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June 23, 2006

Babywise 2001: Conflicting Messages

A new review of the most recent edition of Babywise by Gary Ezzo has recently been published online at www.ezzo.info.

Conflicting Messages--A Review of Babywise (2001 edition) highlights the double messages that exist within Babywise 2001. While the authors claim that BW 2001 is "updated" in such a way to minimize the problems of slow weight gain, breastmilk supply problems, and other issues historically associated with Babywise, this review highlights how the core ideas linked with these problems are still being taught.

Part of the review really stood out to me, in how it illustrated that Babywise gives parents a false set of ideas on which to make decisions about infant feeding.

According to Babywise, the baby's hunger will begin to line up with mealtimes. However true to experience this patterning may be for some adults, for growing breastfed babies, hunger and feeding are dynamic processes. The infant's stomach size and gastric emptying rate, and the mother's breastmilk storage capacity and rate of milk synthesis affect how often an individual baby needs to feed --and hunger also rises and falls dynamically to accommodate growth spurts, milk supply fluctuations, hot weather, illness, teething, activity levels, and more.

Babywise, however, connects the issue of feeding frequency to age:

"How often you should feed your baby depends on your baby's age. As a general rule, during the first two months you will feed your baby approximately every 2 1/2 to 3 hours from the beginning of one feeding to the beginning of the next....With these recommendations you can average between eight to ten feedings a day in the early weeks. These times fall well within recommendations of the American Academy of Pediatrics." ( p. 74, emphasis added.)

This instruction allows for about 8 to 9.6 feedings per day. Targetting a subset at the low end of the normal range is setting some parents and babies up for failure or frustration--and is not intended by the AAP's discussion on the normal range of 8 to 12 feedings for breastfed babies.

Often parents will come away from reading Babywise, envisioning a fairly linear path of increased infant sleep at night and decreased number of feedings during the day. Any deviation from the linear progression is assumed to be very short-lived, a few days of "growth spurt" or teething. This often leads Babywise parents to misinterpret hunger cues, not view deviations from the schedule as legitimate, or overlook the early signs of slowed growth.

Parents who have had several babies are more aware that infant growth and development is on a less linear path than Ezzo presents it. A "growth spurt" may last more than just a few days. A developmental spurt may necessitate increased nighttime feedings, even while daytime feedings may remain the same or decrease. Illness or teething can impact the infant's ability to adapt to an eat/wake/sleep routine, and may need more than a day or two on a more ad-lib routine.

I encourage all parents to read this review. If you currently are using Babywise (or have had in the past), what do you think? To what extent have you been aware of the conflicting messages? When you talk to other parents about Babywise, how to you help them see this and implement this while avoiding the difficulties commonly associated with Babywise? What conflicting messages have you seen in other materials by Gary Ezzo?

Feel free to discuss BW 2001 and Ezzo parenting here. Or, if you like, join the conversation over at AwareParent.Net.


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I read the 2001 version as well as the Babywise II book. Granted, I read them when my son was about one and so I wasn't viewing them from the stance of a mother of a newborn.

I found the techniques in babywise to be appropriate for raising an older child(though I didn't agree with the "hand squeeze" method of disapline).

Rearranging our son's feed/wake/sleep scheadule seemed to help him regulate himself, but he was napping/sleeping well before we stopped the "before bed" bottle.

I feel that the system is good for older babies but unrealistic for infants. My son was premature and we simply were not comfortable with any parenting style other than "attachment". I have very fond memmories of our early months and I don't think I would feel as good had we implimented "babywise" earlier.

For the record I have a wonderfully well attached son who is wonderfully behaved. I credit this to a combination of parenting styles and overall good luck :).

Posted by: lauren at June 23, 2006 08:33 PM

That article is very interesting. I didn't read it all but I get the drift. I used Babywise with my first child and then not so much with my second and not at all with my last. I never noticed all the inconsistencies when I read it the first time. My biggest problem with it is the cio part at such a young age. It breaks my heart to know my friends are letting their infants cry when they need the security of their mommy so much. You asked how we help other parents see the inconsistencies and implement BW while avoiding the difficulties it can produce. I have forwarded many articles I've seen on this site to my friends who use Babywise, but as I did when I first heard the naysayers, they just blow it off. Hopefully none of them will experience any serious difficulties as a result.

Posted by: Jo at June 23, 2006 09:38 PM

We took an Ezzo class and read some Dr. Sears and Sheila Kippley in addition to talking with our mothers. It may sound impossible, but I really found some things useful in all the books and appreciate that I read *all* of them skeptically. I encouraged my son to "fill up" right after naps and that seemed to sit really well with him. I didn't encourage him to sleep through the night until he was a year old, a point at which he slept through the night quickly. I didn't nurse him to sleep, though I tried for a while (about 21 days) and found that he ended up just fighting sleep and super-duper cranky (he reduced his amount of actual sleep time by 4 hours compared to CIO). We went back to CIO naps (about 2-5 minutes of CIO was all he needed when put down propertly) and suddenly he was happy again, with exception of 6-15 minutes per day. I guess I'm trying to say that NO book will be appropriate for all parents and that all books should be read with skepticism. Anyone who takes Babywise (or any parenting book) without a good deal of skepticism is quite unwise.

Posted by: Emily at June 23, 2006 09:43 PM

I read baby wise... then I had a baby. Matthew is now 6 months old and drinks or eat every 3 hours thats he is awake, he however sleeps from 7-7, and has since 3 months. I nursed the first 2 months and it was a disaster he nursed constantly! Not the same thing works with every baby, if my baby cried for food I feed him,(a mother learns a hunger cry from a "entertain me" cry very early.) even if it was the middle of the night, I did however establish a bedtime ritual and be very strict about the time being enforced. Matthew is a very large child, not only in weight but also in height, 6 months old 20 lbs 32", he was a measly 7.8 lbs at birth.

Posted by: Lela at June 24, 2006 12:52 AM

I was given a copy of BabyWise from a member of our church when I was pregnant with our first. Like many new mothers, I devoured everything on parenthood. This book, however, seemed antithetical to all that "felt right." Not that you can base all decisions on feeling. What struck me more than anything was the whole thing about setting up time to ignore your kids. The whole book seemed based on showing your kids that you would take care of them when you got around to it. Playpen time, don't interrupt me time...I don't remember the rest, but I wondered when you'd ever have time between all the ignoring to show your child he was a unique and special creation of a loving God.

I did like the sign language, though.

Posted by: Dana at June 24, 2006 12:56 AM

hmmmm...2.5 to 3 hours? I would have been extremely frustated (not to mention my babies!) if I would have expected that.

Posted by: Amie at June 24, 2006 08:56 PM

I've said it before, and I'll say it again: so much of what the Ezzos advocate is a means to making parenting convenient. Parenting isn't always convenient, plain and simple.

Posted by: Kim in ON at June 25, 2006 11:50 AM

"so much of what the Ezzos advocate is a means to making parenting convenient."

I would agree. . . mostly. . . Kim. The exception is that most parents I know using Ezzo materials are not motivated by convenience. And many times believe they are doing things in a way that require more effort and dedication, because they want to do the "right" thing. But you are right. Ironically, Ezzo's warnings about "child-centered parenting" lead to practices that are parent-centered.

Dana, "What struck me more than anything was the whole thing about setting up time to ignore your kids. The whole book seemed based on showing your kids that you would take care of them when you got around to it." Yes. . . But persuades parents this is for a good cause. I've been much encouraged by the idea of mothering as a ministry--and as with other ministries, it is often not convenient, not easy, and requires laying down our lives for others.

Lauren, you bring up some interesting points. I find the Ezzo materials to be woefully lacking in the area of helping parents understand normal infant and child development, and many of the teachings to be contrary about what is medically/developmentally known about child development. I have a friend who says the most valuable things she learned in college were typing and child dev't. *grin*

Jo, your experience sounds common--perhaps using many/most of the Ezzo ideas with a first child, and using them less and less with each successive child. Like you mentioned, I dismissed the early criticism I heard about Ezzo's teachings. I assumed the critics were either "secular humanists" or didn't understand the teachings. Over time I found those most concerned about his teachings were coming from a strong Christian point of view and had a full understanding of what was being taught. And were rightly concerned.

Lela, you bring up the idea "a mother learns a hunger cry from a "entertain me" cry very early." I was part of a "Growing Moms" Ezzo support group when my oldest was an infant. Looking back, I see how the mothers in our group had difficulty in observing and interpreting various cues and cries. Much of the interpretation of them was based on where the infant was in the eat/wake/sleep routine. "Oh, he's fussy because he is sleepy. He couldn't be hungry, he just ate." (Nearly two hours ago, before his wake time--that must be a sleepy cry because it is naptime. . .) Soooo. . . I don't necessarily agree with the idea you mentioned, having seen a lot of mamas miss hunger cues and misinterpret cries when using Babywise as a primary source for parenting information. Not saying that you did. *grin* Just sharing what I've seen in others.

Posted by: TulipGirl at June 25, 2006 12:46 PM

I found your "Confessions of a Failed Babywiser" article close to 4 years ago, when I was pg or had just had my son. We e-mailed back and forth a couple of times ... you were still overseas and I was in San Diego. Now I am living in Brooklyn, NY and pg with our second child. I'm very happy to have found you again, especially as I re-enter the world of mothering a newborn.

I found your blog after wanting to re-read articles, etc. on some of the problems with Babywise/Ezzo. Unfortunately, I was reminded to do so after reading some personal stories of women who have used it and ... liked it. It was almost painful to me as it became clear that this book has been very widely circulated in a church that I really respect and care for. Now, these women have used it thoughtfully and are indeed godly women who have used the book in a way that, as far as I know, has not physically harmed their children and has served them in helping to manage their homes. However, it is SO concerning to me that somehow the fact that, amongst other serious spiritual problems that have come out, Mr. Ezzo was excommunicated from his forner church! To me, this is enough reason to set the book aside and find another book to help me out.

I could say more hear, but perhaps it would be better to continue this conversation via e-mail? I am very happy to have re-discovered your writing and hope that you are well. God bless!

Posted by: Rebekah at June 25, 2006 12:49 PM

I commented earlier, but last night stumbled across the Girl Talk blog (http://www.girltalk.blogs.com/) from the Mahaney ladies from Sovereign Grace Ministries. They've had a series of posts on scheduling babies which seem to have come straight out of the Ezzos writings but without any warnings of the negative sides of infant scheduling. Do you know of any discussions about it? (No posting to the blog is allowed!)

Posted by: Emily at June 25, 2006 09:26 PM

Ezzo lacks the grace and mercy of our Heavenly Father. If our Father shows patience, compassion and understanding with us, the adults -- why should our precious infants receive less?

Ezzo is a bad idea. Pure and simple. They can try to jazz up the plan with a play on semantics. It is still the same ol' stuff.

Posted by: Kim at June 26, 2006 08:57 AM

"I commented earlier, but last night stumbled across the Girl Talk blog (http://www.girltalk.blogs.com/) from the Mahaney ladies from Sovereign Grace Ministries."

I just finished reading from the blog and found it very disturbing indeed! Recommendations were straight out of a Babywise book. An old one at that! I'm so saddened and disappointed at the spiritual and intellectual blindness of so many women - especially these women - I can hardly contain feeling dowright anxious for them.

Posted by: Ana at June 26, 2006 09:35 PM

For those ladies who were concerned about the Girl Talk blog (ANA and EMILY), while you can't post a public comment to the blog (they probably receive thousands and thousands of hits each day to the blog), you CAN send them an e-mail, which will be read. In fact, I would strongly encourage you to do so! I can guarantee you that you will not be the only person writing in response to these entries, and perhaps if more people write in with their concerns, a further look into Ezzo will be taken.

Posted by: Rebekah at June 27, 2006 12:09 PM

I read the article on Girltalk also. They made a point to say it was just suggestions, as opposed to saying it was "God's Way."

One thing that bothered me, though, was the fact that they stated putting a baby on a schedule helped the relationship with the parents. I personally have found the opposite. With our fifth baby (who will be 6 months this week), we are not using any feeding schedule.

Babies are born knowing when they need to eat, what an amazing design from the Creator. Hubby and I are enjoying being able to go out and take her wherever we go. When she is fussy I can just feed her. We even took the kids to a movie this weekend and I could sit through most of it because I wasn't on a strict schedule that demanded she be home and in bed. She nursed almost the whole time! Anyway, all this to say Girltalk is only one side of the story.

Posted by: Mist at June 27, 2006 10:56 PM

I'm disappointed to see Mrs. Mahaney and crew endorsing such an Ezzo-ish schedule (even if they aren't calling it by name, and even with their disclaimers.)

It's interesting to see the same sort of double-talk that is pointed out in this latest BW 2001 review. In the PDF articles they link to there is caution to rely upon the Lord each day and not the schedule--but decide from the beginning to be committed to the schedule even on the "rough" days.

And sadly, I hear the same medical misinformation that is written in Ezzo's books parroted in some of the article. God has given infants an amazing endocrine system and nervous system to "stabilize infant metabolism." It's quite presumptous to assume that what God has put in place to regulate an infant's hunger cues during times of regular or increased growth need outside regulating (except in instances of sickness.)

I'm sure they mean well. Personally, I am all for building rhythm and structure in family life. However, an artificially established infant schedule that focuses primarily on feeding/sleeping times and an eat/wake/sleep pattern is far inferior to responding to how God has created each child and incorporating the infant into the family's rhythms in a more holistic manner.

Posted by: TulipGirl at June 28, 2006 02:26 AM

Babywise was recommended to me by some friends and relatives, all Christian women, whom I believe were trying to do the best for their families. I read it while I was pregnant with my first, but was informed of the controversy by another friend, so I took it with a grain of salt (as I should have, anyway.)

I tried to use it, with some flexibility, keeping in mind that the baby's needs outweighed the "principles" and the "schedule". While we did get on a fairly routine feeding schedule (without any growth or supply issues), most of it just didn't work very well in terms of sleeping through the night, which was my biggest concern. (I had a very hard time with the lack of sleep that comes with a newborn--both physically and emotionally, so I was hoping the scheduling might help with that, but what really happened was that I came to rely on the Lord more than ever through that period!)

So, I'm not even convinced that it was because of Babywise, but that it might've just been my son's natural tendencies. However, the feed/wake/sleep cycle did not seem to be harmful, and was one thing that was actually helpful, as my son learned to take a nap without being fed first, which came in helpful at times. (I did nurse him to sleep at bedtime, but that was a conscious decision.)

I also agreed that most of the time, most babies probably don't need to be fed every 45 minutes. There have been a few times (no longer than a few days at a time, and when he was at least several months old) that we have employed the cry-it-out technique, when, from all we could tell, nothing else was wrong, and while they were painful for me at the time, they didn't seem to have any lasting effects on our son, and did help him learn to sleep on his own a little better, and fairly quickly. (I wouldn't advocate that for newborns and we would always go to check on him first--make sure he didn't have an arm or a leg caught in between the crib slats, or an overflowing diaper or something. In fact, now, unless he's sick or teething, etc., often all it takes for him to calm down if he wakes up early during a nap or from bedtime is for my husband or me just to go into the room. usually he just lies back down and goes back to sleep.)

Anyway, I also had the Sears book and the La Leche League books, as well, and found that all of them had some valid points, and some I just didn't agree with. That actually caused me a lot of frustration, because I felt like I wasn't doing anything right! At that point, my wise husband told me to stop reading and just do what my instincts told me. I am now almost 8 months pregnant with our second baby. Some things are already different--I am no longer working outside the home and while we don't plan on letting the baby sleep in bed with us, my husband is agreeable to letting me nurse him or her in the bed, which he was very much against with our first. With this next baby, I will probably keep in mind the few ideas that seemed to work for us, realizing that this baby may very well be quite differnt, and throw away the rest! :-)

So, I guess my point is that I wouldn't automatically and completely dismiss absolutely everything in the Babywise book, if you'd like to try it, as long as you are aware or at least willing to learn your babies individual hunger cues, needs, etc. but you could probably get the best points from some other books or an experienced mom! (sorry this turned out to be such a long post!)

Posted by: Michelle at June 28, 2006 10:16 PM

We "used" baby wise as a general rule more than any other style of scheduling. We weren't really militant about it though. I think Baby Wise with common sense works great. Our son is a year old and we have never had any problems with the methods. He is perfectly healthy and has slept throught he night since about 8wks. old. He is the perfect weight etc... He has even been healthier than...shall i dare say it...his breast fed cousin. (my wife only breast fed for the first 8wks or so)People live their lives according to schedules, we learn what to expect. I think that baby wise is great when used with common sense.

Posted by: Sean at July 5, 2006 11:20 AM

I'm a little 'late' to the comments on this particular post, but I recently read something, and the Ezzo philosophy immediately came to mind:

"The darkness is great because one is deluded into thinking it is light. You think you are seeing better than anyone else ,when, in fact, you can't see at all. This means the idea that you can't see is the farthest from you. A blind person knows he's blind. A Pharisee thinks he can see, and this is why the "light" within him is actually darkness. Jesus called the Pharisee's "blind guides".

This quote is from John Fischer in his book, "12 Steps for the Recovering Pharisee - Like Me", and this particular quote is a commentary on Matt. 6:23 - "If the light within you is darkness, how great is that darkness!" He goes on to say that Pharisaical sin is dangerous because it disguises itself as a form of enlightenment.

The whole tone and culture of the Ezzo philosopy, especially as it is lived out in parenting groups based out of churches (i.e. Growing Kids God's Way), is one of 'enlightenment'. I know these are strong statments to make about this organization, but I think the truth of what goes on and what is encouraged (performance-based, and behavior oriented, rather than grace-based and heart oriented) needs to be called what it is. "Blind guides" - seems about right.

Posted by: Tracy at July 8, 2006 10:34 AM

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