Thursday, February 17, 2011

The Babywise Post

If you've ever read my little profile thing over on the right-hand side of my blog, you may have noticed that it says we are "Babywise following." Some of you may know what that is. Some of you may not. Some of you may hate me for it or think I am evil and some of you may nod in agreement that it is awesome.

There are LOTS of opinions on the "Babywise" method of sleep training. I want to tell you mine. My blog = my opinion.

This sleep training method is actually officially from a book called, "On Becoming Babywise" by Gary Ezzo and Robert Bucknam. It was handed to me by my very first pediatrician when my first child was born. He handed me this book at her 3-day old well-baby check up. I then met with the lactation consultant. They both recommended this book and its methods. As a 23-year-old brand new mom, I immediately took it home and read it! I was desperate for any kind of "manual" as to what to do with my 7lb bundle of love.

I had no idea it was a controversial book. I had no idea some people thought it was terrible. I only knew that my doctor, the man I trusted with the health of my child, handed it to me and recommended it. I read it and begin applying its principles right away.

Here the gist of it...babies need a routine (notice I DIDN'T say schedule) to regulate their little body systems. We generally do the same thing every day ourselves from the times we eat to the times we sleep. Our newborns are really no different. Since they have just emerged from the womb a short while ago, they aren't really pros at this. They need guidance. Thats where mom and dad come in. Babywise calls this "Parent-Directed-Feeding."

Here is the routine that Babywise suggests. Eat, play, sleep, eat, play, sleep, eat, play sleep...etc. Each "eat, play, sleep cycle" should last about 3 hours, give or take 30 minutes or so. This sounds super easy and straightforward if you've never had a baby, but if you HAVE had a baby, you'll remember that babies like to fall asleep while nursing or bottle-feeding. They get so cozy that all they want to do is suck, suck, suck...suck....suck...eyes close...suck....eyes close again...........suck.......eyes close for good..........

Many moms will just assume baby is tried and is ready for a nap. They may hold them or lay them down, but most will not encourage the baby to "finish eating." This is where Babywise will differ. I agree with this point 100%. In order to regulate baby's little body, they need to take in a full feeding at feeding time. This means that 3-minute-long nursing session that just ended in baby conked out still latched on to the breast didn't cut it. Babywise would encourage moms to stimulate baby somehow (toe tickling, unswaddling, shifting positions, etc) to urge baby to keep eating. Baby will most likely startle a bit and gladly keep on sucking. The goal is to TRY your best to get baby to take in a full feeding. That way their tiny belly has a better chance of staying full through this whole eat, play, sleep cycle. Thats the goal at least.

The next hurdle is keeping baby a wake for a bit. As a newborn, this is challenging, haha. Fortunately, diaper changing counts as "play" as does bath time, burping, bouncy seat or swinging. Most newborns will be done with this activity time fairly quickly. Its okay if they then transition to sleep time. The next hurdle is to try and allow baby to sleep until the next "feeding time" which should be roughly 3 hours from the beginning of the previous feeding time.

If baby wakes up early, Babywise would suggest trying to keep baby happy with a few extra minutes of "activity time" before immediately feeding again. HOWEVER, if baby isn't interested in this and just seems to be rooting and lip smacking - very clear hunger cues - FEED HIM! Babywise never ever says to deny your baby food (this is where people make horribly wrong judgements about this book - it is very clear when it says to always feed your hungry baby)! Its pretty simple really. Try and distinguish if baby is hungry or just awake. Then either feed him or keep playing with him until its time for the next on-routine feeding.

The whole goal of this is to make it about 3 hours between feedings with an activity and a nap in the middle. Eventually, both my babies did fall into this routine. Sure we had some cycles that lasted a whopping 1 1/2 hours. Some lasted 3 1/2 hours. My son even took to "cluster feeding" when he was about 2 weeks old and ate every single hour. All of this is okay. In my mind, the Babywise routine is a guideline, not rules written in stone. I believe it is okay to take its principles, analyze them a bit, and then pick and choose what you'd like to take from it.

I did have to wake my babies out of a nap to nurse if they were sleeping past the 3 1/2 hour mark. My goal was to regulate their little bodies to eat full meals in an appointed routine. Plus, I didn't want to assume we were down for the night and head to bed at 10pm only to be woken up at 10:30 by a hungry baby...I preferred to wake baby up at 10, feed him, and then put him back to bed for the night. This just made more sense to me.

So, all I've talked about is feeding and not really about sleeping yet. Thats kind of the point. The sleep comes when feedings are well established. Once baby gets on a nice 3 hour routine (which can take a few weeks), baby will then start going in longer and longer stretches in the middle of the night between feedings.

*As a note, for the first 2 weeks of life, I allowed baby to go up to 4 hours between nighttime feedings. After 2 weeks my pediatricians (had different ones with both kids) said that I could let them sleep as long as they wanted between feedings in the middle of the night.

For example, we'd do the early evening feeding at say, 7ish, and then stay up to feed again around 10pm. We'd skip the "activity time" and get baby to sleep and lay him in the cradle. In the beginning I'd wake him up to eat again around 2am (4hrs between feedings), but later I'd let him go longer. By about 2 weeks old, both my babies were able to go almost 5-6 hours between middle of the night feedings. I remember being woken up by a hungry baby more around 3-4am. I'd feed baby and get him back to sleep.

Eventually, this just kept getting stretched longer and longer - not by ANYTHING I was doing, but by the baby himself. By about 6-8 weeks old, I know I was waking up around 6am(ish) for the feeding rather than in the "middle of the night." This is just how it works when your baby is on a nice routine during the daytime hours. Things fall into place because baby's body is regulated to be hungry during the day. You can also be sure that baby is taking in enough calories during your 3-hour cycles during the day to keep them full longer through the night.

In baby language, eating at 10pm and being asleep by 11pm, and not waking until around 6am is sleeping through the night. Glorious!!! Both my babies had no problem achieving this goal.

The next beautiful milestone was eliminating the 10pm feeding...I don't remember exactly how it happened with my daughter but I know with D it happened all on his own and rather by accident when he was 12 weeks old. I fed him around 7pm as usual and after being awake for a bit, he fell asleep in my arms. I was going out to dinner with my sister so I transferred him to my mom's arms and I headed out. (I am sure I left her with some pumped breastmilk or something in case he woke up while I was gone). When I returned home in time to feed him his "final night feeding" by 10pm, he was still in my mom's arms. He was so very much asleep. Rather "limp noodle like." We may have tried to stimulate him a bit to rouse him, but quickly gave up. I decided to just swaddle him and lay him down in his crib. I figured that the worst that would happen is that I'd be up again in an hour feeding him. The best - he'd sleep until his usual 6-7am feeding!

When I heard him cry, I glanced at the clock - it was 7am!!! He made it the whole night - nearly 12 hours without a feeding in the middle. I am sure my poor breasts were ready to explode, but I'm sure I didn't mind. He probably took in a nice huge feeding that morning, haha. He did that every night after that.

And ladies and gentleman, THAT is how my babies were both sleeping 12 hours at night by the time they were 12 weeks old.

"On Becoming Babywise" teaches WAY more than what I have just discussed. It gives methods to teach baby to fall asleep and stay asleep on his own without using any sleep aides or props such as nursing, rocking, bouncing, or the swing. The authors suggest starting this from the beginning, but it never went that way for me. I didn't ever feel comfortable letting my brand spankin' new baby fall asleep without my help. In fact, sometimes it took an hour of rocking and bouncing to even get him asleep!

Probably around 12-16 weeks is when I began to work on training my babies to fall asleep on their own. I know with D, I started once, and he didn't get it, so I waited another month and tried again with success. This process involved some crying. Some days more than others. It wasn't painless but it wasn't overly painful. Eventually I was able to slip my baby in his sleep sack, rock him for a minute and then just lay him in his crib (awake by tired) and walk out of the room. He would self soothe with a paci or his thumb and fall asleep on his own. I KNOW he was easily doing this by the time he was 6 months old. I am not quite sure when he began doing it, but I know it was sometime between 3-6 months :-)

I am not a strict Babywise follower. The authors suggest this whole process should begin at birth. I believe the eat, play, sleep routine should start as early as possible, but there should be lots of room to wiggle in those first days. Milk is still coming in (if mom is nursing) and cluster feeding is very normal. I choose to take the Babywise principles and use what I shared. I believe the "routine" is the key to good sleep and eating habits for an infant. This makes sense to me. I have had success with two babies by using these principles.

The reason I even wanted to write this is because I am getting a little nervous about the arrival of my 3rd baby. Not really the "arrival" but the "bringing home" part. What if he doesn't adapt to this routine like my other two did? What if he doesn't stretch his feedings out in the middle of the night? What if he wants to cluster feed every hour at 1am, 2am, 3am, and 4am? Ahhh! I am a little overwhelmed at this possibility, haha!

Only time will tell how baby boy will settle into our family :-) I also wanted to write this for those of you that have heard horrible things about the Babywise series. This is how a real mom took the book and used it. I used my common sense and the book's principles and was able to achieve healthy sleeping and eating habits. I have raised two healthy children using these "Parent Directed" principles. I couldn't be happier with the results. Please feel free to comment if you've read, used, tried, hated, etc, the Babywise book. I appreciate other's opinions.

Just remember. I respect you for your choices as a mom. Please respect me for my choices as a mom. :-)


  1. Thank you for posting this entry! I am currently reading babywise and am excited and nervous to try the routine and techniques. Its encouraging to read how well it worked for you and your babies. Expect many phone calls from me with questions in the upcoming months! (Probably years!)

  2. Once again...another excellent blog! And I witnessed your successes...great job. Your children are the best little sleepers I've ever seen!

  3. I love babywise! I didn't follow it to a T, but loved the info on schedule/routine. McKennon was sleeping through that night at 4 months! And it was so nice for me to be able to know when I needed to feed him and have him nap. I need the routine just as much as the baby does!!

  4. I follow a Babywise routine similar to what you described with my 8 month old. I am so, so glad that I did. We were a little behind the 8-ball (he didn't sleep twelve hours a night until around 5 months), but we had some feeding issues initially that took precedence for a little while (because my son had a significant weight loss his first week, we had to wake him to eat every two to two and a half hours). I love that I can lay him down for his naps or bed and he just falls asleep. Plus, as a new mom, having a routine and feeding times helped me figure out when I could go to the store with the least chance of having a meltdown - I was definitely more confident because of it. I agree that if people follow it strictly, it wouldn't be practical or safe, but as a guideline it's really worked wonderfully for us too!

  5. Our midwives recommend Babywise, too. Though, like you, they aren't 100-percent about the whole thing because some of the minutaie doesn't work for anything.

    So glad it worked for you!

  6. Thanks for this. Babywise was my guide for baby #1 2 years ago, and it worked like a charm. Now baby #2 is 2 weeks old she wants to cluster feed, which is throwing me for a major loop! Babywise doesn't acknowledge the phenomenon of "cluster feeding", and I don't know how to handle it. I've been so confused, wondering if I should completely ditch the Babywise principles I swore by the first time. But your words resonate, and calmed me down – it's all ok, Babywuse is a goal and a guide and there will be little bumps along the way.

  7. I am on baby number four and trying to recall what I did with the first three. It was a lot like you wrote here; a mixture of baby wise and the baby whisperer. It worked like a charm and I have great sleepers and eaters. One other thing I appreciate about eat awake sleep cycle is that the baby learns to understand his own hunger and tired cues and as children, that carries over so they don't over eat. My five year old will tell me he's tired and put himself to bed! Can't criticize that!