Read the Baby, Not the Book

I'm thankful my Babywise experience was a short one. At the recommendation of friends, I was planning to use the Babywise method to get my baby on a schedule right away. It was especially attractive to me since I was recovering from a c-section and desperate for sleep and structure. I had a fairly long hospital stay because of the surgery, and it was a rough time both for me and for the baby.

At first, it was easy to get him to eat or sleep when I wanted him to. I kept a chart, making sure to do things "by the book." After a couple of days, something felt very wrong. My son hardly ever opened his eyes, and was extremely difficult to keep awake during feedings. The nurses were charting his weight, and like most babies, he was losing quite a bit. This is normal, so I kept on the schedule, but was starting to doubt my decision. This baby that had been so active in the womb was frighteningly lethargic. He had gotten thin and dry. And when he did cry, it was a shrill cry of pain, not just the usual hunger cry.

He lost well beyond the acceptable 10% of his weight, and I couldn't take it anymore. The nurses said he was burning more calories trying to nurse than he was getting out of the nursing sessions. A lactation consultant visited, and confirmed that he was latching on correctly, but that my milk was just taking a long time to come in. I knew why, but was afraid to tell her I wasn't nursing often enough.

I decided to forget the schedule for awhile, and nurse my son more often. The nurses helped me supplement with a tiny tube of formula as he nursed, just to get him re-hydrated. In a couple of days, my milk was in, he had regained some weight, and we both felt much better.

Finally home from the hospital, I reviewed the Babywise book, preparing to tackle the schedule again just as soon as my son had gained enough weight. In the meantime, I fed him on cue, not every time he cried, but when he was showing signs of hunger. We were in tune with each other, and starting to develop a good relationship. I still kept a chart, but mostly to make sure he was eating frequently enough and wetting enough diapers. He was doing great! He was already sleeping in his crib, and by nature slept longer stretches during the night than during the day.

At our first doctor's appointment, my son's pediatrician was pleased with his weight gain. Despite having grown 2 inches since birth, he was filling out nicely.  I felt complete relief and, like a fool, decided right then that it was ok to get back into our Babywise schedule. Embarrassed to mention the Babywise book, I tested the waters a bit by asking our pediatrician if she recommended a feeding schedule. "Whatever you're doing now is great! Keep it up. You're doing a good job."

But I didn't keep it up. I pushed my son back into the schedule.

The crying was terrible. My parents were visiting, and even my father, known for his expertise at baby-soothing, was unable to calm my son most of the time. I made sure my baby did what I had "scheduled" him to do regardless of what he might have needed until I was once again out of sync with my son, and couldn't interpret his cries anymore.

At our next appointment, the doctor was disappointed. "He has gained hardly any weight in the last two weeks. I'm concerned," she told us. During the appointment, my son began crying. Like an idiot, instead of looking at his face and his behavior, I looked at my watch. The doctor asked me why I thought he was crying. "Well, it's not time to eat yet. I think maybe he doesn't like this summer heat." "No," she replied, "this is a hunger cry. You need to feed him." She actually put me in a room in their busy pediatrician's office, and shut the door so I could feed him. He gulped away like a starved animal. I was heartbroken. I had hurt my son at the hospital, and I was doing it again.

That was the end of it. I began cue feeding again.

Watching my son instead of the clock, I slowly began to understand him better. He occasionally woke up crying after being put to bed. It was not because he was rebellious, but because he had spit up and soaked himself, or because he was cramped up with gas. If I had just let him lie there, crying, I wouldn't have known about these things. Since I was paying attention to his needs, I knew to incline his crib mattress to help with his reflux problem. I knew to give him gas drops after his bedtime feeding. I was becoming a mother instead of a warden.

I started keeping him closer to me throughout the day as I went about my business. I even let him take naps snuggled on my lap while I worked on the computer. He began to cry less, trusting me to pick up on his other signals. He even became more interested in playing independently. In short, we were building a proper mother-infant relationship..

Now his growth and development are back on track. He is long, strong, alert, and fun. He rides the bus and the subway with me, studying the faces we meet along the way. He's only 9 weeks old, but already we've been to parks, restaurants, landmarks, science museums and art museums together. He loves to cuddle, but is no longer clingy. He is happy, interested, and confidently tries new things, even before the books say he will.

Ezzo's Weak Argumentation and Support

I shudder when I remember the envy I felt reading the first sentence of Ezzo's introduction. "Yes, one day people will stop you on the street or at the grocery store and comment, 'Your baby is so content.'" Throughout the book, contentment is touted as one of the key benefits of using the Babywise system. But is the disinterested dullness I've observed in other Babywise babies really contentment? My friend's 6-month-old is a perfect Babywise success story. She slept through the night at an early age, and almost never cries. But she has no energy, either. She just lies there with a wan smile, and shows no interest in sitting up or even reaching for objects. Is that contentment or a defeated spirit?

Ezzo tries to make his methods sound necessary by polarizing the issue. Either we have parents whose baby sleeps through the night at 5 weeks, or we have parents whose baby wakes 8-12 times a night. Either the parents use the Babywise method to structure their child's needs, or they never hire a babysitter, never spend time alone together, offer the breast at every squeak, and buy the child anything she wants.  Many of the testimonials at the beginning of the book are from parents whose households were completely out of control until they implemented Babywise.

Weak-minded, undisciplined parents may welcome a rigid structure they can follow without thinking. In reality, parents who are intelligent, disciplined, self-controlled, and loving can create a healthy family structure and maintain the strength of their marital relationship without going to such dangerous extremes. Mr. Ezzo seems to think the only alternative to anarchy is fascism.

I should have noticed the weakness of his support the first time I read the book. He cites only two journal articles, one book, and a newspaper article in his endnotes. A system that could make or break the health of a baby should be backed by much more medical research! Even his personal examples, Chelsea and Marisa, are fictional characters exaggerated into caricatures, obviously designed to affect the reader's emotions. As an educated, well read, thinking person, I'm embarrassed that I risked my child's health to follow one man's ill-founded conjecture.

by M.M.