Sunday, October 5, 2014

How I became obsessed about Babywise.

 I had been a La Leche League Leader for many years and 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 had shared 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 it 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 person 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 popular 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 when it seems hungry was anti-Christ?

 With a background in cults and La Leche League and several years of breastfeeding knowledge and experience, I needed to know more about this!  I immediately began to search and soon found chat-rooms discussing this book called Babywise. The author seemed to have an almost 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 feeding schedule.

What in the world? That couldn't be right. I had to find out more.

I went to the Christian bookstore to find 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 false information. It said sleeping with your baby is "passively abusive" and would leave children in "a state of abnormal dependency." It said these children would repeatedly bang their heads on the floor! As a La Leche League Leader for almost 20 years, I had 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 cruel! How could anyone be so heartless as to refuse to feed a hungry 2-weeks old new baby because of a clock?

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 group for moms who use Babywise parenting. I wasn't the only one questioning - and arguing against - 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 newer '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 Internationally Board-Certified Lactation Counselors as being "heavily biased in favor of the attachment parenting theories" He calls the IBCLC's, "the lactation industry," and claims THEY are the ones lacking "a working understanding of routine breast-feeding dynamics."

However, as I continued to read I actually thought the book did make 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 little ones might have begun to sleep through the night earlier "the natural way."  I was intrigued by the promises of children who he promised were more content, easier to manage, smarter, a joy to behold, and so on.

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

To summarize Chapter Eight: Ignore your baby's crying.

-If baby cries when you lay him down for a nap, ignore it: that is normal crying, because he's "learning a new skill."
-If baby cries in the middle of a nap, ignore it; that is normal crying, because he's just coming out of a sleep cycle.
-If baby cries at the end of a nap, ignore it; that is normal crying, because it's feeding time, he's hungry and will be eating shortly.
-If baby cries shortly after feeding, ignore it; it's because he didn't finish eating his meal properly. Since you must not allow him to "snack" you must let him cry to teach him a lesson about finishing his meal properly... as if snacking is somewhat of a moral failure for rapidly growing babies.
-If baby cries during the night and he's over 8 weeks old, it's now a bad habit. It's time to ignore all nighttime cries to break this habit.
-If baby cries for no apparent reason, well, ignore it; that's just what babies do.

He then describes examples of "normal" crying in his own grandchildren. Interestingly, though he claims three nights of crying it out usually puts an end to all nighttime parenting, he admits that after three months of "training" all of his grandbabies were still crying occasionally at naptimes. (page 147)

Ezzo calls this mehod of extinguishing crying "guidance" and "teaching" your baby the "skill" of sleep. Your job during this time of teaching? You just listen to the cry so you will get accustomed to it, and know what's normal for your child. (Or, more more likely, to become immune to the sound)

Crying naturally upsets the baby's mother! So, in this chapter we are warned that motherly instincts are detrimental to our babies! A mother should never allow her heartfelt emotions to assist in decision-making!
 He writes, "Mother's decisions without assessment can be dangerous."
 and  "Emotional mothering can set the stage for child abuse."(page 150)
Attempts to soothe a crying baby are re-framed as "blocking the baby's cry" - as if by soothing her baby 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.
He even admits that babies who are carried, nursed on demand, and sleep with their moms cry very little - but he 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."

To summarize, Chapter 8 actually got to the truth of the matter: It isn't being fed routinely that trains babies into sleeping, it's being ignored and left to cry it out that leads to quiet nights.

Continuing my pursuit

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 Babwisers 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 the guidelines. 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 used copy of  Preparation for Parenthood, complete with eight weeks 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 very disturbing.

I then purchased:
  •  Babywise II: Parenting your pre-toddler 5-18 months,
  •  Preparation for the Toddler years series with book & tapes,
  •  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.
  With no background in infant feeding nor in human lactation, Ezzo has 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. 
{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 extremely 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 motherly heart breaks for every little crying baby who is being ignored for the sake of a clock.

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 if it's The Truth; and 
b) the attendees continue to support each other in enforcing the methods, compared to one who might read the book alone and if dissatisfied, discard it

6. As a trained Psychiatric Nurse, I can accept his program does indeed "work" but sadly, that's  because excessive sleep is a well-known symptom of depresssion. 
Sleeping can be a defense mechanism for feelings of hopelessness. 
What could be more hopeless than to be a completly helpless newborn and realize that nobody will come when you call?

Finally, I want to point out that oftentimes the baby is NOT actually sleeping through the night when the parent claims they are. Sometimes the parents are simply lying, because Ezzo and his followers believe failure to sleep all night is proof of bad parenting.
Sometimes it's because the parents have trained their own ears not to hear it any more ... the same way you stop noticing noisy traffic or a chiming clock when you become accustomed to it. The sounds you have deemed irrelevant to your sleep can easily be ignored. I have spent the night at someone's home and witnessed this myself, waking up to a crying baby twice during the night while the parents didn't hear a thing.