Q&A: book for raising babies

Claire writes:

"My question is one for your personal opinion - I'd like to know if you've read the Babywise series of books (and any of their friends) & if you have your critical opinion or alternative recommendations? I'm currently 5 months pregnant & want to make sure I'm prepared as much as possible for the challenges new babies are, but I don't want to fill my head with useless twaddle.

I guess the reason I'm torn is that so many of my friends swear their sanity was saved by that book & indeed their children are really comparitively angelic (though still well within the bounds of normal) compared to the few people I know who run a laissez faire attitude to babies doing whatever they do. Those friends don't seem to be getting any sleep or routine & they are having a freak out & not so much fun.

I'm not a 100% do it by the book sort of gal, but I would like to know if there's a book that you can recommend that's perhaps a bit more scientific than some Ezzo dude's opinions & aprocrypha, but will still enable me to try to have a balanced happy moderately routine friendly baby?

I'd love to hear what you have to say about this & any books you can recommend for preparing for parenting - birth is the least of my worries :o)"

I despise Babywise, and there are huge numbers of people who have been hurt (and their relationships with their children hurt) by Ezzo. For the full critique on what's wrong with the Babywise approach, you can check out http://ezzo.info

Basically, any book that tells you to fight biology by never allowing a child to go to sleep by feeding (among other things) is completely full of it and is making tons of extra work for the parents (and let's be real, it's the mothers who usually have this extra work, rarely the fathers). Nature already built in this wonderful way to get your baby to sleep, and if you mess with it by imposing some ridiculous schedule about the baby always having to "play" after feeding or only eating at specified times then you are messing around with the way babies are hardwired. Of course people who "do Babywise" have these calm, placid babies, because the babies' spirits have been broken. They've been taught to ignore their own hunger cues and other needs, and just to wait passively until the parents decide it's time for the next thing to happen.

I think there are some religious communities that value "breaking" children. If you don't belong to one of these communities, then Babywise is something you want to stay far away from.

There is no other book I recommend as a parenting "method." Your method should be 1) trust your own instincts and 2) give your baby what s/he needs by paying attention to your baby and responding. Yeah, it's confusing at the beginning, but the good news is that babies don't remember much of the first few weeks. All they remember is that someone was there holding them and snuggling them and feeding them when they're hungry. All the other stuff is just a blur. So you don't have to be good at reading your kid until a few months into the whole deal.

Babies and kids like predictable routine, but most babies, if paid attention to and responded to, will fall into a routine that works for their bodies within the first few months. Of course it evolves over time as they get older, but if you stick with the routine as it evolves, you'll have a predictable, somewhat structured day and your baby will trust you and the world. There are days you can't seem to get it together to go through the regular routine, but letting everything slide into a big mush of a day ends up letting everyone descend into chaos. (I'm not talking about the first 8 weeks or so, when everything's pretty much chaos anyway--cut yourself a break and just focus on getting enough water and sleep and the routine will kick itself in soon.)

One really important thing that I think most BDTD parents will recommend (even if they never consciously thought about it at the time) was going outside the house every single day, no matter what the weather (hurricanes and blizzards excluded, of course). If you go out every day at approximately the same time, even if it's to go to a cafe to get an iced coffee for yourself or to the grocery store to wander the aisles looking at all the new breakfast cereals, you will add more structure and more emotional space to your day, even if your baby is teething and nothing else is going right.

IME the secret to having a structured, balanced routine is simple--watch your kid and follow his/her routine. If something seems to be off, troubleshoot instead of blaming yourself. Is it a developmental spurt going on? A physical spurt? Teething? Something the child ate? A change in sleep needs? Stress from the environment around the child? Do what you can to change the problem or wait it out, and you'll be back on track.

Raising children is hard. Really freaking hard. A predictable routine makes it a lot easier, but imposing a routine set by someone else who's never even met your child makes no sense and can be counterproductive. People often joke that kids should come with an instruction manual, but they do--it's their cries and their smiles and their facial expressions. Trust yourself, trust your child, and eat lots of chocolate, and you'll both come out of it with no major trauma.

Now, I read a lot of books, so of course I'll recommend some books to you. (And yes, I'm working on a full booklist to put up later.) Here's my caveat: Don't become a fanatic about something anyone else says. Almost any routine is going to work better than no routine for a baby. So of course the people who follow Babywise will have better-adjusted kids than people who are tossing their kids Ritz crackers from the couch and watching endless reruns of "The Real World." But a routine based on your actual kid is always going to be better than any routine in a book, so don't look to books to tell you what to do. You're your child's parent, and you and your child together have everything you need already.

Books I don't recommend:

  • Babywise and all of it's siblings. Ezzo has no child development experience, early editions of the book cause Failure to Thrive in many babies, and the alleged Biblical basis of the ideas in the book are misinterpretations at best and deliberate blasphemy at worst. http://ezzo.info
  • Anything by the Pearls. No. Just no. Although I doubt anyone inclined to follow the Pearls is reading me anyway.
  • The Baby Whisperer. Hogg's not a malevolent nutjob like Ezzo, and she does have some good tips on certain topics, but the idea that all kids have to follow the same sequence of events every day? Not sound. Also, if your child doesn't go down to sleep from being awake by 4 months, nothing bad will happen to anyone. This book will make you feel inadequate and make a ton of extra work for you. If you're going to read it, borrow it from the library or a friend instead of spending good money, and keep your common sense with you as you read.


Books I do recommend:

  • The Wonder Weeks. Of course. The best part of this book is that it tells you what's going on and why your child is cranky or not sleeping, but it doesn't tell you what to do. Information but no dogma is my favorite combo.
  • Between Parent and Child. It's about talking to your kids, so it's way too early for dealing day-to-day with babies, but reading it now will help you understand kids better in general and help put you in the right frame of mind for dealing with tantrums and all the stuff that starts to happen at the end of the first year.
  • Happiest Baby on the Block. It's a truth universally acknowledged that the 5 S's are going to be helpful to settle most kids because of the way babies are hardwired biologically. Maybe not a whole book's full of content, but definitely worth borrowing and reading before you give birth, or at least watching the DVD.
  • The Mother of All Baby Books. Common sense in a fun-to-read format.
  • Your Baby and Child. Just a straightforward resource, in a brisk, keep-a-stiff-upper-lip style.


Books I recommend with hesitation:

  • The Baby Book. I love the medical and developmental parts of this book. But those first few chapters can be so guilt-inducing, even to those of us who tend toward the attachment style already. Read the first few chapters with a critical mind, trust your own instincts, and remember that all this "the mother has to bond instantly with the baby" stuff is written by someone who's never been a mother. But the medical and developmental stuff is great, non-alarmist, and balanced info.
  • What to Expect the First Year. I just really don't like the "what to expect" books in general because they're beyond pedantic and alarmist, but if someone gives it to you you can look stuff up in it if you're in a good mood. If you're worried about something in particular, though, keep it on the shelf so you don't scare yourself unnecessarily.