So I did a post on my thoughts on attachment parenting. And it generated a lot of good discussion. So I think discussing what is often viewed/portrayed as ‘the other side’ may be helpful as well.
Full disclosure: I have not read any of Ezzo’s books. So, while I can speak to my general impressions based on talking with other parents about their different experiences and reading a few blog posts here and there, I am not well versed in ‘the theory’. (Although I did do some extra reading just for this post to try and get acquainted with the main for-against arguments). And I think that is okay. I don’t think I was particularly well versed in AP theory when I wrote that post either. (I had read Sears, but while exhausted with a newborn and devastated over the struggle/loss of nursing… which probably did a number on my reading comprehension.) Like my AP post, I am not outright 100% against these types of theories writ large, just like I am not 100% for any particularly theory writ large. I am just talking about what I think based on my impressions.
You may have other ideas, but I don’t want to get into a discussion about Ezzo’s personality flaws, expertise or lack there of, or the whole messy religion aspect that surrounds the discussion of Babywise. When I started to think about writing this post, I came across a whole lot of debate going on out there. And Wow. I so don’t want to go there.
What I do want to talk about is the concept of scheduling. To be quite frank, I don’t care what Ezzo says or doesn’t say. I know dude wrote the book, but once it’s out there and starts being a ‘theory’ it kinda takes on a mind of its own. There are many voices out there shaping what ‘babywise’ parenting is, what it means, and how it is implemented now. In the bit of research I did I saw a lot of quotes from Ezzo’s book. Some of those quotes seemed to support a very rigid, inflexible and controlled application of the theory. Other quotes seemed to point towards flexibility and malleability of the theory. To be honest readers interpret words and remember different emphasis in text based on their personal experiences and mindset at the time. I think we could probably agree that two different people could read the same thing and believe two fairly diverse variations of what the book is suggesting that they do. Hence why I don’t want to debate “Ezzo”; I would rather focus on the issues. This is not a book review.
Also, I should start by saying that I think most people who turn to ‘scheduling’ type theories, it is all about trying to get some routine and stability in the chaos. They want a plan of action, something they can do to try and make things a little less nuts. And, with all theories, some parents are able to implement in a way that works for their kid and some aren’t.
With that long introduction said, here are my concerns and thoughts re: Babywise parenting.
1) Infant feeding and scheduling
One of the strongest criticisms of Babywise is regarding infant feeding. There are serious concerns out there that Babywise recommends feeding infants on a schedule rather then on demand. Some claim that babywise parenting doesn’t mean you shouldn’t feed your infant if they are hungry, just that you should attempt to establish a routine. Others claim that it is strict in it’s approach to ‘parent directed feeding’.
Here is my thinking: for infants, especially during the first 8-12 weeks of establishing a breastfeeding relationship, feeding on demand is really the only way to go. You know the phrase, ‘watch the baby not the clock?’ Yeah, this makes sense.
That being said, can I also say that I think being aware the clock is still called for in some circumstances. For example, my daughter was a sleepy baby. She was dropping weight or not gaining and we were instructed by our lactation consultant that we had to feed her every 1 1/2 to 2 hours at night and more often during the day if necessary. We had the torturous task of setting the alarm all through the night and waking her up to feed her. If we had only fed on demand she wouldn’t have gotten enough because she would rather sleep then eat. My point is just that the clock does come in handy some times and feeding on demand is only part of the picture.
The other piece of this puzzle though is that babies main way to communicate is to cry. And that cry can mean one of a number of different things, one of which is hunger. It makes good sense to try to feed a crying baby. It is something straight forward and proactive you can do that may just be the reason baby is crying. I remember having a list on my fridge of stuff that could be making her cry, so I could go down the list checking to see if ‘that’ was it. Hungry was on the top of the list.
But I do think it is also good sense, particularly with an older baby, to stop and consider why baby is crying before immediately going to feeding. Babies want to be heard and understand and I think there is potential to stifle their ‘voice’ by just feeding (or offering them a soother) them every time they cry. But that is less a critique of scheduling and more a critique of our collective intense fear of babies crying.
Back to the point, I can understand (and echo) the concerns others have about ‘scheduling’ and infant feeding. I don’t think the two go together. Realistically sometimes baby will need to eat more often, sometimes less. That is true of you and me as well. It is completely normal for infants to cluster feed (feeding multiple times really close together, particularly in the evenings). The idea of scheduling feedings for a very young infant doesn’t seem to set the parents up for realistic expectations in my opinion.
One last thing I will say though, is that I completely understand why women may find the idea of scheduling infant feedings appealing. I remember a time when I was feeding Audrey about every 1 1/2 hours during the day. For weeks straight. She had come out of her really sleepy newborn stage and we were having major feeding issues. She was hungry, but not nursing well. I wasn’t producing enough milk. But I also couldn’t continue feeding that often for that long. (Especially because she was taking a good 30-45 minutes to nurse, then I was topping up with formula and then I was pumping… so by the time I got through all that I had to start again). At that point, it was a chicken-egg scenario: IF she was nursing effectively and IF I was producing enough milk, within a week I would have probably gotten up my milk production to meet her demand and she would have started nursing about every 2-3 hours instead of every 1-2 hours (while still sometimes needing to nurse every 1-2 hours occasionally). She was 2ish months old at this point. I started to try and stretch out our feedings and I gave her more top up formula (which we were already doing anyway on lactation consultant orders). I am sure, in retrospect, this didn’t help my milk supply. But to be honest, as I say, (chicken meet egg) continuing to feed every 1-2 hours wasn’t doing my supply any favours either… and if I had continued I am pretty sure I would have 1: gone crazy and 2: still ended up switching 100% to formula by month 4 anyway. Trust me. Anyway, my point is that I get why someone would want to schedule feedings. But if they are in the position I was of feeding that often for weeks on end… what they need is a good lactation consultant and good support, not a feeding schedule.
2) Infant sleep and scheduling
In terms of infant sleep and scheduling… one part of me says HA! and the other part of me says, yeah, I kinda agree. The HA part of me is the part where any parent thinks they can put their baby down at any given time and expect 100% for that child to fall asleep. You can not ‘make’ a baby follow a schedule, trust me, they often have other plans. And you certainly can’t ‘make’ a baby sleep through the night. When babies are first born they don’t have any concept of day and night, and it takes quite a while for them to establish a pattern of sleep. Some older babies may start sleeping through the night, or not. And some babies who usually sleep through the night still occasionally wake up in the middle of the night every so often. Like infant feeding, the idea of ‘scheduling’ seems to me to set someone up for failure and frustration.
Especially because the concept of scheduling doesn’t seem to have any flexibility built in. What if baby wakes up 3 hours earlier one day; by the time you get to ‘scheduled nap #1’ that baby is going to be so over tired that they will have a hard time falling asleep. (Isn’t it a sick irony that an overtired baby is the hardest to get to sleep? It’s like the worst negative cycle ever!) Or they will have fallen asleep on their own way before your ‘scheduled’ time. What if you have a doctors appointment at nap time? What if…. ?? You know?
On the other hand. I do agree with the principal that babies like routine, predictability and consistency. I don’t think scheduled nap and bedtimes work with a 2 month old, but I do think you can do things to encourage a pattern or routine to sleep. Some babies will take to it and some really wont. As long as you accept that it may or may not work for your baby and don’t beat yourself up about it, I don’t see anything wrong with trying.
When I say ‘trying’ here is what I mean. Between about 2 1/2 and 3 1/2 months we worked really hard to establish a routine for naps and bedtime. For naps, we didn’t follow a schedule, but rather this amazing concept of 90minute cycles (from a book called “The 90minute sleep solution”). Audrey would wake up in the morning and we would try put her down for a nap 90 minutes after she woke up. At this point she was 100% rocked or baby carried to sleep. Sometimes she would go down, sometimes she wouldn’t. If she didn’t, we would wait 90 minutes and try again. If she went to sleep, we would try to put her down 90 minutes after she woke up from that nap. Rinse, wash, repeat. No schedule, but routine establishing.
For bedtime we established a ‘we are no fun past 7pm’ rule. We knew we couldn’t make her move her bedtime from 10/11pm to 7pm. But we could provide a very quite, dim, low stimulation, absolutely no fun environment between 7pm and whenever she feel asleep. We took shifts either staying with her in her room, rocking her, feeding her, singing to her or caring her in the sling for a walk or around the house. (Actually, I think the evening sling routine was one we started really really early, like maybe 1 month) Quite. Dark. Calm. Within a month or so she started to go to bed between 7pm-8pm. By 5 months she was the Queen of the early 6pm bedtime. Yes, I know, a lot of babies wouldn’t give in so easily. But I don’t think it hurts to try.
So I guess what I am saying is that I think routines can be a very good thing. I am a big believer in nap times and bedtimes. (By the time Audrey was 6 months or so those 90minute till nap routines turned into 2 naps at roughly similar times with an early bedtime.) (I also recognize that for many families nap times and early bedtimes are nit realistic and/or may not be your preference. Thats cool, I am just saying it is my preference.) But again, I think it is about being realistic, flexible and accepting of the different stages your baby goes through. Teething, growth spurts, travel, day light savings time changes, ect, are all going to throw sleep out of whack.
Overall, that is often my issue with many theories (with the exception of AP theory, which I have to give them credit, do seem to get this more them most): unrealistic expectations and no attention paid to the stages and changes through a babies first year. 1 month olds and 6 months olds and 10 month olds seem like they all came from different planets. A lot of these scheduling type theories don’t seem to get that. They just suggest a schedule as the cure all. Trust me, nothing is a cure all. Lots of times you do something and then things change and you have no idea if what you did ‘worked’ or your baby just grew out of a stage. Other times you think something has been ‘fixed’ for good, only for it to all fall apart (damn you sleep regressions!). So by suggesting that schedule= good baby, I think they set parents up for more frustration, failure and resentment. Not only are you doing everything to take care, love and provide for this baby, you have some unrealistic standard of what a baby is ‘suppose’ to do heaped on top of that. Granted, I am sure that there are many parents who use babywise and effectively adapt it to meet the needs of their baby at different stages, bring flexibility in to the schedule and are realistic about what they expect from their baby. But I do think that scheduling run the risk of making that first year harder, not easier. The last thing anyone needs from any parenting theory is to feel like they are failing at it.
*I know the ‘babywise’ theory is more then just scheduling. I get that. But this post is already way long. So, if you feel that there is another aspect of this theory you would like me to address, have at it in the comments and I will see what I can do about a post addressing it specifically. Okay?