Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child by Marc Weissbluth

Read: 9 September, 2011

There’s a trick to reading parenting books: Never read them reactively.

It’s a rule I’m normally really good at following, but I broke it when I picked up Health Sleep Habits, Happy Child. To make a long story short, my son sleeps wonderfully at night but is a terrible day napper. This often leads to some horrific bouts of crankiness, so I looked up infant sleep books at my local library to see if I could find something to help.

The central advice of Healthy Sleep Habits is to have babies take regular naps (and he does emphasize the “regular”). Great! I agree! Now how do we accomplish this?

Well, that’s where the book starts to fall apart. Weissbluth recommends a sleep routine that may include things like reading a bedtime story (which excites my son because books are OMGWTFAWESOME!!), a bath (which excites my son because water is OMGWTFAWESOME!!), a massage (which excites my son because physical contact is OMGWTFAWESOME!!), and a lullaby (which… Yeah, I think you get the point).

I realize that my son is a bit weird. The grandson of two professional track-and-fielders (one of whom held a world record for a year) and a professional mountain climbing instructor, he’s predisposed to some rather heightened energy levels. Not only is he an unstoppable force, he’s also hitting all of his physical milestones on the very early end of the spectrum.

So Weissbluth’s advice doesn’t seem to work for our family (and I refuse to even try the cry-it-out method that he says may help if the stable bedtime routine fails). Ordinarily, that wouldn’t be a huge deal. I don’t know any adults who need nipples in their mouths to fall asleep, so I can reasonably assume that TurboKid will eventually grow out of his sleep problems, like I did. I could just keep trying with the routine and that would be the end of it.

The problem with Weissbluth is that he peppers his book with comments like:

I think it possible that unhealthy sleep habits contribute to school-related problems such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and learning disabilities.

and:

Warning: If your child does not learn to sleep well, he may become an incurable adult insomniac, chronically disabled from sleepiness and dependent on sleeping pills.

These sorts of friendly reminders are helpfully printed apart from the text, presented in bold and segregated in little boxes, lest you fail to notice that you are irrevocably breaking your baby.

There were aspects of the book that I enjoyed, such as the breakdown of strategies by age. But these were so overshadowed by the fear-mongering that it’s hard for me to write anything other than a negative review. It’s bad enough that I’m dealing with a cranky baby and that I can’t get the method to work. To add a level of desperation, to make my failure something that will turn my precious babe into a disabled drug user, is just cruel.

Bad, Weissbluth. Bad.

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How To Have Your Second Child First by Kerry Colburn and Rob Sorensen

Read: 25 August, 2011

As a new parent, it seems that I’m always one step behind my son. Just as I’ve figured out how to deal with one of his quirks, he passes into a new phase and my awesome new strategy is no longer useful.

That’s where How To Have Your Second Child First comes in. The idea is to have parents who’ve already been through the process ‘spill the beans’ so that first time parents can avoid making all the mistakes that first time parents always make. For example, how important is it to warm your baby’s bottle? Does a household really need to be kept in total silence while the baby is sleeping? Does everything your baby might touch need to be sterilized?

The book is organized like a list of lessons, each with some explanation and quotes from ‘experienced’ parents. Like most of these books, it’s a mix of really good advice and advice that may simply not fit your family. So I’ll give the same speech I always give for parenting books: Have a read through and take away what makes sense for you, ignore the rest.

That being said, I do think that the book’s underlying message is incredibly important. Don’t sweat the small stuff, you won’t break your baby.

My son is nearly six months old, so I definitely read this too late for it to be of much help. It would be far better as a baby shower gift, or a 2nd-3rd trimester library take-out. I do think it should be on every parent-to-be’s reading list.

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Better Baby Food by Daina Kalnins & Joanne Saab

Read: 5 September, 2008

Overall, I’d say that this book is fine if you are reading it among a whole bunch of books – in which case it may provide a few extra ideas or inspirations (though, even there, I found it to be lacking). If, on the other hand, you are thinking of reading this as your first book on baby nutrition, choose something else. It’s written from a very biased perspective and has quite a bit of advice that simply does not reflect contemporary understandings. It also, surprisingly, seems to show an irrational distrust of medical advice.

Firstly, there’s an entire section on breastfeeding that never mentions that some women cannot produce milk properly. It explains that women shouldn’t worry about whether or not they are producing enough milk for their infants. Okay, fair enough. It’s not something that one should be worried about. But nowhere does it say “if you are concerned, ask your doctor.” It just flat out dismisses it as a non-issue.

The book also says that if your newborn is “not demanding to be fed at least every 4 hours, they should be awakened to feed.” This is the kind of advice my mother’s generation was given. If a child is getting enough nutrition, is growing at an appropriate pace, and is a healthy weight, why make him cranky by waking him up all the time? This advice is bad, not just because it isn’t true and because it never takes the family’s doctor into consideration, but also because it could make relationships between the parents and their newborn even more strained than they may already be. What if the newborn doesn’t want to eat yet and resists, but the parents (panicking because of the “feed every four hours or your child will STARVE!” advice) keep trying to force him? He’s already cranky and now he keeps getting nipples shoved in his face. Yeah, great advice.

Another example of this comes later with a blurb that explains that parents must start their infants on solids at 4 months or the baby won’t accept textures later on. Never mind that an individual baby may not be ready for solids that early. Again, no mention that a mother should consult with her doctor about her individual child’s needs before taking such a big dietary step.

That’s the tone this book carries most of the way through. It rarely has the more sensible advice of “don’t panic, trust yourself, trust your baby – but if it’s concerning you, double check with your doctor.” Instead, it just provides instructions as though a baby could actually come with a manual. Any book that doesn’t allow for an individual infant’s needs is not to be trusted.

There are also some strange additions, such as a note in a margin that reads “(Authors – Correct???)”. I can only assume that this is from an editor. In either case, this is the sort of sloppiness a good book might get away with, but points a much larger issue in Better Baby Food.

And finally, the recipes leave a lot to be desired. Some looked interesting, but they were few and far between. For one thing, many of them contain eggs or sugar – both of which are fine in moderation, but probably shouldn’t be consumed for breakfast, lunch, and dinner every single day. I also found pages and pages devoted to overly simplistic recipes. For example, the first four pages of the Lunches section talk about making purées – that’s seven different recipes of “take [fruit/vegetable] and boil. When soft, mash into a purée. Serve.” I can understand including one to go through the process (though even this would be borderline since it is just so incredibly simple), but to actually include seven such recipes, each with a different fruit or vegetable, is just ridiculous. Not to mention the almost identical apple sauce recipe in the Breakfast section. I got about half-way through the Lunch recipes when I gave up and put the book down. There just weren’t enough interesting recipes to warrant reading through.

My closing thought on this book is that if you’ve read a lot about baby care and nutrition and feel that your knowledge base is already fairly solid, this book isn’t an entirely wasteful way to spend an afternoon. That being said, don’t buy it and don’t follow any new advice that strikes you as odd without first consulting with your doctor. I would have expected much better from two registered dietitians.

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