Read and Reviewed: On Becoming Baby Wise (Dr. Gary Ezzo)

Sorry this post is a couple of weeks later than I said it would be.  With everything that has happened with Barrett recently, it was put on hold! Thankfully, he is starting to feel better, so our lives are slowly becoming a little more predictable again. Thanks for being patient!

***

Let me start out by saying that I am not going to summarize this book for you.  Half the problem with this this book’s reputation is that people don’t read the book for themselves, they just get the general gist from other people, which ends up being incorrect.  If you’re interested in this method of parenting, go read the book!

This is a controversial book, and people tend to stand firmly in one camp or the other regarding it’s teaching on parenting.  For example, here’s a website dedicated to discrediting Ezzo and his teachings from an educational, parenting, and theological standpoint. Some well-known Christians such as John MacArthur and Dr. James Dobson have voiced their opinion that they do not agree with the teachings in the book (the Christian version).  On the other side of the spectrum, here’s a website dedicated to discrediting the critics and reaffirming Ezzo’s credibility.  If you check out the reviews for the book on Amazon, you’ll see that the highest numbers of reviews occur in the 5-star category and in the 1-star category, with reviewers on both sides not afraid to bash each other a little. The people who love it absolutely love it.  And the naysayers are just as passionate.

If you aren’t familiar with the Babywise concept, the best way to introduce you is to send you directly to the source.   Babywise began as a Christian curriculum/book taught in a church, called Growing Kids God’s Way, and it’s part of Growing Families, International. Babywise was written as a secular version of the same parenting concept – they are basically the same idea.   Here’s the authors explanation of what the book is basically about, and an introduction to its key concepts.

The Basics:

  • The version of the book that I read is On Becoming Babywise (4th Edition) By Gary Ezzo, M.A., and Robert Bucknam, M.D. published in 2006. ISBN: 1-932740-08-2
  • Including index and resources, the book is 252 pages long and is made up of 13 chapters.
  • The first several chapters are philosophical, the next few deal with the basics of the method (feeding, waketime, sleeping, establishing a routine, etc).  The next few chapters deal with specifics such as colic, reflux, crying, and multiples.  Finally, the chapters at the end of the book focus on problem solving and miscellaneous parenting issues, with a final chapter on what to do if you are starting the system late (your baby isn’t’ a newborn).  There are also some sample growth charts in the back to help track your baby’s progress.

I read this book 3 times…not because I fell in love with it, but to be honest, because sometimes it seems to contradict itself.  I wanted to make sure I had a good understanding of the whole concept.   I read the secular version of the book, so I can’t speak to the theology that Ezzo weaves into the other version do defend his practice.  I can only tell you what I think based on the practical concepts presented in the version that I read.

Pros:

  • If you read and understand the book, you walk away feeling like you have a game-plan, which is a confidence booster for a new mama.  (There is a “con” side to this as well, which I’ll mention later).
  • It emphasizes the strength of the marriage relationship above all other relationships in the household – the best thing for a baby (and other children) is to be secure in the knowledge that their parents love each other.
  • The idea of a parent-centered family life makes sense – the parents have authority and the children shouldn’t run the household.
  • It advocates a “flexible routine” based upon understanding the cues of your baby.  The method combines watching for cues + a schedule + wise assessment, while it discourages “hyperscheduling,” “clockwatching,” and “on-demand feeding” (Note that his definition of “on demand feeding” is responding to every cry, no matter what, with food. No cue-assessment).
  • It advocates helping your baby to regulate his/her eating and sleeping patterns, because babies have a hard time doing it on their own at the beginning.
  • It encourages consistency and repetition, which are good for children of all ages.
  • It always says that the parent’s assessment and instinct trumps the clock or the schedule.  It says NUMEROUS times, throughout the book, on almost every page, “if baby is hungry, FEED HER!”  (This seems to be the most common criticism… people say that the book demands keeping your baby on a schedule, to the minute, and ignoring their hunger.  That is simply not true. Click here for more on that.)  But don’t just assume that every whimper means that they need to eat.
  • It encourages teaching babies to get full feedings instead of just “snacking,” which also helps them to get nutritious hind milk instead of just foremilk (if you are breastfeeding).  (FYI, it does not teach you to let your child go hungry in order for him/her to get a full feeding next time around, which many people claim).

Cons:

  • While the book does provide confidence for a new mama in the sense that she now has a game-plan, it also can very easily go the other direction…. if your baby doesn’t conform to the pattern described in the book, you very quickly feel like a failure.
  • The book presents alternate parenting trends and ideas, but I think it represents them poorly.  It makes Attachment Parenting sound like child abuse and claims that parents who follow it have chaotic and poorly-run households.  I think Ezzo’s assessment of other philosophies is lacking in alot of areas.
  • The book does not do a very good job of emphasizing the fact that all babies are different, and yours might not follow this pattern very well.  The statistics presented in the book says something like 90% of Babywise babies sleep through the night 7-8 hours at 8 weeks, and 97% by 10-12 weeks.  (I did not look that statistic up before I wrote it…..I cant remember exactly, but that is pretty close). If your baby doesn’t sleep through the night within that time frame, that’s a recipe for feeling like a bad mama.  And you know what?  Your baby might not sleep through the night that early. And that’s okay. The book makes you feel like it’s’ not.
  • The book is not organized very well, in my opinion.  If you only make it a few chapters in, you won’t feel like it’s very helpful.   The beginning is more theoretical, and the end is more practical.  However, he doesn’t let you know that’s his method of organization, so it can be frustrating to read all about how your baby should follow an eat-wake-sleep cycle, but not find out till the end of the book how to go about getting there.  A tired mama might not make it all the way through the book, so some of the important information needs to be first.  Even if you do make it all the way through, there’s a good chance you still might think “okay that sounds good, but how do I do it?”
  • There is alot of room for misuse.  When you’re trying to get a schedule/routine nailed down, it is VERY easy to slip into hyperscheduling or clockwatching, which results in ignoring your baby’s cues and needs.  This is probably my biggest problem with this method…it is very easy to go overboard.  I have a feeling that most of the people who hate babywise do so because the experiences they had with it went this direction.  Most of the criticism for the method itself (not the theology) have to do with parents misusing the method.
  • While the book focuses alot on being able to read your baby’s cues, he doesn’t tell you how to do it or what to watch for.   And while every baby’s cues are going to be different, it would be helpful to have some examples so that you can start to figure out your own baby.   If you read “watch for cues that your baby is sleepy, or she will become overtired,” it doesn’t help if you have no idea what to look for.  Guidance on how to “watch” your baby and learn his/her cues would make a big difference in keeping people from slipping into hyperscheduling, in my opinion.

Conclusion:

Overall, I like the practical parts of the Babywise method.  (I have no idea how he theologically defends it in the Christian version of the book, so I’m not saying I agree with that part).  We have our boys on a routine/schedule, and things go much MUCH better when we follow it.   If our routine gets shaken up, usually I pay for it with fussy babies.  I have found that its worth it at this point in their lives for me to be as consistent as possible.  However, there are lots of babies that don’t care one way or another if they are on a schedule.   In fact, it’s much more important for Noah to follow a routine than for Barrett, because Noah is much more sensitive to consistency and change. Barrett is fine with a little spontaneity in his day. Every baby is different.

I would definitely endorse Babywise as a good system IF YOU ARE FLEXIBLE,  if you understand that it means learning your baby’s cues in order to implement it well, and if you have common sense to deviate from the book on occasion.  If you’re looking for something that says “follow steps 1-2-3 and your baby will sleep through the night at 8 weeks,” this isn’t it (although that’s the reputation it has).  And while I say that I would endorse Babywise to the discerning mama, I think think it needs a little supplementation from other resources (I’ll tell you what those are in another post!) in order to be really effective.  Plus it needs a little common sense.

One resource that I have found incredibly helpful is a blog written by a woman who implements the Babywise system in her home. However, she also incorporates the teachings of several other great books, as well as a heaping dose of wisdom and common sense.  She has become a pro at really observing her babies to better understand their cues, and reading her blog is helping me to better understand my own boys.  She organizes the blog in a way that is easy to navigate for first-time visitors.  You can search based on your baby’s age or by topic.  You probably won’t agree with every single thing on there, but there’s alot of helpful stuff!  Check it out if you are interested.

Up next: The Secrets of the Baby Whisperer by Tracy Hogg.

Advertisements

5 thoughts on “Read and Reviewed: On Becoming Baby Wise (Dr. Gary Ezzo)

  1. EXCELLENT review of BW! I literally agree 500% with everything you said! I am very quick to tell people, “We used a very flexible, not hardcore version of Babywise!”

    In the Christian version, the main thing he defends with Scripture is “training” a child in the way they should go and defending the idea that parents are in authority. But I do think they’re quick to say that you should be a loving, astute parent who is very available to your children.

    This is the first thing I’ve ever read where someone thinks 100% like me about Babywise! Love it!

  2. You addressed some really good points. . . adding on to the “confidence builder” is the problem that at times, mom can put her trust in the system that seems to be “working” and miss or misinterpret cues that there are problems. Slowed growth and milk supply issues are often overlooked because of the “confidence”. . . especially if things are going well. That is one factor in the frequent milk supply issues that happen at 4 months (along with the common trend of babies being in the higher percentiles at a younger age, and then moving towards “average” in later months — not a horribly low weight, but lower than the initial percentile trend would suggest is normal for that child.)

    Quote: “I read the secular version of the book, so I can’t speak to the theology that Ezzo weaves into the other version do defend his practice. ”

    It’s definitely not in line with a reformed and covenantal understanding of children. . . and not consistent with relating to our little ones as brothers and sisters in the Lord. But beyond that, the “Christian” parenting books by the author just play fast and loose with the Scripture. Parents who utilize the materials love their kids, love the Lord. . . but the materials themselves are very flawed.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s