Babywise Controversy: Babywise Almost Dropped
Having survived nearly a decade of controversy surrounding his childcare advice, self-proclaimed parenting expert Gary Ezzo has nearly lost his publisher. Multnomah, the Christian publisher that created the surprise bestseller, The Prayer of Jabez, told Ezzo, coauthor of On Becoming Babywise, it wanted to sever relations, only to reverse that decision. In the aftermath, Ezzo's editor resigned.
In February, Multnomah commissioned editor Jeff Gerke to investigate long-standing allegations by parents, physicians, and church leaders that the book's advice to parents puts infants at risk of poor development. Gerke, who joined Multnomah's staff after Babywise had been published, edited several of Ezzo's other parenting books. Gerke concluded that Ezzo's materials were dangerous, based on his interviews with former Ezzo employees and medical professionals.
Gerke shared his information with Multnomah executives, who began to sever ties with Ezzo. The company's attorneys said that Multnomah was in a position to pull away because of the medical and character issues in question. According to an e-mail written by Gerke, the attorneys also identified a clause in Multnomah's contract with Ezzo that would have allowed the company to sever ties without being in breach of contract.
Multnomah Vice President Kyle Cummings reportedly telephoned a stunned Ezzo to tell the author of the company's decision. But Don Jacobson, Multnomah president, personally intervened shortly afterward to stop the contract cancellation. Within days, Gerke resigned his position.
A central element of Ezzo's plan in Babywise is feeding newborns on a firm schedule, controlled by parents, rather than "on-demand," whenever a newborn seems hungry. Ezzo says his parent-directed method is essential to develop respectful, obedient, and godly children. Yet many breast-feeding mothers report that they have been unable to produce an adequate milk supply when following the program according to Matthew Aney, a California pediatrician.
A major focus of Babywise is to get infants to sleep all night as soon as possible. But some pediatricians, when comparing newborns whose parents use Ezzo's guidelines to other infants, have noted a higher incidence of inadequate weight gain, dehydration, and failure to thrive. Critics also sharply question other Babywise emphases, such as introducing a form of spanking in children younger than 2 (CT, Nov. 13, 2000, p. 70).
Multnomah has not responded to the following concerns about Ezzo's materials:
- Suspect medical claims: Pediatrician Aney, a member of the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), has documented 35 unsubstantiated claims in Babywise, all of which he says are Ezzo's opinions—not proven facts—on infant care. For example, Ezzo writes that infants who are fed according to the Babywise plan rarely suffer from colic (a stomach spasm) while demand-fed infants experience intensified colic. Aney asserts that Ezzo has not provided any research to support this claim.
- Inaccurate statements: Two Babywise companion books describe coauthor Robert Bucknam as a faculty member at the University of Colorado's Medical School. Yet three sources at the medical school verified that Bucknam has never been employed as a faculty member there. (A representative at Bucknam's medical office says that medical residents visit his office for observational purposes.) Furthermore, when Bucknam became coauthor of Babywise in 1993, he had been in practice as a pediatrician for less than a year and was first introduced to Ezzo's methods while attending a local course for new parents. Yet Babywise says that it provides a "needed reformation to pediatric counsel." Also, Multnomah has described Ezzo as having an M.A. in Christian education, although the author holds no such degree.