Babywise – 4 Ways The Babywise Book Lacks Wisdom

Babywise - 4 Ways The Babywise Book Lacks Wisdom

Amongst the mass of parenting books featured in online stores or on shelves at your local library and bookstore, are many promising the Holy Grail: a baby who sleeps through the night.

One book particularly stands out from the crowd, by offering to give your infant the gift of nighttime sleep!

Originally published in 1990 as ‘Preparation for Parenting: Bringing God’s Order to Your Baby’s Day and Restful Sleep to Your Baby’s Night’, (Christian edition written by Gary and Anne Marie Ezzo), the book was rebranded in 1993. It became known as ‘On Becoming Babywise’ and Robert Bucknam MD replaced Anne Marie Ezzo as co-author.

Today, Babywise is just one of a franchise of books – 10 in total – taking you from Birthwise to Teenwise! Millions of copies have been sold world-wide.

Yet the book is also one of the most controversial of its type. A mix of unsubstantiated statements, out-dated references and their own case-studies presented as evidence, leaves many questions unanswered. The author’s invention of ‘parent-directed feeding’ is presented as being the compromise between child-led feeding (responding to infant feeding cues) and clock-feeding (scheduled feed times).

The Babywise Book – Not So Wise

Despite the unprecedented level of research into human lactation and infant sleep in recent decades, the out-dated concepts in this book are being supported with out-dated evidence — and opinion is presented as fact.

Very few other books have websites dedicated to warning others against their use.

So, let’s look at just some of the Babywise ‘wisdom’:

BabyNotSoWise #1: Feeding Philosophies

A large part of the second chapter is spent discussing a confusing link between something called ‘birth-trauma theory’ from 1929, as well as attachment parenting, which became popular in the 1980s.

‘Attachment Parenting’ is a term coined by world famous paediatrician, Dr William Sears, to describe a parenting philosophy based on the principles of attachment theory. The term ‘attachment parenting’ has nothing to do with the “neoprimitivistic” school of thought that hopes to ‘undo birth trauma’, as suggested in this book.

Babywise says: “Sad to say, the recommended attachment parenting protocols required to manufacture a ‘secure attached child’ too often produce the opposite: an emotionally-stressed, high-need, insecure baby and one tired mom.” Yet again, Babywise offers absolutely no evidence or research to support their claim.

Attachment parenting is an approach to raising children, rather than a strict set of rules. It’s about learning to read the cues of your baby and responding appropriately to those cues. Learn more about attachment parenting here.

BabyNotSoWise #2: Babies and Sleep

It takes several months for a newborn baby to begin establishing a pattern in their sleep cycles. Even then, regular disruption is inevitable, as rapid neurological and physical development in the first years interrupts newly-established patterns. In fact, one study investigating infant sleep duration found that 27% of babies had not regularly slept from 10pm to 6am by the age of 1 year.

Yet, Babywise claims: “… healthy, full-term babies are born with the capacity to achieve 7-8 hours of continuous night time sleep between seven and ten weeks of age, and 10-12 hours of sleep by twelve weeks of age.”

Again, no scientific evidence is offered to support this claim, which is not surprising, given there is a multitude of evidence-based research to disprove it! See Baby Sleep Myths: 4 Major Myths Busted for more information. It’s also important to be aware that SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome) peaks between 2-5 months of age. Being able to wake is an important part of baby’s survival.

After several paragraphs cautioning against the dangers of bed-sharing, Babywise acknowledges it might be convenient to have the baby sleep in the parents room for the first two to three weeks. But it then states, “Sharing a room after four weeks can postpone a baby’s ability to sleep through the night upward to four months.” No evidence is provided to support this claim.

Around the world, recommendations to reduce the risk of SIDS include sharing the same room as your baby for up to 12 months of age. For more information about co-sleeping safety, see our article, Sleeping With Baby – Is Co-Sleeping Safe?

BabyNotSoWise #3: Facts on Feeding

Babywise cautions against ‘demand feeding’ – terminology no longer used by organisations like the Australian Breastfeeding Association or Le Leche League International, who use the more accurate terms “cue feeding” or “baby-led feeding”.

But it’s not only breastfeeding organisations who support feeding babies this way — this view is shared by the World Health Organization and the American Academy of Pediatrics. Cue-feeding recognises that breastfeeding is much more than just getting food into a baby’s stomach.

Yet Babywise claims: “Responding promptly to a newborn’s hunger cue is central to both cry-feeding [cue-feeding] and parent-directed feeding, but there is a major difference. The PDF approach encourages full feedings about every 2 ½ to 3 hours rather than a cluster of small feedings. Working to achieve full feedings is a key to PDF success. “

By trying to make your baby take a bigger feed than they need, you are overriding their natural appetite control. Individuals who are satiety responsive, matching their intake of energy to need, are more likely to be a healthy weight.

Cluster-feeding is normal, natural and allows the baby to regulate their milk intake over a period of hours. Breastmilk composition varies throughout the day and throughout each feed. It’s likely that cluster feeding is simply how our babies manage their intake. Here are 7 Tips For Coping With Cluster Feeding.

BabyNotSoWise #4: Managing Your Baby’s Day

Older babies and toddlers grow to have a predictable pattern to their day, with waking times, meals, naps and bedtimes occurring at similar times each day. Families can follow this rhythm to structure their routines – such as outings, mealtimes and household tasks – to best suit their needs.

However, strict schedules don’t allow for the flexibility of growing children, and are totally inappropriate for young babies whose feeding and sleeping patterns are still evolving. At some points, Babywise sounds more like an army boot-camp than a way to nurture a baby who is fresh from the womb (read more about the fourth trimester):

“During the crucial early weeks of stabilization, it is important that you shape and form your baby’s routine. Too much flexibility will not allow this to happen. That is why a baby’s routine must first be established before flexibility is introduced into baby’s day.”

Babywise goes to great lengths to explain a complex process of ‘merging’ your baby’s feeding, sleeping and waking cycles. Rather than adjusting their own lives to the temporary variations which come with having a baby, parents are told they must set out a detailed schedule which needs to be followed. No sooner has this schedule been implemented when it is time to begin working on adjusting it, due to the “continuing evolving, changing and growing needs of their baby”. At times it almost seems as though the routine is managing the parents!

“Remember you are not managing an inconvenience, you are raising a human being.” — Kittie Franz IBCLC

The Australian Breastfeeding Association explains: “The only true way to know how many feeds your own individual baby needs is to feed him when he needs to feed. That is, by watching out for and responding to his feeding cues. The number of feeds in a 24-hour period depends on many factors.”

The American Academy of Pediatrics states: “Some newborns feed as often as every 1.5 hours, while others feed about every 3 hours. Breastfed newborns will feed 8-12 or more times per 24 hours (once your milk has come in).”

Yet, Babywise says: “For a newborn, the duration of time awake, including feeding, burping, diaper change, cuddles and kisses, will be approximately 30 mins. Sleep follows the feeding and that takes up the next 1 ½ to 2 hours. When adding it all together, the entire feed-wake-sleep cycle averages 2 ½ hours until the cycle repeats itself.”

There are many concerns about the impact of Babywise on breastfeeding outcomes.

Renee Kam, BellyBelly’s Breastfeeding Editor and IBCLC explains:

“If a baby is fed according to a schedule, or if things are done to get them to sleep through the night when they are not ready to, this could lower a mother’s milk supply, and hence may mean a baby doesn’t get enough milk. This is because the rate at which more breastmilk is made is determined by how full or ’empty’ the breast is. Note that ’empty’ is in inverted commas because lactating breasts are never fully empty. The emptier the breast, the faster the rate that more milk is made. Whereas the fuller the breast, the slower the rate that more milk is made.

So, over time, the length of time between breastfeeds is unnaturally extended (e.g. by scheduled feeding) then this could have the effect of causing the breast to remain fuller for longer (at least initially). This gives the message to not make as much milk, and hence overtime, supply can drop.”

She continues, “Also, different mothers have different storage capacities. A mother with a smaller storage capacity will need her baby to feed more often (which they will naturally do if fed according to need) to make sure her baby gets enough. Whereas a mother with a bigger storage capacity may not need to feed as often to ensure her baby gets enough. Scheduled feeding or doing things to make a baby sleep longer when they are not naturally ready to, doesn’t take individual mothers’ storage capacities into account.”

For mothers whose goal is to exclusively breastfeed their baby should consult with a lactation consultant (ideally an IBCLC), breastfeeding counsellor or breastfeeding support line before following the Babywise program.

Note: All parents have the right to choose the parenting style that best suits them. However, all babies have the right to be cared for with respect and understanding of their individual needs. Finding the balance is important, and doing so means making informed decisions based on accurate, evidence-based information, which is without personal bias or religious over-tones. Babywise continues to cause concern amongst parents, health professionals and others.

Additional References:

 

CONTRIBUTOR

Yvette O'Dowd has been a breastfeeding counsellor and educator since 1992. She has three adult children and a two year old granddaughter - the best sort of bonus baby! Yvette runs a popular natural parenting network, is a babywearing educator, and runs antenatal breastfeeding classes for parents expecting twins and more! She is a keen photographer and scrap-booker and a keeper of a fairy garden.


13 comments

  1. i actually used the Babywise sleep/feed techniques with my daughter. Not to the letter, but the guide was nice to have as a first time mom… Knowing when to feed her and having a rotating schedule. She also never required me to feed her to sleep and she slept (not always though the night) very regularly. It gave her a great schedule for napping as well. The theories in the book may not have been supported properly, but I think following any parenting advice against your nature is harmful. I took the basic model from the book and it worked quite well for me (sleep, eat, play).. I had a very happy, healthy baby and now a happy, healthy 7 year old. All kids and parents are different, but blindly following any “style” of parenting that isn’t yours could be damaging to your child. Love to all you unique parents and kids <3

  2. Our family and our babies have greatly benefited from the baby wise book. I have breastfed all my four babies the first year of their life. The book had great advice for a healthy schedule with the baby as well as breastfeeding tips. One of my babies was born disabled. I found the baby wise advice for breastfeeding especially helpful with feeding her properly and enough. Her weight started going up very well as the pediatricians were checking her frequently. And yes, we parents were doing well too since we got enough sleep as well. This was my own experience and I do recommend the baby wise book to all my friends who have babies. -Anniina

  3. My first baby drained me she had to be fed to sooth and to fall asleep. I didn’t want to do that with my second one. A family member gave me the Babywise book. Like Jocie I didn’t follow it to a t but the sleep eat play made breastfeeding and having a baby that fell asleep on her own so much better for me and her. Every one noticed how alert and happy she was. She is now a happy healthy extremely smart kindergartener. I’m pregnant with my third and plan to buy the book again to refresh my mind and apply the same to this baby.

  4. I find it really shameful that people are so militant in attacking the Ezzos. There is a combination of character assassination and flawed theories of child-centred parenting. I do not need the Ezzos to have achieved perfection in all areas of their lives in order for me to benefit from their books. I can read them using my own intelligence. I can also think about my baby’s needs. I think that the Babywise series of books have spared my mental health as we raised 3 children all born quite close together. I will be forever grateful to those who advised me to read these books.

    1. I think what people are concerned about is the baby’s mental health and wellbeing with such erroneous advice. As adults we can get support, counselling, medication or whatever is needed, but the baby has no choice. And what happens in early childhood becomes who they are for life. Our situation of sleep deprivation and stress is only temporary. Yes sometimes there are severe mental issues, but we can get medical help and a treatment plan.

  5. My wife and I are soon to be parents and are planning on utilising what we have learned from the Babywise book. I read this page to be objective and look at it from the other side and instead found someone who is essentially doing the same thing they claim the Ezzo’s are doing – using “scientific” jargon to push an essentially beleif driven agenda.
    I decided to read Babywise because in no less than 5 families I have directly observed over 10 children with whom the principles were used. What I observe in later life (up to teen years) are children that have a marked difference to most others – they are significantly more calm, confident, happy and mentally sharp.
    I love science, but the danger of the scientific culture is the unrealistic idea that it is possible for it to replace all other forms of knowledge. Parenting simply has so many variables on so many different levels, it is an art, not a science.
    This site is unfortunately so agenda driven it does the same thing it claims the Ezzo’s do, and does not even seem to realise, let alone consider the potential bi-products of what it encourages.
    Just to give an example, has any scientific research been done to prove that soothing by feeding does not lead to a propensity to comfort eat when older? Could this be linked to childhood obesity rampant in Australia? Maybe, maybe not. But has it been considered and researched extensively, probably not.
    I studied research methods and statistics in my Psychology Degree, I loved it, but also found that the majority of the time studies and research of this kind are mostly correlational and prone to extensive interpretation biases.

    1. Heya Ben, thanks for your comment. In all our content, specifically in most recent years, I ask all writers to include research (ideally peer reviewed) in all their articles, which a majority of the time they do. So we include research, and the writers are trained in their profession, not just bloggers. We also refer to doctors from time to time too. Even in medical circles, people have a difference of opinion. No-one is ever going to agree on the same things or styles of parenting. BellyBelly is all about connected, gentle pregnancy, birth and parenting, and there are other places people can go if they want to find other styles/beliefs too. This is just what BellyBelly is about, and I stand by the information we present. Less is more, I think, when approaching pregnancy, birth and parenting.

  6. Thank God for the book! As a first time mom, every time my baby was fussy, I offered him my breast because I’d been used to him falling asleep nursing when he was first born. My schedule was that he would wake up, I would nurse him, I would play with him, and then nurse him again when he got fussy an hour and a half later, not understanding why my baby was the one baby that could not go 2 to 3 hours between feedings. He also became fussy at about half of his feedings and I couldn’t understand why. Then a friend suggested Babywise. I implemented the schedule immediately and voila! I had a totally different baby. No longer was he anxious and fussy, but well rested. He started smiling more, interacting with us more, being able to relax more, and overall just being a happier baby. I felt so guilty for sleep depriving my child and am so glad I found a schedule that worked for us. In fact, the book gave me the confidence to do what my husband suggested all along, to put him down for a nap if he was fussy. While I do not follow a strict schedule with him, I do follow the pattern offered. I feel like the author of this article did not fully read the book or just took certain parts out of context. Yes, the Ezzos give a schedule, but they also tell you that you can be flexible. They encourage you to deviate if your baby is sick or the day is not a typical day at home. Also, Babywise claims that your baby will be less anxious and more secure. What is wrong with that? Maybe it will not work with all babies, depending on their personalities, but it worked for mine. His anxiety level went down in a matter of 24 hours because he was getting enough rest. The book also says to guard against sleep props. I wish I had read this before. We currently use 4 sleep props (swaddling, a swing, a fan, and music). I’m dreading taking these away and wish they’d never been implemented. It is important to note though that the book is fair and balanced and does talk about the benefits of sleep props, though it is preferable for them not to be used. Basically, to sum it up, I’m grateful for the book. We live in a world where we are pretty isolated when it comes to parenting support. No, the Internet does not count because every Google search leads to contradicting ideas. My baby is on a Babywise schedule and he’s doing great. No longer am I trying to be a human pacifier AND now the only time I try to nurse him to sleep is his last feeding of the night and the ones in the middle of the night (we’ve entered the 4 month regression). I think we’re all happier!

  7. My daughter is 12 weeks old, I also have a 10 and a 19 year old. I found out about Babywise through a coworker recently during my last pregnancy and I was really skeptical because I thought it was strange and selfish to have a young baby on a schedule it was just unheard of in my mind. I thought I could atleast read about it and try to have an open mind. Well I read the entire book about twice during my pregnancy and to my surprise this book actually made total sense to me! I was excited to implement this book with my new daughter. I have used this book as a guide since birth and I’ve never felt so comfortable and sure of myself while parenting because of this book. Most importantly, I have a happy, content baby because I know that she eats well, sleeps well, is very alert, and her needs are always being met because I now know exactly what they are, what to do and when to do it. I am always a step ahead of her and it has eliminated the guesswork and a significant amount of crying and fussiness. If the book was read thoroughly by its critics, it would be known that it teaches you to read your baby’s cues, that it melds with their need to feed every 2.5-3 hours, and that it gives the baby and you predictability not a ‘rigid’ schedule. I also exclusively breastfeed her and pump at work while away from her which I’ve never done. To each their own but this book is amazing and I recommend it to everyone.

  8. I am a mother-to-be in the very near future and find it very odd that no one has complained about this book not being effective in the comment section. I usually would expect to see at least a few people agreeing with the article. Whereas it is marked as lacking wisdom in this article and not one person has supported this claim by commenting apart from baby belly them self. I also know of several very happy and well looked after children that has been raised with these principles in mind and the statements in this article simply don’t hold true to any of them.
    Would love if some health professionals put effort into researching the effect this had on children and parents that used this method and come up with actual data from that rather then just referencing organisations that agree with their point of view from data that may actually not be totally related. That I would find helpful. This sort of reads as just biased and I feel like I cannot gain enough information on actual cases where this has had a negative effect.
    I also find the statement “Remember you are not managing an inconvenience, you are raising a human being.” a bit of an assumption. The writer here assumes that the writers of this book or the parents who follow these principles are cohering to this ideas. Therefore I find this article less relevant if a point of view is used as a basis to disqualify an idea.

    1. Thanks for the comment Brie! The writer is actually very qualified, having spent a good part of her life educating and supporting new mothers, primarily via the Australian Breastfeeding Association, who operate on evidence based information. She is a very reliable and wise resource on many topics relating to new mothers and babies. We also have articles where we list professors, researchers and even paediatricians who advise against all of these methods, seperately and even together.

  9. The author’s note here disturbs me somewhat because although the statement being made suggests that the parent may choose the style that best suits them, it’s followed by a gigantic “but” clause. Your arguments lack sufficient evidence in themselves to be of any value to readers here except for your obvious dislike for the baby wise proposed method. Furthermore, you then say that we should remove personal bias – how does a parent choose if you remove their bias? We are obviously going to lean to one way or another.. Where was your logic in forming that argument? Once again, you also refer to religious overtones – what overtones would these be? Are you referring to where baby wise refers to giving your child a loving environment by modelling marriage and family? That isn’t a religious overtone, that’s just good family morals.

    I used to live in Mozambique, where Christians in the village would help raise the baby or children in a fantastic way. Should we ignore those religious overtones or are you using the word religious overtones to express and validate your opinion? Seems like you lack evidence in your argument and are really stretching to qualify an opinion of worth. Come back to us with some journal articles and when you have sold a book that has more evidence in it and success as baby wise, then maybe you will get an audience that would value hearing your “opinion”

    Note: All parents have the right to choose the parenting style that best suits them. However, all babies have the right to be cared for with respect and understanding of their individual needs. Finding the balance is important, and doing so means making informed decisions based on accurate, evidence-based information, which is without personal bias or religious over-tones. Babywise continues to cause concern amongst parents, health professionals and others – See more at: http://www.bellybelly.com.au/baby/babywise-4-ways-the-babywise-book-lacks-wisdom/

    1. Kyal, Yvette has worked with mothers and babies for over 20 years via the Australian Breastfeeding Association – she still does and is abreast of all the latest research and books. Are you saying that Babywise is a book based on the best, evidence based information? I know many authoritative organisations, doctors, midwives, paediatricians and other healthcare professionals who do not recommend Babywise. BellyBelly always has been about connected, respectful parenting. So perhaps you might find more flattering and gushing reviews on other sites who are into more rigid parenting and sleep regimes. I see babies as tiny humans with feelings (that they aren’t always able to express) who should be respected and not trained. I would not like to have those things done to me, so I don’t want to do them for my children. But, that’s just me, because I believe each to their own. And on my own website, this is what I would like to teach and reflect. Other people write other things, and that’s fine – they attract audiences who like that too.

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