Some people just have a way with babies. Unfortunately, it is often someone other than the baby's parents. My aunt Lena, for instance, has an uncanny ability to read a baby's cries. Lena, who has six grandchildren and 14 great-grandchildren, has run our family's unofficial "baby boot camp" for three generations. New parents in our clan will show up at her house with their eyes pinwheeling from exhaustion, only to have Lena quickly dispense her diagnosis: "This baby's so tired. Why on earth don't you put him to bed?" If she likes you, she will take your cranky baby for 24 hours and return him to you napping regularly, eating solid foods and sleeping--well, like a baby.
Aunt Lena, I apologize. If I had done right by you, I would have given you a cute title like "the Baby Whisperer," and you would be strutting your stuff on the Today show. But now it's too late. British nanny Tracy Hogg has beat us to it, dispensing commonsense advice in an overhyped package. Hogg's book, Secrets of the Baby Whisperer (Ballantine Books), is the latest phenomenon in the business of selling parenting advice to the sleep deprived. Hogg knows from her years as a baby nurse to the rich, powerful (and apparently clueless) Hollywood elite that new parents will grasp at any straw to help deal with life with a newborn. Her book is best read by parents who are so exhausted they won't notice that Hogg, like my aunt Lena, is telling them what they probably already know.
Hogg's claim isn't that she "whispers" to babies but that she listens to them and "reads" their language. She helps decode it for parents, who might not hear the difference between a "hungry" and a "tired" cry. Hogg urges parents to put babies on a schedule, though she doesn't call it that--she calls it a "structured routine." It's old but sensible advice. Applying a flexible schedule that is based on a baby's natural rhythms of eating, activity, napping and sleeping at night will help strip away that layer of chaos that can reign in a household with a new baby.
Babies do in fact communicate their needs, but parents are often too close or too tired to figure out what they're saying. Hogg's advice is to back off a bit, watch and listen. She believes that a lot of distress is caused by too much stimulation--parents who believe a baby needs to be "tired out" in a noisy musical swing right before bed, for instance. Parents who can establish an environment with predictable routines, such as a soothing bedtime ritual, are likely to have calm babies.
Unfortunately, Hogg uses 300 pages of cute anecdotes, acronyms (S.L.O.W. means "Stop, Listen, Observe, What's Up?") and silly charts to convey her advice. One chart, on "translating body language," offers the revelation that if your baby looks "like a person falling asleep on a subway," then she's "tired." In many other ways, Hogg's advice sounds obvious. Not only have people like my Aunt Lena been dispensing this kind of wisdom for generations, but also Dr. Spock first published it in Baby and Child Care in 1945. For me, his famous first sentences, "Trust yourself. You know more than you think you do," contain more wisdom than a bassinet full of Baby Whisperers.
For more information about Secrets of the Baby Whisperer, including author Tracy Hogg's book-tour schedule, go to babywhisper.com