It’s good if your baby doesn’t sleep through the night? That’s misogynistic mothering bullshit.


This is public service announcement on how to protect yourself from misogynistic mothering bullshit (MMB). Sadly, too much of what passes for parenting advice in 2019 is MMB.

Consider the latest example. Why it’s actually a good thing if your baby doesn’t sleep through the night is misogynistic mothering bullshit of the highest order, involving as it does fabrication of benefits for babies to justify suffering of mothers.

Professor Peter Fleming who specialises in developmental psychology at the University of Bristol told Buzzfeed that babies are not designed to sleep for long periods, and it’s normal for them to wake.

“It’s not good for them, and there is absolutely no evidence whatsoever that there is any benefit to anybody from having a child that sleeps longer and consistently.

That is classic MMB, but like most misogynistic mothering lies it’s bullshit with a purpose. The purpose is to shame mothers who dare to consider their own needs.

[pullquote align=”right” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]It’s bullshit with a purpose: to shame mothers who dare to consider their own needs.[/pullquote]

How can you recognize MMB like this. I hereby offer Tuteur’s Criteria to help you protect yourself.

1. Was it promulgated by an old white man?

Misogynistic mothering bullshit is almost always propagated by old white men. This is neither a necessary nor a sufficient criterion of MMB, but it is startlingly common. Don’t misunderstand me; old white men aren’t all bad and can occasionally offer scientifically valid insights about mothering. But Dr. Peter Fleming follows the path from Grantly Dick-Read in the 1930’s to William Sears in the 1990’s, a long tradition of old white men offering bullshit advice meant to keep women immured in the home.

2. Does it invokes the naturalistic fallacy and/or the Panglossian paradigm?

The naturalistic fallacy is the is/ought fallacy; if something is a certain way in nature, that’s the best way for it to be. The Panglossian paradigm is the belief that every human organ/function/behavior is a product of intense evolutionary selection, as opposed to the reality that evolution does not produce perfection, that traits beneficial in one evolutionary environment may not be beneficial in another and that there are genetic limits to evolution.

Invoking the “design” of babies, as Dr. Fleming does above, represents both the naturalistic fallacy and the Panglossian paradigm. Even if babies were “designed” to wake during the night that doesn’t mean it’s good for babies or good for mothers.

3. Does it rely on the noble savage trope, homogenizing tens of thousands of years of human existence and thousands of cultures into one set of “ancestors” who had one set of parenting practices?

There is no single way that human mothers have raised children across time and cultures. Moreover, existing indigenous people are not necessarily representative of ancient human cultures any more than existing animals are representative of animals that existed in the past.

There’s no clearer indicator of the noble savage trope that the racist invocation of black African mothers. Dr. Fleming once again comes through:

I’ve done quite a lot of work in Africa and in various other places and babies are carried around with their mother all the time. They’re asleep when they need to sleep and they’re awake when they need to be awake, but they’re constantly with their mother and that facilitates breastfeeding.

4. Does it fabricate benefits for babies that are not supported by or are directly contradicted by scientific evidence?

Dr. Fleming does not appear to be constrained by scientific evidence at all. He surrenders himself to fantasy. He claims that there are no benefits to babies from sleeping well when existing scientific evidence is either agnostic on that point or associates improved sleep with improved infant wellbeing. His claim that mothers don’t benefit from long stretches of uninterrupted sleep is MMB par excellence. There is a reason why sleep deprivation is considered torture … because it IS torture. Poor quality sleep is associated with postpartum depression and other harms to women.

Professor Fleming explains that there’s a very clever reason why babies wake through the night.

“Biologically that’s a big advantage because they will have more attention from their two primary caregivers at that time of day than at any other, because there are fewer distractions.

Is this guy on drugs? Does he imagine that parenting across time and culture involved fathers caring for their babies? What evidence does he have that by waking up during the night improved the father-infant relationship or the overall wellbeing of babies? None, of course. His prejudice in favor of traditional two parent nuclear families is showing here.

Professor Fleming makes the connection between very high levels of developmental and intellectual achievement and not sleeping throughout the night.

It’s hard to find a clearer example of MMB than that nonsensical claim.

5. Does it imply that human evolution stopped 20,000 years ago and that our current culture is incompatible with our evolution?

Professor Fleming says biological sleep patterns can’t suddenly be changed just because the modern world operates to a different schedule than humans did thousands of years ago.

Fleming said: “One needs to remember that society changes faster than biology. A biological pattern that’s taken half a million years to develop can’t just be suddenly ignored and turned around…

Really? Then how did humans develop lactose tolerance very quickly after the introduction of animal milk into the human diet? Because the mutation that allowed humans to benefit from the ability to digest animal milk was present in the human population and selection pressure quickly favored it and allowed for rapid spread.

6. Does it promote the modern nuclear family with mother relegated to the home as “best,” ignoring the traditional tribal band where everyone worked to improve the survival of the group.

Though nearly all MMB claims purport to be about restoring traditional mothering practices, the real goal is making recent mothering practices (those developed within the past 1-2 centuries) normative. It is very similar in that sense to efforts by homophobic activists to restore “traditional marriage” imagining that a man and a woman marrying for love is traditional when the truth is that “traditional marriage” was about families trading their sons and daughters for protective alliances and material gain.

To qualify as MMB, a claim doesn’t need to meet all of Tuteur’s Criteria for misogynistic mothering bullshit but Dr. Fleming’s claims do meet them all. What’s really going on here?

Dr. Fleming seeks to promote breastfeeding and the deadly practice of bedsharing.

[Babies are] asleep when they need to sleep and they’re awake when they need to be awake, but they’re constantly with their mother and that facilitates breastfeeding…

The idea that sharing a sleep surface with your baby is in anyway wrong, abnormal or peculiar is just nonsense,” he says. “Most people in the world would see that view as bizarre – 90pc of the human infants on this planet sleep that way every night and over the half a million years of human evolution that’s been the norm.

Over the half million years of human evolution, massive child mortality has also been the norm. Just because something is natural doesn’t make it safe, healthy or “best.”