I just finished looking through On Becoming Babywise by Ezzo and others, and Health Sleep Habits, Happy Baby by Weissbluth. I am now feeling disturbed, angry and deeply sad.
Babywise is a “parent-directed” program for raising children. It purports to be Christian, though it has no basis in Christian scriptures. Its goal is that parents direct (i.e., control) their children by determining from birth when they eat and sleep. Though it says that parents need to pay attention to baby’s needs, the actual practices it advocates (feeding when parents decide that baby is hungry rather than when baby indicates hunger; expecting babies to sleep through most of the night by 3 months) suggest no understanding of child development, baby needs or the realities of what babies actually need and do. The recommendations around feeding are completely out of synch with all current research and public health recommendations on breastfeeding. And importantly, the methods it prescribes have been linked with failure to thrive (since babies are not getting the attention or food they need) and even death. That’s right: this so-called program, based on nothing more than an unqualified man’s fantasies (he has absolutely no training in any of the areas he writes about) about how parents should be masters of their children, has resulted in babies being sick and dying. I am horrified.
Healthy Sleep Habits claims to be a research-based book on helping children sleep. It does cite some research. I am extremely doubtful about a lot of it. In much of the book the author claims that about 80% of babies are normal in terms of sleep, temperament, etc., but about 20% are colicky and temperamental. I don’t see in his work that he truly examined the diversity of methods of parenting and responding to children that might result in some children settling more than others. His comments on breastfeeding also show a real lack of understanding of the importance of breastfeeding for child emotional security and health. And even if a child is more needy than others – is that 20% of the population? I don’t know – it would seem to me that this child needs MORE love, touch, and attention, not less. Yet that is what he advocates. Children need to sleep, so do what you need to teach them how to sleep. Including letting them cry until they vomit repeatedly. See p. 301: the solution to repeated vomiting is to wait until the child goes to sleep (i.e., gives up all hope of being rescued by his parents and withdraws into himself in exhaustion) and then quietly wipe up the vomit. Yes. Or (p. 300), since you won’t be changing the diaper overnight, put on an extra thick layer of zinc oxide on baby’s bum to prevent a diaper rash. I am similarly horrified. Children do need to sleep. But they also need the security of knowing that their parents, their source of well-being and security, their representations of God in this world, will be there for them and respond to their needs.
When will we learn to love and treat our children with the utmost respect we would give to an adult? If these methods were used in a hospital, for example, there would be a public outcry. But they are used quietly within private homes, and children are damaged, and we can’t do anything about it.
I don’t know what the answer is. I respect parents’ right to make choices that work for their families. I know that parents need sleep too. I know that there is a lot of conflicting information out there. But it hurts me to my core to think of innocent children crying out in despair or hunger and being ignored because so-called experts say it’s for their own good.
I’ve written a note to the library on each of these books. I don’t expect that they will stop carrying Healthy Sleep Habits. But I do hope that with some supporting documentation – e.g., the American Pediatric Association’s study on the dangers of Babywise – that they may stop carrying that book.