Thursday, February 7, 2008

Combating BW Myths #3: Your Baby Will Not Thrive

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Two month old Kaitlyn--a real-life Babywise baby
When looking through sites that bash Babywise, I found a comment on a site that many people may have read. It is one of the highest sites pulled up after a Google search, and was in June of 2007 when I first searched. The comment basically says that if you do Babywise, your baby will not gain weight properly, experience failure to thrive, and even die. I love the even die part. So dramatic.

This myth can really be combating in part with many of my points from myth #1 (see

Let's remember that Babywise is Parent Directed Feeding (PDF). That means that if your baby is not gaining weight properly, you adjust. You don't tell your 6 week old to "get with the program," you tell yourself to problem solve and fix the problems.

No matter what your parenting philosophy, failure to thrive is a possibility. I have a good friend who had her second baby this past November. She lives in my neighborhood and has a son Brayden's age, now a daughter relatively close to Kailtyn's age, and so we visit quite a bit. Her two month old was recently diagnosed as failure to thrive. Her baby is actually losing weight. She told me she was just nursing her baby the way the doctors and nurses told her to. "She'll let you know when she is hungry," they said. The problem is that this baby hasn't let her mom know. My friend told me she will go 6 hours between feedings sometimes, and mom will wonder if she should get her up. The baby's pediatrician told mom to put her on a schedule.

Now, my friend nursed her first this way (Attachment Parenting) with no feeding issues. Her son can be a little out of control, doesn't sleep in his own bed, and bedtime is somewhere around 11, but weight-wise he was fine. My friend is honestly shocked that what the doctors and nurses told her in the hospital is not working out. I encouraged her to do a schedule and feed her baby every few hours even if she is still sleeping.

I share this story to point out a couple of things. One is that failure to thrive can happen on any feeding philosophy--even Attachment Parenting. That group of parents seem to be the loudest critics of Babywise. Another point of the story is to show that parents need to intervene.

I have never had a baby experience failure to thrive. I don't know much about it. But if your baby has failure to thrive simply because you didn't feed them often enough, I am sorry to say it is your mistake. You are the one who needs to correct something, not the parenting philosophy you follow. I am sure there are medical reasons that contribute to failure to thrive, but those are going to be true and present no matter what philosophy you follow.

My friend's baby has reflux, and instead of wanting to eat all the time like some reflux babies do, baby takes the avoiding food approach. This is how my Kaitlyn was. She never woke for feedings for the first 6 weeks of her life. Had I not been following PDF, she likely would have had some thrive issues also.

I want to iterate the experience with my children. They are about as different as can be in many ways. I started Babywise with Brayden at 9 weeks. Before I started, he demanded to be fed every hour. Not only was it exhausting for me, he wasn't growing very well. He was in about the 20% for weight, which isn't necessarily a problem, but it wasn't right for him. Once I started Babywise, he moved up to 40-50%, which is where he has remained to this day. Sometimes higher, but that is her average.

Kaitlyn, as I said above, was opposite of that. She didn't demand to be fed. I had to wake her to eat. She started out life much better fed--higher percentile. Two different children, two different eating styles, and one happy response while implementing Babywise. Two happy, healthy babies.

You are the parent; you are in charge. If you really follow the principles of Babywise, you will not have any higher change of failure to thrive than any other baby. I would venture to say you have a smaller chance. With Babywise, you count wet and dirty diapers. You monitor the output from your baby. You know if something isn't right. You are proactive in the feeding of your child.

Although your baby is the most perfect thing on the face of this earth ( :-) ), your baby doesn't know everything. A human baby is sent to human parents and dependent on them for a long time. Animal babies are capable of fending for themselves usually in a matter of weeks or months. Some sooner, some a little longer. The have instincts to help them. Humans are moral creatures. We need guidance and direction. We can't operate on instinct. We have to swallow our pride and not slap the person trying to tell us how to parent. We have to overcome our anger when that guy cuts us off in traffic. We have to bite our tongue when the checker is taking FOREVER. Our children need guidance from us. We are intelligent beings who are capable of determining if our baby is hungry or not.

Remember, PDF is uses several variables to determine feeding time. We use the clock. We use cues from our babies. And we use our good judgment (Parental Assessment) to analyze the situation (see page 39 in chapter two in On Becoming Babywise). For these reasons, there is no reason your baby will experience failure to thrive--unless it is something medical that cannot be avoided anyway.

Reader Comments:
  • jahanschen said...
    This is a very widespread myth. I'm glad you addressed it--this is why the lady I mentioned in an earlier comment said, "My doctor told me Babywise kills babies." It is interesting that the hospital where we had Will tells new moms to make sure and wake their babies to eat every 4 hours at least (like babywise). A friend of my had her baby in Japan, where some hospitals have mothers stay for a week and practice keeping a 3 hour feeding schedule. Of course they are very rigid (unlike BW). Also, I did read through La Leche Leagues' Womanly Art of Breastfeeding--how much more AP can you get?--and they also recommend a 2-3 hour guideline for feeding newborns. They also have you keep tabs on soiled diapers.That's why I tell people to at least read something, and decide on a parenting philosophy and method. Something is better than nothing! We all need some instruction, method and order in our lives. ...and my 90% baby agrees that Babywise works beautifully! :)
    February 8, 2008 7:07 PM
    Plowmanators said...
    The weird thing is that she and I had our babies at the same hospital. They told me to feed every 3-4 hours, but I think they stressed it only until your milk came it. La Leche League nurses are all over the place, so my guess is they told her not to schedule. I know a woman with twins who were in the NICU for quite a while. She said they keep NICU babies on a schedule, so how can a schedule equal "failure to thrive" if that is the way they treat sick babies. Kaitlyn was also in the NICU (it turned out nothing was wrong with her), and I can attest to the schedule.
    February 8, 2008 8:31 PM
    jahanschen said...
    Your friend and the lady I was talking about (I knew her through our childbirth class) did the same thing. The mom I know said her baby had weight gain problems from the beginning, then later in the conversation said that she didn't feed her baby the entire first day because he wasn't waking up. Her nurses told her to let him sleep...unbelievable! Our Will also was so sleepy at first that we had to fight to get a full feeding in him--but we always did even if it took 30 minutes of wet cloths and lights. That's why I'm glad we read to prepare and double glad that we read BW!
    February 8, 2008 8:51 PM
  • dani said...
    An anecdote: My twins have been on Babywise since birth and they are exclusively breast fed. They are 4.5 months old and in the 96th percentile for weight, 85% for height. That is compared to *all* babies, not just twins (who are more likely to be small). They were born below the 10th %ile, so clearly Babywise has not caused *any* problems.
    February 11, 2008 9:26 AM
    Plowmanators said...
    Dani, thanks for sharing your success! That is great growth, especially for twins!
    February 11, 2008 9:54 AM


Monica Porter said...

I have a beautiful, four month old baby girl. We just had her four-month well-visit and left with some interesting concerns. Between her 2 month visit and her 4 month, she only gained a pound, putting her at 11 Ibs, 7 oz. She's always been smaller (birthweight: 6 Ibs, 11 oz) but has maintained a fine growth pattern. This last weigh-in did not keep with that pattern. She's always been "skinny" due to her length (she's long), and has never been one to carry the normal baby chubs. This has not concerned us because she was still gaining weight fine. But this visit did seem to pose issue. Our midwife, who she's been seeing for pediatrics at the clinic for now, has always seemed somewhat "concerned" with how much our baby sleeps--she's been sleeping through the night splendidly for a while now. She said that because our LO is getting 12 hours at night, she doesn't need to be sleeping as much as she does during the day (we follow a 3 hr sched with about an hour wake time) and she should be eating more instead. (I kind of doubt my midwife is "pro-schedule" at all) The thing that causes confusion for my hubs and I is that our baby girl is developing wonderfully and is a consistently super happy, mellow baby. She does not fuss as though she's not getting enough to eat, and she's a fairly good sleeper. OBVIOUSLY if she needs to gain more weight we want to tend to that. We're just somewhat at a loss on what to do. Her bedtime is about 7/7:30 and she wakes at about 7 everyday. An issue that my midwife and I did think of is perhaps she's not nursing long enough at each feeding. I know that I probably have more milk, but I don't know how to change this because she comes off and doesn't want to keep nursing. (And it's not like she doesn't nurse well, either. She's just quick.) Anyways, we're at a loss. And my midwife wanted to see her again soon to check her wait and basically instructed that we feed her more often....

Plowmanators said...

There are a few things you can do.

First, I would definitely take her in to be weighed consistently right now so you can monitor her growth. I remember one time we went in for mckennas well check and she was weighed. All was fine. A week or so later we went in for something (I think we had to go back for vaccinations) and she had grown quite a bit in that week. So it is possible your baby is about to hit a growth spurt.

To get more feedings, I think I would add a dreamfeed right now. You could also try feeding at 2.5 hour schedule, but my guess is she won't want to if she is satisfied during the day.

Plowmanators said...

Also, she did gain weight. You like to see them stay in the same curve, but weight gain is always good. Do weigh her again in a week or so to see where she is.

You could also see if you can take her so where to weigh before and after feeds to see how many ounces she is getting.

Monica Porter said...

Thank you! I was able to chat with another mom who did Babywise for her four kids and she had suggested the same things: adding a dream feed and cutting back to 2.5 hrs between feedings. We've been doing this now for about a week (since her check-up) and she's scheduled to go back in to check her weight again in another week. I'm feeling much more confident now and just stretched to continue to trust God with my baby girl knowing He maintains her and causes her to grow. :)

She seems to be doing ok with the 2.5 hr schedule during the day too. She's a pretty flexible baby, all in all. And, since we've made the alterations, it definitely seems like she's putting on more weight. I figured that we could keep the 2.5 hr schedule for a little longer (at least until her appt) and perhaps try to go back to the 3 hr and keep the dream feed once she's gained a little more. My only question now is, if she wasn't seeming to gain enough on the 3 hr sched without the dream feed, will she, eventually, really be able to take longer stretches and drop that late night feeding without forfeiting needed weight gain...

Thanks again!

Plowmanators said...

She will get there. All babies grow at their own rate. At two months, two of my kids were in the 11 pound range and two were in the 9 pound range. They all had spurts at different ages and grew in their own way. She will get to the point of being able to go longer at some point. My kids all did it at different ages.


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