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.

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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. Hello. A friend recommended to get the book, but my baby is already 8 months!! and I don’t know if it will work for him? or is it too late for him?
    It is a nightmare, he hates his crib, only falls at sleep on my arms and boobs ( no pacifier!) but the worst of the worst is that he only naps for 30 min!!.

    • @Luisa – Thank you for reading and for sharing! It sounds like sleep has gotten pretty tough – we feel your pain! We actually get this question quite a lot – is it too late to sleep coach my older baby or toddler? The answer is rarely [if ever] yes. 🙂 Check out this article that you may find helpful as it goes over this exact question on knowing when it’s too late to sleep train – Hang in there, Luisa!

  2. Hi,

    Reading your article shows me you haven’t actually read the most recent babywise books. This is frustrating because you’re giving false information.

    Babywise isn’t based around the crying it out method…it’s based around the idea that a baby needs to learn to self soothe. This is not through crying but through not letting them fall asleep on you or the boob every sleep time.
    It’s about watching your baby’s sleep, wake and feed cycle as a whole rather than watching only one element.

    It also never ever stated that it’s safe to have a 3-4 week old sleeping through the night. It actually mentions the need for babies that young to be eating regularly. It says that your baby is able to sleep as long as their age e.g. 6 weeks – maximum 6 hours.
    So babies can only sleep through the night at 8 weeks at the earliest and that would be 10-11pm through to 6-7am.

    Its really disappointing to come across your article with such a warped and unfactual nature. It’s both misleading and really shows a lack of understanding and actually reading the book.


    • @Kat – Thank you for reading and for commenting. We always appreciate feedback on our site and our content. We definitely support babies learning to self soothe, feed appropriately and encourage independent sleep when it works for the family. We try to make a point to view issues from different lenses to be an objective fount of content for our families and readers. I’ve forwarded your comment to our editorial team so they can take a look. Thanks again, and please keep reading!

    • @Kat Hello and thank you for commenting! We have certainly read Babywise, but as it had been a long time, we reread the parts relating to your concerns. First, you are correct that the book does not say your baby will sleep through the night at 3-4 weeks. As I was talking about “extremes” in that section, I was merely exaggerating both ends of the spectrum. I have updated that section and appreciate the feedback. Second, many different parents define “cry it out” in a variety of ways. For us, “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.” There are many variations. I believe this is simply a difference of opinion as far as what constitutes “cry it out.” 15 minutes isn’t too long for a 12-month old, perhaps, but for a 3-6 week old, this seems too long to NOT call it “cry it out” in my opinion. I definitely understand where you’re coming from and appreciate your perspective. Thanks again for commenting!

  3. Babywise has worked so well for us! By the time we left the hospital, I observed my baby was eating every 2 hours during the day and 3-4 at night. Over the couple of weeks, I noted her eating routine and wrote it out so she’d eat at the same times each day. By 2 month, she was sleeping through the night. She’s 5 months now and is a great night sleeper.

    Scheduling has helped us and her to get into a rhythm and know what to expect each day. We’re totally flexible based on her needs, but she easily sticks to a schedule. It’s incredibly helpful for my husband when i’m at work and anyone else who cares for her because there’s really no guessing. She eats when she wakes up, plays, then naps, repeat. We generally know why she gets a little fussy at certain times.

    I don’t understand why people are such harsh critics and think it’s because they don’t understand it. I read it as… quality sleep is dependent on baby receiving a full feeding at each meal. Feed baby enough, allow her the right amount of awake time, she’ll sleep well. I never read anything advising against holding my baby or comforting her. That’s just ridiculous. Do I allow her to cry for a few minutes before picking her up? Yes. I’d do that regardless of what book I read because I believe it teaches both her and I patience. I believe some babies self-soothe through crying, so maybe she’s simply crying to put herself to sleep. Sometimes I need a good cry as i’m sure many other women do.

    • @J – Thanks so much for sharing your experience with us! I’m so glad to hear you found the method that works perfectly for your family. Thanks for your comment!

  4. Things were REALLY rough for us before we started Babywise at 5 weeks. We definitely weren’t ridged with it, but it only took a few days before my daughter fell into a 2 1/2 hr schedule all on her own. She slept through the night at 2 months! (8-9 hr stretch). I highly recommend it to new moms! After the newborn stage I recommend the Sleep Sense program.

  5. Our second child we used modified Babywise, mostly sticking to the sleep eat play cycle. I’m not a scheduled person, so following more of a cycle than a schedule works better. He is a very happy child, who can sleep pretty much anywhere.

    Still working on the second son…just over a year old, he’s somewhere between the other two children. 🙂

  6. @ Aria – oh my goodness, those headaches sound terrible! I understand, though; I am no good when I’m sleep deprived. I’m deeply envious of my friends who can cope for weeks on end with just 4 or 5 hours of sleep each night.

    It sounds like you have learned your son and his personality and temperament really, really well – good for you! That’s fantastic. It also sounds like you’re doing everything you can at home to accommodate his needs while still trying to encourage sleep – again, awesome!!

    If you do decide that you want help in solving some of your son’s sleep challenges, we can help with that. You can check out our consultation packages here:

    Best of luck to you, Aria! Thanks for taking the time to comment, and to share your story 🙂

  7. I do co-sleeping and baby lead schedules. I watch their cues and create a schedule-ish…(giving room for growth spurts, illnesses etc…

    With my first she naturally nursed every four hours with a few sips in between for comfort and would go 6 hours at night from day one(as a first time mom this really stressed me out and I thought I needed to wake her up… lol) But she grew well and was happy and content when awake and she slept a lot!!! like hours more then the average kid. It was weird, but worked for us and again when she was awake she was alert and content or happy so for the most part I didn’t worry.

    Insert my son here….:
    He cried and cried and cried all the time… He refused to fall asleep unless he cried it out… 🙁 It was so sad. I don’t like the CIO method, but that was the ONLY way he would fall asleep when he was newborn.(but his falling asleep cry did sound different then his hungry cry) The first time he fell asleep without CIO was when I was holding him and rocking him and I “pretended to fall asleep” and he looked at me and copied me and then fell right to sleep!!! wow! I finally caved and got a binki which also helped immensely. I tried to follow his “cues” to figure out when he’s tired and when he’s hungry… he doesn’t have any, he just goes from perfectly content to screaming in 0.1 seconds…

    So I have had to roughly put him on a schedule… And he has done Much better being on a schedule. Another thing is he’s a very hearty eater, or may be he’s just really thirsty like his dad? lol. So anyways during the day I usually can’t go much longer then 2 hours before he gets too upset to eat(screaming for 10 minutes until he’ll calm down and latch on)… With the binki I’ve been able to stretch his night time feeds to every four hours. One thing I always do for my baby’s is at night I NEVER turn on the light ever. I comfort I nurse or whatever, but I don’t talk and I don’t turn on the lights. So he will sleep from about 8pm till 8am… which is awesome, but his night is interrupted. I love babies, but interrupted sleep to me is torture(I get one constant non-stop headache when my sleep is interrupted.)
    He’s almost 4 months… and I’m hoping it’ll get better soon.

    We’ve naturally gotten into a routine of eat, play, sleep during the day. Though he eats every 2 hours and he naps for a half hour/hour at a time… If he goes longer then that he gets WAY over hungry. lol. He used to bite me when he was hungry! Yikes. His dad wouldn’t sleep through the night till he was 6 months and his mom gave him 2 full bottles of milk right before bed. sigh… I’m pretty sure I’m doing everything to get him to sleep through the night. 🙁 Here’s to lasting a couple more months with a headache…

  8. @ Jessica -thanks for the kind words! Glad you appreciated the article 🙂 We strive for balance at The Baby Sleep Site – glad it shows in our articles! I agree with you, that the eat-play-sleep routine is probably the most useful piece of info in the whole Babywise book. I utilized that, too, and it was really helpful with my younger 2 kiddos!

    Hope you ‘figure out’ your 3rd soon 😉 Thanks for taking the time to comment, Jessica!

  9. Great, balanced article on a highly controversial subject! Well written, well written.

    We tried CIO with our oldest, a spunky, determined, sensitive girl, and I’m afraid it damaged her emotionally. We only did it for a short time, but I wish we had quit sooner! Now she’s almost 4 years old, and I find that she simply doesn’t need as much sleep.

    Our second child we used modified Babywise, mostly sticking to the sleep eat play cycle. I’m not a scheduled person, so following more of a cycle than a schedule works better. He is a very happy child, who can sleep pretty much anywhere.

    Still working on the second son…just over a year old, he’s somewhere between the other two children. 🙂

  10. @ Claire – thanks for offering such a well-balanced perspective! Sounds like you have a good handle on what you can take away from Babywise and make work for you kiddo, and what you should ignore and leave behind. That’s the best kind of approach to baby books, IMO – glean what’s good, and ignore what’s not 🙂

    Thanks for commenting, Claire!

    @ Christin — way to go, mama! Sounds like you put in the hard work that was necessary to help your baby sleep, and did it on your own terms. Fantastic!

    Thanks so much for taking the time to comment, Christin! 🙂

    @ Stephanie – sounds like you have some strong feelings about Babywise, which is understandable – the book tends to inspire strong feeling! 😉 Thanks for taking the time to share yours. We respect families’ choices when it comes to sleep coaching, whether they’re pro-Babywise or not. We think having lots of diverse perspectives and opinions in our Baby Sleep Site community keeps things interesting, and exposes all of us parents to new ways of doing / thinking about things.

    Thanks for adding your voice to the discussion, Stephanie! 🙂

    @ Rachel — agreed! We make recommend the eat/sleep/play routine to lots of the families we work with.

    Thanks for commenting, Rachel! 🙂

    @ Evonne — sounds like we have the same family! Seriously — I have 3 kiddos, too, and the youngest is 2.5! Oldest is almost 7, and my middle guy is 5. I took the same approach you did – I focused more on routines and sleep associations with my second 2, and the result was that they slept better sooner than my oldest. Live and learn, I guess!

    Thanks for commenting, Evonne! 🙂

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