--Transcript of story aired May 2, 2005--
The popular parenting book 'Babywise' claims parents need to take control of an infant's feeding schedule and stop jumping every time a baby cries. The author calls that emotional mothering and likens it to child abuse. But some doctors say the book could lead you to starve your baby. In the Fox Files, both sides of the 'Babywise' debate.
"When I first read it, I thought wow, I'd never read anything like this." Jen Nolen read the book 'Babywise' when she was pregnant with Luke. It gives the impression that babies will sleep through the night through a feeding schedule set by the parent not a baby's cries. "It really kind of stuck with me." The book, based on Christian principles, says parents must control an infant's schedule to develop order. When Luke wouldn't sleep through the night at 8 weeks, she worried she was losing control. "Every time he would cry I would think, should I really pick him up, why is he crying again, is he trying to manipulate me?" Then she hit a breaking point. "According to this book, he should be sleeping all through the night and we're just exhausted and we're gonna do this. And so, we put him in the crib and he cried and cried and cried and I just laid on the floor with him and just cried along with him. It was horrible."
'Babywise' is written by pastor Gary Ezzo, who heads the religious group Growing Families International. The book is the secular version of his teachings. "Hello. I'm Gary Ezzo and I'm Ann Marie Ezzo." Ezzo uses a videotape and book series to teach parents that they should bring order to their families to raise godly children. He advocates a routine of feeding, playtime and naptime. Critics call it too rigid.
But Carol Walker is not a critic. She raised 7 children with 'Babywise.' "Everything just made sense." She says the concepts of routine and order, worked. "A well fed baby is gonna sleep good. A well rested baby's gonna eat well. And so I wanted to establish that order." Carol says her commitment to 'Babywise' got all 7 babies on the schedule, including one born with a life threatening condition. "When it got difficult, I would just keep in view that they're going to be on a schedule. Maybe today, it's totally chaotic but that's fine. All I can say is it's worked for our family."
But Ezzo's teachings have caused a firestorm. Quotes lifted from his book have sparked heated debate. The book reads: "If you want a fussy baby, never let him cry, and hold him, rock him and feed him as soon as he starts to fuss." And, "emotional mothering can set the stage for child abuse." Dr. Greg Finn, Mercy Medical Group, "This is in fact for some babies a very dangerous choice and for almost all babies, a risky choice." The American Academy of Pediatrics issued a media alert saying "The best feeding schedules are ones babies design for themselves. Scheduled feedings designed by parents may put babies at risk for poor weight gain and dehydration." Dr. Finn, "Some babies have higher feeding demands and those demands need to be met if they're to grow adequately."
An internet campaign against Ezzo cites critical articles and opinions from medical, religious and secular publications. The original publisher of 'Babywise' dropped the book. Ezzo now publishes it himself. One California church distanced itself from Ezzo's teachings, another says it excommunicated him. Ezzo denies that. He has no medical background. But the book keeps selling. Carol is among what Ezzo calls ten million happy parents. "I found it had so much flexibility for our family." Gary Ezzo refused an on camera interview but talked with us by phone. "The book is loaded with common sense. It's extremely clear; our message is very clear." Ezzo says there are no new ideas in his books. "Our grandmothers came up with these. What we're doing is basically reintroducing what Dr. Spock introduced: flexible routine." He says all the criticism is blown out of proportion. "I think those are scare tactics."
"Some moms will love this book and I'm convinced that Mr. Ezzo's method will work for some babies." But Dr. Finn says that doesn't mean it's safe. "If I decided that car seats were unnecessary and I placed my baby on the dash board to drive around, just because they lived through it doesn't make it a good idea. It just means they lived through it."
For more information on the 'Babywise' controversy, visit www.ezzo.info or www.gfi.org.