My Experience with Baby Wise

Baby In Crib

If you have read my post about our parenting paradigm shift, then some of this will be familiar to you. This post is a detailed account of my experience with the parenting book On Becoming Baby Wise: Giving Your Infant the Gift of Nighttime Sleep. Please note: I have several friends whom I deeply admire as excellent, warm, and loving mothers who followed this book. I don’t know if they still follow the books written for older children, but I still admire them – their children are delightful and obviously well loved. I believe that almost anything, when filtered through the love of our Father, can be helpful to some families – we are all different. This is *my family’s* experience.

When we were pregnant with our twins, we fully planned to spank them. My husband Brian and I were both raised in very strict, hierarchical, conservative Christian homes; we thought that the Bible required the spankings and other harsh punishments that we received as children. We had no idea there were any other options.

I read Baby Wise during my first pregnancy, recommended to me with special fervor since I was having twins and would definitely need a schedule. Accordingly, I made a strict plan for my babies’ immediate sleep training. I LOVE my sleep and I was determined that my whole family would be sleeping well and through the night by 2 months, like the book promised. A 10 pound baby is all you need to have a solid night’s sleep! (I can hear you laughing. Don’t think the computer screen is hiding anything.)

I was also planning to follow their plan for Blanket Time (from the second book in the series) for my older babies, which my friends who did it told me required spanking them every time they crawled off a blanket until they learned to stay on it. Having babies who stay put seemed like a really desirable thing to me – think of how convenient to just pop them on blankets and go get stuff done!

I learned from Baby Wise that:

  • Babies know nothing and parents are responsible to teach the babies what they need, and strictly enforce it until the babies follow the schedule that is best for them, which I will know because I am an adult and I know what’s best. God says so.
  • I also must watch my babies with suspicion – although they are mostly empty vessels, they are filled with the sin nature, so I must be on my guard about being manipulated. I must never give them what they ask for when it isn’t what I was already planning – because they might be trying to manipulate me. And…
  • I need to show them that I am in charge, not them. I must show them very early that they are under my authority. So that they will understand when they get older that they are under God’s authority.

Well. My intro to motherhood was… challenging. After a terribly difficult pregnancy and significant upheaval in our personal lives that included an unexpected move to a corner of the country uninhabited by any friends or family, our babies were born early. My 34 week old babies were just physically unable to go the hours in bed that Baby Wise required or afford the energy that crying would use. So I put off my sleep training plan.

“I’ll start Baby Wise when they get to their due date,” I thought.

And I did.

By the time they were “big enough” though, my babies had already been spoiled! They had had grandparents staying with us since birth who delighted in helping me hold them every moment of the day, which Baby Wise had staunchly warned against. The first week after the last Grandmama left, they were OK. They fussed a little when I put them down, but nothing terrible.

The next week, however, the screaming started.

For the first several weeks, I stuck to Baby Wise. That book assured me that if I stayed firm and did not let my babies manipulate me, they would learn. So I let them cry for a little while. I unlatched them when their nursing time had passed. I woke them up when they fell asleep at the breast. Let that sink in. I WOKE SLEEPING BABIES. Babies who hardly ever actually stopped crying long enough to fall asleep in the first place…

It was a horrible nightmare. My babies screamed for 12 hours a day. For months. They had colic. We were alone. Because of their time in the NICU, breastfeeding was horrible for 3 months. Baby Wise assured me that a schedule is especially imperative for colicky babies so that their bellies wouldn’t be more irritated by random infusions of milk. If the system wasn’t working for me, I wasn’t being strict enough.

Finally I gave up. I was being super strict. I was following the book to the letter and I knew it. And it wasn’t working. I could not get my babies to stop screaming and I was losing my mind. My husband was faring no better (he used almost 300 hours of personal leave that year to help hold the babies while they screamed).

So one night when he got home from work, we packed everyone in the car for a screeching ride to Target and we raced through the aisles pushing our screaming babies to the baby section in desperate search for another book that could give us some ideas of what to do for our babies. We found the Happiest Baby on the Block and Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child. At that time I also started reading Dr Sear’s Baby Book, which someone had given me during pregnancy, but which I had cast aside because it was about attachment parenting – and Baby Wise told me that attachment mothering would cause me to become depressed, exhausted, and frazzled.

So, exhausted and desperate, I started reading this books, searching for ideas to help my babies. From them I learned:

  • There is no one sleep plan that will work for all families or all babies. Babies are individual people with individual needs. It is my responsibility to pay attention and meet the needs they have, not the ones I think they should have.
  • Babies have just gone through an incredible transition (from the womb into the world) and they are coping with that as best they can – they are not manipulating their parents. I do not have to shut down their requests just to show them who’s boss – rather I must respond to their requests so I can show them that they are safe and valuable.
  • Babies are human beings who deserve to be respected.

I am not going to lie and tell you that after I read those books, everything turned rosy. My babies still cried. All. The. Time. But I did stop waking them from naps. I did stop waking them when they feel asleep at the breast. I did observe them closely to discover their personal and unique sleep needs (fortunately they are identical twins, and they actually had almost identical sleeping, eating, and even pooping patterns). So the unnecessary crying that I was adding to their lives went away. And slowly, slowly over the next several months we all started to get more sleep.

The trauma of colicky twins literally led our family away from strict authoritarian parenting into a parenting style which helped us honor our children as individual people, our brothers in Christ, with their own needs and purposes. And I thank God for that!

Read this post if you want to read more about what else in our family changed with these new lessons.

Published by Nikki Holland

I am a Quaker wife, mother, pastor, and writer. I work as the country branch director of a fabulous NGO in Belize City and I recently graduated with an MDiv from Earlham School of Religion. I love my family, and I love my community.

5 thoughts on “My Experience with Baby Wise

  1. I love that your twins even pooped at the same times! That’s pretty adorable.

    Thank you for sharing your story. I find that parenting our son with a focus on relationship & respect, recognizing him as my equal, has been incredibly healing for my “inner child”/past self, as well as opening me up to learn So Much from him. He doesn’t have to justify meeting his needs. He knows they are there to be met, whereas I often feel guilty if I’m not actively neglecting myself. There is so much unloving behavior being taught as “godly” in Christian communities, but these days we’re seeing people turn back to the example of Christ, & to loving each other 🙂


  2. I had terrible post partum depression – even with one baby and a very supportive husband. I was cringing during your description and just wanting to wrap you in a huge hug!

    Bottom line: We all do the best that we can with what we know. Wisdom is adjusting our theories to reality. I remember back when I thought being a Christian meant being *right* – doing the right things, looking the right way, disciplining the right way, ticking the boxes, believing the right things…now, when I think about all the grace I have experienced – I know that God doesn’t care about me ‘being right’ – everything He has done has served to soften me – it’s not about being right – it’s about living in His grace.


    1. YES!!! I love this!! (And thank you for your hug! Hug back! Isn’t it wonderful that we survived?? Hahaha! :D)


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