Thoughts on Secrets of the Baby Whisperer (Tracy Hogg, 2001)
After reading through Secrets of the Baby Whisperer, I came to the conclusion that Ms. Hogg works with two basic assumptions:
- A baby needs to be shown his/her place within the family, and thus should not be the one to dictate when s/he eats, sleeps or plays. She calls this the "whole-family approach" (page 5).
- A baby's independence should be fostered from day one.
If a parent reading this book agrees with these underlying assumptions, then this book may very well be quite helpful in helping parents give their babies routines and structure. However, if either one of these assumptions runs counter to the parents' own beliefs, then this book may cause some confusion or even anger in those parents upon reading it. Her book is dedicated to telling parents how they should be responding to their babies, and yet many of her suggestions will go against what intuition says is the "right" thing to do for some readers. I found myself getting angry and feeling panicked as I read through her book, until I realized that it was because I didn't agree with her underlying assumptions.
Ms. Hogg has some very good ideas about getting in tune with a baby's different cries and other cues. She asserts that above all, a baby is entitled to respect from his/her parents, and part of respecting a baby is learning what s/he is trying to communicate when s/he cries, yawns, fidgets, etc. She helps parents learn what their babies are trying to say with her SLOW method: Stop, Listen, Observe, What's Up? Here is what she has to say briefly about each step.
Stop. Stand back and wait a heartbeat; you don't have to swoop down and pick up your baby the moment she cries. Take three deep breaths to center yourself and improve your own perception. It will also help you clear your mind of other people's voices and advice, which often make it hard for you to be objective.
Listen. Crying is your baby's language. This moment of hesitation is not to suggest that you should let your baby cry. Rather, listen to what he's saying to you.
Observe. What is his body language telling you? What's going on in the environment? What was happening right before your baby 'said' something?
What's Up? If you now put it all together - what you've heard and seen, as well as where your baby is in the daily routine - you will be able to figure out what she is trying to say to you."
These are good suggestions and well worth learning, as they promote getting better in tune with what your baby is trying to tell you. I agree with her ideas and yet at the same time find some irony in her statement, "It will also help you clear your mind of other people's voices and advice, which often make it hard for you to be objective."
Ms. Hogg's other easy to remember acronym that she gives parents as a tool is EASY: Eating, Activity, Sleeping, You. She asserts that babies need a routine that they can get used to, and this is the one that she recommends.
In the Eating section, it became very clear to me that Ms. Hogg is not a vocal advocate of breastfeeding. She seems to fall in the camp of those that say, "Do it if it comes easily, but if it doesn't, then switch to formula so that you can be happy." Breastfeeding advocates will take issue with her views, I am sure. For instance, Ms. Hogg seems to imply in her chart on page 43 that feeding a baby on demand leads to baby setting the schedule, parents having "no life" and confusion and chaos in the house. Yet any breastfeeding advocate will assert that babies ought to be fed on demand, for a variety of reasons. She would have breastfed babies eating no more than every 2.5 to 3 hours by their fourth day of life, according to her chart on page 105.
In the Activity section, she talks about approaching and handling baby with respect. I enjoyed very much the ideas presented in this section. She speaks of telling your baby what you are going to do before doing it, and describing to your baby what you are doing as you are doing it, so as not to surprise or startle your baby. This hearkens back to her idea that all babies should be treated respectfully.
In the Sleeping section, Ms. Hogg makes it very clear that babies should most definitely not co-sleep, nor should they be put to sleep by any means such as rocking, bouncing, nursing/feeding, lying on a parent's chest or using a pacifier. She firmly believes that babies need to develop their own self-soothing techniques, to foster that independence that she speaks of. She has some good pointers on recognizing the signs of sleepiness in your baby and recommends that parents learn the signs of sleepiness in their own babies. She talks about the three stages of sleep on page 175, and of what causes sleep problems in page 181. She says, "Most sleep problems occur because one of the following happens before bedtime: baby is nursed, baby is walked around, baby is rocked or jiggled, baby is allowed to fall asleep on an adult's chest, or when baby is asleep, parents rush in at the first little whimper. She might have fallen back to sleep on her own without their well-meaning interference. But then she becomes accustomed to her parents' rescuing her."
The You section is designed to allow mothers (or fathers) time for themselves, so that they don't get burned out from parenting nonstop. Designating "You" time makes a lot of sense, as many new parents feel overwhelmed by the responsibilities that come with caring for a new baby. I think it's valuable to include this section in her book, as a reminder to parents to make sure that they still make the time to take care of themselves.
Thoughts on Secrets of the Baby Whisperer (Tracy Hogg, 2001)
The book is an easy and quick read. It is in a reader-friendly format and the style is cozy and reassuring but confident and firm at the same time. I liked the style but did find her a little overly authoritative at times. On the whole, though, it is an entertaining and informative book and is well-crafted.
There are many anecdotes of actual clients and it is intriguing to think that some of the moms and dads you are reading about are actually celebrities with their names changed. It adds to the readability of the book.
The one complaint I would have about style is that she constantly refers to other chapters and pages when making a point and it gets frustrating after a while.
Hogg vs Ezzo? or Ferber?
Hogg has been compared to Ezzo in some instances, but after reading the book cover to cover, I find that to be a far stretch. Where Ezzo advocates "scheduling" feedings, sleep etc., Hogg recommends a "loosely structured routine." The two are very different and Hogg is in no way promoting dangerous practices such as withholding food from newborns or corporal discipline at any age. There is really no reason to compare the two styles other than to by making semantic comparisons which turned out to be incorrect. She also makes absolutely no religious references in her book.
There are two main components two Hogg's parenting style. Respecting your baby and respecting yourself. She recommends listening carefully to your baby and observing body language to determine the baby's needs before rushing in to feed or shove a pacifier in the mouth. She in no way advocates CIO and in fact, specifically does not recommend the Ferber method of sleep training.
Hogg offers a type list of baby personalities although she makes the concession that many babies will fall into more than one category. She has a small questionnaire to help determine which "type" your baby is. The type helps to determine the parent's approach to caring for the baby's needs in the most efficient and effective manner.
I can't say that I found the "typing" aspect terribly convincing as it is very general and a bit more like astrology than real evidence. But I can see where it could be reassuring to some parents to be able to aim for that goal of caring for their baby in a more focused way than just guessing all the time.
She does not recommend feeding on demand. But, while she does not recommend it to her clients, she will not discourage them from proceeding in that direction if it is their wish. Her feeding recommendation is to follow the cues for growth spurts and extra food demands, but not to use the breast or bottle as a pacifier. It is difficult to describe without quoting directly so here is a sentence that seems to say it all. "Though I recommend a structured feeding routine, I'm not saying that if a baby lets forth a hunger cry after two hours, you don't feed him. In fact, during a growth spurt, her or she may need to eat a bit more often. What I am saying is that you baby will eat better and his intestines will work better if he gets proper meals at regular intervals." (Chapter Four, pg. 116)
Basically, she feels that offering the breast or bottle at every cry leads to snacking and erratic feedings that can disrupt the baby's digestion and the mother's routine. She also discourages clock watching to feed, but rather advocates listening to your babies cry to tell you when it is really hunger as opposed to mild fussiness.
However, she is not a breast or bottle feeding advocate. She gives each equal time and does not offer an opinion on which should be chosen. She leaves that decision up to the parents and only asks that the decision be an informed one. She also has a section on both bottle and breast feeding, pumping and supplementing.
The sleep issue is another one where she is somewhere in between Attachment Parenting and "mainstream" While she personally feels that everyone sleeps better with baby in the crib and parents in their own space, she does not promote CIO and leaving an unhappy or anxious baby alone in a dark room in their bed. Rather, she advocates encouraging babies to self-soothe and helping them by putting them to bed very sleepy but not fully asleep. She frowns on nursing to sleep or using a bottle. Her method is rather to cuddle, talk or sing to and hold baby until they are almost dropping off and then place them in the bed and stay with them until they are settled and asleep. She gives a good medical description of sleep cycles and has the standard chart of sleeping times for infants at different ages up to 18 months.
She also insists that postpartum mom should get as much rest as possible and needs to take care of herself in order to give her baby the best of her energy and time. To this end, she recommends that the mother nap as much as possible.
E.A.S.Y. and S.L.O.W.
These are the gimmicks she uses to illustrate her parenting method. Eating, Activity, Sleep and You. And Stop, Listen, Observe and What's up. The first is the routine she advocates for setting up your day. The second is her method for assessing and responding to your baby's needs effectively and correctly. Her descriptions are too detailed to go into here, but suffice to say that most of it is common sense and pretty generally accepted.
And the rest...
The rest of the book is a combination of reassuring and sensible advice on how to deal with the early postpartum days, each other and the stressful demands of getting used to a whole new life with baby. She offers sensible and practical information on everyday things such as child proofing, preparing the nursery and organizing the home prior to baby's arrival as well as dealing with well-meaning friends and relatives and not letting yourself get overwhelmed by the whole experience.
There is also an excellent section on baby massage and helpful tips for bathing, diapering and dressing small infants.
In my overall opinion, this book is worth the read if only for some reassurance and practical advice. I would not recommend anyone follow it exclusively, but there are certainly useful sections on practical matters.
• Secrets of the Baby Whisperer at Amazon.com
• Secrets of the Baby Whisperer at Amazon.ca
• Secrets of the Baby Whisperer at Amazon.UK