When my first baby was about 6 weeks old I was exhausted and overwhelmed. I had no friends with babies and my family lived 5 hours away. I was very isolated. I didn't know what was normal and what wasn't. I got most of my support from my mom which was great except she never breastfed a baby. I was very committed to breastfeeding for financial reasons: my husband was a pastor and we were on a very strict budget. Formula just wasn't an option.
A young mother in my mother's bible study group recommended the Ezzo curriculum.. I found the 1995 edition of Babywise at my local Christian bookstore. I was so excited. The book seemed to understand where I had messed up my baby and promised to fix her and make her a model citizen.
I had assumed from the beginning that "crying it out" was the only way to get a baby to sleep. I started the three hour feeding schedule and thankfully she did it with no problem. We started putting her down at night awake, no sleep props, etc. She would cry and cry and cry.
We would go in and comfort her every 15 minutes by picking her up and rocking and calming her almost to sleep -- there was some double talk in that edition about comforting in 15 minutes-- and she would just keep crying. She could cry for up to 2 hours in 15 minute increments. Ezzo said in the book that it might take us "late starts" up to 2 weeks to get our babies on the program. It took mine 2 months of crying at bed time for at least 30 minutes before she started going down easily.
However, the second night we were using the program she slept through the night. So I thought that meant it was working. Now I think it was a fluke. She didn't start sleeping through consistently until closer to 4 months. But because I thought that one time meant she was ready (an Ezzo teaching), I quit feeding her when she awoke at night. This was the goal of the whole program after all. So when my little daughter got her first illness at three months of age, no night nursing. When she was teething, no night nursing. When she got croup at nine months and woke up with that awful barking cough, no night nursing. One of the things Ezzo is so insistent on is being consistent and not setting up bad habits. I bought into it fully.
I remember laying on the couch listening to her cry and cry thinking motherhood wasn't supposed to be like this. And seriously considering not having more children. Yet I was convinced this was the only way to have a baby that was not in control of me and my marriage. My husband went along with it but I think if he had had a little more experience he would have put a stop to it sooner.
About the time she was 4 months old my baby started going down easily for night and naps. This is about the time infant sleep patterns normally consolidate. It is a normal developmental phase so I do not give Babywise credit for this accomplishment as it probably would have happened at this age anyway. However my daughter never slept long than 45 minutes for a nap. I didn't let her cry herself back to sleep. Either I missed that part of the book or it wasn't in there. She just took 4 45 minute naps during the day.
Breastfeeding continued on the 3 hour schedule but I never offered the breast for comfort or before sleep. On the rare occasions during the training phase when my will would break and I would nurse her to sleep (maybe two times) she would go right to sleep and stay asleep when I put her down.
When my baby was about 4 months old (about the time the Babywise promises started materializing) my dad suggested I look for info about it on the web. I see this next part as God's providence. My search yielded the GFI website and Rebecca Prewitt's website. The GFI site wouldn't load on my dad's computer despite my trying it over and over at different times. Rebecca Prewitt's did and it was then that the "scales fell from my eyes"and I realized all the controversy surrounding Babywise.
As I learned more and more about Babywise and was really. really angry. By that time, my baby wouldn't nurse except for food, so I don't think I could have gone back to nursing on demand. She'd never really nursed for comfort and just wasn't interested. Instead she found comfort in her thumb and her blankey. I know lots of children have blankies and other loveys and suck their thumbs. My third child is a thumb sucker and has a blankey but for my first it was different. The comfort this child derived from that blankey was extraordinary. As a preschooler you could watch the tension drain away from her when she sucked her thumb and smelled her blankey. As a one year old it was the ONLY way to keep her happy from 6-7:30 at night onward. She would go from fussing and crying to humming softly to herself when I gave her her blankey.
This week my now 7 year old daughter decided to put her shredded blankey away at night. She still sucks her thumb. Even now as a seven year old, we are taking this giving up blankey thing one night at a time. (She wanted to get rid of it for fear that her friends would see it.) I think this attachment to her blankey was a direct result of being left to cry and to develop some means of self-comforting from her own limited resources as an infant. In the big picture she is a happy well-adjusted almost third-grader.
Since that time I have become a lactation counselor. I have seen milk supply problems and weight gain problems associated with Babywise use. Most often, though, I have seen Babywise set up an adversarial relationship between mother and baby.
For instance, one mom in my Bible study expected that her baby would be a little robot, sleeping when he was supposed to sleep, playing quietly when it was playtime. The shock of reality was extremely hard for her. Her baby cried all the time (I suspect often alone). By the time he was 3 or 4 months old they discovered he was allergic to both soy and regular formula and had reflux. Reading between the lines of what she said during this time, I think she thought he was just being manipulative and difficult.
Another mom I know had a breastfed baby that quit accepting an occasional bottle at 5 months. He lost weight between 4 and 6 months. She wanted to wean to formula but he refused the bottle. He cried hysterically at any separation. When I realized she was following Babywise (she called me for lactation consulting help) it was VERY difficult to convince her that the problem was that Babywise had her not feeding the baby enough, thus her milk supply had dropped too low. In fact I never did convince her. I think she added a feeding but ended up weaning at about 8 months. In my opinion this baby was desperately asking for more positive attention from his mother. She was very negative about him and his crying.
The moms in the Bible study where I met this woman seemed heavily influenced by Babywise. If a baby had trouble separating from mom in the nursery, instead of adopting a compassionate attitude, the mothers said he was "difficult", "fussy", or "trouble". There was lots of eye rolling and sighs about these "difficult" babies. The mothers would comment that certain babies needed Growing Kids God's Way despite the fact that the most "difficult" baby in the nursery was a Babywise baby.
In fact, I have not met a family that I didn't think had problems while using Babywise. However, they may not have seen the problems as clearly as I did.
I still feel angry and sad when I think about what I did to my daughter. I feel most sad though when I hear young, inexperienced mothers talk about their babies using words like manipulation, showing him whose boss and staying in control.
by M. H.