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How To Avoid Common ‘Babywise’ Pitfalls

Avoiding Common Babywise Pitfalls 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, one of our readers, 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. 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.
  • Nicole’s Note:
    “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.”

  • 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.

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.

And remember, if you have a sleepless baby at home and are struggling – we’re here to help! Consider using our consultation services, and get personalized, one-on-one help with your baby’s sleep. You will be able to connect with one of our expert sleep consultants, who will write up a Personalized Sleep Plan™ just for your family. Browse our list of consultation package options, make your choice, and after you purchase, you will immediately receive an e-mail with your Helpdesk login information. You’ll be able to login and start your Family Sleep History form right away – it’s that simple!

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. :)

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  • Want an abundance of resources to help you in your sleep coaching? Consider becoming a Baby Sleep Site Member. Our Members Area is packed with exclusive content and resources: e-Books, assessments, detailed case studies, expert advice, peer support, and teleseminars. It actually costs less to join than buying products separately! And as a member, you have access to a once-a-week chat with one of our expert sleep consultants – ideal for those times when you need some expert advice! And the icing on the cake? Members enjoy 20% off all sleep consultation services. That savings alone can pay for the cost of membership!
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Warning: Babywise May Not Be Right For Your Baby

On Becoming Babywise is a popular book among many parents, but receives a lot of criticism from pediatricians and other parents for being too strict or harsh, particularly for newborns. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) came out and said over 10 years ago that Babywise is downright dangerous while others say that is not true. Who is right and what is right for your baby? This article will discuss what Babywise is and why it may or may not be right for your baby.

On Becoming Babywise

What is the Babywise method? The Babywise method indicates you should feed on schedule every 2 1/2 to 4 hours (depending on age) rather than on demand after your baby is a week to 10 days old. It is also routine-based that indicates that you should eat-play-sleep, in that order, every time. This means that your baby wakes up, you feed him, your baby plays, then goes to sleep and repeat this all day long. The book outlines how long between feedings at various ages and indicates your baby should sleep through the night from an early age (around 8 to 12 weeks, for the most part).

The idea behind the eat-play-sleep routine is that your baby will know what to expect every day, providing predictability and security to both of you, will take a full feeding since he is not too sleepy falling asleep while eating, and will not associate feeding with sleeping (a common reason for baby sleep problems), and have a much better/happier awake period being both full and rested.

Babywise Criticism

baby sleep training methodsSo, what’s the problem? Because of how strict the Babywise routine can appear to be, some pediatricians belonging to the AAP have indicated that babies are at higher risk to be diagnosed “failure to thrive” and become dehydrated. The feeding schedule is considered stringent with feedings every 3 hours from birth (4 hours once your baby is older). Die hard Babywise enthusiasts will delay feeding their baby until the “right” time rather than on demand even if baby is hungry. Attachment parenting advocates would say this is disrespectful of the baby by not feeding on cue. After all, it’s not like your baby can go to the pantry to eat like you can when you’re hungry.

In addition, sleep-wise, the Babywise Method is considered even more harsh than Ferber, in some ways, because Babywise advocates letting your baby cry in 20-minute intervals, even as a newborn (Ferber says to wait until 4 to 6 months). In order to get to an eat-play-sleep routine AND have feedings every 3-4 hours, depending on age, your baby needs to be napping in fairly long intervals (1-2 hours each time or so). Of course, we know that not all babies nap for long periods (some babies won’t nap at all) and short naps are common up through 6 months old. If your baby wakes up early from a nap, Babywise indicates you should allow your baby to cry to go back to sleep, even at a young age. Considering some people are thoroughly against cry it out methods to begin with, allowing your newborn to cry for 20 minutes is a lot to ask a new mom, in many cases, even if that same parent may decide to do cry it out when their baby is older.

Why Babywise may not be right for your baby

In some ways I think Babywise gets a bad rap in that it states VERY clearly that if your baby is hungry sooner than the “scheduled” time, then you should feed him. Some pediatricians have submitted their own reports about how Babywise is not dangerous. As with anything else, I think some people are more prone to follow books to the letter than others. Or, maybe they just didn’t read that page (or pages). Or, maybe they didn’t read the book at all and heard about the method from a friend. With any book, including mine(!), you still need to apply what YOU know about YOUR baby and make modifications. No one knows your situation or your baby better than you do. It is possible to do eat-play-sleep but not be so stringent that you HAVE to feed your baby as soon as she wakes up, for example. As long as you use the correct amount of awake time, it’s fine to feed her 15 minutes after she wakes, if she’s not hungry because she doesn’t take a two hour nap.

With my boys, they simply could NOT wait 3 hours between feedings until they were months old (not weeks) and they actually never got to 4 hours between milk feedings. I feel that it’s a healthier way to learn to eat when you’re hungry and not let yourself get TOO hungry that you overeat. But, that’s just my personal philosophy. Even now at 5 and 3, they eat something roughly every 2 1/2 hours due to how active they are and I am okay with that (after all “they” say to eat more frequent smaller meals, right? I do the same).

My boys also did NOT take two hour naps, either, and sticking to awake times that were outside my eldest’s comfort zone was out of the question. Add in that babies get older and can stay up longer between sleep, but not necessarily wait longer to eat, and it can be difficult to make Babywise work for every baby. There are a variety of reasons that your baby may or may not “fit” in with the Babywise Method. It doesn’t mean you can’t borrow from Babywise and make your own routine, though, if you do yearn for predictability or feel your baby would benefit from it! Maybe you do eat-play-sleep-read-eat-play-sleep-read… Maybe you do eat-play-sleep-walk-eat… there are many ways you can make a routine without it being a particular book’s routine. Make it work for you and your baby.

As for sleep, I wasn’t willing to let my newborns cry for more than a few minutes, let alone 20 minutes. Does that mean that you can’t use Babywise? No. Simply work on the routine and helping your baby learn to sleep in the gentlest way possible. As your baby gets older, her brain will mature, sleep will organize, and she will be able to learn how to self-soothe. Even if Babywise isn’t exactly right for you, it doesn’t mean you can’t find something that is.

If you got Babywise to work for you, that’s great! For others, their baby will be hungry, possibly nap even worse due to being hungry, nursing mothers may have low milk supply going too long between feedings, or you may just find it impossible to get your baby to nap long enough to get to the next “eat” time. If you can’t get it to work, don’t feel like you’ve failed at all. Just find your baby’s own routine and plan to use books as guides, and not as the end all, be all.

If you’re looking for ways to get your baby or toddler into a healthy sleeping routine, please be sure to pick up your FREE copy of 5 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.

What do you think about Babywise?

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