Secrets of the Baby Whisperer: How to Calm, Connect, and Communicate with Your Baby

by Tracy Hogg, with Melinda Blau

Ballantine Books, New York
ISBN: 0345440757

  reviewed by Mary Tatko

The first time I read Dr. William Sears’ warning against “baby trainers,” I couldn’t help picturing a man in a top hat sending beleaguered babies through a series of hoops. Now I can replace that image with the smiling face of “Baby Whisperer” Tracy Hogg, the apparent ringmaster in today’s world of baby trainers.

In Secrets Of The Baby Whisperer: How To Calm, Connect, And Communicate With Your Baby, Hogg and co-author Melinda Blau promise to help new parents maintain balance by preventing a newborn from dominating their lives.

Sorting fact from opinion from flat-out fiction in this book’s nearly 300 pages is something no new parent should have to do. But parenting advice sells, a fact attested to by the book’s New York Times bestseller status, so you can bet plenty of moms and dads are trying out Hogg’s suggestions.

Of course not all her advice contradicts the basics of attachment parenting (which itself is a parenting style that varies from family to family). And I share her fondness for such things as cloth diapers and infant massage. But so much of what Hogg serves up as wholesome, commonsense guidance for mums and dads (she hails from the U.K. and likes to play up her “Englishness”) is so obviously counter to natural parenting, and breastfeeding in particular, that this book should come with a warning label.

The backbone of Hogg’s parenting system, a “structured routine” she calls E.A.S.Y., has four components: the amount of time she prescribes for eating (25 to 40 minutes every 2 � to 3 hours), activity (45 minutes), sleeping (one half to one hour), and you (an hour or more for mom while the baby sleeps). While she acknowledges that the exact amount of time will vary from baby to baby and with the baby’s age, she makes it clear that following a schedule such as the one she outlines is crucial to preventing “chaos in the house.”

When she lays out the case for her E.A.S.Y. parenting routine, Hogg takes a couple of paragraphs to dismiss rigid schedules and on-demand feeding, setting herself up as a champion of the reasonable middle ground between these two “extremes.”

When Hogg states that feeding on demand simply makes babies demanding and that parents who do so will be giving up their own lives, anyone who knows what attachment parenting is and is not probably will put the book down.

Those who keep reading should, as Hogg herself recommends more than once about other people’s advice, take what they read with a grain of salt.

On the issue of breastfeeding, Hogg again plants herself on self-proclaimed middle ground. She laments the “controversy” over feeding choices and sympathizes with new moms who must wade through “huge propaganda campaigns.” (I would think her attempt to equate the efforts of volunteer organizations such as La Leche League with the money-driven marketing of formula companies must be insulting to many readers, regardless of their feeding choices.)

Even as Hogg congratulates herself on her “even-handedness,” she manages to vastly understate the benefits of breastfeeding while giving considerable ink to the merits of formula, which, she informs us, “is more refined and chock-full of nutrients than ever.”

The section of her book titled “Making the Choice” reads more like a defense of formula than an objective overview of feeding choices. Among other things, she poo-poos bonding as a reason to breastfeed, complains that the health benefits of breast milk have been overblown, warns that nursing mothers must carry an extra five to 10 pounds to ensure proper nutrition for their babies, makes a point of emphasizing that studies merely suggest – not prove – that breastfeeding might offer women protection from a variety of health problems, and maintains that women concerned about body image might be better off using formula since breastfeeding can leave them “flat as pancakes” or “sagging.”

Hogg seems so eager to make up for the breastfeeding advocates who are, she implies, out to make mothers who choose formula feel guilty, that she can’t seem to discuss breast milk without plugging formula in the same breath:

“The proverbial bottom line is that while it is good for a baby to have some breast milk, especially during the first month, if that’s not the mother’s choice or if for some reason the mother can’t breastfeed, formula-feeding is a perfectly acceptable alternative – for some, the preferable alternative.”

When it comes to the practical how-to’s of breastfeeding, Hogg provides nuggets of accurate information, but she offers up numerous duds as well, including such incorrect or incomplete information as:

  • “After breastfeeding, always wipe off your nipples with a clean washcloth. The residue of milk can be a breeding ground for bacteria .” (Just not true; there is no need to wipe your nipples after every feeding.)
  • “. always wait one hour (after exercising) before breastfeeding.” (The lactic acid buildup she’s warning about has not been shown to cause harm, and though some babies seem to dislike the taste of mother’s milk after heavy exercise, many babies show no aversion whatsoever.)
  • And for a mother worried she isn’t producing enough milk: “Once a day, fifteen minutes before a feed, pump your breasts and measure what you are yielding. Taking into account that a baby can extract at least one ounce more by physically sucking at your breast, you have a good idea of what you’re producing.” (While this test might work well for some mothers, it can be misleading for others. Many mothers find that, though they get very little milk when they pump, their babies are getting plenty at the breast. Weight gain and the number of wet diapers a baby produces are better measures of milk production.)

Another low point in the book is Hogg’s take on nursing toddlers: “My feeling is that when mothers prolong nursing, it’s almost always for them, not for the baby.” She follows this statement with an anecdote about a mother who was (gasp!) still nursing her two-and-a-half-year-old. Because her husband was not supportive, she was doing so behind his back – obviously not a good situation. To make a long story short, the mother came to her senses, weaned the baby, and “was automatically a better parent, a better wife, and a stronger human being.”

The strangest line of thinking comes in a sidebar titled “Feeding Fashions” in which Hogg points out that, though breastfeeding is “all the rage” today, “in the postwar decades . the majority believed that formula was best for babies.” She fails to mention the reasons for formula’s rise, the consequences of the trend, or that the world health community now is in near-unanimous agreement that breast milk is best. Instead she shares this bizarre thought:

“As this book is being written, scientists are experimenting with the notion of genetically altering cows to produce human breast milk. If that happens, perhaps in the future everyone will tout cow’s milk.”

Hogg goes on to quote a 1999 article from the Journal of Nutrition that suggests formulas may one day be so advanced they will meet babies’ needs better than human milk.

I’m not sure where to file that last bit of information, but there is at least one thing this book makes clear: If you’re looking for a baby trainer, you can skip the circus and turn instead to Tracy Hogg. If it’s accurate parenting information you seek, look elsewhere.

— Mary Tatko is the stay-at-home-mom of 19-month-old Jake.

Mary comments:

As you can see, I mainly focused on the chapter about feeding choices, though there was plenty I could take issue with in her chapter on sleep. As you might imagine, Hogg is not a fan of shared sleep. She sets up her recommendations about sleep in the same way she takes on other issues: She dismisses those whose views are “extreme,” then presents what she claims is a “middle-of-the-road, commonsense approach.” When she’s getting ready to pitch her system for “sensible sleep,” she cites Dr. Sears, La Leche League, and “Mothering” magazine as the extremes on the family bed side of the issue. (Dr. Ferber is her example of the other side.) And while she encourages those for whom such practices work to “by all means stick with it,” she warns that “extreme practices don’t work for many people.”

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