Thursday, February 4, 2010

Six Months In - Thoughts on Babywise

Let me start this one out by saying I realize that just the title of this entry is enough to start a fight. It's amazing how defensive people get over parenting philosophies. So let me also say that I don't think Babywise is the only way to handle a newborn. But it is the philosophy we've used with Lorien, and I want to reflect on the last six months.

For those who aren't familiar with On Becoming Babywise: Giving Your Infant the Gift of Nighttime Sleep, here's a summary:

Babywise begins by highlighting the fact that babies are born into families and that parents can either choose to revolve the entire family's life around the baby, or choose to raise the baby so that he or she fits into the family structure. The importance of a stable marriage to the health of the baby is emphasized.

Feeding is the next thing that's addressed--helping to organize baby's metabolism so that he or she gets full feedings instead of snacks. And after the first few weeks, helping baby to get the calories he or she needs during the day so that everyone can sleep at night. Even though this is just part of the book, I'm positive that it's the reason most people buy the book, because nobody knows sleep deprivation like the parent of a newborn.

Sleep is another major component. Babywise addresses both naps and nighttime sleep and focuses mainly on helping babies to self-soothe so that they are able to fall asleep without "props" (rocking, nursing, etc. to help baby fall asleep).

The Babywise prescription is that babies sleep, then eat, then have wake-time, then sleep again in regular cycles, increasing in length as baby is able to eat more and go longer between feedings.

Good Press, Poor Tone

We knew we wanted to use Babywise before Lorien was even born, because of the amazingly positive experiences some of our friends have had with it. But here's the thing: several wise parents we know introduced Babywise by saying that you need to take it with a grain of salt and know how to apply your own wisdom to it. After living it for six months, I understand a little better what they meant.

If I have any beef about Babywise, it's that Gary Ezzo's tone is pretty strident. He basically says, "Here's what you're supposed to do with a newborn. So just do it and you'll have a kid who sleeps through the night at 8 weeks. The end."

Guess what: That didn't happen to us. Or to very many people we know. And there are lots of things that newborns do that Ezzo just doesn't allow for. Like totally boycotting daytime naps for three days in a row at two weeks of age. Not that I know any kid who would do that.

What Happens When You Don't Have a By-the-Book Kid?

The principles of Babywise are great. But I found it a little hard to apply at times, mostly because I didn't know what to do when Lorien didn't go by the book. And she definitely did not go by the book. (In contrast, I have two friends whose firstborns were clockwork babies. One says she could set her watch by her son's nap schedule. The other reports that her daughter was sleeping 12 straight hours at night, without a feeding, at 4 months. So I know it's possible, but that's not what happened to us.)

Babywise has lofty goals: babies who can be put in bed awake but tired and fall asleep on their own. Babies who sleep through the night early in life. When this didn't happen on its own, I second guessed myself a lot. How do I help her learn to sleep well? When am I creating bad habits that will have to be broken later? When (if ever) should I let her "cry it out," and for how long? I think the second-guessing was especially hard as a first-time mom, because I had no idea what was within the range of normal for a newborn.

The other thing that was really hard for me was that I had a hard time getting the big picture. I think that's because Ezzo's style is pretty step-by-step, and I really need a bird's eye view to know what I'm aiming for. Now that I've seen things unfold for a while, I have a better idea of how it's supposed to work. In addition, talking to other moms who were further down the road helped a ton. I also found a blog that was super-helpful. The funny thing is that my friends and this blog author handled troubleshooting entirely differently. But they all found ways to work out the problems and they all have kids who are good sleepers and happy babies.

Happy Half-Birthday To You

Six months after giving birth, we have an amazingly precious little girl who regularly sleeps 11 hours at night (8 hours straight without eating). I think that soon, she won't need the 10:00 feeding, and will be sleeping 10-11 hours straight. I also think that she would have made that leap even earlier, except that we chose to wait until six months to start her on solid foods, so it has taken her a bit longer to work up to getting the number of calories she needs during the day. It's a trade-off, and one I'm glad to have made.

Lorien is also happy and very alert when she's awake. And (with rare exceptions) she can fall asleep on her own without crying at all. (Though she does talk to herself while going to sleep, which is pretty funny to observe via nursery monitor.) Some of this, I know, is just her sweet personality. But I have heard too many Babywise babies complimented on their alertness and good nature to think it's complete coincidence. It does make sense: Babies who have their awake-time when they've just had a good nap and a full meal are bound to be happy babies. (I also have another friend who has raised four kids with very different personalities on Babywise and she swears that four happy, alert babies who are good sleepers just can't be a coincidence.)

Getting to Know You

The last thing I want to comment on is something that surprised me about Babywise. Naysayers complain that putting a baby on a schedule is too rigid and neglects his or her individual needs. I found that to be far from the truth. Instead, I found myself observing Lorien very carefully to discover when she was tired, when she was hungry, etc. I had to learn how she communicates with her body language. Babywise isn't about ignoring these cues, but about observing baby's needs carefully and then helping to mold her days and nights into something consistent and stable and healthy.

The bottom line is, I would do it again...and probably will do it again, since we hope Lorien gets to have at least one sibling. And I will probably do things a little differently the next time, knowing what I know now.

Here's my secret hope: My friend who had the clockwork baby for her first had a completely random child for her second. I'm hoping that since I got my random one first, little mister easy routine will show up next. I can hope, right?


  1. Lindy--we did BW with Anna Claire and would follow it again in a heartbeat because of our experience. Your post today is great and addresses the good, the bad and the not so pretty aspects of BW. We didn't have a "by the book" case either, but by observing Anna Claire like BW instructs, we have a wonderfully happy, good natured and sleeping through the night baby!

  2. Hey Lindy! Interesting thoughts! I had very similar thoughts on BW until we hit some of the same issues you highlighted. I was confused, so started reading more about Ezzo, and stumbled upon info like this: and found it quite difficult to trust his advice when his personal character and integrity was so in question. I found other approaches like the Baby Whisperer much more balanced and helpful, yet still with a similar approach. Six years later, I kind of wish I hadn't known anything about babywise b/c as a first time parent, it really distorted my expectations...

  3. Really good to hear about your experiences since we talked about so many times in the past. I am glad that overall your experience has been a positive one. Every child is different but they do have one thing in common: they all need regular and consisten sleep. Sounds like Lorien is getting just that and the rewards are starting to show! Aren't happy and alert babies great?

  4. Thanks for the thoughts, friends! Jody, a little follow-up to your comment: The information you provided doesn't surprise me, and it's the reason I don't hands-down recommend Babywise to new moms. I have a friend who worked in the FotF department that reviews materials to decide whether or not to recommend them. She was there shortly after the decision had been made for FotF not to recommend the Ezzos stuff, and she was curious, so she took a look at it herself. She shared the same concerns as the author of the site you posted about rigidity, legalism and pride. She did go on to use Babywise though.

  5. All that to say, I knew about these concerns going in, so I was able to use good judgment about how to apply BW. The main things we have taken from it are the sleep, eat, wake cycles and the idea of teaching Lorien to fall asleep on her own. The reason I REALLY appreciated the BabywiseMom blog is that she also takes the general principles of BW and then applies them with MUCH more grace than Ezzo does. She often references Baby Whisperer, and finds it compatible in many ways with her use of Babywise (such as finding alternatives to cry-it-out, but still achieving good independent sleepers.)

  6. Also, for anyone who heard early concerns about BW and is shocked that I could even consider using it, know that the newest edition has dropped all of its nonsense about putting newborns on a 3-4 hour schedule and now says feed your baby as much as he or she wants, and whenever he or she shows signs of hunger. I guess there's another debate to be had about whether this is even the same book as the first edition, but suffice it to say that the advice is now much more reasonable than I have heard attributed to the Ezzos' early works.

    Love to all of you!

  7. One of the concerns I've had about BW (that doesn't seem to have been adequately addressed in the newer additions) is how it sets up a mother to interpret cues within the eat-wake-sleep cycle. I've seen a lot of mothers who have interpreted hunger cues as sleep cues because of where the baby was in the cycle. I've seen other mothers have trouble figuring out where to fit in an "extra" needed feeding, when the baby doesn't need more nap times. What was your experience with this?

    (And just so you know, I did use BW with my first 2 1/2 kids, and then chucked it and don't recommend it. Want to be up front about this. I'm not posting here to discourage BW use, but really to hear your thoughts on those two questions. . .)

  8. Errr. . . "newer additions" = "newer editions"


  9. About the cues, misreading hasn't been too much of a problem, because Lorien's sleep cues are pretty clear (rubbing eyes and sucking thumb). Also, she is pretty consistent with how long she can stay awake (right now it's about 2 hours, maybe a little more), so if she's been up that long, I know it's time for a nap. Hunger cues are a little different--she really doesn't have them most of the time, so feeding her on somewhat of a schedule has been good, because I often end up feeding her before she "asks" for food.

  10. What throws our routine off most is that you never know when she is going to wake up from a nap. If she takes a really short one, I don't feed her right when she wakes up, because she doesn't eat well if it's too close to the last feeding. If that's the case and we get thrown off for the day, so be it--we just adapt. I'd say we have more of a "pattern" than a "routine," but I do appreciate the good night sleep and a generally happy baby.

  11. Should also say that if I am ever in doubt about her cues and I think she *might* be hungry, I go ahead and feed her. She doesn't show any signs of becoming a snacker, so that's not a concern, and I figure a little extra milk doesn't hurt. (She also lets me know pretty clearly if she's not hungry, so then I know I need to look for some other reason she's not content.)

  12. This has stirred such *fond* memories of spring 1998 at Multnomah, fact checking the revised edition. Mercy. Glad you've wisely pulled the worthy from the not so.