SupChina illustration by Derek Zheng
A Chinese child-raising consulting agency giving unscientific and — in some cases — dangerous parenting advice to new moms is in the news after a baby died when a new mother followed its recommendations.
The incident came to light over the weekend when a series of screenshots (in Chinese) showing the mother’s conversation with her “baby-sleep coach” was shared to Chinese social media.
Judging from the exchange, the accident happened on the afternoon of April 16. Adopting a sleep-training method taught by her consultant, the mom let her three-month-old daughter take a day nap in her crib while watching from another room using surveillance cameras. The mother then noticed that the baby was crying out loud while sleeping on her belly. Worried and scared, the mom asked a WeChat group run by her “baby-sleep coach” for advice. “This is not a big deal. Don’t panic,” her coach said. Meanwhile, other clients encouraged the mother to stand by and do nothing, adding that this method worked on their infants when they tried to nurture their babies’ independent sleep abilities.
But at around two in the afternoon, the mother said in the group chat that her baby had stopped making noises. Mistakenly assuming that the baby was asleep, the mother didn’t check on her daughter until an hour later. When she entered the room, the infant had already died from breathing difficulties.
According to sources close to the woman, she hired the baby-sleep coach from an online parenting education agency called “Small Cheese Dumplings” (芝士小馄饨 zhīshìxiǎohúntún) in March. One of the core sleeping practices preached by the organization is to leave young infants sleeping in a separate room from their parents so that they can develop the skill to sleep on their own. The advice goes directly against professional medical opinions that infants should sleep in their parents’ bedroom and need to sleep on their backs to prevent sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS).
Since the accident was made public, the mother has come under intense criticism on the Chinese internet for causing her daughter’s death. “Was she out of her mind? Infants cry to express their emotion when something is wrong. How could she manage to not intervene?” a Weibo user wrote (in Chinese). Meanwhile, a vast number of internet users were convinced that the consulting agency should be held accountable for the infant’s death. “Everyone in that group chat was complicit. It boggles my mind that the agency was making a profit from such dangerous advice,” a Weibo user commented (in Chinese).
In response to the outcry, the agency issued a statement (in Chinese) on April 19, saying that it refused to bear any responsibility for the incident because it believed that the infant sleeping on the belly was not the cause of her death. In addition, the agency said that it was entirely the mother’s fault because she didn’t follow her coach’s advice strictly. The explanation, however, was not quite satisfactory for those calling for the shutdown of the agency. While it’s unclear if a police investigation will be launched in light of the incident, WeChat shuttered (in Chinese) the agency’s public account this week after receiving hundreds of complaints about its blog spreading “rumors and false information.”