Monday, June 7, 2010

The Baby Whisperer -a book review

Two of the first books I read as a mom of a newborn were Secrets of the Baby Whisperer: How to Calm, Connect, and Communicate with your Baby (2001) and the multiple-sub-titled The Baby Whisperer Solves All Your Problems: Sleeping Eating and Behaviour --Beyond the Basics from Infancy to Toddlerhood (2004) by Tracy Hogg. Although I did not read either book cover to cover, I did glean a lot of helpful concepts from the books (while at the same time disagreeing with some of her concepts).

Tracy Hogg was a British-trained nurse who had a knack for understanding infants' needs. She worked with high profile clients in California who, by all accounts, were at their wits' ends with inconsolable infants. She developed an approach that led to clients dubbing her the Baby Whisperer. Tracy believed that a lot of 'problems' with infants stem from "accidental parenting": developing habits that lead to problem behaviours that are more difficult to 'fix' than to avoid. Tracy died of melanoma in 2004.

In a Nutshell:
The basic premise of Tracy's approach is that it is important to develop a routine from day one with an infant. Her belief was that Eating, followed by Activity, then Sleep and time for You (EASY) should occur in fairly predictable increments (e.g. 3 hours for a newborn, 4 hours for an older child). The underlying personal value in her books is a deep respect for infants as human beings who need to be listened to, and responded to. The way we move our babies and talk to our babies should display a respect for them that we would extend to anyone else in our family.

Tracy believed in the phrase "start as you plan to continue" --begin your way of parenting from the beginning (e.g. start them in a crib if that's where you want them later; start them on a routine from day 1 of life), rather than waiting until you think it's the right time. In contrast to Tracy, I believe starting as you plan to continue relates more to a consistent parenting philosophy than to specific 'techniques'. What I do with my son will change as he develops, but my basic approach to nurturing him is consistent.

This book supported my role as a mom with the following:
-I actually have a routine? When I was lost in a blur of breastfeeding, diaper changes, and naps it was a welcome realisation that there was actually some semblance of a routine in my day of which I wasn't aware. It dawned on me after very little reading that my day DID have some routine of eating, sleeping, and activity. Knowing that my day would roughly be in three hour segments helped me get through.

-Diaper changes are worthwhile ways of spending time with my son!. Changing clothes and diapers, burping him, and changing clothes again may be all I do before Andrew needed to sleep or eat again. It was reassuring to know that this is valuable time with Andrew and is an opportunity for quality social interaction and bonding. You do not need to play with an infant for your time with himto be well spent.

-Slow down, don't go too fast. Make the diaper changes last! (sung to Simon and Garfunkel's Fifty-ninth Street Bridge (Feeling Groovy) Tracy's book helped me slow down to Andrew's pace. When he was crying through a diaper change I initially tried to get it done AS FAST AS POSSIBLE which only upset him more. Once I slowed down, talked to him, and sang to him, diaper changes became one of my (and his) favourite parts of the day. As soon as I lay him down on the change table he would start to smile --one more point for diaper changes as worthwhile activities!

-Slow down for everything. The book reinforced pausing and listening to my son's cries in order to learn how to interpret it. This made it much easier to respond to him and meet his needs better. I am not of the cry-it-out school, but responding without first listen to what his cry was saying is as disrespectful as interupting someone trying to tell me they want a glass of water by giving them a cup of coffee!

-Explain before doing. Letting Andrew know what I was about to do (pick him up, change his diaper, whatever) is a respectful way of treating him, even if he doesn't understand. We do not know the point at which infants begin to comprehend, so start early by respecting them enough to ask permission before 'doing' to them.

Tracy's approach fell flat for me when she suggested:
-Don't let babies fall asleep at the breast. Don't let them feed on demand. As many readers have commented regarding her books, good luck keeping a breast fed baby awake after feeding. It's just not nature's way! Tracy does not respect 'feeding on demand' and takes exception with the word "demand" --if it is semantics that is the problem, then call it "feeding on cue". I will feed my son whenever he needs it. And he may not need it solely for the food value. Breastfeeding is nurturing and comforting. If I find that the feeding is really putting a damper on my sleep (e.g. every 1-2 hours) then I will look for a gentle solution. Otherwise, it's not a problem unless I think it's a problem.

-Activity should follow feeding or an infant will get into the habit of needing to eat to fall asleep. Mammals have been breastfeeding for eternity and have somehow managed to emerge as adults without requiring a bedtime snack to fall asleep.

-Bedsharing is not a good idea. Tracy felt this sets children up for poor sleep habits. I believe it is not for every family, but I also feel that there are many benefits to bedsharing and certainly for co-sleeping. If approached as a way of nurturing one's infant (rather than as a reaction to poor sleep), I believe it creates a very healthy attitude towards sleep (and more sleep for everyone).

Overall, Tracy emphasizes that the key is respecting your infant and responds to criticism that EASY is rigid by emphasizing that if a baby is hungry, feed them! (even if it doesn't fall into her EASY plan of Eat Activity Sleep and You Time). "The Baby Whisperer Solves All Your Problems" is a good go-to book for specific issues that arise (sleeping, etc). Looking up the "problem" in the index is easy. The solutions, however, are but one person's view on approaching the issue. I have taken from her books that which I find helpful, but I remember first to trust my instincts about what is right.