Babywise… or not so wise.

[Edited to add the link to the AAP’s statement against the Babywise series of books and an additional article regarding the book at the bottom of this post.]

“Forthe LORD gives wisdom; from his mouth come knowledge and understanding…” Proverbs 2:6

Babywise. That word prompts many responses from different mothers. You either recognize it as a parenting book/style or you do not. And for those who do… perhaps it was a source of comfort for you in the first few confusing months with your little one. Or for others, it caused more confusion than it helped. I’m wary of any book besides the Bible being thrown about as the final word on… well, on anything. But especially when it comes to child-rearing. Just as surely as my friends and I all have very different children, there are dozens of styles to raise them. How will you discipline? What style of labor/delivery did you choose? What will you feed them? Will they live on a schedule? Do you stay at home or work? These issues are all so… gray.

I was first introduced to this book when my sister-in-law decided to use this method to raise my niece. Wary of intervention from her parents and inlaws, she bought a copy for all the extended family members and asked them to read it. When I became pregnant with Eleanor I remembered that and snagged my parents’ copy, intending to read through it . Rather, throughout my pregnancy I was more focused on the labor and delivery part than the sleeping/feeding issues. After a few weeks of having her home with us, we realized we didn’t know what we were doing with her routine. We had no plan. {We didn’t even have a “pl…” /Friends shout-out!/}

So, I picked up that dusty copy of Babywise and read it while my girl slept in my arms. Our journey was rocky and I’m glad I’m more informed now. We’ve opted not to do it. For US. For OUR FAMILY. Allow me to be clear for a second… I AM NOT TELLING YOU WHAT TO DO. I’m asking you to be informed. Learn. Read. Find out some things you probably don’t know. Check out the clinical research (which you can find through the many links at the bottom of this post). This is not just one crazy mom talking here, this is a LOT of information. And… if after reading the research you determine to use this method for your family: Great. But again, it wasn’t right for us.

There are basically two issues involved in Babywise… Crying It Out (CIO) and scheduled feedings.

We tried it with Eleanor when she was about 5 weeks old and I was tired… I started first with scheduling her feedings during the day. Rather than feeding her willy-nilly, which is what we had been doing, I started feeding her on the 3-hour increments as the plan dictates. The book states over and over that a 3-hour schedule is reasonable for a baby of that age, and in a few places does clarify that small babies need to be demand fed. However, even with that disclaimer, there’s not much in the book to support the demand-fed method of feeding (which is recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics, World Health Organization, etc.) and it’s highly ignored as a strategy for infant care.

I found out the hard way that scheduling caused some issues – my milk began to dry up and my daughter stopped gaining weight. She was born at around the 48th percentile and within a few weeks slipped down to the 8th. The pediatricians started freaking out, talking about malnutrition and “failure to thrive” and all sorts of qualifiers for my poor daughter… the worst was when the discussion began around admitting her to the hospital to get it back up. The culprit? 3-hour feedings. She just needed to eat more frequently than that! Mistakenly I was told I wasn’t making enough milk. [note: that wasn’t my problem and is often misdiagnosed by the uninformed] I had to supplement with formula (and read kellymom.com carefully for ways to supplement and increase my own supply through pumping simultaneously).

Eventually we got her back up to a healthy place (though Eleanor seems destined to be a long-n-lean girl, currently somewhere in the 10-15th percentile for weight and around 80%+ for height) and I was able to resume nursing 100%. Yes, she’s still a little girl, but the growth trends are the most important thing and she’s doing great in that respect. Also, I became more aware of the different growth charts… This page on growth charts at kellymom.com does a great job explaining the difference between the ones typically used by pediatricians (which include mostly formula-fed babies) and the other ones (which use either a combination of formula-fed/breast-fed or strictly breast-fed infants). Learning all that information has helped me be a more well-informed mom and freak out less.

As for Crying It Out… we tried. She’s not a great sleeper… she only ever slept well in some sort of seat: her bouncer/papasan chair or the swing or even in the crook of our arms. Transitioning her out of the bouncer (and out of her swaddle – our little girl was rolling over fully swaddled at 4 months!) made the problem even worse right as I returned to work – in fact, since that time she’s never slept through the night and still gets up a few times to nurse. Part of that is due to reverse cycling, an issue I’ve chosen to embrace as it means she just needs her mommy more of the night since she doesn’t get me consistently in the days.

At times we’ve tried the CIO method… but our sweet, mild-mannered daughter becomes panicky and makes herself sick, completely freaking. out. And that’s only after about 3 minutes of it. It just wasn’t a good fit for us. I’ll admit there are times I have to put her in her crib to cry when she’s really riled up and over tired (sometimes she just needs to work out the anger or over-stimulation to be able to settle down!) but she’s never been able to cry herself to sleep. And this mama just can’t handle it emotionally anyway. I’m already away from her more than I can stand… if she’s in her room and crying for me I’d rather pick her up and just love on her till she’s ready for that nap.

In addition to those personal encounters, I’ve done a great deal of research and found that many women share my experiences and struggles with scheduling their babies. Those little guys and girls just don’t want to fit our pretty schedules sometimes! And… for good reason. There is a great deal of actual clinical evidence to support the things I encountered. You can read more about that at the links below…[these narrative writings contain a great deal of clinical support in the links at the end of the post]

The AAP (American Academy of Pediatrics) statement about Babywise

A discussion of the AAP statement.

Above all… I’m just asking for education. I’m fine with differing opinions, preferably when they’re educated.

“The beginning of wisdom is this: Get wisdom, and whatever you get, getinsight.” Proverbs 4:7

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3 comments

  1. Erin – I love reading your posts – keeps me up on how you are doing! I agree with everything you have written here, and the amazing part is that if you choose to have another baby, it may be – or probably will be – totally different! You just have to find what works with each child during each stage, and one stage just leads to another as soon as you have it figured out! They grow so fast – enjoy every minute no matter how frustrating! Love to all of you – Pat

  2. Amen! I feel the same way you do on all this. Tried Babywise and it wasn’t good for us. I feed Madeline on demand, she still wakes up once or twice at night, and I’m okay with that since I’m away from her all day at work. Keep up the good work!
    Courtney Eller

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