The Undeniable Appeal of "Baby Wise"

I had one of those moments today.

You know the kind.  The "mom" moment when you scream inside your head, or maybe out-loud, because you suddenly couldn't give another thing to anybody else without watching your own head explode. 

It was around 3 o'clock pm when it all went down and I had just sat down to eat a hot lunch.  (Warmed leftovers that nobody else wanted.  You know me- I only get the best!)  As soon as I sit down my daughter comes up and wants her hair done.  She has a brush and rubber bands and even a mirror.

With my lunch balanced on my lap, a crawling baby behind me, and a little girl with her hair hanging over my food, I of course...oblige.  Maybe I am a pleaser at heart.  Maybe I am a shining example of a selfless mother.  Maybe I just have a hard time saying no.

Well, you can imagine what happened next. 

Some child opened the door leading out to the deck, the baby crawled out to the edge, someone else bumped me, and my lunch went crashing all over the just swept floor.

I think I actually cried.  I was irritated.  It was really just an accident but for freaks sake- I WAS HUNGRY.  Everybody else had been fed food that they didn't appreciate and didn't finish.  I finally take 10 minutes to eat something myself and I end up feeding it to the dog and cleaning the floor- AGAIN.

And that my friends, is my long introduction to why I see the undeniable appeal of "Baby Wise."

I have heard awful things about "Baby Wise".  Really awful.  Dead babies.  Starving babies.  Cruel parents.

But, since I had never read it, I didn't really feel like I could take an educated stance on the book so I picked it up second hand and started to read it.

Honestly, it gives me a creepy feeling.  It really does.

I don't like books or people that put the mother and her child in an adversarial position.  I don't like the word "train" in relation to babies.  I don't like feeding "schedules" and I really hate it when people say that breastfeeding has no benefit after a year of age (pg 73).  Somebody talking about "control" continuously when it comes to children- even NEWBORNS?!  What the heck is wrong with this picture?

"Baby Wise" does all these things.  And I can see how it WOULD lead to dead babies and starving babies and parents who shut down their basic mom instincts to follow a protocol thought up by a man who has never breastfed and never been a woman or a mother and who obviously doesn't know the first thing about the mother child dyad or the nursing relationship.

"Baby Wise" also uses fictional characters (introduced on page 20) to illustrate the horrible things that happen when you don't follow their protocol and the obvious benefits if you do.  This simply doesn't stand up to any scientific scrutiny, but it is scary as all get out if you are considering feeding your child on cue more often than every 3 hours or dissenting from the program.  These fictional characters are convincing even if they are not based in fact.    

The book calls co-sleeping "passively abusive" (page 59)  and recommends not nursing, rocking or swinging your baby to sleep claiming that such are manipulative and may cause children to bang their heads rhythmically (for reals!). 

The book claims that babies can and therefore should sleep through the night by around 8 weeks of age (pg 53).  It encourages mothers to nurse a slow to grow baby on a STRICT 2 1/2 hour schedule, but go to 3 hours and add formula if this 2 1/2 hour schedule doesn't work (page 93).  There is a lot of mention of a strict feeding schedule "stabilizing metabolism" but no sources cited for this claim (page 101).  Chapter 7, which covers the "routine" I found to be somewhat confusing and rather strict (though there is much talk about being flexible.) 

Did I mention they make fun of baby-wearing (page 159)?  They even compare circumcision to the PKU heel prick (pg 165).  

All in all, I personally disagree with many of the claims of this book and I do see how the practices included could harm babies if followed and even harden a mother's heart and encourage her to ignore her intuition.

I disagree because my few years of mothering have taught me otherwise.  I disagree because much of it is intuitively repulsive to me.  I disagree because the way I view the mother/child relationship and particularly the mother/infant relationship is very different than those of the author.  I wouldn't do this schedule because I am not really a strictly scheduled person myself.  It doesn't fit my personality and my four babies have shown me that the schedule a baby ends up on is often related to their personality.

Not only that, despite the fact that I am a Christian, my views on what that entails in the realm of parenting is different than those of the author.  I believe that God has given divine gifts to women so that they can mother.  I believe that He will guide me through prayer and through my feelings as to what each individual child I have needs at that given moment.  A strict "all the same" schedule does not jive with my views on the ability of God to guide our lives and our responses individually.

So what about the APPEAL of Baby Wise?  What about my little "woe is me" story that I opened this lengthy post up with?

What surprised me when I started reading the book was that I honestly and truly AGREED with some of it.

Go ahead.  Tell me you hate me.

Let's talk about what I thought was true in this book-

I actually do believe that the most important thing I can give my children is a happy, stable, family with a mother and father who love each other and love all their children.  I believe this is more important than pretty much anything else we can do.  It is the reason I try to have a good marriage despite how difficult it can be (pg 19).

I believe that sometimes parents focus so much on the baby or children that they forget about their spouse, themselves, and sometimes even the other children.  I don't believe that this is good in the long run for anybody (pg 21). 

I believe that we should continue dating our spouse after children come (pg 27). 

I agree with him that not every cry is a request for food or the breast (pg 34).

In fact, I even agree with what Ezzo claims are his basic premises, "First, we believe that when a woman becomes a mother, she doesn't stop being a wife, daughter, sister, friend or neighbor.  Second, our conviction is that a baby should be fed when he or she signals readiness." 

Shall I make you hate me even more?

I also believe he is right- sometimes so called "Attachment Parenting" does yield overwhelmed, overtired mothers with a suffering marriage and a very "me centered" child.

In full disclosure, sometimes I feel like that mom is me.  That is why I told that story in the beginning of this post.  Sometimes I, probably like some of you, give to my kids to the point that I don't even take time to eat.  And sometimes my children, frankly, act kind of bratty and even selfish. 

In those moments I realize that something has gotten out of wack.

You know, there is a lot in this book that I disagree with at a very gut level, and other stuff that just rubs me the wrong way, and other claims that he makes that I believe are scientifically false. 

But there is some truth in it, and that is why it resonates with people.  That is why it resonated with ME.  

I would NEVER recommend this book to anybody.  The truth is so tightly wrapped in some ugly lies that it is really difficult to sort things out if you are not a confident mother.

I remember being a very insecure mother.  I remember being a mother to my first child.

I was committed to an attachment style of parenting.  But I really didn't know anything about babies.  I couldn't read my baby.  No matter what was going on, I tried to feed him.  Sometimes he would SCREAM at the breast.  But all I knew to do was nurse.  I couldn't read his cues.  I couldn't tell when he was just tired, or needed to burp, or even just needed to be left alone.  It was absolutely mind boggling.

I also lost myself in parenting.  I think that selflessness and sacrifice are beautiful things- and I think they can purify us and teach us.  But I also know now that a woman needs balance.

But I didn't sleep for two years and I didn't know what I was doing and I literally felt crazy.

I understand why somebody would want to avoid that and I understand the appeal of something that promises you can, and couches it in Biblical importance.  

We who embrace the tenets of attachment parenting must realize that sometimes people take that method (attachment) to unhealthy levels too.  Some do let their marriage fail.  Some do forget about their own basic needs.  Some act like setting any kind of boundary for a child is some kind of abuse, rather than a healthy framework that makes a child feels safe and loved.

I wish that women didn't need books in order to raise their babies and children in a healthy, loving, but balanced way.  I wish we could give but recognize our own needs.  I wish we could be perfect, confident, and fabulous all the time.  But we aren't always.

Is this book capable of being dangerous when taken too literally or to the extreme?  Most definitely. 

But I have to be honest- sometimes attachment parenting TOO can be taken to extremes or to the point where the family, or the mother, or even the child suffers.

This book, "On Becoming Baby Wise" doesn't really teach wisdom.  But it does have some truth in it.

Babies like routine.  (I believe this IS true.)  I also think they will quickly make a routine.

Babies need a loving family that loves each other and them.

Babies need a mother who takes care of herself and the other people she loves and who herself is nurtured in her relationships.

Mothers sometimes do need help finding the wisdom in motherhood or learning to read and understand their babies.  It can be a long, hard road.

I wish I could tell you exactly how to do it.  I wish I could write a book with a schedule and some rules that worked for every family and every baby-

But I can't.  And I don't think you should trust anybody who says they can.

I hope and pray that we can find our own wisdom in our own families and our own babies and our own hearts.  I think we CAN become baby wise, but I don't think it comes from strict adherence to any tenants from any book.

I think it comes with time.  It comes with sacrifice and learning and openness to re-assess.  Wisdom comes as we recognize our limits, accept our imperfections, and find a balance between our needs and the needs of all those that love us.

We are wise.  We can find this.  We can be happy and we can raise happy children and have husbands who also feel loved.  But this journey is never easy or cut and dried.  It is a journey.  Let's find our way, listen to our instincts, and love our babies and ourselves through the process. 


Unknown said…
Excellent post! Thank you for sharing!
Mellanie said…
So beautifully well said! I agree with pretty much everything. I have read the Baby Wise book, as well as Preparation for Parenting for the same reason - we can't intelligently discuss something we haven't read. I love your honest assessment of the book and your reaction to it.
Lani said…
As a very burnt-out attachment parenting momma, I needed this. Thank you, Sarah.
Anonymous said…
So well said! I have definitely been the burnt-out attachment parenting mama at times. And like you, I do agree with some of the things in Babywise. My worry is that some people will take the whole book to heart. Which is why I always tell people not to read it.
ok, I feel a lot better now. I read BW (got it from the Columbus public library) when I was 6 months preggo. I read it cover to cover. *most* of it sounded really good to me. Everyone sleeps, happy family, blah blah. Sure! We want a happy family!

I have basically been feeling really bad about the fact that at the time I thought it was a great idea....I feel like a traitor to AP. Even though I NEVER practiced "Babywise"..

We have co-slept, EBF and worn our daughter from the beginning because it felt like the right thing to do. So, so so glad I had a tiny amount of sense to just not follow this book once she came...
Jenn said…
excellent post! Thanks for talking about the dangers of attachment parenting, as well as the follies of Babywise. I really appreciate this entry!
MeaganMusing said…
Wow...thank you for this! I've never read Babywise, but I've also never read all of a Dr. Sears book either.

I just know that when my first baby was born the easiest thing to do was to put him to the breast. We nursed and nursed. But he also slept in his own bassinet in our room from the very beginning.

I nursed him for 22 months - until I was pregnant with his baby sister. But I never felt like I gave him more than I had.

And I'm nursing his sister now. Eight months in and it's still beautiful. I love her and those moments so much. (And now big brother says he doesn't remember nursing, but I know he must.)

All that to say...I think I'm probably a 70% attachment parenting mama. My family would say I'm more than that because I don't want to leave my babies, BUT I let them cry for a bit when I know they're safe and dry and fed, and I'm finishing up something I need to do. And they play on their own A LOT.

I want to have a strong relationship with my husband and I think that's more important than letting my baby sleep in our bed.

I take a shower and put on makeup every single day. Even if I don't get out of bed until the kids are already awake because I stayed up too late reading blogs. :)

But I wear the baby every day too.

And I play on the floor all the time. And I love to pretend that I'm a princess and he's a pirate.

Being a mom is hard. Whether we practice attachment parenting or not.

Balance is hard to find. And I do look at some "attachment moms" and think just let her take a nap without you so you can empty the dishwasher!!!

I don't know how to end this (novel of a comment), but to say that this is a great post and a really good addition to the conversation.

Thank you!
Laura Jean said…
You reviewed the book JUST how I thought you would, and reaffirms my connection to your blog! I didn't even finish reading BW, but I resonated with his beliefs on putting your marriage number one, and not allowing baby to completely run our lives. My parenting style definitely incorporates some of his methods, and my baby is SERIOUSLY thriving on it. I think a lot of this has to do with her personality, and she actually needed to eat closer to every 2 hours, but she fell easily into a loose schedule, and she was indeed sleeping through the night by 8 weeks old (still is at almost 3.5 mos.) I have AP friends who turned me off of co-sleeping & babywearing (all the time- I still wear my baby, but not every single second) because they are so frazzled, burnt out and sleep deprived! When I see them, I sort of feel bad when they ask me how I'm sleeping and I simply reply, "good" so I don't make them feel like crap. But the truth is, I sleep better now than I ever did being pregnant, even with pumping twice a night! I see a clear difference when she has good naps in her crib versus sleeping on me or in her carseat... and she wakes up so rested and happy in the mornings! These are the good things I gleaned from BW, and while I have a lot of concerns with the other claims and "research" in the book, I did benefit from the basic philosophy behind it.
The Quinns said…
Amen. Baby wise your baby strictly by the book-nope. Attachment parent your child 100% of the time-probably not. The dude, ezzo, is a loon-but he makes some good points. If you notice-none of the good points he makes have anything to do with the instincts God gave those of us with vaginas. Fruit loop Ezzo gives some very good practical parenting advice that can help a new mom stay structured (but do it in a structure that fits your family!) but he discounts and downplays the instincts we have and need to use to learn how to tweak good advice to what's best for our own babies. I read it pre-first baby. I liked it-I followed about 65% of it-and I enjoyed it. I also feel like I had an advantage as a new mom bc I remembered watching my mom with my youngest sister, I was 12 and this gave me the misguided idea that I had a better handle on what to expect when I ha my own. It didn't. But this bravado kept me from being as much of the classic overwhelmed new mama. I was still blown away and at a loss but I just kept thinking-I can figure this out, my mom did it I know I can. Now after baby #2 I honestly tell ppl planning to read it or asking if they should-well you can or I can just give you the broad strokes of what might be helpful to you. Bc that's what I took from it-underneath all his judgments and damn near commandments he made some good points with some practical advice. (example-both my children started waking up after 45 minutes during naps that has been lasting 2-2.5 hrs, I didn't get them up immediately but I didn't let them scream either-one baby needed to see me then went right hack to sleep the other baby just wanted to grunt and yowl for 3-5 minutes and then went right back to sleep-I think this is a very normal phase lots of babies go thru and by not getting them up ASAP they worked it out very quickly and grew out of it in a couple weeks tops. I might not have known to try and let them work they it a couple minutes if he hadn't discussed the 45 minute intruder in his book.) I wouldn't recommend it to anyone who is a probe to stressing over things but to the woman who likes the idea of a plan but has the confidence to change said plan as needed-it could be helpful. Everything in moderation-schedules, attachment, etc (how can anyone think wearing a baby is a bad idea-you just did it for 9 months!) but I do feel like the moms who take it as the end all be all give the rest of us who used it like a recipe to tweak and alter as needed a bad name. Don't listen to everything anyone says-except your baby and your gut.
Accalia said…
Thank you for sharing your thoughts. I needed this post.
momto5 said…
i read BW so long ago that i truly don't remember anything good from it. i agree that mamas need space and time and a family is always better off when the parents are happy, in love and feel balanced. that being said... i parent the way i do because of how i was parented. being a mama of six and having parented for almost 18 years now, i have found the balance that seems to work for my family, but there was a real learning curve. i found, at least in my home, what my babies and kids needed most... was me. and not in a whack martyr way, but me to be present and focused. the better i have gotten with it , the better our life is. i have no idea what this has to do with what you wrote. lol i do agree that happy parents usually always make happy families. otherwise i think BW is not any sort of thing jesus would want for a baby, or any child.
i must admit that i have had days like the one you wrote about. ((hug)) i think sometimes though, that sort of day happens whether you BW or not.
i feel like alot of what i have done over the years isn't because of some book i read, but more about how i felt. when my baby was far away in the cradle, it just seemed like a PIA to get out of bed to nurse them, so they slept with us. not because i felt all superior to anyone, but because it felt right. i wish there was a way to help families do what feels right and not follow any book. if we just had the confidence to parent without a bookshelf full of books. i feel like BW was written by someone who hated children, not loved them and so is trying to pit parents against children. hmmm maybe it is too late and i should go to bed now.
Amy said…
Thankyou sooooo much. I am definately in agreeable with you about being not 100% ap but mostly. I get burned out some days at my 8 month old and get cranky at her (when shes rolling off the chsnge tsble whilst trying to change a dirty daiper in particular!!)I know you say you can't recommend a perfect books, but are there any that you can recommend that I could read? About ap but in a real world, achievable and not make me feel guilty cause she has a cot in her own room kind of way :). Thanks love love love this blog and fb updates.
Anonymous said…
I don't think it is unusual to agree with portions of a book. I reviewed a book on Postpardum depression once that had SOME great stuff that was accurate but all of that was taken directly out of another book.... I hate Enzo and the Perals and if you have read anything about how their followers feel they can also get burnt out and can get to the point where they never get any self care. Their marriages can be unsustaining and abusive. Ideal practice of any style of parenting does sound great as 'everyone gets sleep' and 'everyone get their needs met' and 'parents are in a happy wonderful marriage' but real life is more like your opening story. I am sad that instead of moving into a review of a horrible book you talked about how flexible parenting should be and how it is OK to be in the trenches and be OK with that. Enzzoed mothers typically would never feel able to 'complain' or even tell the story about that lunch as they would feel such umbearable shame at being failures. It really is a cult.
CNH said…
I think more than anything, we need OTHER WOMEN. Not the kind that are vocally and emotionally critical of other mothers, either. What I needed when I was trying to figure out how to parent my first son was a loving, kind woman (or many women) who would patiently hold my hand while I figured it all out. Instead, I was thrust into a society of women who heckle each other, told me EVERYTHING I was doing was wrong (and you can always find someone who thinks what you're doing is completely wrong, no matter what path you're on), and most certainly knew better than me how to parent MY child. We need older women who can gently guide us while allowing us to stretch our own wings. Who understand what it is to be completely consumed by a new baby and be scared shitless of screwing it up. Who will sweetly smile and remind us that you can't really screw it up all that badly so long as we are listening to ourselves and our babies. Who will take our babies for the night (and nurse them for us!) and send us out with our husbands to reconnect and have some time ALONE without little people SUCKING ON US!!!

I had many of these things in my best friend Rebekah. We have helped each other through the births of our last children. Through failed relationships and the loss of spouses. She is the Wise woman I call at 2pm when I'm losing my shit and just cannot have anyone touch me at all anymore EVER. We laugh at each other (she's a single mom of four right now) and the hard things that constitute our lives at the moment and then hang up and take care of the whiny kid hanging off our legs. Everyone needs someone like my Beck. Especially new mothers.

And I can't believe how much I agree with your statements about AP parenting. I'm a perfectionist so when I first found and identified with the AP lifestyle, I dove into it head first. What I've come to realize over parenting six birth children and the three stepkids is that there is no perfection with parenting. The tenets of AP- that you will listen to your children's clues and try to find peaceful and loving ways to parent them, are what I live by now. Many times that looks different than many AP moms would like to admit. Sometimes that doesn't mean wearing the baby until your back breaks. Sometimes that means laying the screaming baby down and, yes, walking away. Especially if that baby is over stimulated and needs 5 minutes to get it out of their system. The first time I laid my overly tired baby down and walked away with him screaming I felt like an asshole.... until he conked out for four hours about five minutes later. Was this the dreaded "CIO" that we AP parents malign? No. I wasn't using controlled crying to "teach" my baby that he needed to sleep. He knows that all by himself. It was simply that at this juncture in his life *I* was unable to *help* him sleep so I left him to figure it out himself (which he did). I probably no longer look like the perfect poster child for AP parenting but I'm raising happy, healthy kids who are independent and who are (slowly) learning that the world does not revolve around their needs. I get massively over-stimulated by my nine on a frequent basis. I think it's okay for them to learn that Mom needs downtime, too, and it's okay to figure it out yourself or wait until she's fed, pooped (alone!), and rested before she gives you more of herself. :)
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Jolee Burger said…
This is one of the most well-written, insightful, honest, heartfelt pieces I have ever read regarding motherhood. Every new mother needs to read this. I teach childbirth education, and I might share it with every couple I have! Thank you.
Randie Sanders said…
I could honestly just bawl reading this...seriously. THANK YOU!
Mommy Baby Spot said…
Fantastic post! I think parents really need to find what works for them. I've never read baby wise (and now don't have to, thank you for that) but I think in every parenting theory or whatever you want to call it, there's a balance that needs to be reached. You can't go 100% into AP or Baby Wise or anything, you have to look at all your options, educate yourself where you feel lacking and listen to your gut because your inner momma voice is often right! (and listen to your baby / kids). Thanks for the sound review!
momto5 said…
@CNH: i am so sorry. you know i agree. i think we do need more community and togetherness as mothers instead of all of this isolation. my first two kids i had no one, but family, no friends, no other mamas. it was so isolating. then with #3 was born, i also started homeschooling and found this AMAZING group of mama friends. i can not tell the night and day difference. not only was i more confident (as i had dome it twice before) but i had support of like minded mamas and we helped each other out. we have since moved but even now i am in an amazingly supportive community and really i can not imagine it any other way. it has really been like a life boat.
Great Comments Mamas!

It's nice to hear that other fall into the "almost" all AP style as well. Although we never CIO, my daughter is sleeping alone a little bit more every day....yes, I too need a few min alone to empty the frickin' dishwasher! :)
Lollie said…
I used babywise as a first time Mom 15yrs ago. I agree with everything you are saying but because I used it in a "parent" led way my baby was never starved or went hungry. But that's because if he woke up early for a feed I didn't wait the 15 or 30 mins to feed him, I fed him and we went with it. I really appreciated the sleeptime, eat time, wake time cycle. It really helped me know what my baby wanted, since I was clueless. Now I will say I made the mistake of letting him cry to sleep at too young of an age. With my next baby I learned how to help them sleep. I just had baby #6 and I can say I've learned a lot over the years. And what worked for one doesn't always work for the next. I would not recommend the book either, but it did have some good points which I would rather verbally pass on rather than pass out the book;) I am not 100% attachment parenting either, I'm not even entirely sure I know what that really means. But I do believe in being balanced. And of course Spirit Lead, as in Holy Spirit:)
There needs to be a balance between "scheduling" and "attachment" So that both Mom and baby can thrive. And I think all Moms need to be encouraged to follow their instincts, I had them 15yrs ago I just didn't know how to use them!
I love this post! My sister-in-laws were strict baby wisers and my friends are strict attachment parenters and I just found both extreme. It's nice to know other mamas have found a nice balance that is very nurturing to the child, but still provides room for self care and preservation of your relationship with your spouse!
Megan said…
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Megan said…
Ahhh! So well put. I couldn't agree more with pretty much all you said. I started out hoping to be a baby wise momma and quickly found myself in buckets of tears, overwhelming exhaustion, and hating myself and everyone around me in the process.
I quickly learned I needed to glean from the book what I could but not allow it to overrule my motherly instincts. I never went to the point of letting my child starve or purely listening to her wail for lengthy periods because I never felt that was right.
Baby wise has some great concepts, in my opinion, regarding trying to get your baby to work with the eat-wake-sleep cycle and doing PDF. However, I was never a fan of if my child became tired early, keeping her awake purely because it wasn't "nap time" or not feeding her because it was a "little too soon".
I have found, for myself, books can be helpful but in the end you have to take what you can make work for you and your child and trust your motherly instincts are there for a reason - God gave them to you!
Thanks for the well-worded post. I think you're general idea is right on the money!