As a former La Leche League Leader I became familiar with the teachings of Gary Ezzo (“Raising Kids God’s Way,” "On Becoming Babywise") in the early 1990’s. Leaders in my area began getting a lot of phone calls on our warm line that followed the same basic story: a baby not thriving and a case of very low milk supply despite the Mom’s exclusive breastfeeding and a strong desire to breastfeed. It gradually emerged that a local church had begun promoting a rigid rules-based practice of baby care— concocted by a non-child-expert, Gary Ezzo— which was supposed to make kids well-behaved and Godly, curbing innate rebelliousness. But his teachings ran absolutely counter to the natural patterns of human babies.
Among a host of terrible practices and ill effects, his way of scheduling a baby’s day resulted in many missed or shortened feedings, leading to breastfeeding problems. It is interesting that the Ezzo system was ostensibly very pro-breastfeeding, yet insisited on a schedule that doomed breastfeeding success— a cruel double bind for mothers following his precepts, and further, a way of framing a baby’s normal frustrations as the very rebelliouness that meant you needed Ezzo’s help.
La Leche League advocates following the baby’s cues, and feeding them when they show signs of being interested in food— whereas the Ezzo system promotes scheduled feeding, as well as parent-directed ‘playtimes,’ enforced periods of 'alone time,' and scheduled, 'self-lulled' sleep.
When you consider it from the baby’s point of view, this system would have to be a form of torture. It would tell the baby that the cues of their body and their efforts to communicate their internal states simply do not matter. When you are hungry, someone tries to make you play and when you are sleepy you’ll probably be fed and when you are playful you’ll be put down alone with a shut door.
Being treated like that, your right brain would essentially ‘learn' that life is a long, hard uphill slog, where your feelings do not matter, and ought best be disconnected-from for pain relief. This schedule would make a mother and her baby actually taking pleasure in one another (foundational to forming a secure attachment) a very rare event.
While some adapttable, low-key babies who might adopt the Ezzo routine, for a high-need baby an Ezzo beginning (however unremembered) would certainly qualify as a massive developmental ACE. The discoonnection from somatic awareness and the meta of ‘constant struggle,' would get baked-in to the child’s notions of ‘life' and self via the implicit learning in R brain systems, rapidly grown in the first three years.
I do not mean to malign any young mother who wishes to do things properly, and tries to follow precepts of her church or other supposedly credible advice. Indeed the moms I talked to on the warm line struck me as very loving, concerned moms, the kind who would call a warmline looking for information and help, wanting to succeed at breastfeeding. Mostly we were able to tell them that very young babies still need to eat frequently, that they cluster feeding during growth spurts, and that this is what turbo-charges milk supply. I’d remind them that "the baby has not read the book.” We would encourage the mother to trust her maternal instincts alongside ALL well-meant advice, which might or might not help her individual baby.
Now, in retrospect, I see that the Ezzo method is in fact a form of psychological torture. It essentially puts the baby into a weird, swing shift version of life that runs completely opposite to their internal rhythms and cues. How could a calm, contented, connective buoyant temperament ever result from such an impervious, oppositional start? How can parental instinct deepen and ripen, how can JOY ripen, when the journey begins by fighting the baby’s nature every step of the way? A support group for regretful Ezzo parents and their very troubled children reveals a shocking number of kids with anxiety, suicidality, attachment disorders and depression. (Ezzo’s own kids do not speak to him.)
Could an Ezzo babyhood explain those young white supremacists in Charlottesville? Could it and other non-primal approaches to babycare (cry it out, sleep training, infant daycare, not enough time in arms)) perhaps explain the current explosion in depression, anxiety, dysphoria and other mental health problems afflicting teens? Lying all day in a car seat is not what cave babies got.
Babies need to be mirrored, seen, empathized with, and carried. They need someone to make sense of them, underastand and contain them, and interperet their communications, in order to internalize a stable sense of themselves. They need a safe dyad within which they can grow, learn and develop in an improvised dance, not a lockstep manual. Responsiveness to the baby’s cues shows the baby they exist and matter.