Sunday, October 5, 2014

How I became obsessed about Babywise.

 I was looking into becoming a Certified Lactation Consultant when I came across a website where Lactation Counselors share professional information and experience.  One of the LC's was sharing  her exasperation in working with a new mom whose baby was not gaining sufficient weight. The LC had recommended the mom feed the baby more frequently.

The mother refused. She would agree to any herbal remedies,  prescription medicine, or special techniques, but breastfeeding on demand was out of the question. She was a Christian, she explained, and would not feed on demand, because demand feeding was not "Godly parenting."

There's a Godly - and ungodly - way to nurse your baby? 

At the time I came across this post, I had been a bible-believing Christian for ten years, and a La Leche League Leader for almost twenty years. The LLL Leader who had mentored me through breastfeeding and mothering was also the one who led me to a relationship with Jesus Christ. Prior to that, I had become involved in one of the offshoots of Christianity - one of the door-to-door cults - which had taken me under their wings and guided me into some erroneous doctrine.

What kind of a crazy mind-control cult could convince parents that feeding their baby on demand was anti-Christian?

 With a background in cults and La Leche League and several years of breastfeeding knowledge and experience, I needed to know more about this and I immediately began to search. I soon found chat-rooms discussing this book called Babywise, and its author who seemed to have a cult-like following of committed believers quoting "For our God is not a god of disorder..." as a good reason to put a baby on a strict feeding schedule.
What the heck? That couldn't be right. I had to find out more.

I went to the bookstore to look at the book. It was the '95 version. It said nursing "less than a two-and-a-half-hour interval can wear mom down, often causing a decrease in milk production."  That is completely erroneous information.

It said sleeping with your baby is "passively abusive" and would leave children in "a state of abnormal dependency." As a La Leche League Leader for almost 20 years, I'd known literally hundreds of moms whose babies slept with them, and never, ever heard of such problems in any La Leche League families.

The book said if a two-week-old baby falls asleep while nursing and then wakes up hungry, you must make her wait until the next scheduled feeding. That's just mean! How could anyone be so heartless as to refuse to feed a nerborn baby until a clock says so? I decided not to purchase the book because I couldn't bear the idea of lining that author's pocket with my money!

I needed to know how people actually do this, so I joined an online mothers group for moms who use babywise parenting. I wasn't the only one questioning - and arguing with their philosophy. Again and again they would tell the nay-sayers "You cannot criticize it if you haven't even read the book!" So, reluctantly, I bought the book. The newest '98 version.

As I began to read the book I decided to be very open-minded, and imagined that I was not a mom of six, but a new mom. As a La Leche League Leader it was difficult to read through all the breastfeeding misinformation and downright lies. Ezzo, who has ZERO training in lactation, criticizes the certified specialists in what he calls the lactation "industry" as being "heavily biased in favor of the attachment parenting theories" and lacking "a working understanding of routine breast-feeding dynamics."

But, as I read I actually thought the book made a lot of sense. Perhaps Ezzo was right. Maybe if I had simply been more proactive in aiming for consistent feeding intervals with my babies, it would have smoothed out their inborn "metabolic chaos" and my kids might have begun to sleep through the night eariler "the natural way,"  and been more content, easier to manage, and so on.

Then I got to Chapter 8: "When Your Baby Cries."

To summarize Chapter Eight:
When your baby cries, ignore it. 
If he cries when you lay him down for a nap, it's normal, because he's "learning a new skill."
If he cries in the middle of a nap, that's normal, because he's just coming out of a sleep cycle.
If he cries at the end of a nap, that's normal because it's feeding time and he will soon be fed.
If he cries after feeding, it's because he didn't finish eating his meal properly. You can't allow him to snack, you let him cry to teach him a lesson about finishing his meal at the proper time.
If he cries during the night and he's over 8 weeks of age, it's simply a  habit, so you must stop responding to nighttime cries at this point. It usually takes 3 nights of crying before he stops. ( Ezzo calls this "guidance" and "teaching" the baby the "skill" of sleep.)
If he cries for no reason, well, that's just what babies do.

Besides, your job is to just listen to the cry so you will know what's normal for your child.

He then describes several examples of what he sees as "normal" crying. Interestingly, though he claims three nights of crying it out usually ends nighttime parenting, after three months of "training" all three of his grandbabies were still crying occasionally at naptimes. (page 147)

Of course, all this crying will naturally upset mothers. So, in this chapter we are told that motherly instincts are detrimental to their babies! Attempts to soothe a baby are reframed as "blocking the baby's cry" - as if she's somehow obstructing baby's development.

 By blocking the cry, mother loses confidence in her own decision making.
She also misses out on assessing the child's real needs.... she probably is missing her baby's primary cues.

Motherly instincts, he claims, are downright harmful to babies. She should never allow her emotions to lead the way. He writes, "Mother's decisions without assessment can be dangerous." and  "Emotional mothering can set the stage for child abuse."(page 150)

He admits that babies who are carried, nursed on demand and sleeping with their moms cry very little but claims this is not good(!), because "this parenting philosophy calls for the suppression of all crying" which is not nearly as important as "teaching good sleep habits."

UGH! So the truth of the matter is: it wasn't being fed routinely that trains babies into sleeping, it was being left alone to cry that led to the quiet nights.

I  spent countless hours online reading Ezzo debates, Ezzo support groups, testimonies, and watching some youtube vlogs. The best resource for all things Ezzo is

Back at the online support group, someone said, "The Babywise book is really good and helpful as a guide. The problem with the critics is that they don't realize the biblical viewpoint behind all of the guidelines in the book. If they knew the scriptural reasoning behind the book's recommendations, they'd understand why we faithfully follow the program."

So I got on eBay, and purchased a copy of  Preparation for Parenthood, complete with eight weeks worth of audio tapes for teaching classes and a study guide.
I listened to the tapes, read the workbook, and studied the scriptures he mentions. I found it all extremely manipulative and disturbing.

I then purchased:
  •  Babywise II: Parenting your pre-toddler 5-18 months,
  •  Preparation for the Toddler years book & tape series,
  • Childwise, 
  • "Birth By Design"  by Anne Marie Ezzo (All were purchased used, to avoid putting another dollar in that man's pocket.)

One thing I do not have is personal experience with Ezzo families. It is not promoted in my church. I personally know of only a couple of families who used the program, not enough make any conclusions about the effects of its use.

 So what has caused my crazy obsession with all things Ezzo?

1. As a La Leche League Leader, I know Ezzo's breastfeeding information is terrible. Ezzo has no background in infant feeding, and no business writing a book about a feeding program.

2. As a Christian, I’m concerned that Ezzo uses scripture out of context to make a point. { So I do the same thing in this very blog!} Also, scripture tells women to learn about caring for our children from other women, not men (Titus 2:3-5).

3. As an attachment-style parent, I know Ezzo is either very misinformed about what AP entails, or else is lying in order to mislead parents. If he’s lying, we can’t trust anything he says. If he’s misinformed, he has no right to author a book criticizing a parenting philosophy about which he knows so little.

4. As a mother of six, I know his one-size-fits-all approach to parenting is unrealistic and rigid. Every baby is different, and every family is different. And my mother's heart breaks for every little baby crying for his mommy and being ignored.

5. As a former cult member, I see very cult-like attitudes among the followers of this program, especially the Prep for Parenthood because a) its taught in churches as TRUTH and b) the attendees continue to support each other in following the methods, compared to one reading the book and simply tossing it if dissatisfied.

6. As a trained Psychiatric Nurse, I can accept his program does indeed "work" but only because excessive sleep is a defense mechanism for feelings of hopelessness. What could be more hopeless than to be a helpless newborn and discover that nobody comes when you call?

Finally, sometimes, the baby is NOT actually sleeping through the night when the parent claims they are. Sometimes the parents lie, because it's considered bad parenting if your child is NOT sleeping through, and sometimes the parents have actually trained their ears not to hear ... the same way you stop hearing noisy traffic or a chiming clock when you become accustomed to the sounds when said sounds are deemed irrelevant.