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10 Controversial Parenting Methods: You Decide

You bring baby home and it seems like everyone has an opinion on which techniques you should use to get her to sleep, to feed her and to help her learn and develop. And they tell you which ones not to use too. So what’s worth trying out and what’s completely insane? Decide for yourself!

Photo: Veer

Swaddling

The controversy: You know the age-old art of wrapping baby in a receiving blanket like a burrito? Well, some think it could be hazardous for baby. Critics say swaddling could cause problems including hip dysplasia, overheating and inability to wake when necessary.

What’s not so bad: Some new parents swear swaddling helps baby sleep longer -- she may be less likely to startle herself awake when her arms can’t flail. And the International Hip Dysplasia Institute says the practice is okay as long as you’re doing it correctly -- don't wrap your little burrito’s legs too tightly.

“With my first daughter, swaddling made a huge difference,” says Kim E.* “She’d sleep for three hours at a time while swaddled and no more than 30 minutes at a time without the swaddle."

Ferber Method

The controversy: Solve Your Child’s Sleep Problems author Richard Ferber, MD, is probably best known for advising parents to let baby “cry it out” to help him sleep through the night. Critics say leaving baby alone to cry without comforting him is cruel and could be emotionally scarring.

What’s not so bad: Ferber actually endorses “controlled crying” -- allowing the child to cry for short periods of time, but not until he falls asleep or all night long. The idea is that babies naturally wake periodically at night. If you want yours to “sleep through the night,” Ferber says he’ll need to learn to fall back asleep without being rocked, fed or sang to, and he can’t learn to do that without practice. While the method isn’t for everyone, many swear it works.

“I feel so rested after 11 months of exhaustion thanks to Ferber,” says Leah R.

Free-Range Parenting

The controversy: Free Range Kids author Lenore Skenazy came under fire after writing that she let her nine-year-old ride the subway by himself. How could she put him in harm’s way like that? Some publications even dubbed her “America’s Worst Mom.”

What’s not so bad: Skenazy breaks down the facts: Child abduction is devastating but extremely rare. Worrywart parents might want to look to her book’s stats to help them realize that hovering over their kids doesn’t prevent bad things from happening, and most of the things they worry about aren’t really worth stressing over. Giving kids choices and independence helps them learn to be responsible, says Skenazy.

“I read the book last summer and loved it. So did my husband. I definitely identify with the concept of free-range," says Jen F.

RIE (Resources for Infant Educarers)

The controversy: Made famous by some A-list parents who follow its teachings (Tobey Maguire, Penelope Cruz and Felicity Huffman supposedly), RIE’s more challenged teachings include no tummy time, no fancy toys and not pushing your child in a stroller before he can sit up on his own. Sounds stuffy and cold!

What’s not so bad: The basic principle is to let your child learn and discover things at his own pace, so not forcing him into tummy time or into sitting upright before he’s ready makes sense to plenty of parents. Also, letting baby play with pots and pans and a spoon instead of an overpriced, noisy toy with flashing lights isn’t just easy on your wallet, it’s creative too.

“The point of RIE seems to be respecting your infant as a person,” says Marcie P. “Another major point is allowing your child free exploration while you have ‘you’ time, and then focusing your love and nurturing during feeding and changing.”

Babywise

The controversy: In their book On Becoming Babywise, Gary Ezzo and Robert Buckham, MD, offer advice to get baby sleeping through the night starting around seven to nine weeks old. That sounds great to all the sleep-deprived moms and dads out there, but there’s one big problem. They recommend scheduling baby’s feedings for about three hours apart, and that can be harmful to a small baby. AAP News, a publication of The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), says the method “has been associated with failure to thrive, poor milk supply failure, and involuntary early weaning… the program is inadequately supported by conventional medical practice.”

What’s not so bad: Sorry parents, but there’s not much to say here. While the book does get one thing right -- getting baby into a daily routine or pattern is good for everyone’s sanity -- we can’t get behind a rigid schedule dictated by the clock. Baby needs to eat, and restricting his intake just isn’t right.

“Using Babywise was successful for us in getting my daughter on a schedule,” says Georgia L. “However, I think you have to take some of what it says with the grain of salt and let your own instincts take over. If your child is hungry even though it's only been 45 minutes, don't let the baby cry!”

Co-sleeping

The controversy: Sleeping with baby in your bed increases her risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), so AAP and US Consumer Product Safety Commission strongly advise against doing it for the first year of her life.

What’s not so bad: One 2013 study found that co-sleeping increased breastfeeding rates, which is definitely a good thing, but not worth the SIDS risk. Luckily, there are other ways to “co-sleep” that don’t involve bed sharing. For example, having baby in a bedside bassinet or crib in your room is considered safe, could make breastfeeding more convenient and saves you the stress of running back and forth to the nursery all night long.

“We put baby in the bassinet in our room until he was sleeping for most of the night,” says Jane Y. “That was more for our sanity and not having to travel to his room. This worked out very well for us.”

Elimination Communication

The controversy: Elimination Communication (lovingly called EC by adapters of the practice) is a method used by parents who choose to go completely diaper-free -- yes, from birth. Sometimes, family and friends aren’t supportive of skipping diapers. Who wants to invite you for a play date if your little cutie could have a messy accident at any moment? Some doctors say that the practice could mean pushing your child to use the potty too early, and that can cause health problems such as UTIs and constipation.

What’s not so bad: Supporters of EC swear it makes potty training go faster and more easily. And not throwing disposable diapers in the trash, or having to wash cloth diapers, is undeniably easy on the environment.

“I started EC when my son was able to sit up on his own around six months,” says Lana G. “I would hold him on the toilet seat. He caught on right away. At two, he is totally potty trained."

"Extended" breastfeeding

The controversy: Did you see that cover of Time magazine, with the mother breastfeeding her three-year-old son? Well, lots of people saw it, and some thought the boy was way too old to be breastfed. Some believe breastfeeding past babyhood could be detrimental to a child’s sense of independence and say there’s no reason to keep doing it.

What’s not so bad: The AAP recommends breastfeeding until at least age one, and the World Health Organization recommends breastfeeding to age two or beyond. Neither recommends a firm age at which you need to stop. Toddlers still receive nutritional benefits from mom’s milk, and no study has proven the practice to be psychologically harmful. Every mom should feel free to choose her and her child’s own right time to stop nursing.

“I breastfed past age two, and I really think it’s the best thing I ever did!” says Renee S. “I think my son has a great immune system and we have a fantastic relationship. I never thought I would go that long, but I did and it didn’t feel strange or unnatural. In fact, it was quite the opposite.”

Attachment Parenting

The controversy: Attachment Parenting is all about being close to your child. Controversial practices such as co-sleeping and long-term breastfeeding are considered part of this parenting style, but some people have more problems with it than that. Critics say that the practice forces parents to revolve their lives around their children -- and all that hovering could result in selfish kids.

What’s not so bad: Supporters of AP say it helps children emotionally bond and develop a sense of trust. It also teaches kindness and compassion -- definitely not bad things for a kid to learn. Plus, who doesn’t love cuddling with their kids?

“Some articles portray attachment parenting in such an extremist light, like we're all nursing our 8-year-olds in public and can't leave our kid with a babysitter,” says Gina U. “If you read into it more, you’ll find out it promotes certain ideals like breastfeeding, babywearing and bed sharing, but that doesn't mean you can't pick and choose what works for your lifestyle.”

"French-Style" parenting

The controversy: Pamela Druckerman’s book Bringing Up Bébé has raised plenty of eyebrows. The author outlines what she learned about parenting while living in France. Parents there practically ignore their kids at the playground (dangerous!) and punish bad behavior without rewarding the good (negative!).

What’s not so bad: Sure, we all want to stop our toddler from climbing too high on the jungle gym before he’s ready and to give him a sticker or two when he uses the potty. But maybe every once in awhile, we should let him explore things on his own (within reason, of course) and entertain himself instead of you always getting involved. After all, how else is he going to develop independence and talents? And how else are we supposed to get anything done?

“The part of the book that hit home for me was the one that said you can have a life having kids,” says Maggie G. “It seems that so many women become martyrs for their kids and give up everything, and this book was really good about showing you how to still go to dinner and enjoy hobbies at home with calm, well-mannered kids.”

*Names have been changed

Plus, More from The Bump:

How to Read Baby's Mind

Best and Worst Things About Having a Newborn

Wacky Parenting Methods That Work

-- Elena Donovan Mauer

See More: Baby Basics , Newborn Basics