how wrong you truly are. Some people highly respect those who have studied and have knowledge to share and will do whatever is recommended, but many just do not want to be told what they are considering won’t work. (Anyone have kiddos like this?)
So what can we say when a client tells you they are doing something you don’t think is evidence-based? As doulas and educators, we want to encourage the parents to follow their instincts in approaching their bodies, their birth, their babies and their lives. We know that showing works better than telling. We know that modeling effective communication allows parents to think for themselves, answer their own questions, and come up with their unique solutions.
Start With Validation
Although clients hire us for our experience and expertise, they don’t always listen if we discourage them from a practice they think will work for them. Adults like to make their own decisions, and although millennials do enjoy crowd sourcing, they still like to take that information and compile it themselves to come up with what makes sense to them. So when my clients are interested in something I am against, I first find something to validate, and then, with invitation, add to their ‘hive mind’ of input.
For example, if I see a book I’m less fond of sitting around their home, I note that but I don’t launch into my explanation of its pros and cons, because I do not know the intentions of them having this book—maybe they haven’t even read it. However if they specifically ask me about something that I feel strongly about, like forcing a baby to cry or wait for a feeding to ‘stay on schedule’, then I have an opening to respond. Gently I can say that I can see why they would want the baby to sleep, become independent, etc., and I want that outcome too. (Who doesn’t want a baby to sleep well or a child to develop independence?) I can affirm that I will do everything I know to do to help them achieve their goals. And then I can tell them what I have found that works the best to help make that happen.
Encouraging the Parents to Trust Themselves
If my goal is to support families to be successful at feeding, sleep, relationships, and bonding, I need to trust them to be able to differentiate what they think will and won’t work for their child. And they are the ones who get to make those choices, not me, no matter what the evidence says.
So, What Do I Say?
It might go something like this:
“I strongly believe that this baby came to live with you, and you will know what will work best once you meet your baby and figure them out. I trust you as parents to tell me what is most important to you, and I can tell you what has worked best for me in the past and with previous clients. I know you love your baby more than anyone else in the world, and I will follow your lead with whatever you think is safe and best for them.”
I don’t address that I don’t think their approach will work, at least not up front. Inevitably something doesn’t go according to the plan and when they ask about it, I’m ready with evidence-based answers–and plenty of reassurance that they are doing a great job and that we all figure it out as we go along. Because it’s easy to get drawn in by a book or a friend that makes it sound simple when in fact it’s really difficult!
Babies Don’t Always Follow the Plans We Make
But surprisingly sometimes it goes EXACTLY like they planned. Sometimes their babies do the amazing thing that we don’t believe they can, or that induction ends in an intervention free birth that is everything the parents hoped for. Because there is a range of normal and healthy, so maybe these outliers just got lucky–or maybe they truly are better than all of us at this and maybe they should write the next book. That is how innovation works!
And we will be there, ready to support them with the next decision (or baby), and they will tell everyone how wise we are, how much value we brought to their birth or early parenting, and to get others to HIRE US too! Because we believed in them, and they needed non-judgmental support.
References & Resources
- Leonard, K., & Yorton, T. (2015). Yes, And: How Improvisation Reverses “No, But” Thinking and Improves Creativity and Collaboration–Lessons from The Second City. Harper Business.
- Kulhan, B., & Crisafulli, C. (2017). Getting to “Yes And”: The Art of Business Improv (1st ed.). Stanford Business Books.
- Ph.D., N. G. J., Martin, S. J., & Ph.D., C. R. (2009). Yes!: 50 Scientifically Proven Ways to Be Persuasive (Reprint ed.). Free Press.
About the Author
Kimberly Bepler, CPD, CLE® has been serving breastfeeding families since 2001, first as a postpartum doula, then as a hospital educator, then as a Lactation Consultant. She founded a ABC Doula Service in Portland, OR in 2001 and has seen it grow to serve over 1800 families within the first 15 years. She has a passion for newborns and their families, as well as new doulas and educators launching into their own businesses. She has been Faculty for CAPPA since 2005 and now trains postpartum doulas, lactation educators, and her own advanced program for working with multiples. Kimberly is the mother to two lively school aged kids, and enjoys the collaboration at home and work with her husband of over 20 years. She also teaches breastfeeding, newborn care, and twin/triplet classes as within the Providence Health System. Kimberly has also produced 2 instructional videos for educators and new parents about newborn care. Her joy is in really making a difference for new parents and new doulas, and changing the world one family at a time.