The Baby Whisperer – the good, the bad, and the confusing

Baby Books

While I was laid up in my 6th month of pregnancy with a busted back, I read a bunch of baby prep books. The Baby Whisperer (and The Baby Whisperer Solves All Your Problems) by Tracy Hogg, stands out among them as being a pretty smart and savvy approach. I highly recommend! But while it’s good knowledge to have in the back pocket…. at the end of the day it’s al just tools for your mamma tool belt, not rules to live by.

The biggest takeaways from the book were these:

#1 Eat, Activity, Sleep: The idea: Basically, this means keep your baby up after a feeding for a short time before they conk out so that you don’t become their sleep blanky. This will set the stage for allowing them to fall asleep on their own, and helps them learn to put themselves to sleep instead of allowing a milk coma and a warm body to do all the work.

The reality: I’ve learned that there are babies who like to eat and run, babies who like to lounge and snack, and babies who like to cuddle and suck. Since my daughter turned out to be an ‘eat and run’ type, I take full advantage of those times when nursing knocks her out. For people with the other types of baby… you know what? If you want your baby to sleep and a big meal will do it… why not just do what works and enjoy?

#2 Babies need to learn how to put themselves to sleep. The idea: In other words, they don’t come here knowing how to stroke the silk on their blanket or how to count sheep or how to allow their bodies to relax into rest. It’s learned. So unless we can help them learn that, they may have trouble. What I gathered from the book is that they learn it best from you being near, but not doing all the work. Put the baby in the crib awake and use different methods to help them fall asleep – like the sound of your voice, or music…

The reality: Hard to do!! I find that as my daughter gets older she’s more receptive to silk blankies, soothing sounds, etc. But until 3 mos, forget it. She wanted to be held and I wanted to hold her! I think babies are programmed (for a good reason) to need body heat. Being held is how they survive. So if it takes a few months for them to realize there are other ways, let it take time…. My daughter is a great sleeper. If I have to bounce her or hold her for now…. I’m okay with that.

#3 Breastfeeding habits have a major impact on baby (and mommy!) sleep habits.

The idea: The two biggest takeaways for me on this one were that food missed during the day (from a long nap for example) will come to haunt you at night. It’s like a cumulative thing. And also, one of the ways to keep baby sleeping is to feed them after they’ve gone to bed for the night. She calls this a dream feed. And get this…. they won’t even wake up, they can eat while they sleep. This one really reminds me of my puppy-mummy days when I would carry Lemon out to the front yard in the middle of the night so she could pee. It was an adorable (because she was so sleepy and stumbly!) and pre-emptive way to keep her from waking up, needing to go, and peeing on the floor. And it worked. She successfully learned that peeing was an outside thing, and by the time her bladder grew big enough to support full nights, she was trained.

*NOTE: I’ve just read some parent comments on dream-feeding and for the babies that tend to wake more easily, it seems to be troublesome.

Now I KNOW that babies are more complicated than this, but doesn’t it make sense to feed a baby before they get hungry, especially during the night, when they need sleep as much as food, and both needs are kind of battling each other? The author also recommends tanking baby up around dinner time, with longer, closer together feeds, so that babies tummy is nice and full when she goes to sleep. Then topping up with the dream feed before you go to bed yourself.

The reality: My baby would not wake up for dream feeds. Mouth shut, not interested, no chance.

#4 Schedule, Schedule, Schedule: The idea: Get your baby on a sleeping/eating schedule (eat, activity, sleep) which starts on about a 3 hour cycle when they’re 4 weeks old. I don’t know about you but I’m not scheduling ANYTHING until at least then. The 4 week old schedule looks like this: eats at 7, diaper change, playing and talking at  7:45, napping at 8:15, repeat at 10:00 am. By 3-4 months, the cycle changes to a four hour one, which means 2 naps not 3, up to 2 hours awake-time after feeding, 4 feeds + dreamfeed instead of 5 feeds + dreamfeed. This change is based on the baby’s tummy size having grown to accommodate more at each feeding.

My more intuitive style tells me that sticking too rigidly to these rules could drive me as crazy as an unhappy baby. I think sticking loosely to the ideas is fantastic, but as she mentions in the book, there are so many variables when it come to babies and their behaviour, it seems impossible to achieve this blissful state of daily ritual for more than a day or a week before something sent it awry. Maybe I’m wrong, but a growth spirt, or a change from swaddling to not, or a new tooth could throw all this into havoc, no? Babies are ever-changing little beings. I can’t imagine having so many milestones to hit or miss in a day. But maybe I’m getting too hung up on the timing – Tracy does say it’s not about the TIME so much as the structure. This I agree with.

The reality: It’s a good guideline and something to aspire to and keep your sanity, but the reality is you’re in the moment with your baby and following your instincts. Also, sometimes a boob is the only thing that will quiet a screaming little one. Nursing is not just about eating, it’s about comfort, and ‘resetting’ sometimes. So I think this is a simplified equation where baby’s hunger would be the only reason you nurse. It’s not… it’s like a hug… and sometimes you know that a hug is what’s needed. So why restrain?

The book also goes pretty extensively into solving problems that have emerged for your and your baby, but since this is all still theoretical for me I can’t comment on whether her solutions work or not.

I’ll be on the front lines soon (6 weeks to go) and I have to say I’m looking forward to putting it all into practice. And then throwing it all out the window if need be, when I start to learn what my baby’s own unique needs are.

Good luck to you and yours!

xo, La Mamma Futura