Babies Aren't for Breaking
By Melissa Dribben

From Philadelphia Online-The Philadelphia Inquirer, City & Region, June 23, 1997

The scariest books aren't science fiction. They're not about global warming, ebola, or the private life of Dennis Rodman. Compared to the real chiller, they don't produce a goosebump.

Those are the books that make you sweat at 3 a.m. when you find your 5-year-old drooling on your pillow. Should you let her stay? Should you Ferberize? Should you pretend you didn't notice?

It's an information-infested jungle out there, with too many guides itching to show you all the wrong turns you've taken in the most important journey of your life.

In a desperate moment, I once bought a book called A Good Enough Mother. It made me feel inadequate. Which I'd been doing very nicely on my own, without the help of a $20 hardrcover. So I ditched it.

That's the key. If you're going to brave how-to books, you need to know how to toss bad advice.

But when your confidence is shaky, you're vulnerable, willing to believe almost anything you find.

This is the most generous way to explain how On Becoming Babywise has sold 100,000 copies.

The book, by Gary Ezzo, a non-denominational Christian minister from Los Angeles, and Robert Buckman, a board-certified pediatrician from Denver, was first published in 1992, when Buckman had been in practice two years.

Fixed feeding schedule
It proposes that infants can be broken like wild ponies and, within a few days of birth, can learn to eat and sleep when the parents tell them to. A fixed feeding schedule, the authors say, can teach any baby to fit into his parents' world.

If you follow the program, they claim, your baby won't have colic and you won't suffer from post-partum depression. Your baby will sleep through the night at eight weeks and grow up happy, well- adjusted and obedient.

For some, it will work. And they will thank Ezzo and Buckman for showing them the light.

They might as well thank Elvis.

All the scientific research of the past 30 years shows that babies are not lumps of Play-Doh that can be molded to suit the parents' whims. They arrive with personalities and temperaments that should be guided gently, not forced into submission.

"At least 50 percent of a baby's temperament is genetic," says Dr. William Carey, a pediatric behavior specialist at Children's Hospital. He read the Ezzo/Buckman book and found it disturbing.

It offers no evidence to support its claims. No reference to any studies. No downside.

"Some children will fall in line," Carey said. "But what happens to the ones who don't?" There is no way to know, he said "No one has been brutal enough to study this."

Extreme measures?
Buckman says his critics are unfair. "They make it look extreme," he said. "That's not what this program is about. We try to make a point that people need to use judgment."

But the cautionary sentences telling parents not to be too rigid are few and far between in the text.

Barbara Medoff-Cooper, director of the Center for Nursing Research at Penn, has been studying infant feeding patterns under a grant from the National Institutes of Health for 10 years. Here's what she thinks of On becoming Babywise:

It contradicts much of what has been learned about infant development since the 1950s. It creates unrealistic expectations, makes wild claims about the connection between eating and sleeping cycles, and could damage the relationship between parents and children.

Both Medoff-Cooper and Carey said they worried that, followed zealously, the program could even lead to child abuse. Parents who become frustrated when the regimen doesn't work might blame the child for being willfully disobedient.

Buckman said he'd heard it all before. "You talk to 10 different experts, you get 10 different opinions."

On Becoming Babywise is a bad book. One of many, promising fool-proof methods to raise perfect kids. They'll keep coming, because they sell. And they'll sell because people want to believe there's an easy way. There isn't.

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