How To Avoid Common ‘Babywise’ Pitfalls

5 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”:

  1. DON’T start too early. Younger babies require gentle, newborn-friendly sleep coaching strategies, which we outline in our e-book, Essential Keys To Your Newborn’s Sleep. 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’s sleep patterns will become more developed when she approaches 4 months of age, which often results in a 4 month sleep regression. To help your baby through the newborn stage, we offer special newborn-focused Personalized Sleep Plans™ that are designed to guide your newborn to better sleep in a gentle, safe way.

  2. 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.

  3. 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.
  4. 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.”

  5. 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. 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.
  6. DON’T be guided by extremes. There are those who will tell you that Babywise will have your newborn baby sleeping through the night in no time. 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 here.

Make your choice, and after you purchase, you will immediately receive an e-mail with your Helpdesk login information. You’ll be able to log in and start your family’s 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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95 thoughts on “How To Avoid Common ‘Babywise’ Pitfalls”

  1. We were having trouble with our newborn. She wouldn’t eat well or sleep well and I was reading several books. A friend suggested baby wise to me. And we had success…but in the book… they remind you to access the situation and be flexible if you need to be…make adjustments and that’s what we’ve done. My daughter is 4 months and doesn’t sleep through the night yet… but once we started a schedule, she went from waking 4-5times down to 1 and we felt this was a great schedule for her. She needed that nighttime feeding still. The schedule and routine helped with sleep until the 4 month sleep regression hit and now we are sleep training …but again, I’ve taken the book as tips and not as the rule. We tailored it to what I think as her mother. And if it isn’t working, I’ll adjust. I’m not going to let my daughter purple cry but I will let her fuss for a few before comforting her. And that seems to be working for us so far. We just started this week and I can see her making improvements and learning how to self soothe. She slept through the night last night. Every baby is different and we need to support each other. They don’t come with an instruction manual ??

    • Hi @Tracey –
      Thanks for sharing your heartfelt message with us! We agree completely that us parents need to support each other and that every baby is different! Thanks for sharing your approach and what’s working for you! We hope that things continue to go well!

  2. My wife and I were recommended the Babywise book by some friends of ours. Their baby has been so happy, healthy, and well-behaved that we really wanted to know what they were doing. They also talked about how early their baby began sleeping through the night and, honestly, the thought of not sleeping was one of the scariest parts of parenting for us. Anyway, we read the book and applied the methods and had fantastic success. Actually this article talks about not starting too early (and we really didn’t start stuff till about 2 weeks in) but we did start to ease the scheduling in at that point – and by 2 months we were having to wake our baby up from 8+ hour sleep stretches. I know this article seems to imply that sleeping through the night by two months is not a realistic expectation but I have not seen several people start Babywise and have those same results. Now our baby is the one people say is always well-behaved and healthy. I am a big fan of Babywise. It has really helped my wife and I maintain sanity and our own relationship while also caring for and loving our baby.

      • Hi @Luke –
        Thank you for sharing your experience with Babywise! We’re happy to hear that things went so well and that your baby is such an excellent sleeper! Thanks again for taking the time to write!

  3. Hi there. My baby is 13 weeks old and I started her on Babywise a month ago. Prior to she was sleeping 5-6hrs her first block at night. Since putting her on a Babywise routine of 2.5-3 hrs she’s only sleeping 2-3.5 hrs now!! I feel lost! I don’t know what I’m doing wrong.

    • Hi @Cindi, thanks for writing to us. I’m sorry to hear your longer stretches have suddenly vanished, I know how discouraging that can feel. Hang in there, because it’s likely there’s not anything you are doing wrong, as there are a lot of changes that go on for a baby’s sleep around 3-4 months of age. Here is a link to an article that may help you determine what’s going on with her sleep:
      If you find you need more help getting her back on track, let us know and we’d be happy to! We have an ebook all about newborn sleep that will go through the first year and will help give you different approaches to helping her sleep as many babies need different methods based on their temperaments. Here is a link to information about that:
      I hope this helps!

  4. I read babywise and was really determined to try to use it for our firstborn – but after trying it for a while some parts of it worked for my daughter and others didn’t, and I’m now in a really good place about using our instinct and reading our daughter to figure that out and balance deciding what works for her and what doesn’t, especially from babywise.

    However, I don’t think it’s fair to paint the method as promoting the “cry it out” method – the book doesn’t really encourage that at all. Nor does it really enforce strict “schedules” (it actually suggests that might not be helpful) but more routines or “rhythms”

    Just hoping folks have a fair portrayal of it before picking it up and considering whether to try it.

    • Hi @Priscilla – Thank you for sharing what worked for you! Being informed by reading and researching, while listening to your instinct and reading your daughter’s needs is a perfect combo! We appreciate your feedback on our article too, and definitely appreciate your perspective. Just about everyone can define “cry it out” in a variety of ways. In this article, “cry it out” means to put your baby down awake and not go back to them for an extended period of the time (if at all). We support helping babies learn to self-soothe as well, but do define leaving the baby to cry for 15 minutes without even a short check to be a form of “cry it out” as discussed in the Babywise book. There are many variations of course, but likely this is simply a difference of opinion in definition. We also find that in our work with thousands of families, that not all babies can follow the rhythms, or schedule guidelines at the specific ages too. We are so happy to hear that you found what worked for your family, and our only desire is to present this information in an unbiased way so that families can do what you did, and use resources such as this book, but also follow their own unique path to better sleep. Thanks again for commenting and sharing!

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