Saturday, August 28, 2010

Babywise: A Parent's Wish Come True or a Baby's Foe? Part 3, Meddling with Mommy's Mind

Note: This is the third installment in a series on a controversial topic. In no way do I seek to offend or attack the well-meaning, loving parents who use Gary Ezzo's materials. Instead, it is Ezzo's philosophy and methods that I criticize. This series will be presented as a project for Dallas Seminary's wives training program.

I politely request that comments be limited to the issues raised in this post only. Of course, tie-ins with my last post, "Problems Theological," are welcome, too. It is important that I complete my argument before additional issues are raised by my readers.

Quotations and paraphrases from the 2006 edition of Babywise are noted with just a page number instead of a full parenthetical citation.

* * *

The 2006 edition of On Becoming Babywise boasts "Over 2 Million [GFI] Books in Print" (front cover). What makes Gary Ezzo's methods so popular? Certainly a book that promises to get baby into a predictable routine and sleeping through the night quickly is appealing. But I believe there is another factor getting parents "hooked" on Babywise: Ezzo's manipulation of mothers (and fathers, too!) to convince them that his plan is necessary and to keep them committed to it. Babywise is dangerous due to its possible psychological effects on parents.*

Babywise is dangerous because Ezzo psychologically manipulates parents by creating mistrust of the medical community. His own parent-directed feeding (PDF) program, which strives to feed baby at regular intervals based on both baby's hunger and a parent's determination of true need and that lets baby cry-it-out if he lacks the ability to fall asleep unassisted or if he continues to wake for middle-of-the-night feedings after two months, conflicts with the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommendations. To convince parents that the advice of medical professionals is flawed, Ezzo first traces demand feeding back to roots in psychology, which many Christian readers mistrust already. Even if demand feeding stems from psychology (the feeding practices of other cultures suggest otherwise), its roots do not make the practice invalid. Ezzo ignores the fact that the study of lactation is still a developing science^ and that much research supports demand feeding as the most healthy breastfeeding philosophy.

In addition, Ezzo creates suspicion through his choice of definition. Rather than using an accurate definition of demand feeding, Ezzo erroneously equates demand feeding with attachment parenting. He defines demand feeding through a fictional character, Allicin: "'I nursed my babies whenever they cried or began to fuss. On average, I was told that mothering attachment required me to nurse every two hours around the clock for the first six weeks'" (33). At least Ezzo is honest about his choice of definition: "For the purpose of this book and because of its extreme nature, Allicin's definition of attachment parenting will be used when referring to demand-feeding rather than the other . . . moderate forms described by [two other fictional characters]" (33). Childbirth educator Patty Donohue-Carey states, when referring to "Allicin's" definition, that "none of the above anecdotes reflect[s] the standard definition of demand feeding by medical and lactation experts" (1999, 23)** Finally, about thirty pages later, Ezzo does give an appropriate definition of demand feeding: "feed[ing] . . . babies every two or three hours based on the baby's hunger cues: putting fist toward mouth, making sucking motions, whimpering. (Crying is a late signal of hunger)" (65). However, he continues throughout the book to mischaracterize demand feeding.

By equating demand feeding with attachment parenting, a parenting philosophy that may be too "child-centered" to mesh with many Christian parents' religious beliefs, Ezzo leads parents to view a doctor's or lactation consultant's advice with suspicion. He tell parents that
as a result of their training, members of the lactation industry are heavily biased in favor of the attachment parenting theories. PDF is a major paradigm shift for the industry and not all consultants have a working understanding of the associated breast-feeding benefits. . . . Do not be surprised if the concept of putting a nursing infant on a "flexible routine" is questioned (100-01).
Additionally he states
If you are getting more parenting philosophy from the consultant than breastfeeding mechanics, or if you are told to feed your baby every hour, carry him in a sling, or anything else sounding extreme, consider looking elsewhere for help.

If you come across a consultant offering advice such as above share her name with other moms as a warning, especially Babywise moms. . . .

If you hear something that does not sound right or sounds extreme, consider getting a second opinion, keeping in mind what is normal for attachment-parenting babies is not necessarily normal for PDF babies (101).
Again he promotes suspicion of lactation consultants on the next page:
Consider taking a breast-feeding class at your local hospital or renting a how-to video. You can attend a class and learn proper techniques of breastfeeding without accepting the instructor's personal parenting philosophies that sometimes accompany such classes (102).
Note that he limits the acceptable advice from a lactation consultant to "mechanics" and "proper techniques." Other advice is viewed as "parenting philosophy," not sound medical advice supported by research. One Christian lactation consultant reported that a PDF mother told her, "On one side I have God . . . on the other, you" ("Specific Examples", 4). Clearly, Ezzo succeeded in creating suspicion and mistrust in this mom.

The mistrust created by Ezzo is necessary to ensure parents follow his program. The average parent would follow a pediatrician's or lactation consultant's advice on how to keep a child healthy. But by insinuating that lactation consultants are steeped in psychology and attachment parenting and are leading them astray, he has parents in his pocket. Donohue-Carey agrees: "They [Ezzo and Bucknam] discredit a parenting concept by defining it as an extreme that is then decried as invalid and/or harmful. . . . In order to champion Parent-Directed Feeding, demand feeding must first be disparaged because it is supported by the vast weight of professional opinion" (1999, 24). Only through this psychological manipulation can Ezzo convince parents to follow him instead of medical professionals.

Babywise is dangerous for a second psychological effect, the fear Ezzo creates. According to Ezzo, the consequences of not following his PDF method and choosing demand feeding instead are devastating. Babywise is presented as the morally correct choice, "a mind-set for responsible parenthood" (17). Supposedly, "much more is happening during feeding time than just filling up a little tummy. How you choose to feed your baby will have a profound effect on your child's . . . basic disposition" (30) and "a feeding philosophy represents more than just passing on nourishment to a baby; it represents a complex value system" (43). Of course every parent wants to act responsibly toward his child and to pass on proper values, but these comments lead parents to fear permanent damage to their child's character if they do not follow Babywise. Ezzo asks,
Is the parent's job simply to respond to an infant's demands? When then, would this concept switch over to allow the parents to direct the child? Toddler years? Preteen or teen years? Hardly. By then you've missed the boat, and your child sails full speed ahead oblivious to fundamental skills like falling comfortably asleep alone. That's only the beginning (46).
What fear this statement rouses! Is demand feeding and responding to baby's cries equal to allowing the child control? No! Many (most?) mothers who demand-feed in infancy are committed to guiding their children and disciplining them when age-appropriate. Hasn't every mom had an experience, usually once baby starts crawling, when she knows that baby understands "no"? This is the moment mom decides who will take control. Will she let baby reach for the dog's tail or the neatly stacked pile of papers? Or will she assert her own authority? Responding to a child's need for food and comfort poses no threat to parental authority. Plenty of opportunities will come in the future for junior to be shown his place in the family hierarchy.

Fears about a child's character development are not the only ones Ezzo creates. He also presents detrimental physical and sleep-related problems that will result from demand feeding. He claims that "from birth onward, infant hunger patterns will either become stable and regular or move towards [sic] inconsistency. When infants are fed on the PDF plan, their hunger patterns stabilize . . . . This happens only where feeding periods are routine" (47-48). When speaking of sleep-training the infant, he uses this scenario:
Imagine your spouse getting no more than three hours sleep at a stretch for one week. . . . Certainly the negative effects on his or her mature central nervous system are widely known. You would not be surprised to observe your partner becoming irritable and weak, having difficulty concentrating, perhaps experiencing partial neurologic shutdown. This is just the beginning. Now consider an infant whose central nervous system is still developing. Even more is at stake (55).
And this next statement alone is enough to make a mother reject demand feeding out of hand:
Chelsea, our [fictional] PDF baby, will establish healthy and continuous nighttime sleep sometime between the seventh and ninth week. She will probably be sleeping ten hours a night by week twelve. Her [fictional demand-fed cousin] will still be waking two or three times a night to snack. To her mother's dismay, this pattern is apt to continue for two very long years (44).
I can hear a parent's thoughts after reading these unsubstantiated^^ claims: It's my job to regulate my baby's metabolism. Oh, the damage that will occur to his nervous system if I don't take control and let him cry himself to sleep, no matter the duration of crying! I won't get a full night's sleep for how long if I demand-feed? The picture of an infant Ezzo presents is far from a "fearfully and wonderfully made" (Psalm 139:14 AV) creation of God. Without sarcasm, I ask, "Did God mess up when he sent a helpless infant to a set of young parents without sending an accompanying 'owner's manual'?" Far from it! Babies are not so delicate as this. Pediatrician Matthew Aney cites the AAP's Caring for Your Baby and Young Child (CYB) to contradict Ezzo. (I quote Aney at length and have bolded particularly helpful statements.)
CYB states, “By three months, most (but not all) infants consistently sleep through the night (seven or eight hours without waking)” (CYB p. 187). The reasons that babies at this age are able to sleep through the night are given: “By two months your baby will be more alert and social, and will spend more time awake during the day. This will make her a little more tired during the dark, quiet hours when no one is on hand to entertain her. Meanwhile, her stomach capacity will be growing, so that she needs less frequent feedings; as a result she may start skipping one middle-of-the-night feeding and sleep from around 10:00 P.M. through to daylight” (CYB p. 187). Also, “As she gets older and her stomach grows, your baby will be able to go longer between feedings. In fact, you’ll be encouraged to know that more than 90 percent of babies sleep through the night (six to eight hours without waking) by three months. Most infants are able to last this long between feedings when they reach 12 or 13 pounds, so if yours is a very large baby, she may begin sleeping through the night even earlier than three months” (CYB p. 38). For the babies that do not sleep through the night on their own by this age, CYB does offer advice that the parent can do, but this ability of the baby sleeping through the night does not wholly depend on what the parent does. “If your child does not start sleeping through the night by three months, you may need to give her some encouragement by keeping her awake longer in the afternoon and early evening. . . . Increase the amount of her feeding right before bed” (CYB p. 187) (2001, 9).
What reassuring information! Clearly, as baby grows she tends toward predictability, not instability as Ezzo proposes. Mom and Dad need not control her eating times or leave her sobbing in her crib for her to learn to sleep through the night. Perhaps even the successes Ezzo attributes to the routine and structure of PDF are really the result of baby's natural propensity to settle into a routine. As the typical baby matures physically, she will establish routines on her own. There is simply no reason to fear otherwise.

Other fears implanted in parents' minds regard possible obesity due to demand feeding (140) and creating a fussy disposition in baby: "If you want a fussy baby, never let him cry, and hold, rock, and feed him as soon as he starts to fuss. We guarantee that you will achieve your goal" (131). On this point, Dr. Aney's comments are again reassuring: "The advice in CYB is to respond promptly to the cry, and the result is that baby cries less and the baby is not spoiled" (2001, 8). What to Expect the First Year echoes and adds to Aney's statement:

Not sparing the comfort won't spoil the baby, at least not until she's at least six months old. In fact, studies show pouring on the comfort now--by picking her up within a couple minutes whenever she cries and catering to her needs--not only won't turn out a spoiled brat, it will turn out a happy, more self-reliant child who in the long run will cry less and demand less attention. She will also have a closer attachment to you . . . and be more trusting [emphasis mine] (Eisenberg, Murkoff, and Hathaway, 1996, 130-31).
The unwarranted claims of Ezzo create much fear and anxiety in parents--fear that is completely unnecessary.

A third potential psychological effect of Babywise is an undermining of a mother's commitment to breastfeeding. Make no mistake, Ezzo does make several statements about the superiority of breast milk; however, he seems to want mothers comfortable with the possibility of bottle feeding. "Bottle-feeding is not a twentieth-century discovery," he writes, "but a practice in existence for thousands of years" (80). In the same chapter he says, "One advantage of bottle-feeding is it allows others to participate. Feeding time for dad is just as special for him as for mom. Fathers should not be denied this opportunity to nurture" (81). Even his descriptions of the benefits of breast milk downplay its importance:
We know the nutritional and health disparity between breast milk and formula over the first twelve weeks of baby's life is substantial. By six months of age, this disparity remains. However, it is to a lesser degree than in the first twelve weeks. Between six and nine months, the difference between what is best and what is good continues to narrow. This is partly due to the fact that other food sources are now introduced in your baby's diet. Between nine and twelve months, the nutritional value of breast milk drops and food supplements are usually needed. Going beyond a year in our society is done more out of a preference for nursing than an absolute nutritional need. Nonetheless, the American Academy of Pediatrics encourages mothers to breastfeed at least a year [emphasis mine] (79-80).
Given the universal acceptance that breast milk is best, why would Ezzo undermine its importance? I believe the answer lies in this statement: "Are you willing to risk a challenge to long term breast-feeding for the benefits gained with the order and structure derived from routine feedings? While most moms can satisfy both with Babywise, we recognize that not all moms can because in parenting no philosophy comes without trade-offs" (64).Though Ezzo has never conceded that his program has caused insufficient milk production and failure-to-thrive, as observed by many medical professionals who have cared for babies fed according to Babywise, this statement insinuates that the plan may cause some difficulty in the continuation of breastfeeding. Perhaps Ezzo wants mothers comfortable with bottle feeding so that they do not think much about the cause of their difficulty and remain loyal to the program. True, Ezzo does continue his statement with "it is okay to deviate from either your routine or breast-feeding philosophy to accomplish whichever priority is most important to you," but the likelihood of a mother choosing continued breastfeeding over Ezzo's plan after the frightening claims he makes (my previous point) seems small. Since Ezzo has undermined the mother's commitment, she is now perfectly comfortable switching to bottle feeding because, after all, generations have bottle-fed and the benefits of breast milk quickly decrease. I suspect many mothers are not aware of the subtle psychological de-conditioning that Ezzo is performing.

The final psychological danger I perceive with Babywise is that its advice may distance a mother emotionally from her baby. Even the terminology Ezzo uses to describe his program, "infant management" (16), suggests emotional distance. Yes, he does tell parents to love, nurture, and show affection; but to present a plan of management connotes control and fitting a child into a predesigned mold instead of allowing him to develop more naturally as an individual.

What is far more serious than Ezzo's management concept is his view of maternal instinct or mother's intuition. In 1989, Ezzo wrote, "Mothers do not possess special instincts--there is no need for it [sic] since God created us as rational beings" (1989, 48). Though the statement is not repeated in the 2006 Babywise, he does instruct parents to "listen, think, and then take action [emphasis mine]" (153) and to "determine when you should intervene and when you need to hold back. . . . It is called parental assessment [emphasis mine]" (150). The focus is on reason, thus leading me to infer that he still holds to his 1989 belief. I agree that mothers should evaluate their babies' cries. Once mom has figured out baby's complex communication system, she can tell a true "I need you" or "I'm scared" cry from an "I'm angry that it's naptime because I want to stay in my exersaucer" cry. But denying that maternal instinct exists has no biblical basis and may cause a mother to suppress her emotions when, in actuality, she may need to heed them.

Ezzo is correct that God created man as a rational being. Our reason separates us from the animals, but so does emotion, itself a gift from God. In fact, God often conveys his emotions toward mankind in maternal language. Nowhere in the Bible is the idea of maternal instinct denied; interestingly, some biblical stories demonstrate its existence. Think of Moses' mother: is putting an infant in a basket, in a river, with only his young sister to watch out for him rational? I think she was motivated, not by reason, but by emotion and maternal instinct. What about the two women Solomon encountered, both claiming to be the mother of one child? The real mother, rather than presenting a well-reasoned argument to prove her maternity simply surrendered her parental rights to save the baby's life. What led her to this split-second decision? Listening, thinking, and then taking action? No. Her maternal instinct which valued the child's life over her own happiness.

What can happen if a woman suppresses her mother's intuition? She will follow Ezzo's advice to a tee, particularly in regard to baby's crying. Ezzo writes, "There may be a brief period of fussing or crying when you put the baby down for a nap. Don't be deterred from doing what is best for the child. Some crying is a normal part of a baby's day and some babies will cry a few minutes in the process of settling themselves to sleep" (131). Many babies do fit this description, but others will not stop crying after a few minutes but will continue, if left alone, for a long time. One Babywise mom told me that when she first implemented Ezzo's sleep-training advice, her son cried for over an hour before finally falling asleep. Ezzo offers no time limit after which mother should get baby and rock him to sleep: "There is no precise time limitation for normal periods of crying" (150). He does later advise,
In the event that you have listened, waited, and determined that the crying is not subsiding, gather more information by checking on the baby. . . . There will be times when your assessment calls for picking up and holding the baby. You simply may need to reassure the child that everything is all right. . . . Your assessment may produce many options" (152).
But, since Ezzo does not limit crying's duration, after how much time can one make the determination that the cry isn't subsiding? What is the parent to do if comforting the baby for a few minutes doesn't solve the problem and he returns to crying once put down again? Since Ezzo has indicated that too much holding and responding to cries will make baby fussy, wouldn't it seem Ezzo expects parents to let the baby keep crying? I think many mothers probably cast aside Ezzo's advice in these situations and give in to maternal instinct, but others do not. Dr. Aney reports the following case:
Two mothers conversed on the internet about desensitization to their children’s needs while on the Ezzo program. One said when her second child was about six months old, she noticed she “did not have any feelings of empathy towards my children” and became very “irritated with their needs.” Another responded that she, too, had noticed a lack of bondedness with her son at around four to five months. The first mother responded, “I am ashamed to say that I could let them cry for over an hour without giving it a second thought. Eventually they did stop, and go back to sleep—or sometimes just lay down with a glazed look on their faces.” These two women had eventually decided this was wrong, and were making efforts to be more responsive to their children ("Specific Examples," 2).
This is not an isolated case. Similar stories abound, and I refer my readers to's "Voices of Experience" section for more real-life examples.

A baby's cry, especially for an extended period, is traumatic for a mother. The only way she can deal with the emotional stress it causes, other than responding to the infant, is to suppress her emotions and distance herself from the child, as the mothers in the above example did. How else could a mother follow Ezzo's 1995 advice regarding a two-week-old baby who falls asleep during a feeding? "If your daughter doesn't eat at one feeding, then make her wait until the next one. That will probably only happen once. Don't feed her between routine mealtimes; otherwise, you are teaching her to snack, not eat" (Ezzo, 1995, 180). Ignoring her maternal instincts harms a mother by robbing her of the joy of motherhood and stripping her of a unique characteristic of womanhood. In turn, her baby is harmed as well. The Christian Research Institute's 1998 article on GFI told the following heartbreaking story:
Katherine West, a registered nurse and lactation consultant who has been working with GFI followers for 10 years, acknowledged that although many of the children turn out well, depression is not unusual. She said of a baby on the Ezzos' program who was not gaining weight well: "I'll lay dollars to donuts this baby is clinically depressed and somewhat withdrawn (has already learned that the world does not come when needed, so no longer cries when there are needs) yes? I've seen it too many times" (Terner and Miller, 1998, 8).
Could it be that this child's mother, by following Ezzo's advice, had suppressed her maternal instinct? Never is the benefit of a baby who sleeps through the night worth such risk.

Babywise is harmful to parents for its potential to create mistrust and fear, to desensitize a mother to the importance of breastfeeding, and to break down the emotional bond between mother and baby. Why Gary Ezzo feels so strongly about his medically unsupported*** program that he psychologically manipulates his readers I cannot presume to know. The fact is, this manipulation is often successful and has harmed many. To conclude this post, I want to share a personal story, one that is not easy to admit to but that I hope will help other mothers.

I've shared in this series my exposure to and rejection of Babywise and my decision to stick to doctor's orders by demand feeding my daughter. In truth, forgetting Babywise did not prove easy. What I'd read had infiltrated my mind and implanted a quickly spreading virus of anxiety. What if the doctors, nurses, and lactation consultants are promoting an agenda?Maybe Ashley's frequent hunger cues are her way of manipulating me. What if it really is too late to take control later? I sometimes thought. We'd try putting Ash to bed when she was sleepy yet still awake, as nearly all the books and magazines suggest; but she'd only cry and, instead of settling down a few minutes later, would be crying louder and harder and was roused to full wakefulness. My maternal instinct told me that this baby needed my help to fall asleep for now, and my mom promised me that Ashley would learn to self-soothe. But maybe, just maybe, Mom is wrong, the book whispered. Perhaps Ashley's just asserting her self-will and you're enabling her in her rebellion.

One day, when Ashley was seven weeks old, my fears reached their climax. "Ashley's still not on a nap schedule," I sobbed to my mom on the phone.

She wasn't at all concerned about Ashley. "Have you told Dr. Epps that you're still so weepy. I think you should be over this by now."

I knew what she was insinuating. "There's nothing wrong with me," I responded. "I have a legitimate concern." True, there was nothing biologically wrong with me. My problem was that I, even as an "anti-Babywiser," had fallen victim to Ezzo's psychological manipulation. I can almost laugh about my "legitimate concern" now, knowing that a seven week old's lack of routine is nothing unusual; but the agony I felt, all due to a book I wanted no part of, isn't funny.

I'm not sure what finally freed me of my Babywise-induced fears. I guess that as my demand-fed, rocked-to-sleep-for-a-few-months baby did settle into a routine, started sleeping through the night around three months, and began to display a winsome personality (What joy she brought to the folks at the retirement community where we ministered!), I had in my arms the proof that Babywise's claims were false. I truly thank God that these psychological strongholds have been torn down and look forward to demand feeding my coming addition, free of fear, guilt, and suspicion. I wish the same for all mothers.

* I feel it is important to reveal a bit about Gary Ezzo. He is not a doctor (medical or otherwise). He has no training in medicine, lactation, or psychology. In fact, the only academic degree he holds is an M.A. in ministry from Talbot School of Theology (California), a degree designed for students without a bachelor's degree and giving credit for life experience. I am not resorting to an ad hominem attack by sharing this information. Ezzo readers must be aware that the man they are taking medical advice from is not qualified to give such advice.

What about Dr. Robert Bucknam, the M.D. named as co-author? He is a pediatrician; however, his contributions to the book were limited. As I stated in my second post, "Problems Theological," Babywise is a secularized version of Preparation for Parenting (now titled Along the Infant Way), a Christian book written by Gary and Anne Marie Ezzo. Other than the removal of religious references, the original Babywise was nearly identical to Preparation for Parenting. Dr. Bucknam wrote the foreword to Babywise but little, if anything, else. Additionally, at the time he was added as co-author (when Ezzo self-published the first edition of Babywise in 1993) Bucknam was in no position to be writing a book on infant care: he was a novice pediatrician, having just completed his pediatric residency in 1992. Due to Bucknam's limited input, I refer to Ezzo as the author.

^ My lactation consultant in Pensacola said that, prior to the last thirty years, lactation as a science had not received much attention. My mother's experience in nursing school in the late '70s seems to confirm this claim as she was not taught many of the scientific discoveries I learned in Baptist Hospital's one- or two-hour breastfeeding class. When my mother had her own children in the late '70s and early '80s, almost no breastfeeding advice was provided by the hospital nurses. Rather, the instruction was basically limited to "here's your baby, now feed him," with no teaching of technique offered.

** Donohue-Carey cites the 1998 edition of Babywise, but the definition of demand feeding remains unchanged in the 2006 edition.

^^ Ezzo provides no footnotes or references for these very scientific-sounding claims.

*** My next post will substantiate this claim.


Aney, Matthew. "Analysis of GFI VS. AAP Comparison Chart." (accessed August 28, 2010).

Aney, Matthew. "Analysis of GFI VS. AAP Comparison Chart." (accessed August 28, 2010). Quoting Steven P. Shelov and Robert E. Hannemann, ed., Caring for Your Baby and Young Child. n. p.: American Academy of Pediatrics, 1998.

Aney, Matthew. "Specific Examples--Problems Associated with GFI's Program." (accessed August 28, 2010).

Donohue-Carey, Patty. "What to Make of Babywise." Childbirth Instructor (November, December 1999): 22-27.

Eisenberg, Arlene, Heidi E. Murkoff, and Sandee E. Hathaway. What to Expect the First Year. New York: Workman Publishing, 1996.

Ezzo, Gary and Anne Marie.
Preparation for Parenting: A Biblical Perspective. n. p.: 1989. Quoted on (accessed August 17, 2010).

Ezzo, Gary and Robert Bucknam. On Becoming Babywise. n.p.: 1995. Quoted on (accessed August 28, 2010).

Ezzo, Gary and Robert Bucknam.
On Becoming Babywise: Giving Your Infant the Gift of Nighttime Sleep. 4th ed. Louisiana, MO: Parent-Wise Solutions, 2006.

Terner, Kathleen and Elliot Miller. "More than a Parenting Ministry: The Cultic Characteristics
of Growing Families International." Christian Research Journal (Spring 1998). Reprint. n. p.:
n. d.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Babywise: A Parent's Wish Come True or a Baby's Foe? Part 2, Problems Theological

Note: This is the second installment in a series which I plan to present as a Marriage and Family project for the seminary wives study program at Dallas Seminary. The topic is controversial, but in no way do I seek to attack or offend the well-meaning, loving parents who have followed Gary Ezzo's methods. Instead, it is Ezzo's methods and philosophy that I criticize.

I hope my readers will understand my need to use secondary sources. Were I sitting in an office, sipping a four dollar coffee, and getting paid to write, I most certainly would have been able to obtain primary sources; but, alas, I am "just" a writing teacher turned stay-at-home mom with a very limited budget.

In my last post, I requested that readers not post comments until I had completed the series.
After some thought, I will amend my request. I ask that comments be limited to the issues raised in this post only. I feel that it is important to finish my argument before other issues are raised by my readers. Thank you!

* * *

Though my readers may have expected this post to discuss milk production or failure-to-thrive, I begin with the theological problems behind Gary Ezzo's philosophy. Through hours of research, I've come to believe the theological dangers of Babywise, and other Ezzo materials, to be the most widespread yet subtle of the dangers. It is important for me to explain that, at least in this post, I will refer not just to Babywise but also to other materials from Ezzo's ministry, Growing Families International (GFI). Babywise is a secularized version of Preparation for Parenting that Gary and Anne Marie Ezzo wrote several years before Babywise was published. Though Babywise doesn't reference Scripture, its Christian perspective is obvious to Christians. The theological perspective of the Ezzos is implied in Babywise but is overt in the other materials. I believe Gary Ezzo's methods and philosophy are dangerous due to five theological errors.

The most serious theological concern I have with Gary Ezzo's methods and philosophy is that he asserts his preferences as biblical truth. It is wise to seek counsel from parents whose children we admire and from Christian authors. But all advice must be weighted carefully. Never can we equate someone's opinion or application of Scripture with Scripture itself. When an "expert" offers a specific method for raising children, we must tread carefully; for the Bible itself gives very few specifics in this area.

From 1984 or 1985 (I've been unable in my research to ascertain the exact date) until 1993, Gary Ezzo worked on the pastoral staff of Grace Community Church (GCC; Sun Valley, CA), pastored by John MacArthur. Gary and wife Anne Marie began their ministry, GFI, while at GCC and used the church as GFI's headquarters. Due to the long affiliation between GFI and GCC, after Ezzo's non-amicable departure from the church, GCC was compelled to clarify their position regarding Ezzo and his ministry. In their 1997 statement, the elders of GCC cite several concerns they had with Ezzo and GFI (that they had addressed with Ezzo before he left the church). The first concern was
confusion between biblical standards and matters of personal preference. The best known example of this is the GFI emphasis on infant feeding schedules, combined with GFI's zealous opposition to demand feeding by nursing mothers. Portraying scheduled feeding as the true biblical practice, GFI strongly implies that demand feeding should be regarded as an unbiblical, humanistic--even sinful--approach to caring for infants ("Statement Regarding Gary Ezzo," 1997).
A specific approach to breastfeeding is nowhere stated in Scripture. Even Ezzo has said, "There's no biblical issue governing feeding babies. It's an area of freedom" (Giles, 1993), but he wrote in Preparation for Parenting, "Working from a biblical mindset and practicing demand-feeding can never be harmonized since the two are incompatible philosophies" (Giles, 1993).

While certainly not every reader of Ezzo has accepted the idea that demand-feeding is unbiblical, some have, even women working for Campus Crusade for Christ: "When another mother among these fulltime Crusade staffers demand-feeds her children, 'she is lumped into a category of people who are of the world'" (Terner and Miller, 1998, 7). Ezzo has even asserted that "a practical routine similar to PCF [parent-controlled feeding--he now uses the term parent-directed feeding] was the method used in biblical times and most likely the method used by Mary, the mother of Jesus" (Ezzo, c. 1990-93, 45). Though not outrightly claiming in this statement that mothers are bound biblically to follow Mary's supposed feeding plan, appealing to Mary as an example does put the thought in one's head. While it is possible that Mary scheduled Jesus' feedings, we cannot know for sure. If PCF/PDF-type routines were used in biblical times, their use then does not mean they are the "right" way for all time. Certainly Ezzo would not assert that Christians today should follow the same diet Mary ate while nursing Jesus or that they wrap their babies in the same type of clothe used in her day.

What frightens me about Ezzo's equating of his
preference for scheduled feedings with biblical truth is that if a mother believes his assertion is correct, she will not follow medical or other sage advice to the contrary. For example, if a woman complained to her OB of a low milk supply and her doctor emphasized demand-feeding as a means of building her supply, she, as a conscientious Christian not wanting to disobey any "biblical teaching," would be compelled to ignore her physician's advice, thinking it sinful.

GCC's statement also identifies co-sleeping, babywearing, and rocking babies to sleep as topics on which Ezzo has asserted his preferences as biblical truth. No mandates on these topics are found in the Bible.

GCC is not the only Christian organization to note Ezzo's equation of preference with Bible truth. Focus on the Family, as a recognized source for many good Christian parenting ideas, has received numerous questions about Ezzo and GFI. In a letter sent to inquirers, Focus states,
The original title of the program, Growing Kids God's Way, has an unnecessarily exclusivistic sound about it, as if there were only one "correct" and godly way to raise children and that all other methods were "unbiblical." In contrast to this, Dr. Dobson believes that there are many different approaches to raising children that are both healthy and consistent with the teaching of Scripture" ("Focus on the Family Statement," 2004).
Truly, Dr. Dobson is correct. Because the Bible does not outline a specific method for raising children, a man has no basis for claiming that his way is the Bible's way. Leading people to believe something is sinful or convincing them that a particular method is taught in Scripture when the Bible is silent on such matters is deceptive and cannot be taken lightly.

Closely tied to the first theological danger of confusing preference with biblical teaching is my second theological concern with Ezzo's material, his misapplication or twisting of Scripture to "prove" a point. Focus states, "Speaking of Scripture, Christian leaders have questioned the Ezzos' use of biblical texts in their parenting materials, highlighting instances in which the authors seem to ignore the original context and purpose of Scripture in order to draw conclusions about their particular approach to parenting" ("Focus on the Family Statement, " 2004). A particular example of Ezzo's misuse of Scripture that I have come across again and again in my research regards Matthew 27: 46, Christ's cry on the cross: "My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?" (AV). Ezzo wrote, "Praise God that the Father did not intervene when His Son cried out on the cross . . . . If He had stopped the process there would be no redemption for us today. Our Heavenly Father's non-intervention to His Son's cry at that moment was the right response, bringing peace to all who trust in Him" (Ezzo, c. 1990-93, 122). Philip Ryken, former pastor of Tenth Presbyterian Church, Philadelphia, and now president of Wheaton College, calls Ezzo's use of this passage to justify his belief that mothers should not respond to every cry from their babies "sacrilege" (Ryken, 1998).
Even if the point Ezzo makes is valid, the misuse of Scripture to justify his point violates Paul's command to Timothy to "rightly [divide] the word of truth" (2 Tim 2:15 AV).

By providing an explanation of Scripture that appears to support his teachings, some readers will become ensnared by Ezzo's philosophy and may not be able to discern for themselves which aspects to accept or reject. One woman admits, "It's been a while since I've had a devotional [reading of Scripture] because I don't feel I trust my discernment any more. Any interpretation I get I question whether I understand it right . . . [.] Instead of measuring against the Bible I'm measuring against [GFI]" (Terner and Miller, 1998, 5). Any organization that creates biblical confusion in one it is supposedly ministering to should be considered with caution.

A third danger with GFI materials is that they do not place proper emphasis on regeneration and the work of the Holy Spirit. Please do not misunderstand: Ezzo
does believe in and state the need for salvation. The Christian Research Institute's review of GFI found "that on the essential doctrines of the Christian faith the Ezzos' teaching is orthodox" (Terner and Miller, 1998, 1), but because of the little attention paid to salvation, the elders of GCC were concerned about
the weight of emphasis given to moral indoctrination, compared to the relatively meager stress on the child's need for a divinely-renewed heart. Parents are repeatedly told that the goal of parenting is to raise a "morally responsible child"; and that they can "restrain the natural corruption by instilling into the child the self-disciplines of life" (Preparation for Parenting [sic], p. 22). The impression is left with many parents that in training a well-mannered and morally innocent child, they have raised their child "God's way." . . . The truths of the gospel and the necessity of divine grace are by no means the essential heart of GFI's instruction to parents ("Statement Regarding Gary Ezzo, " 1997).
Certainly, we want our children to be well-mannered and submissive to parental authority. But the reason for teaching children to obey is that God commands obedience. The goal in moral instruction should be keeping the child's heart tender to submission to God's authority and acceptance of Christ as Savior. If a parent loses that focus, he may produce a well-behaved child who is not necessarily God's child.

CRI also noticed that
throughout their programs the Ezzos stress the responsibility of parents to instill in their children the moral fortitude necessary to live by Christian behavioral standards. Very little instruction is given on leading children into a saving relationship with Christ, where the Holy Spirit would become the guiding force of their moral development . . . . The Ezzos' focus is so strongly on what the parent must do to shape Christian character that when they do occasionally mention the role of God in the process, it comes across as an afterthought--unnecessary to their parenting philosophy but thrown in to maintain theological correctness (Terner and Miller, 1998, 4).
Ezzo presents a moralistic system. Yes, a parent may train a child to act in an outwardly moral fashion, but no good will come out of the child's heart without the work of the Holy Spirit. Emphasizing a legalistic approach over the need for regeneration and the Spirit's work is a grave error.

Though not as glaring a theological error as the previous three, my fourth theological concern is that Ezzo seems to ignore the biblical virtue of self-sacrifice. Ezzo makes his view clear that the child is not the center of the home (and I agree), but he seems so overly concerned with the child being controlled in order to fit in with the family routine that he does not consider the necessary self-sacrifice on the part of the parents. CRI quoted Ezzo as writing in
Preparation for Parenthood: "There will be times when you may need more flexibility [in the baby's routine] due to unusual circumstances . . . . Consider the context of each situation" (Ezzo, 1993, 120). But Terner and Miller note that "the examples of flexibility provided almost always relate to the convenience of the adults . . . not the needs of the infant" (Terner and Miller, 1998, 8). Surely, parents are not following biblical principles if they live in self-centeredness, for Phil 2:4 states, "Look not every man on his own things [concerns], but every man also on the things of others" (AV). Romans 15:1-3a instructs Christians: "We then that are strong ought to bear the infirmities of the weak, and not to please ourselves. Let every one of us please his neighbour for his good to edification. For even Christ pleased not himself" (AV). In striving to maintain a proper balance in the home, parents must remember that they are the strong. Their children have needs and concerns that only they can meet. Taking the Babywise approach to an extreme may result in the exact opposite of what God intends for the home.

The final theological aspect on which I take issue with Ezzo is that he, as a man, may be violating the biblical command of Titus 2:4. Paul tells Titus that the older women in the Church are to teach the younger ladies to, among other things, "love their children" (AV).
The Expositor's Bible Commentary states, "The training of the younger women is the duty, not of Titus, but the older women, qualified to do so by position and character [emphasis mine]" (Hiebert, 1981, 436). As a man who is not a medical professional, instructing women on breastfeeding appears to be a violation of this biblical teaching.

Due to the theological flaws of misrepresenting his own teachings as biblical mandates, the misapplication of biblical passages, the lack of stress on a child's salvation and the role of the Spirit in the child's life, the promotion of a potentially selfish parenting style, and the possible violation of Titus 2:4, I believe
Babywise and GFI have the potential to damage not only children but also their parents. Though not all of Ezzo's advice is theologically false or unsupported, much of what he teaches has the ability to lead readers into theological error themselves. However, Ezzo does not bear all of the blame if his readers are harmed. Christians have a responsibility to guard themselves against error as Paul reminded the Colossians: "Beware lest any man spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit, after the rudiments of the world, and not after Christ" (Col 2:8). Every parent must be discerning, carefully weighing what he reads against the truth of Scripture.


Ezzo, Gary. Preparation for Parenting. 3d ed. n. p.: c. 1990-93. Quoted on (accessed August 17, 2010).

Ezzo, Gary and Anne Marie. Preparation for Parenting: Bringing God's Order to Your Baby's Day and Restful Sleep to Your Baby's Night. 5th ed. Chatsworth: CA: Growing Families International, 1993). Quoted in Kathleen Terner and Elliot Miller. "More than a Parenting Ministry: The Cultic Characteristics of Growing Families International." Christian Research Journal (Spring 1998). Reprint. n. p.: n. d.

"Focus on the Family Statement on GFI Materials," September 7, 2004. Reprinted on (accessed August 17, 2010).

Giles, Thomas S. "The Brave New Baby," Christianity Today, August 19, 1993, n. p. Reprinted with permission on (accessed August 17, 2010).

Hiebert, D. Edmond. "Titus." In Ephesians through Philemon.Vol. 11, The Expositor's Bible Commentary. Edited by Frank E. Gaebelein. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1981.

Ryken, Philip G. "Growing Kids the Ezzo Way." Part of the Window on the World series at Tenth Presbyterian Church, April 5, 1998. Philadelphia. /wow1998-04-05.htm (accessed August 17, 2010).

"A Statement Regarding Gary Ezzo and Growing Families International," October 16, 1997.
Reprinted on http:/ (accessed August 17, 2010).

Terner, Kathleen. "Unprepared to Teach Parenting?" Christianity, November 13, 2000. (accessed August 19, 2010).

Terner, Kathleen and Elliot Miller. "More than a Parenting Ministry: The Cultic Characteristics of Growing Families International." Christian Research Journal (Spring 1998). Reprint. n. p.: n. d.

"Timeline of Ezzo Controversy." Revised April 2007. /Timeline/timeline1.htm (accessed August 17, 2010).Align Left

Monday, August 16, 2010

Babywise: A Parent's Wish Come True or a Baby's Foe? Part 1, Introduction

Editorial Note: As I enter the last trimester of pregnancy, childbirth and infant care are much on my mind. I have chosen to write a series of posts, this being the first installment, on a topic that may stir up strong feelings in some. In no way do I seek to attack or offend the well-meaning, loving parents who have followed Gary Ezzo's Babywise/Preparation for Parenting/Growing Kids God's Way methods. Instead, it is Ezzo's methods and philosophy that I criticize. I do, from time to time, use my blog to present my opinions on controversial issues, but I am a serious writer and always seek research to support my theses. This series of posts, as the reader will see in the second and following installments, comes not simply from my own feelings, preferences, and interpretations but is supported by research.

I politely request that my readers not post comments until I have presented my entire argument, which will take at least two more posts to complete.

* * *

Few experiences are as taxing--physically and emotionally--as the first couple months of parenthood. Anxiety over whether she is doing right by her baby--compounded by fatigue--leaves a mother (and, perhaps, a father) wishing for a quick fix, a magic formula for getting baby into a routine. On Becoming Babywise by Gary Ezzo and Robert Bucknam (Ezzo is recognized by many sources as the primary author), previously published by Multnomah but now self-published, offers such a "quick fix."

I first heard of Babywise while I was pregnant with Ashley. After taking a breastfeeding class at Baptist Hospital in Pensacola (I noted with interest that the bibliography of suggested breastfeeding resources did not include Ezzo's book), I flipped through the book in Barnes and Noble. Almost immediately I discerned that the book contradicted, without apology, what I'd been taught by Baptist's lactation consultant. Ezzo denied the importance of demand feeding and, instead, suggested scheduled feedings.* Feeling very uncomfortable with Babywise, I put it back on the shelf, thinking I'd never see it again.

However, a well-meaning friend loaned me her copy after I brought Ashley home from the hospital. I felt the gracious thing to do was accept the book, but I had no intention of following it. The granddaughter and daughter of nurses, I am of no mind to brush off the collective advice of nurses, lactation professionals, pediatricians, books based soundly upon the latest research, and my own mother-in-law (herself the mother of five demand-fed sons). Between demand feedings, I did find time to more closely examine the book. My original discomfort only grew. I sensed in Ezzo the belief that babies will be irreparably harmed if allowed to eat whenever hungry--as if a child demand-fed will become demanding in all respects, as though discipline cannot wait several months lest the child be too firmly established in his self-will to be corrected later. Contrary to the common knowledge, supported by research, that babies under six months cannot really be "spoiled" by "too much" holding and carrying, Babywise tried telling me I would hold my child enough during routine care, thus insinuating that babies don't need much affection. I was never to let my baby fall asleep anywhere but her own bed and was to let her cry herself to sleep (none of the examples discussed babies who cry for longer than fifteen or so minutes and no time limit was suggested for how long a baby be allowed to cry.)

Not only did this advice contradict that of medical professionals and the experiences of my two moms (both demand fed all their children and could not tolerate leaving a crying baby alone in his crib), but it also went against my maternal instincts. The physical aspects of these "maternal instincts" should be noted. God has designed a mother's body to let down milk when she hears her child cry, sometimes even when she thinks about her child or sees his picture. Demand feeding is possible because of this symbiotic relationship God has created. My desire to respond to Ashley's cries was much more than emotional. (Certainly, we can't always follow our emotions. Though emotionally I'd like to give Ashley an extra pack of fruit snacks or second cup of juice, I override my emotions for her health's sake.) I distinctly remember a physical sensation in my brain (not my emotional mind but my physical brain) when Ashley cried in the middle of the night. I could not sleep through her cry, though my husband had no trouble and often had no idea the next morning what Ashley's night had been like. Interestingly, when my three-month-old niece visited this summer, her cry initially awakened me, but it caused no brain sensation and did not keep me awake. I was surprised to learn the next morning that she'd kept her parents up for a couple hours. Clearly, my own child affected me physically in ways another child, even one I love, cannot. The Creator God has designed the mother's body to respond to her child. As our pediatrician told me, Babywise teaches mothers to ignore their God-given instincts.

I can happily report that my demand-fed baby whom we cuddled to sleep for months (if she ever fell asleep in her bouncy seat or swing, I was elated) is not obese, sleeps eleven to twelve hours each night, does not "demand" food and drink around the clock, and is no more self-willed than the average two year old. She is friendly, easily separates from us when we drop her off at the church nursery, and responds well to correction. Clearly, the Babywise method is not necessary to raising a physically and psychologically healthy child.

It's not necessary, but could implementing its philosophy actually be harmful, as my R.N. mother felt when she skimmed the book? Beginning in my next post, I will present my findings in answer to this question.
* I'm compelled to acknowledge that Ezzo stresses his method is not a rigid schedule, but feeding a baby at short intervals determined by the baby's behavior is discouraged. He even suggests a hypothetical schedule.

Monday, August 9, 2010


Maybe I'll get in a fender-bender, I wished as I drove the fraction-of-a-mile from my apartment to the college Sports Center where I was to chaperone the evening's Eagles basketball game. Earlier I'd hoped to suddenly spike a fever--anything to get out of spending the night walking around the mezzanine of the arena ensuring that the Pensacola Christian College students were behaving. Why not wear a sign on my back: "I'm an old maid with nothing better to do on a Friday night"? I certainly hadn't volunteered for this assignment, one of those extra tasks assigned single female faculty members. It was my duty, though, so I went, however unwillingly.

I ascended the stairs to the second floor of the arena and began my rounds. Soon I spotted an acquaintance. Since I'd met Mark only once, I wasn't going to stop to chat; but when he called to me, I turned around. He stood and said the words that changed my life: "Heather, do you know Nathan?"

No, until that moment, I couldn't say that I did know Nathan; but I had seen him around, and he'd been in my thoughts occasionally.

For a couple months, I 'd seen this cute guy around campus. Actually, the first time I noticed him was in Wal-Mart when we passed each other in an aisle and he smiled and waved. Another time, I was eating lunch in the graduate-assistant section of the college cafeteria (I was smart: if you want to find a husband, you have to go where the single young men are.) and noticed a cute guy--the guy from Wal-Mart--staring at me. I stared back for a few seconds. A bold move, but not as bold as our next encounter. One Sunday I saw him again. He claims I was checking him out, but I say he was checking me out first as I came down the church stairs. Either way, our eyes were locked as I walked from one landing to the one on which he was standing. I guess I could have said "hi," but I was content to just look and keep walking.

We got closer to actually meeting at lunch one day. I was sitting at a large table with my friend Betsy and some of her graduate-assistant friends. "The cute guy" asked if he could join our table. Evidently, he and Betsy knew each other, but she never introduced us. (Turns out they'd only been in Latin class together, and she'd forgotten his name.) We did speak our first words to each other, though.

"William Caxton was influential in standardizing English spelling," I contributed to the table discussion.

"Who was William Caxton?" the cute guy asked.

"He printed Mallory's Morte d'Arthur in 1485." That was it. If finished eating and ran off to my office to grade the perpetual mountain of compositions.

"Do you have your eye on anyone?" my mom asked one night while I was home on Christmas vacation.

"Well, there is this one guy I've seen around," I confessed, "but I don't even know his name." A brilliant idea struck me. My sister had the latest PCC yearbook in her room. I ran to get it, flipped to the graduate-student section and began searching faces until I found him: "Nathan Peets."

Despite our encounters, I didn't think much about Nathan Peets. He was on a list of guys I'd consider going out with, but he didn't figure any more prominently than the others. Until our official meeting, that is. Mark introduced us, we said hello, and I continued on my less-than-merry way scanning the crowd for rule-breakers. But then--halftime! Nathan came to where I was standing; offered me a Power-Aid, which I refused--I hate the stuff--; and we chatted. I don't remember everything we said, but I do remember bringing up his older brother Ben--Ben seemed like a fitting topic of discussion since he'd been an Eagles player back in my college days: what else do you say to a guy you've just met? We talked for only a few minutes, but that encounter shook me. I knew he was interested, and, most importantly, I knew he could be "the one."

After a terrible night's sleep--I just couldn't get him out of my mind--I got up to tackle my Saturday housekeeping. "You know," I told myself, "he might call this morning. Ten o'clock would be the perfect time."

The phone ran, well before ten, but it was my sister. I told her about the previous night's encounter, but she tried to stick a pin in my balloon. "He's taken." (She was only trying to be a good sister, of course.)

"There's no way, Lisa. A guy who's taken doesn't send out those kind of vibes." (Of course, some do, but in front of 3000 people on a close-knit college campus?)

"Well, he's taken," she insisted. (Later we learned that he had been off the market for a while but had been back on since October.)

I wasn't going to be deterred by my sister's obvious misinformation. When our conversation ended, I resumed my chores with an eye on the clock. Ten o'clock was approaching as I washed the bathroom floor. The phone rang, my heart pounded, and I tried frantically to convince myself that it was probably my mom; but the caller ID displayed an on-campus number. It's probably Lisa again. But no, it was Nathan, and it was 9:55 a.m. (Eventually he told me that he wanted to avoid calling at exactly ten because he thought calling on the hour would look too planned.)

I'll spare you the details, but we went on our first date that night, February 4, 2006; got engaged May 12, 2006; and were married on August 12, 2006. (Yes, if you're doing the math, we were married only six months after meeting.)

Am I glad I didn't get in an accident on my way to the game that night? Do you even have to ask?

Happy Anniversary (in 3 days), Nathan! I love you!