Newsletter 35

Dear Friends,

This is a look at was behind one of the greatest tragedies a parent can face: Sudden Infant Death Syndrome. It is possible, but highly unlikely, that you have heard of what you are about to read. It concerns the advice of experts to lay your baby on their stomachs when putting them to sleep. Front, back, side, what difference does it make? Far, far more than you would think! Some seemingly newsworthy things simply don’t grab the attention of those who sell or make the news…whatever it is they do.

Perhaps you, like I do, know friends who have had a child die in infancy for no reason whatsoever. Such a tragedy used to be called simply “crib death.” For nearly four recent decades, from the mid-1950s to the mid-1990s, this very personal road to hellish suffering on the part of the parents was paved, as they say, with the best of intentions. It was the result of their receiving the professional advice of the world’s best known and most famous baby doctors, one above all. He taught his tens of millions of readers to lay their babies on their fronts, on their tummies.

Evidence available to the medical world as soon as 1970 indicated that this advice given parents — in massively popular baby and child care books — was unsound, untested, and actually lethal. It was in fact only someone’s good idea. How bad can a good idea be?

The greatest influence on parents in western countries over the last sixty years has been that of Dr. Benjamin Spock in his wildly popular, Baby and Child Care. Until the 1992 edition (pictured) he consistently told parents in his folksy, confident manner, to lay babies on their backs. He is the primary author responsible for 60,000 tragic deaths, from 1970 to the early 1990s, of infants in their cribs. And what of the years before then?

First we’ll turn to the report in the Sunday Times from May 8, 2005, and then to the International Journal of Epidemiology. The first gives the context, the second the science.

Dr. Spock’s advice blamed for cot deaths

The research team, led by Dr Ruth Gilbert of University College London, traced the erroneous advice back to popular health books of the 1940s and 1950s. One of the chief exponents of the untested theory was Dr Spock, the paediatrician, whose books became essential reading for mothers all over the world. Writing in the International Journal of Epidemiology, published by Oxford University Press, the researchers note that Spock initially wavered over his advice.

Their study says: “The sudden shift in favour of front-sleeping is best illustrated by Baby and Child Care by Dr Benjamin Spock who recommended the back position in his 1955 edition, and the front position in 1956.”

“Many authors repeated these arguments. Others argued that front sleeping reduced wind, coughing due to mucus, and made respiration easier.

“Before Spock’s death in 1998, Baby and Child Care was translated into 39 languages and sold more than 50 million copies, said to be second in sales only to the Bible.”

Let’s turn now to the scientific article on which these statements were based.


Source: International Journal of Epidemiology 2005;34:874–887.

“Infant sleeping position and the sudden infant death syndrome”
by Ruth Gilbert and her three coworkers in the International Journal of Epidemiology, 4 April 2005.

Quoting from the paper’s Background: “Before the early 1990s, parents were advised to place infants to sleep on their front contrary to evidence from clinical research.

Quoting from the Results:Sleeping on the front was  recommended in books between 1943 and 1988 based on extrapolation from untested theory.

Quoting from the paper’s Conclusions:Advice to put infants to sleep on the front for nearly a half century was contrary to evidence available from 1970 that this was likely to be harmful. Systematic review of preventable risk factors for SIDS from 1970 would have led to earlier recognition of the risks of sleeping on the front and might have prevented over 10,000 infant deaths in the UK and at least 50,000 in Europe, the USA, and Australasia.

A follow-up article

In a quote from a follow-up article to their ground breaking initial one, Dr. Ruth Gilbert and coworkers said in the same Journal,

We argue that had simple methods of reviewing and combining what was already known from research been used in 1970 60,000 deaths would have been avoided. This is an underestimate as we left out cot deaths classified as other causes before SIDS was widely used for death registration and deaths before 1970.2

So those 60,000 were the avoidable deaths, from 1970 to the early 1990s: let’s say 23 years. And that number is a low estimate. What of the deaths during the preceding 14 years, back to Dr. Spock’s first bit of homespun wisdom about how babies should sleep? Assuming the same gruesome rate of loss of life per year, that’s another 36,500 deaths in those areas of the world most open to professional advice about raising children. That’s 100,000 needless deaths owing principally to one’s man’s untested theories. That’s how bad a good idea can be.

So what thought process led him to write these fateful words?

In his 1958 edition, he argued ‘If he vomits, he’s more likely to choke on the vomitus. Also, he tends to keep his head turned to the same side—usually toward the centre of the room. This may flatten the side of his head.’ Many authors repeated these arguments.” (Gilbert, p. 876)

This made sense to so many parents as they wondered how to raise their children. Everything Doctor Spock said made sense, and he said it all in such a pleasant way. Surely, he tried to keep up with the latest scientific, medical, and psychoanalytic research. But in this instance he failed to do so. In this tragic instance, tens of thousands of babies lost their lives because of his advice. Remarkable you have never heard about this, isn’t it?

Whatever could be the reason why? Why must his reputation as the world’s foremost baby doctor be guarded? Shouldn’t it be junked?

From the Sunday Times article come words from someone who suffered personal loss due to listening to “babycare experts”:


Anne Diamond and her son, Sebastian, who died at age four months.

“Reflecting in 1993 on the Back to Sleep campaign, Diamond wrote: “When Sebastian was born, I did the same as all mothers in this country and laid him on his tummy . . . it’s what all babycare experts were telling us to do. The government was slow on cot death.”

“She then urged the government to advise mothers to put their babies to sleep on their backs and spearheaded efforts to hammer the message home.”


What other untested and unproven things did Dr. Spock say?

What else did Dr. Spock say that was his own personal theory? Untested, untried, unsupported by anything except his own thought? How many other things did he advocate that were, in their own ways, catastrophically destructive?

One towers above all others, the thing he wished was not associated with his name, but was and forever will be: permissiveness. More damaging to families than simple permissiveness, however, was what was behind his permissiveness: his steadfast opposition to the discipline of children. About this he was utterly confident, with all his Freudian training, that he was right. Towards the end of his life, in his eighties, he came out and said it:

DrSpockOnParenting_Cover“In earlier decades — and in earlier editions of Baby and Child Care — I avoided a flat statement of disapproval of physical punishment. I contented myself with the statement that I didn’t think it was necessary. This was because of my belief that it’s disturbing to parents when a professional person appears to imply that he knows better than they… It’s not that physical punishment creates these alarming conditions by itself [nuclear arms race, aggressive foreign policy, and violence within the family], but it certainly plays a role in our acceptance of violence. If we are ever to turn toward a kindlier society and a safer world, a revulsion against physical punishment of children would be a good place to start.” ~ Benjamin Spock, Dr. Spock on Parenting: Sensible Advice from America’s Most Trusted Child-care Expert (Simon and Schuster, 1988), p. 172.

{See the post, “A Glimpse of the Future” for much more on this. There you will see what the fruit has been in the nations that have followed this advice from Dr. Spock. Banning spanking in Sweden has not led to a kindlier society and a safer world. It has led to something quite different than that—it has led to all hell breaking loose.}

Finally, then, he pushed past his own internal boundary of not disturbing parents, to say what he really wanted to say all along. And as far as undermining parental authority and confidence, he had long since admitted that he and other professionals had done so decades before.

The Rest of the Story

In 1967 he admitted that:

It’s professional people — like me — who have gotten the parents afraid of their children’s hostility, and I don’t know if we can undo it. Pandora’s Box has been opened.”3

Seven years later, addressing the generation of brats he saw growing up in America, he had this to say about the “cruel” influence of professionals like him:

In the 20th century, parents have been persuaded that the only people who know for sure how children should be managed are the child psychiatrists, psychologists, teachers, social workers and pediatricians — like myself. This is a cruel deprivation that we professionals have imposed on mothers and fathers. Of course, we did it with the best of intentions, by giving talks and writing articles on child rearing with the idea that these would be helpful. We didn’t realize, until it was too late, how our know-it-all attitude was undermining the self-assurance of parents.”4

And what were the real results of this subtle but actual and effective undermining of parental confidence? The children gained the upper hand as the parents abdicated their authority. Father really didn’t know best, as the television show proclaimed.


Redbook Magazine, February 1974, p. 29 (partial view).

The commonest reason, I think, why parents can’t be firm is that they’re afraid that if they insist, their children will resent them or at least won’t love them as much. You can see this clearly in an extreme case in which a bratty child can get what she or he wants by shouting, “I hate you!” The parent looks dismayed and gives in promptly.”5

{The above quotes are from the article, “Benjamin Spock and Pandora’s Box,” which is surely what he opened!}

So this is a little more “of the rest of the story,” as Paul Harvey used to say, about what is going on in this modern world.

Such are the catastrophic consequences on one man’s opinion about sleeping babies! But even worse are the opinions of many about child discipline, including that one misguided baby doctor. To discipline your child is to save his soul from hell, as Proverbs 23:13-14 says. But those opposed to discipline also do not believe in judgment and the hell that awaits those who love to do evil.

Turning children from evil is why parents have for millennia disciplined their children. They did so because they loved them, just as Proverbs 13:24 says. This is tested and proven true by countless generations of men and women the world over. What is taking its place is failing the test, as Sweden and other countries vividly show.

For the Communities of the Twelve Tribes,

Kevin Carlin




  1. To get the complete text, go to this link: http://www.pedsource.com/node/7226.
  2. Ruth Gilbert, Georgia Salanti, “Infant sleeping position and sudden infant death syndrome: a systematic review,” International Journal of Epidemiology, 5 August 2005.
  3. The Evening News, Newburgh, NY, Oct. 31, 1967, p. 6A.
  4. Benjamin Spock, How Not to Bring up a Bratty Child (Redbook Magazine, February 1974), p. 29, 31.
  5. Spock, Redbook, February 1974.