So let’s just get it out in the open right away: we’re talking about the book On Becoming Babywise today. And if you’ve been a Baby Sleep Site™ reader for any length of time, you know that’s bound to create some controversy.
We’ve written about Babywise before, and about the cry-it-out method in general. And we know all too well that this is an emotionally charged topic for many of our readers. Some of the parents in our Baby Sleep Site™ community are proponents of cry-it-out methods like Babywise; others denounce these kinds of methods completely. And many of you fall somewhere in the middle.
The purpose of today’s article isn’t a controversial one, though. This article doesn’t denounce Babywise methods (like crying it out.) But it doesn’t attempt to convert parents to those methods, either. No, we’re not doing either of those today.
What are we doing? We’re taking a look at how to apply Babywise methods properly and safely, and how to avoid some of the common pitfalls associated with Babywise.
Babywise Works for Some Families; It Doesn’t Work for Others
Before we get into some Babywise “do’s” and “don’ts”, though, let’s make one thing clear: Babywise isn’t for everyone. Here at the Baby Sleep Site™, we believe that every child (and family) is different, so there isn’t a sleep training method out there that’s right for everyone. And Babywise is no exception.
We’ve heard from lots of parents who tried Babywise methods and, for various reasons, had no success. We’ve also heard from parents who’ve used Babywise methods with great success. Recently, Baby Sleep Site™ reader Amy e-mailed us and told us not only about her own success using Babywise, but also about how helpful the techniques were for her friend:
The reason this method is so near and dear to my heart is because of a dear friend of mine. My best friend had her baby a week early, and her daughter only weighed 5 lbs at birth. The baby wasn’t considered failure to thrive, but she was very close. The pediatrician tried everything from supplementing, to medication, but nothing would really work. At 5.5 months, her daughter stopped sleeping through the night, and would only take one 20 min nap a day if they were lucky and she fell asleep while eating. By 7 months, her daughter was losing weight, now making her failure to thrive, and my friend was desperate since there was no medical reason for it. I told her about Babywise, and helped her set up a schedule, coaching her through it. At month 8 (2 weeks into the program), her daughter is now sleeping through the night, taking two 45 min naps, and gained almost two pounds!! I have witnessed what this method can do for a failure to thrive baby.
This is a good example that what doesn’t work for some families will work for others. In some situations, Babywise has been known to contribute to failure to thrive; in others (as Amy points out), it can actually help a baby overcome the failure to thrive problem!
Some Babywise Do’s and Dont’s
In the spirit of Amy’s e-mail, we wanted to remind our readers that you can apply Babywise principles (and cry-it-out principles in general) in a thoughtful, safe way. Babywise tends to be painted in extreme terms, but it doesn’t have to be an extreme sleep training method. Remember, any sleep training method is only as intense and “hard core” as you make it.
So, if you’re interested in using some Babywise methods to sleep train your own baby, but aren’t sure how to go about doing it in a way that’s both effective and safe, consider a few of these “do’s” and “don’ts”:
- DON’T start too early. Here at the Baby Sleep Site™, we generally don’t recommend formal sleep training until a baby reaches 4 months of age. Some editions of On Becoming Babywise recommend starting earlier (as early as 6-8 weeks), but we don’t support that recommendation. Newborns need loads of sleep and loads of breastmilk or formula, so trying to impose sleeping and feeding schedules too early can be problematic (and potentially dangerous). What’s more, your baby really isn’t ready for sleep training until the 4 month sleep regression, when her sleep patterns have become more developed.
- DO consider your personality (and your baby’s!) Babywise is built around carefully-timed schedules. This kind of schedule-oriented method can work beautifully for a mom and dad who are schedule-oriented people themselves. But those who aren’t? Those parents who tend to be more carefree, “let’s see what comes” types? Highly-scheduled methods like this may not work.
You’ll need to consider your baby’s temperament, too. Some babies are very regular and consistent; others aren’t. Having an inconsistent baby doesn’t mean you throw the schedule out the window; it does mean, though, that you need to be more flexible.
- DON’T check your brain and parental instincts at the door. There is no (NO) parenting book, or sleep training philosophy, that can stand in as a substitute for a parent’s own common sense. If you’re going to try Babywise with your little one, remember that you’ll need to combine the book’s recommendations about schedules and feeding with your own observations and gut feelings. For instance, if you know your baby is crying his “hungry cry”, don’t ignore it, even if the schedule you’ve created says he shouldn’t eat for another 45 minutes. Instead, use your instincts to keep your schedule in check, and vice versa.
- DO honor your parenting philosophy. Some parents are just flat-out opposed to any method that’s going to force them to listen to their babies cry. That’s okay. Other parents are fine with letting some controlled crying happen, because they believe that, in the end, the benefits to the entire family can be worth it. And you know what? That’s okay, too. Know your parenting philosophy, and own it. If Babywise stands in direct opposition to everything you stand for as a parent, then forget it (and feel fine about doing so!) But if Babywise is right up your parenting alley, you can embrace that, too. If we’ve learned one thing in our work with families over the years, it’s that loving, caring families can have very different approaches to raising their children. But the “approach” matters far less than the “loving, caring” part.
- DON’T be guided by extremes. There are those who will tell you that Babywise will have your 4 week old baby sleeping through the night. There are others who will attempt to convince you that Babywise will ruin your baby forever. Odds are, though, that neither extreme is accurate. When done properly, Babywise methods can work well, but they won’t perform actual miracles. And provided you implement them with love and care, they almost certainly won’t harm your baby.
“The biggest misconception we’ve come across is that Babywise is too rigid with feedings and recommends too long stretches when your baby is young. While it does encourage stretching out feedings to a point, it also clearly states that if your baby is hungry before a designated feeding time to go ahead and feed him. It is important not to get too caught up in following every little thing to the letter. Every baby is different.”
These aren’t hard and fast rules, of course. That’s not the purpose of this article. Rather, it’s our hope that these general pointers will help you think through whether or not Babywise is right for your family. And if you decide that it is, we hope that these insights will help you apply it in a way that works well for your baby, and for you.
Have you tried Babywise methods? Did they work for your family? Share your Babywise experiences with us! And remember — let’s keep our discussion civil and respectful.
Whether you use Babywise or not, if you’re considering sleep training your baby or toddler, please be sure to pick up your FREE copy of 5 (tear-free) Ways to Help Your Child Sleep Through the Night, our e-Book with tear-free tips to help your baby sleep better. For those persistent nighttime struggles, check out The 3-Step System to Help Your Baby Sleep (babies) or The 5-Step System to Better Toddler Sleep (toddlers). Using a unique approach and practical tools for success, our e-books help you and your baby sleep through the night and nap better. For those looking for a more customized solution for your unique situation with support along the way, please consider one-on-one baby and toddler sleep consultations, where you will receive a Personalized Sleep Plan™ you can feel good about! Sometimes it’s not that you can’t make a plan. Sometimes you’re just too tired to.