As anyone familiar with the title knows, On Becoming Babywise by Gary Ezzo is an extremely controversial book. Wanting to be able to evaluate it for myself, and give my personal opinion on it (and not just someone else’s) when asked, I decided to read a copy myself. I read the most recent (2006) copy; all quotes and page numbers are from this edition.
All in all, in the end, I felt like it is an extremely dangerous book. He presents some good ideas, and his end goals look very similar to mine- and any parent’s, for that matter. His promises are alluring. But the further into the book you get, potentially alarming things begin to show their face more and more frequently. I almost felt like he “ropes” new parents in, and then begins the real grind of his program. If you are intelligent, well-educated, exercise lots of common sense, and do all your own research, then I believe you might be able to gain some small grains of insight from this book, and apply it in a non-harmful way to your parenting regime. If you’re a newbie, just looking for a how-to telling you how to parent perfectly, stay away! Or, read with extreme caution. But really, by the time you make all the modifications necessary, and do all your own research, the book doesn’t have much left to offer you. You’d be better off figuring out your goals on your own.
In this review, I seek to evaluate some of the specific things he says and supports, both positive and negative. I realize that I am somewhat biased by my worldview and already-formed opinions on parenting, but I did my best to read it with an open mind and seek to understand another parenting style. Naturally, most reviews tend to get rather emotional. It doesn’t help that Ezzo seems to make the book a battle against attachment parenting (AP) (and seems to indicate it’s either Baby Wise (BW) style or AP, without any other alternatives), and constantly throws darts at a make believe picture of AP. So Attachment Parenters react, and then Ezzo supporters react back. However, it’s really sad how many people have resorted to lying, name-calling, and general mistreatment of each other, all in the name of “proving their point”. Without further ado, here we go…
While it would be unfair to blame Ezzo for this, I noticed a trend in the letters used in the front of the book to promote it. I didn’t see anything particularly grand or enticing about it at all. The vase majority of these letters basically just glorified self, and how great the book was for enabling them to live their life as before (baby). If you’re looking for a parenting life style that won’t crimp the rest of your life, then it might look pretty good to you. My husband and I weren’t- we wanted what’s best for the whole family, which includes evaluating baby’s needs.
Chapter one was a mixed bag. He has excellent thoughts on the role of a marriage in the family, sharing how a child will feel most secure when their parents obviously love each other. I think this is something that’s often neglected, but so important. Speaking from experience, life feels wonderful and happy when mom and dad are on good terms…and when something’s brewing between them, it casts a cloud of stress on the entire home. However, I don’t quite agree with his means for obtaining a strong marriage. For example, he suggests that baby should be on a routine/schedule by 3 weeks, at which time you should start leaving baby and going on a weekly date. A strong marriage can be obtained through creativity- such as, a late take-out dinner at home after baby goes to bed, and spending a few hours romancing your spouse. Dates are great, too, when baby’s old enough, or along with baby- a lot of babies are perfectly content to ride along in a baby carrier.
He then goes on to describe a poster child for Baby Wise, who is an absolutely perfect, content, secure, happy baby. She’s adorable, loveable, and altogether amazing. Then there’s her cousin, parented AP style, according to Ezzo’s standards. She’s a monster who terrorizes the lives of everyone around her. She has major insecurities, because her parents bow down to her, do everything for her, and never know what she really needs.
Throughout the book, Ezzo seems to assume that there’s the Babywise method of parenting, and there’s Attachment parenting. Nothing in between, no middle of the road, etc. Furthermore, he goes on to explain AP to you. Throughout the book he uses a “straw man” tactic- that is, he describes AP, and then shoots it down and makes it look ridiculous. Of course it does, by his explanation. But I know lots of AP or middle of the road families, and none of them believe you should give into a one year old, only feeding her the foods she likes, and dropping your life to try and accommodate her. I’m sure they exist- but portraying every AP family like that is inaccurate. This presents a problem for the new parent reading his book for information. Of course, no body wants a monster on their hands- and if someone were to believe all his descriptions, they would steer far and clear away from anything that might look like AP.
On page 26, and again in chapter 5 on page 87, Ezzo firmly states the importance of holding on to your previous relationships with parents, relatives, friends and so forth. He states that these relationships might slow down for a few weeks, but should never stop, and must be maintained. Certainly, other people outside of baby are important. Other relationships play a huge role in your life. Relationships with good role models can be imperative in your journey, helping to encourage and keep you upbeat. Likewise, they provide you with the opportunity to do the same. However, he seems to over-emphasize this, as though these people, just because they were there first, are more important than your baby. Perhaps unfortunate for some, facts remain that a baby does change your life, and consequently, your priorities. What you could do before you became a mother, you may have to say no to now. It doesn’t mean you’re neglecting your friends- it just means that God’s moved you to new stages in life. Girl’s night out at the mall isn’t necessarily practical for a mom. Let’s face it- before you became a mom, you had about 16 hours in your day to use as you pleased. Maybe you worked outside the home for 8 of those hours, you might spend some of that time doing housework and preparing meals. If married, you probably spend some of that time with your husband. That leaves you with plenty of hours for personal use. After a little one arrives, they need a chunk of your attention, just like your husband does, which naturally swallows up some of your free time. As a stay at home wife, before our daughter was born, I had plenty of extra hours in my day, many of which I used to serve other moms. I still do as much as I can, but the number of hours I spend serving others with a daughter has decreased, because God has called me to serve my family first.
In chapter two, Ezzo discusses feeding philosophies. Again, he adopts the straw man deal, and makes demand feeding look so utterly ridiculous I’d be ashamed to subscribe to the title, and then shoots it down. (On page 33, he gives some different pictures of what demand feeding could look like, and goes on to state that he’ll use the most radical definition for the purpose of his book.) While it might be an effective tactic for persuading a totally uneducated person without an ounce of common sense, or any motivation to do their own research, this is an entirely weak argument. If his readers were to research elsewhere, they would find his portrayal of demand feeding to be mostly inaccurate, which rather discredits what he has to say. If one can’t simply prove or provide evidence for their own points, without telling lies about the other side of the story, I would question whether they have a very strong base.
In this chapter, he also describes “Parent Directed Feeding” (PDF), a term he coined for his philosophies. As best as I can tell from this chapter, it sounds a lot like demand feeding- feeding based on baby’s hunger cues and keeping an eye on the clock. My understanding in this chapter would be that the main difference is that he pays more attention to the clock, and a typical demand-feeder would pay more attention to the baby- or that Ezzo uses the clock to space feedings far enough out, and a demand-feeder would use it to make sure they aren’t too far apart. Throughout the book, though, he seems to have ups and downs of really emphasizing a schedule, and then really emphasizing the need to be flexible and watch what baby needs, taking care to get back to the schedule as soon as possible.
Ezzo attributes failure-to-thrive (FTT) to demand-fed babies. I’m sure there are cases where this happens (he discusses an isolated incident that was on national TV about a baby who was extremely malnourished from a supposed demand-feeding style), but as a general rule, most moms who choose a demand-feeding route are very in-tune with their baby and his needs. These moms choose demand-feeding because they feel it’s best for their baby, and are consciously trying to do right by them. Naturally, most would observe their babies for signs of hunger, and if a baby doesn’t show those signs on a regular basis (especially when sick, premature, etc.), will use the clock to help her make sure he’s eating often enough.
Perhaps some of the confusion with all this comes from Ezzo’s determination to lump everyone who doesn’t subscribe to his theories into one group. Of course there are neglectful mothers who don’t schedule feed, PDF, or demand-feed, in the real sense of the term. Not every mother cares about her baby enough to prioritize his needs. This doesn’t make the theory of demand-feeding faulty.
Although Ezzo doesn’t acknowledge this, of course, I think we’re seeing more FTT instances with Ezzo’s methods. More on this will be discussed later in this article. It should be taken into account, however, that FTT can happen to any baby, using any “formula”, especially when used extremely or neglectfully. FTT also sometimes just happens, even if one is doing everything right. However, Ezzo’s confusing back-and-forth banter could really confuse moms into starving their babies.
On pages 30-32, Ezzo discusses the attachment parenting and its roots. According to him, the theories of attachment parenting are rooted in a belief/fear of extreme trauma undergone at birth which must be made up for. In spite of the number of AP books I’ve read, and parents I’ve talked to, I’ve never heard of this theory as being the basis for AP. I find it particularly odd to assume so, because many APers also believe in natural childbirth- that is, the belief of childbirth being a beautiful, gentle process. In all the research I did looking to see whether or not Ezzo’s statements were credible, I couldn’t find anything stating they were. There are some APers who seem to subscribe to the theory to the extent of believing that a traumatic (i.e. emergency) birth can contribute to a baby being “higher needs”, however I can’t locate any moms (or doctors, international AP figures, etc.) who do AP based on this theory/fear.
Moving right along, we come to chapter 3, which is all about sleep. He emphasizes the importance of sleep, which I totally agree with. I can especially second this importance having a daughter who absolutely needs her sleep in order to function as a happy, content baby. Again, we deviate when it comes to what “healthy sleep” means, and how to go about it.
Gary Ezzo prompts that babies should be sleeping through the night by 7-9 weeks, though in very rare occasions, it’s a little later. Some babies do this, and if they do, I think it’s fine. However, it’s not necessarily healthy for every little bundle to be forced into this regime at so young an age. Some babies still need that extra feeding or two. I guess I just have a different view on night time sleep- to me, I’m still a mom at night, and our goal isn’t an immediate sleeping through the night. Our goals are long term….and eventually, that does include sleeping through the night, peacefully, alone, or with a sibling.
On page 53, he misquotes Dr. Weissbluth’s book, Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child to prove his point. Ezzo is attempting to “prove” that it’s healthy to sleep through the night- so he quotes Weissbluth on that fact that healthy night sleep is directly linked to higher IQ scores. This is well and good, but Weissbluth is talking about children here. He’s not talking about a 7 week old’s IQ scores. Again, of course the eventual goal is healthy nighttime sleep. I have seen, not only in research, but in real life around me, what a positive impact an early bed time and healthy sleep has on people. But if Ezzo wants to prove that it’s healthiest for infants to sleep through the night, he’s going to have to come up with something a little better. Further, Dr. Weissbluth comments that when using the family bed, nighttime nursings do not disturb the healthy sleep patterns of the baby, and therefore aren’t considered to be a problem.
In this chapter, he talks about the negative influence of sleep props, such as nursing, rocking, or laying with your baby. He states that other things, like a stuffed animal or blanket, are fine. At the end of the chapter (pg 59), he even charges the reader to “make a commitment” beforehand, vowing to not use such sleep props. Between this, and several things said later in the book, it’s almost as if Ezzo is guarding moms against their maternal instinct before it even sets in. Some babies prefer to be set down and to just fall asleep on their own. I have friends who had babies who liked to be laid down so they could totally stretch out, and then with a yawn, would fall right to sleep. But this isn’t “natural” for most babies. Most crave touch and affection, and drop asleep most easily during rhythmic movement or while suckling at the breast. This is where Ezzo mentions again the importance of outside relationships, but your baby is only a baby for so long, and how you interact with him now will affect him for the rest of his life, even if he doesn’t remember it.
On the bright side, he does state that snuggling and healthy interaction should occur with your baby throughout the day- just not during going to sleep. Some moms that I’ve seen adhering to BW seem to always be moving from one contraption to another. While he still encourages plenty of alone play time, I was glad to see that he doesn’t totally ignore altogether the need for snuggle time, and encourages it several times throughout the book.
One final issue I have with the chapter is his stating several “facts” without any research or references. What he says may or may not be true, but one is required to either take him at his word and whim, or do their own research. Not only do these facts (pages 46-49) make claims about babies and their needs, as well as BW success, they also make negative claims about AP.
Chapter four hones in on more feeding “facts”. “Opinions”, rather, but according to Ezzo, they stand as facts.
He really promotes breastfeeding over bottle feeding, and delves into some of the many nutritional advantages. You don’t see this all that often in the schedule and parental-convenience realm, so I really enjoyed seeing it here. He gives options for bottle feeding, but really encourages breastfeeding, unless something is wrong with your milk quality or production. Also, he encourages that if you do bottle feed, you do it yourself and enjoy cuddling with your baby during the process, instead of just propping a bottle somewhere.
Ezzo proposes that many moms quit nursing early on because of attempting demand style feeding, and getting run ragged and discouraged. I’m no expert (neither is Ezzo, for that matter), but of the many, many moms I’ve been exposed to over my lifetime, I’ve never known an AP mom to quit breastfeeding because of exhaustion due to a “faulty system”. Demand feeding moms have great success rates, and most love what they do. Most enjoy the time of nurturing with their baby. Certainly, there are exceptions- again, it should be noted that many AP moms don’t nurse every ½ hour, as Ezzo indicates.
On the other hand, according to his “research”, PDF moms have high success rates. I’m sure many moms do great on it- especially moms whose bodies and babies line up with Ezzo’s formulas. But not every mama and baby will.
Page 74 states, “These times [2 ½-3 hours] fall well within the AAP [American Academy of Pediatrics] recommendations.” He’s portraying them inaccurately. The AAP guidelines state that you should feed your infant 8-12 times in a 24 hour period, which averages out to 2-3 hours. His times aren’t radically different, but he would average out to 8-9.6 times. And for a little tummy, that is different. If not for doing all my own research on everything he says, I would’ve assumed that he falls well and easily within AAP guidelines from the way he words his sentence- and this is far from accurate. It appears his earlier editions of the book enforced 3-3 ½ hour breaks (though I’m not positive on that; I haven’t actually read them- it’s just what I’ve gathered from scouring the internet), so this is great improvement, but if he’s going to use AAP to back him, he’s not all the way there.
Some of Ezzo’s supporters have argued that since he proclaims “flexibility”, his standards do fit with AAP. However, because he constantly runs back to getting back on your standard 2 ½-3 hour routine, he makes it clear that 2 hour intervals should never be the norm.
I know there are some cases where demand feeding is exercised to an unhealthy extent. For many babies, I’m sure it is unhealthy to nurse every ½ hour around the clock. I would still hold that there are some babies who do need smaller, more frequent nursings, and that’s just the way things are. Ezzo assumes that moms who offer the breast for emotional reasons (which, according to him, don’t exist), simply permit the babies to snack all day. This isn’t necessarily the case at all. Plenty of babies nurse “emotionally” for a few minutes, taking nothing from the full feedings on either side of this one. It’s simply a comforting moment, when the baby takes in the comfort of his mom’s body/presence, and is soothed by the oxytocin release. Hardly any milk is taken, and baby’s “schedule” isn’t disturbed at all.
Ezzo (on page 80) discusses the issue of whether breast is more nurturing than the bottle and says, no. He states that while this used to always be the assumed case, it isn’t any more, and these studies have been disproved. No endnotes are given to the original studies or anything disproving them. While bottle feeding can be successful, and certainly isn’t a problem when it’s what a mother has to do because she isn’t physically able to produce good milk, Ezzo’s overlooking some key things. One of these is the release of oxytocin during breastfeeding, both in baby and mama. This has a beautifully calming effect, making it a positive thing on both sides, as mom and baby both relax. However, I can appreciate the fact that he seeks to not condemn bottle-feeding moms, especially those who simply have to.
He also discusses in this chapter the perceived difference between “need cues” and “parent style cues”. Some of his examples: waking for comfort nursing is the result of parenting styles, and not an actual “need”; waking out of hunger is a need; etc.
Chapter 5 addresses growth and malnutrition issues. He talks about monitoring growth, avoiding ever getting to the place of malnutrition, and what to do to correct an issue. This should be a good safe guard against FTT babies on his program, however, he still doesn’t really allow for different babies with different needs, and contemplating the fact that his methods just might not work with all babies- even when they’re already failing.
The biggest issue with this chapter is that he makes it very clear that you are not “allowed” to seek outside advice that doesn’t’ link up with his. He suggests the possibility of seeing a lactation consultant- but then spends several pages warning against them, as most subscribe to La Leche Leauge and AP, and it’s hard to find a “good” one who promotes BW. He suggests that when you run into one who promotes AP and tries to suggest any of it to you, to leave, and make sure you warn all your friends against her. Ezzo mentions (page 101) being leery of any lactation consultant who counsels against AAP (honing in particularly on sleep sharing)- yet he himself doesn’t accurately subscribe to AAP methods. Ezzo states wearing baby in a sling as being “extreme”, and to avoid anyone who so advises in trying to help you with a FTT or breastfeeding issue. He winds up the chapter (pg 105) with “One final caution: avoid extreme recommendations that can worsen your condition. Different opinions abound. Learn and discern what is best for your family. Then make a commitment with no excuses needed.” Yes, do avoid extreme things or just subscribing to one man’s beliefs (who happens to have no medical background). Different opinions do abound, so do make sure you check into all of them, and the fruits of all of them. By fruits, we’re talking emotional and physical health at all ages, parent/child relationship all the way through adulthood, and so forth.
Ezzo mentions that failure to thrive can be caused by lack of touch, so he encourages again that you spend plenty of time snuggling with your little one. I don’t understand this one- if FTT could be being contributed to by not touching your baby enough, then what is so extreme about wearing them for a while (and possibly nursing frequently) and seeing if it makes a difference? You’re the mom; not Ezzo- you’ll know whether or not something is negatively affecting your baby. If your baby is dealing with something critical (such as FTT, or brinking on the edge), something as simple as wearing your baby certainly is far from extreme.
He has omitted it in his most recent edition of the book, but in past editions, Ezzo said in simple terms that we (humans) are not marsupials, and babies aren’t joeys, therefore they shouldn’t be carried around. Obviously, he just has something against babywearing.
In addressing how PDF and BW more often than not fixes FTT while AP causes it, he shares some “research”- that is, some digging up he did of 200 babies of his choosing. In conclusion of this study, they determined there wasn’t a major weight-gain difference between demand-fed babies and PDF babies. I don’t have any issues with their conclusions- just again, I think he throws around the term “research” a little too freely, and judging from the way he uses other research, is the last person qualified to conduct his own.