Babywise by Gary Ezzo and Robert Bucknam

On Becoming Babywise: Book One

by Gary Ezzo and Robert Bucknam, M.D.

First of all, I should state that my edition of this book is copyrighted 1998, and I know it’s been revised and updated since then, so bear that in mind.

Ah, Babydumbwise.  I saved the controversial book for last.  If you click on the link above, you’ll go to the amazon.com website, where you’ll see 2/3 of the people give the book 4 or 5 stars, but 1/3 of the people give it 1 or 2 stars.  Some parents swear by this book, other parents claim this book promotes child abuse.  You’ll have to read it and decide for yourself.  I’ll give you my opinion, however, because this is my blog ;).  Here goes…

There is some good advice in this book about putting baby on a schedule and tips on how to incorporate your baby into your life, rather than having your life completely revolve around the baby.  That said, most of the good advice in here is stated far better in other books, and while, yes, you can’t revolve your life around a baby, at the same time a new mother’s life should revolve around the baby, especially in the first weeks of life.  That’s the best way to promote bonding and attachment, as well as to firmly establish the breastfeeding relationship, which can take up to 8 weeks to really feel comfortable (says Emily as she frantically waves her hand in the air and says, “That was me!  Eight weeks!  With Baby J!  And I had already successfully breastfeed Lyd before that!”).

I didn’t read this book until my first daughter was no longer an infant, past the age range of this book.  I had already been introduced to attachment parenting (AP) by then, and while I still don’t consider myself a full-blown attachment parenter, I definitely use some AP ideas in my own parenting.  However, what struck me instantly on reading this book is how the author creates straw-man arguements between Babywise parenting and AP.  Babywise parenting is All Good, and AP is All Bad.  The picture the author draws of AP is not a true picture at all, and if I had heard nothing about AP before I read the book, I would be completely biased against AP.  So, reading the author’s stupid analysis of AP biased me against the book, because I know that’s not what AP is.

The other problem with Babywise is that not all babies take to a schedule the way Babywise thinks babies should.  Neither of MY daughters have!  So, if I buy into the teachings of this book, then if my baby doesn’t fit the Babywise mold, the problem either lies with me, that I’m just not doing it right, or the problem lies with my baby, that something is wrong with her.  I don’t like either of those assumptions.  I don’t need ANY MORE GUILT as a parent than I already am dragging around with me, thank you very much.  I can create all the guilt I need BY MYSELF; I don’t need any book telling me that I’m parenting “wrong.”  Secondly, I resent the assumption that something is wrong with my child if she doesn’t fall neatly into the pattern laid out in the book.  NOTHING is wrong with my baby!!  She is just fine; she is her own person!  Stop making me feel bad about my baby!

There.  Got that off my chest.

Now, I can, more calmly, go on to say that there are some nice ideal schedules in this book that might be useful to a new mom, especially for a woman who has not grown up around babies and infants.  But at the same time, you have to be willing to adapt to your baby’s needs regardless of what the schedule is.  This book pays lip service to being sensitive to your baby’s needs, but the whole tone of the book says that you should not let your baby push you around, and you have to be the parent in charge.  When you consider that this book is written for the parents of infants 0 – 5 months old, that’s a little strict, in my opinion.

Now, if Babywise works for you and your child, great.  More power to you.  But the danger with this book, and why some people are so vehemently against it (besides the points I yelled out above) is the book’s idea of a parent-directed feeding schedule.  The author encourages the parents to decide when their child eats, rather than doing “demand feeding,” an AP term, which the author apparently assumes means that AP’ers only feed their baby when s/he shows hunger cues.  If it weren’t for the book’s parent-directed feeding philosophy, then parents wouldn’t know that they should feed a child, even when that child is not displaying hunger cues.  Where does the author come UP with this nonsense?  That is so NOT what attachment parenters do!  Anyway, the author says that when the baby wakes up, s/he should be fed, then should have some waketime, and then back to bed for a nap.  This routine takes place over 3 hours.  (This routine in itself isn’t bad, and if it works for you, great!)  Parents are encouraged not to feed their babies in-between times, and to definitely not nurse their child at naptimes or even (God forbid!) nurse the baby to sleep.  (What??)  Unfortunately, there have been parents who have followed this schedule too strictly and have allowed the baby to nurse only at specified times, which meant the mother’s breasts didn’t get the stimulation needed to build up a good milk supply, which meant the baby didn’t get enough to eat, and when the baby was finally taken to the doctor, it got a “failure to thrive” label.  Now, that’s not likely to happen to most people, and in fairness to the book, it does lay out criteria that you can use to make sure your baby is growing adaquately, but it serves as an example of the authoritative tone in this book, a tone of This Is How You Should Parent.  Personally, I don’t buy into the idea that there’s only one right way to parent a baby.

Like I said, there are some good tidbits of advice in this book that I have used with my girls.  The “eat-wake-sleep” schedule worked well with Lyd, although she did it on a 2-hour schedule, not a 3-hour schedule.  However, it did not work with Baby J.  I tried and tried to get her to do that routine, and it just never worked.  When I finally gave up, and did what she wanted, which was an “eat-wake-eat-sleep” schedule, she finally developed regular naps and became a much happier baby.  But she followed a 3-hour schedule, whereas Lyd did not.  So, you have to be willing to know your baby and work with your baby, not try to force your baby into doing it the “right” way.

Beware, another rant coming on here.  In the chapter “Facts on Feeding,” the author says that feeding schedules have an impact on sleep schedules.  Not true.  I’ve read a lot of research on this, and no other doctor out there (that I’ve come across, please prove me wrong) says this is true, with the obvious exception of the fact that a hungry child won’t sleep well.  But, to suggest that when you put food in your child’s belly is a main factor in whether or not your child sleeps well at night is bogus.  Read Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child if you want to learn the facts on babies and sleep.  And that author, whose life work has been to study sleep in children, says that most babies don’t begin to establish regular sleeping schedules until at least 8 weeks, and many don’t establish them until 3, 4, 5 or even 6 months.  He also says that feeding and feeding schedules have NOTHING to do with sleep habits.

Speaking of sleep, the author promotes letting your baby cry themselves to sleep, even from a young age.  While I have done that with both of my babies, I wouldn’t dare do it in the first three months of their life at least.  I think I started doing it with Lyd around 5 months and with Baby J around 6 months.  In many health and sleep professionals view, it’s highly ill-advised to let a baby younger than 3 months cry it out.  If babies are crying at that age, it’s because they need something.  Little newborn infants just don’t have the capacity to be stubborn or rebellious at that age.  And to insinuate that putting a baby to breast when it’s fussy isn’t always the best idea — well, maybe it isn’t ALWAYS the best idea, but it’s a pretty sure-fire idea to have at your disposal.  To suggest, even mildly, that a mother NOT do that is to insinuate that breastfeeding isn’t always good enough.  It’s part of the subtle attacks on breastfeeding that are peppered all over this book.

Finally, while this book does promote breastfeeding in the first months of a baby’s life, it also says that the nutritional value of breastmilk declines after six months, which is simply not true.  The nutritional value changes, but it certainly doesn’t decline!  To be fair, perhaps this is a fault of the 1998 version, and newer versions don’t have this false fact.  But although the book says that “breast is best,” there are many subtle statements in the book that create the idea that a bottle is just as good.  And another false fact stated in this book regarding feeding and sleep is that “It is not what goes in the mouth as much as when it goes in.”  This is SO false!  Breastmilk IS digested faster than formula; it’s supposed to be that way.  Now maybe you’ll be a lucky one and your child will sleep through the night early despite being breast-fed, but that’s certainly not every mother.  And to insinuate that there’s no difference between the two is going to potentially set a mother up for failure.  Either her child won’t get enough to eat and will be hungry and fussy much of the time, or the mother will give up breastfeeding and start feeding the baby formula, making the baby “settle down,” and the mother will think that she just wasn’t meant to breastfeed.

Like I stated earlier, if this book worked for you, great.  But I’m thankful I didn’t read it with my first child, because my parenting experience would have been very different.  I have gleaned some good tidbits from this book, but I found those good tidbits floating amidst a sea of lousy advice.

And as for the author, Gary Ezzo, apparently he’s … got issues.  The American Academy of Pediatrics and breastfeeding professionals have many concerns about the infant feeding advice promoted in Babywise.  Read about those problems at http://www.ezzo.info/  He apparently has had problems with his church, too, and has been publicly denounced.  So…

There is good advice in this book, but you can find that same good advice in far superior books.  Read it if you feel the need, but, like ANY book, don’t follow it blindly.  Read, research, and make your own decision that works best for your family and your particular baby.

For stories of people who initially thought Babywise was a good idea, but then had problems with it later, read here.

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9 thoughts on “Babywise by Gary Ezzo and Robert Bucknam

  1. Thanks for putting in a book you DON’T recommend. It is interesting to know what else is out there! But I supremely appreciate that you gave me all AP-type books bc Rach is definitely not a mold-able child, and I would have gone CRAZY with this type of a book. As it was, Dr. Weissbluth’s book was a challenge enough!

    I hear you on the self-guilt thing. I don’t know HOW many times I have said to David/my mom/my MIL that I don’t need you to tell me what I did wrong (why do people love to tell you that? Being a mother is the most guilt-ridden job in the world! Stop it, already!), I already know and I have already beat myself up and agonized over (fill in the unsuccessful situation.) Your post a few weeks earlier about the poopy diaper/not napping thing? Well, I have done that to Rach a time or two.

    It is all about trust – and I always trusted that whenever she cried, under a certain age, she obviously needed something. After about 9 mo. or so, I started (thoughtfully and) selectively ignoring some of her cries, and 50% of the time it was ok, but 50% of the time something like that happened. I just try to console myself with the “live and learn” motto.

    The other thing is, babies are people, too. Ezzo’s philosophy (as well as my mother’s parenting tips) seem to come from a place that does not accept a baby as a human – more as an object that we have to deal with. (Abortion rights, anyone???) I am not trying to slam my mother, here; she is only a product of her own upbringing. But a lot of the old-school parenting advice seems to unfortunately have this hidden starting point.

    As a Christian, respecting the baby as a human was a no-brainer, and meshed well with AP parenting. I am AP all the way!

  2. I find it interesting to read two totally different viewpoints coming from two people that I know. I am neither a Babywise or an AP parent. For me it has come down to what works best for our circumstances and personalities. I don’t think it’s fair to lump every Babywise-believer as “borderline abusive” or each AP parent as too overindulgent. Sometimes there is a middle-ground between the two while still being able to give the children guidelines and teaching them the love of God. You may judge my parenting by what you read on my blog. That’s fine. That’s your right. I just know that I don’t need a secular book to tell me how to raise my children as long as I have God’s guidance leading my decisions everyday.

  3. It’s interesting that I seem to come off as a super-AP style of parent, while I know that in reality, I am barely on the AP spectrum. I have read a lot about AP, and there are many AP’ers here in the Bay Area, many of whom bring their children to my music classes. I know what actions define AP, I have seen AP in action frequently, and I can assure you that I am minimally AP. Die-hard AP’ers would probably not consider me AP at all!

    And, to clarify, I did not say that parents who use Babywise are “borderline abusive.” I never even used the word “abuse” in my review.

    Despite what it may seem like, I judge parents and their parenting very infrequently. I used to judge a lot more, but then I had kids. 🙂 Plus, I’ve learned that things aren’t always what they seem. For example with your son, Jackie, while Michael Savage may think he’s just being a brat, there’s actually a medical condition that profoundly affects his behavior. Likewise, in the case of our mutual friend with four adopted sons, her oldest boy goes haywire if he has any amount, even a tiny amount, of artificial food coloring. I’ve heard similar stories time and time again in my music classes, so I don’t judge parents by their children’s behaviors anymore, because you never know what that kid’s backstory might be. I know that if anyone judged my parenting by MY children’s behaviors, I’d definitely have moments when I would look like a less-than-stellar parent.

    When I have a Judgemental Mommy Moment, it tends to be along the lines of my blog post of the same title. It’s disturbing to me to see parents ignoring their kids’ feelings. I’m probably more sensitive to that than others because my mother was abused in a similar way (although much more seriously) when she was a child. I swore I’d never do that to my children, so perhaps I’m overly-sensitive to my kids’ feelings. But for me, I’d rather err on the side of caution. At the same time, I also recognize that there may be times when a parent seems to be ignoring their child’s feelings, but there is more to the story than meets the eye of the casual observer.

    So, my biggest critique of Babywise is that it tries to fit kids into a “one-size-fits-all” mold. Many children WILL fit into this mold, but not all will. Babywise doesn’t take those “other children” into account (and, in my opinion, makes parents feel like they’re doing something wrong if their child doesn’t fit the mold). Most of the mothers I know in real life who have used Babywise ackowledge that Babywise doesn’t work for every child. That’s why, as a parent, it’s important to know YOUR child so that you can adapt your parenting to his/her unique needs.

  4. Yes, I totally agree that each parent needs to know their child(ren) and how to parent each individual child. I need to parent my two children totally differently because of their different personalities and circumstances. Some children will probably do very well being parented Babywise-style, while others do very well AP-style. I know that my children wouldn’t do well with either style to its full extent.

    I didn’t mean to put words in your mouth. I apologize for the apparent misquoting. I will check my sources. 😉

    Happy parenting in whatever style suits you best! 🙂

  5. There never will be advice that fits all problems and suits all babies. I think the important thing is to remember that, and just take whatever snippets you can use or jiggle things around a bit until they do fit.

    Listing routines with times is always going to be a problem because they never completely suit AND it’s a dreadful burden on the poor sleep deprived parents.

    The thing about routines is that babies absolutely thrive under them. The trick is to follow them as a series of events that happen each time the baby wakes up, or is ready for bed. Not as a horrible regimented list dictated by a stop watch.

    Having said that, keeping to roughly the same time for naps and bedtime and meals keep babies and kids happy. They know what is coming next.

    The best thing to remember while your kids are young is that they don’t know that you don’t know what you are doing. And really, as long as you love them, they really don’t care either.

  6. I found this .pdf file put out by Christian Research Journal about Gary Ezzo and his Growing Families International organization. It states in a research-minded way some of the same concerns that I (and thousands of other parents) have with Ezzo. Page 8 more specifically talks about the issues associated with Babywise Book One. Read it at:
    http://ezzo.info/Aney/crjpartone.pdf

    Another good article I found against denying your natural parenting instincts and against Ezzo was:
    http://www.chewymom.com/delayed-gratificationthe-irony/

    Finally, I found both of those links on this blog where the author has an “Ezzo Week” dedicated to spreading the word about why Babywise, Growing Families International, and Growing Kids God’s Way are so dangerous.
    http://www.tulipgirl.com/index.php/category/gfi-ezzo-babywise/

    ~ Emily

  7. Very insightful review, and I think your insights also apply to the 2001 edition.

    I know there is an edition of Babywise that came out in 2006 but I haven’t seen much written about it. If you ever get the opportunity to review the current edition, I’d be interested in your thoughts.

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