Recently, I made a comment about not liking the “Baby Wise”, and one of my readers asked me why.
I’ve not read the books, although I have read excerpts of the book that people have put online, and I’ve seen it in action with several of my friends and acquaintances. It just seems to be completely unnatural, and it is antithetical to attachment parenting which is what I favor.
I’ve heard many women say that they had to supplement with formula, because they didn’t make enough milk. Well, breastfeeding is about supply and demand; and if the baby doesn’t “demand” enough — isn’t eating enough — the mother won’t produce enough milk, which is why supplementing with formula frequently leads to complete cessation of b/f-ing the baby ends up nursing less and less, instead of more and more. Also, physical contact between mother and baby helps improve milk supply; and the BW program dictates that children never nurse to sleep (one friend said she “had to” wake up her children when they fell asleep nursing, so that they could learn to fall asleep on their own – why?), and also has set times when children — infants — are to “play” or be on their own, alone in their cribs – why? So they can become accustomed to amusing themselves and not bothering mommy, I suppose. The reality is, that infants do best when they are with their mothers and with their family basically as much as possible – they learn more by observation, they feel comforted and cuddled when held, etc.
The female body is designed to nurture her babies, to give comfort and sustenance — the maternal hormones dictate it, for one thing. Labor is started and helped on by oxytocin coursing through the mother’s body — oxytocin is also the hormone that is released during breastfeeding, as well as during orgasm. It is a bonding hormone. Nursing our babies makes us feel bonded to them; natural labor (and particularly a vaginal birth) floods women with oxytocin, which is one of the reasons why women have such a strong maternal response immediately after birth, and just want to hold their babies for hours. When a baby cries, nursing mothers experience milk let-down. (Some are worse than others – I recently read a humorous story about a woman running to the store for something and leaving her baby at home, and a baby in the store cried, or she called home and heard her baby crying in the background, and *whoosh* she started leaking.) That is the normal, natural response. It is an artificial response for a mother to hear a baby cry and look at her watch and see how many hours and minutes have passed since the last time the baby ate, to see if the baby might be hungry.
Sometimes babies just get hungry or thirsty oftener than every three hours. Don’t adults frequently want snacks or a little something to drink? It is not physiologically normal for a newborn to sleep through the night, yet that is one of the big benefits pushed by the proponents of BW. An alternative is to have the baby with you in or near your bed, so that when the baby wakes up for nourishment, you can get him without having to get up, and you can basically “sleep-nurse” — with neither you nor the baby fully waking up. Studies have shown that both mothers and babies get more total sleep and mothers wake up more refreshed when they have their babies sleeping close by, rather than having to get out of bed, go down the hall, nurse the baby back to sleep, and walk back up the hall, and back to bed.
Another “selling point” of BW is that babies are learning to be disciplined, and scheduled — specifically so mothers can plan their days around their babies scheduled naps, instead of having uncertainty. Well, this much I can tell you — with children, there *will* be uncertainty! 🙂 Many children self-regulate or self-schedule — you can practically set your watch on their sleep-wake schedule (even without BW); but there will always be *something* that could disrupt your plans. Even the most scheduled child will have days that are “off schedule” — something will happen that will wake them up early, they’ll go through a growth spurt, have an earache, be teething, whatever, and it will throw everybody for a loop.
Frankly, aside from sleeping through the night at an abnormally early age, I don’t see any of the supposed benefits of BW, in any of my nieces and nephews. Disciplined? Scheduled? No more than anyone else. I think that the way you raise your children in the toddler years have a lot more to do with how they act in life, than how much they are scheduled as infants. It’s the “daily grind” of child training — teaching children to be polite, not interrupt, etc., that has more to do with how children act than whether or not they were schedule-fed as infants. I know lots of kids whose parents followed BW, and lots of kids whose parents did not follow BW, and lots of kids that I don’t know, and I can’t tell a difference with any of them.
Several years ago, I read a description of a study scientists did, in which they took a dog, and put it in a large box, that was rigged so that it would give an electric shock on one side of the box or the other. Whichever side of the box the dog was on, the researcher would shock; of course, the dog would jump over to the other side of the box… then the researcher would shock *that* side, and the dog would jump back. The dog would do this for some time, until it finally figured out that it was useless to try to avoid the shock, and finally it just laid down on the box, and let himself be shocked repeatedly. Psychologists call it “learned helplessness.” That, to me, is what BabyWise is. Somehow, I think that when children learn that they are helpless, that’s not a good thing; but when they learn that their mothers love them and care about them (which infants learn from being held, cuddled, loved, nursed, having their needs tended to), they build self-esteem, and feel valued.
Granted, some people let their children walk all over them, which is probably one thing that helps to swell the ranks of the BW contingent. I’m not necessarily advocating that women drop everything at the first hint of a whimper from their three-year-old to tend to his every whim! But it’s not like you have to choose between being ultra-strict and ultra-indulgent — there is a lot of middle ground, and plenty of room to find the right balance of tenderness and strictness.
Another reason why I don’t like it, is that in the earlier edition(s) at least, the author claims to get his authority for his ideas from the Bible. [I think the newer versions are much less “Scriptural”, thankfully!] I’ve read excerpts that make my skin crawl. He seems to have a myopic view of God and the Bible, and, I would say, he wrests the Scripture to fit his predetermined views. The worst thing, which literally made my jaw drop the first time I read it, was when he based his view that children should be left to cry on their own, on Jesus’ saying on the cross, “My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?” I forget exactly what Ezzo said, but it was something along the lines of, God didn’t respond to Jesus’ cries, so parents shouldn’t respond to their children, either. In trying to find the exact quote (it was some time ago that I read it, and I’m thinking it was a comment on some blog post or article that I read a few years ago), I found this pdf file which mentioned it, in the context of a critique of the book or system, or whatever you want to call it. I’m going to be saving the pdf file to my bookmarks (I haven’t read the whole thing yet; but what I have read, I agree with), so I can have it on hand to share with Christians who might be persuaded into thinking that Baby Wise is founded on clear Scriptural principles.
Concerning Scripture twisting, GFI faults us for quoting a public statement from Focus on the Family that noted that the Ezzos have “repeatedly cited Matthew 27:46— ‘…My God, my God, why have you forsaken me’—in support of their teaching that mothers should refuse to attend crying infants who have already been fed, changed, and had their basic needs met”. GFI says they are concerned with our use of Focus’s statement because “when Focus on the Family was informed they were misquoting the Ezzos on this point, they dropped it from their correspondence.” Focus’s current statement, however, once again expresses concern with GFI’s misuse of Matthew 27. In addition, Focus Vice President Hetrick states, “Focus did not misquote the Ezzos; we quoted their materials accurately.”
In defense, GFI’s critique states, “The Ezzos don’t for one minute believe or teach that Jesus hung on a cross to teach us that mothers should refuse to attend crying infants.” Rather, the “Father’s nonintervention in the suffering of His Son is the ultimate example that speaks against the fraudulent notion that love always requires immediate intervention.” To employ this idea in the context of a discussion of how mothers should respond to their crying infants, however, is to use Christ’s suffering to justify a practice of letting a baby cry. Since Christ’s suffering on the cross for our sins was a unique event for a very specific purpose, it should not be used even indirectly to justify letting infants cry. Furthermore, God did answer Jesus’ cry on the cross (Ps. 22:24).
Updated to add… I’ve read through the whole pdf, and would recommend it for anyone to read. If you’re not a Christian, parts of it won’t be applicable to you; but there are many sections that deal with non-religious concerns about the Ezzos’ program (not solely “Baby Wise” but the whole program, although they bring up multiple concerns about things like breastfeeding, failure to thrive, etc.), that would be beneficial for anyone to read. Also, the parent website that the pdf was on has multiple sections with in-depth bulleted “Summary of Concerns.” For instance, in the “infant feeding” section, it says:
- Lack of expertise and credentials. The primary authors of the material, Gary and Anne Marie Ezzo, are self-proclaimed experts. Gary Ezzo has no background or expertise in child development, psychology, breastfeeding, or pediatric medicine, and holds neither an associate’s nor a bachelor’s degree from any college; his master of arts degree in Christian ministry was granted through a program that awarded credit for life experience in lieu of an undergraduate degree. Anne Marie Ezzo worked only briefly as an R.N. decades ago. It is unclear what, if anything, Babywise co-author Dr. Robert Bucknam contributed to that book, since the earlier religious versions are essentially the same with additional material and do not have his name on the cover.
- Risks for breastfeeding mothers and babies. Breastfeeding on a parent-determined schedule (including a “flexible routine” as it is called in Babywise) may reduce a mother’s milk supply and contradicts the recommendations of the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), which has stated, “The best feeding schedules are the ones babies design themselves. Scheduled feedings designed by parents may put babies at risk for poor weight gain and dehydration.”
- Poor breastfeeding information. Although it is presented as authoritative, the breastfeeding information presented in Babywise is inaccurate and substandard (compare with the AAP Breastfeeding recommendations from the 2005 AAP Policy Statement on Breastfeeding and the Use of Human Milk).
- One Size Doesn’t Fit All. All babies and mothers are treated alike without any respect given for individual differences in breastmilk storage capacity, rate of milk synthesis, rate of infant metabolism or stomach capacity. In actuality, the number of feedings one mother’s body requires in order to supply her baby with plenty of milk each day will be quite different from other mothers around her. Similarly, breastfed babies need varying amounts milk in varying numbers and sizes of feedings, and they do not feed exactly the same way from one feeding to the next in any case. Ezzo seemingly expects all babies to respond in an identical manner. This is no more realistic than expecting adults to consume the same amounts of food on the same schedule and grow (or lose weight!) at the same rate.
- A high-pressure presentation impacts parents’ perception of what is at stake:
- Pressure to maintain the regimen. The rules for sleep, feedings and wake time are portrayed as critical to follow in order to achieve a healthy outcome, while health and behavior problems for the baby, and sleepless nights for the parents, are predicted if the program is not followed. (Flexibility is praised but is described as small, short-term adjustments to the prescribed regimen. Parents are warned against making open-ended adaptations.)
- Misplaced moral dilemmas. How well the parents and the baby adhere to the program is framed as a moral or biblical issue (e.g. permissiveness on the part of parents, uncooperativeness on the part of the baby).
- Parents are reluctant to give up on the method. Health care professionals have observed that even when their babies were doing poorly on the program, parents often wanted to stick with it.
That alone is enough to bolster my opinion of this program’s faults and potential hazards. Furthermore, the pdf noted a serious discrepancy between what the Ezzos claimed, and what they could prove, as far as the number of pediatricians who recommend their program:
In the same context, we also noted that the Ezzos “have claimed to have a ‘network’ of ‘hundreds of pediatricians’ who provide them with ‘expert medical advice,’ but they have refused to provide the list when asked.”
GFI responded by noting that they have just started printing a list of their “medical advisory board” in the latest editions of PFP and BABYWISE. This is not the list of “hundreds of pediatricians” the Ezzos have claimed to receive advice from, however, but includes only 32 M.D.s, not all pediatricians, whose familiarity with and input to the GFI materials has been questioned.”
And, the Ezzos disparage feeding on demand (obviously! they’re huge proponents of scheduled feeding!), to the point that they will (apparently) not accept criticism from anyone who supports feeding on demand, saying they are all biased. However, as the pdf pointed out, “To require that a critic of the Ezzos not support demand feeding would be to effectively eliminate all challenges based on standard medical advice.” Yet, one of the ex-BabyWise mothers said that while the book said to “feed your child when he’s hungry,” other parts of the book said that if you feed your child more than every three hours, then the baby’s schedule will be disrupted, and it could cause problems. So which is it? Feeding your child when he’s hungry is feeding on demand.
Doing this research has strengthened my dislike for this program. The pdf has made me aware of issues that I had not known before about the Ezzos (particularly, their apparent divisiveness and near cultish behavior as regards this program. It does not make me think any the worse of anyone who has used this program, but this confirmed my initial thoughts, from the first time I’d ever heard of scheduled feedings (back when I was a teenager), all the way up through now.