What If My Client Wants To…

A pregnant woman has an idea and points a finger in the air as if to say “ah-ha!”

In a recent interview, one of our prospective couples told me that they were reading a book about how to manage baby sleep, and that they had plans in place that would guarantee their baby would sleep. throughout the night at 12 weeks of age. They asked if I could help them execute this plan.

As many of you have probably experienced, I get a little worried when parents start asking me about sleep plans from the newborn stage, especially those that are strict with food or known for encouraging sleep. -crying or cruel methods. So because my defenses can come out a little bit, I have to be very objective in my response. First, because they don’t ask me if they should take this approach, if I just helped them. And second, because I know sometimes it’s a “test” question to see if we can support without judgment—and I want to serve them.

It also comes up in exercises sometimes. Doula students will ask, “but what if a client wants to…” in fear of a client wanting something they might be against, like planning a scheduled cesarean or induction for in “convenience”, planning ahead to use formula because it’s “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 strategies, especially those that we have a lot of evidence in favor of.

Using Gas to Extinguish Fires

Trying to convince a client that he is wrong can be risky–their passion is growing and they want to be the exception where it works! No matter how much they trust and want to learn from us, clients won’t do what you tell them. You can get on your soap box all day and not move them an inch away from their view. In fact, if you resist them, some will dig in their heels and find more reasons to do this thing, just to show you how wrong you really are. Some people greatly respect those who are educated and have knowledge to share and will do whatever is suggested, but many simply don’t want to be told what they consider won’t work. (Are there children like this?)

So what do we say when a client tells you they’re doing something you don’t think is evidence-based? As doulas and educators, we want to encourage parents to follow their instincts in approaching their bodies, their birth, their babies and their lives. We know that showing is better than telling. We know that modeling effective communication allows parents to think for themselves, answer their own questions, and come up with their own unique solutions.

Start With Verification

While clients hire us for our experience and expertise, they don’t always listen if we talk them out of a practice they think will work for them. Adults want to make their own decisions, and while millennials enjoy crowd sourcing, they still want to take that information and compile it themselves to figure out what makes sense to them. So when my clients are interested in something that I am against, I first find something to prove, and then, with an invitation, add to their ‘mind nest’ of input.

For example, if I see a book that I don’t like sitting around their home, I notice that but I don’t launch into my explanation of its pros and cons, because I don’t know the intention of them having this book — maybe they haven’t read it. However, if they specifically ask me about something I feel strongly about, such as forcing a baby to cry or waiting for feedings to ‘stay on schedule’, then I have an opening to respond. I can gently say that I can see why they want the baby to sleep, be independent, etc., and I want that outcome too. (Who doesn’t want a baby to sleep well or a child to have independence?) I can attest that I will do everything I know how to help them achieve their goals. And then I can tell them what I’ve found works best to help make that happen.

Encourage Parents to Believe in Themselves

If my goal is to support families to be successful in feeding, sleeping, bonding, and bonding, I have to trust them to be able to differentiate what they think will and won’t work for their child. And they get to make those choices, not me, regardless of what the evidence says.

What now? Do it I said?

It can be like this:

“I strongly believe that this baby has come to live with you, and you will know what will work best when you meet your baby and get to know them. 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 past clients. I know you love your child more than anyone in the world, and I will follow your lead in whatever you feel is safe and best for them.”

I’m not addressing that I don’t think their approach will work, at least not up front. Inevitably something doesn’t go according to plan and when they ask about it, I’m ready with evidence-based answers–and plenty of reassurance that they’re doing a great job and we’re all figuring it out as we go along. Because it’s easy to get through a book or a friend that makes it look simple when the truth is really hard!

Babies Don’t Always Follow the Plans We Make

But surprisingly sometimes it goes EXACTLY as they planned. Sometimes their babies do amazing things that we never believed they could do, or the induction ends in a free labor intervention that is everything the parents hoped for. Because there is a range of normal and healthy, so maybe these outliers are just lucky–or maybe they really are better than the rest of us here and maybe they should write the next book. That’s how innovation works!

And we’ll be there, ready to support them in their next decision (or baby), and they’ll tell everyone how smart we are, how much value we brought to their birth or early parenthood, and to get others to WE ARE HIRING! Because we believed in them, and they needed non-judgmental support.

References and 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’s Business.
  • Kulhan, B., & Crisafulli, C. (2017). Going “Yes And”: The Art of Business Improv (1st ed.). Stanford Business Books.
  • Ph.D., NGJ, Martin, SJ, & Ph.D., CR (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 ABC Doula Service in Portland, OR in 2001 and has seen it grow to serve over 1800 families in its first 15 years. She has a passion for newborns and their families, as well as new doulas and educators launching 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 of two energetic school children, and enjoys working together at home and work with her husband of over 20 years. She also teaches breastfeeding, newborn care, and twin/triplet classes within the Providence Health System. Kimberly also created 2 instructional videos for educators and new parents about newborn care. Her joy is truly making a difference for new parents and new doulas, and changing the world one family at a time.

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