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.

No comments: