Textbook babies

They use to say 'babies don't come with a manual', but now there are hundreds. But do they really work?

Just three weeks after giving birth, Sam Dyer couldn’t believe she was trawling the shelves of her local bookstore looking for help, but the sleep-deprived mum was desperate to know why baby Sean was so unsettled.

“The endless crying was killing me,” she says. “Some other mums told me about some routine-based books that totally transformed their lives, I was convinced they would work for me.”

But after spending $75 on two manuals (including one that claimed her child would “sleep through the night from an early age”) Sam was left even more confused and distraught than before.

“The books contradicted each other, so I just used one and followed its routines to the letter but Sean just couldn’t adjust,” she says. “I was waking him when he wanted to sleep and spent hours re-settling him when he was awake. I had a friend who also tried it and it worked perfectly. Her baby just slept and ate when the book said. I felt awful.”

Big business

Sam’s story is far from unusual as the multi-million dollar baby book business grows in Australia. From general advice books (which don’t recommend following strict routines) like Baby Love by Robin Barker, What To Expect In Your First Year by Arlene Eisenberg and Kid Wrangling by Kaz Cooke to the very prescriptive baby routine books like The Contented Little Baby by Gina Ford or Save Our Sleep by Tizzie Hall, baby books are big sellers. But are they worth your money?

“A lot of the general resource books can be great to gain information,” says midwife and child health nurse Rene Rees from “They will put your mind at ease if you’re concerned and offer some solutions but be wary of any book that suggests one routine fits all. Every baby is different. I always say to new mums read the baby first and then read the book.”

By the book

However there are plenty of mums who say they couldn’t have survived the first few months of motherhood without the help.

“The Contented Little Baby changed my life,” says Jennifer, mum to six-month-old Corby. “Yes, it’s strict but it gave us structure when we were surviving on two hours sleep.”

And Tizzie Hall’s book Save Our Sleep is a definite favourite according to forum users. “Sometimes, it’s tough to stay on track but Louis is much happier when he’s in a definite routine. That’s the only reason I follow it, “ says Debbie from NSW.

According to experts, mothers who find the routine books most useful are first time mothers, mums who are unfamiliar with babies and those who have a structured career or lifestyle.

“Strict routines aren’t a new phenomenon – they’re just back in fashion because we live in a world where we like to find solutions to problems,“ says child psychologist Caroline Barker who has completed a study on baby books at the UK’s Sussex University. “We are so in charge of our lives that when a baby comes along it throws us off. I found that babies and mums of a certain type are much happier on a strict routine. Many mums who love them are self-confessed “control freaks”.

Go your own way

That’s all well and good if the routines work for your baby, but you can feel depressed if they don’t.

“Some books say to feed your baby every four hours but that doesn’t always work and mums think it’s their fault,’ says Rene. ‘All mother’s milk is different and it depends on the temperament of your baby, growth spurts and how much energy they naturally use. If your child wants to be fed after two hours, you need to feed them.”

So the answer? It completely depends on you, your baby, your lifestyle and how you feel about routines. Most mothers would agree that some form of routine with a baby leads to a happier and well-rested baby and family but remember you don’t always have to have a book to show you how to achieve that.

“It worked for me”

Karina Brunbjerg Hansford, 33, is mum to Lukas (SUBS: born 02.09.08). She used the book Save Our Sleep from day one.

I was very keen to start the routine as soon as possible because I like to be organized and don’t think I would have coped well never knowing when he would be sleepy and hungry.

After getting home from the hospital it took us probably three to four weeks before it slotted into place.

I was very strict. He slept, ate and settled himself just like the book advised. I had to feed him every three to four hours but that seemed to fit in with his own natural schedule. I did adapt the routine slightly as I felt Lukas wasn’t quite ready to go from one routine to the other when the book suggested it, so we were pretty much two weeks behind at any time

He knows exactly what is happening all the time. I tend to stay home for his sleeps, just because he sleeps a lot better in his bed than the pram. During the weekend when we visit friends we just bring a travel cot for him to sleep in and that works. No one has criticized me directly but I sometimes get the feeling that friends who don’t have kids get a bit annoyed when we ask if we can change the time of a social engagement.

Lukas started sleeping through the night, from 7pm to 7am at about one as we kept up his dream feed until then but without that, it’s been since he was six months.

Popular books

Routine-based baby manuals

Save Our Sleep, Tizzie Hall — Provides specific routines for sleeping and feeding for all stages from newborns to two years. Includes to-the-minute schedules, waking your child for feeds at first and expressing.

The New Contented Little Baby, Gina Ford — Contains over ten different routines to take your baby from week one to the end of his first year. Very structured daily regimes..

Dream Baby Guide, Sheyne Rowley — Philosophy of parenting based on five pillars for babies; routine, communication, independence environment and managing the transition as they get older.

Other baby books

Secrets Of the Baby Whisperer, Tracy Hogg — A philosophy based on getting to know your child and then using the EASY system; Eat, Activity, Sleep, You). Follows rituals rather than a routine.

Sleeping Like A Baby, Pinky Mckay — Offers a natural, intuitive approach to solving your baby’s sleep problems.

Reference books

Baby Love, Robin Barker — Detailed practical information on all stage of your baby’s development including breastfeeding, sleeping and settling, nutrition and health queries.

Kid Wrangling, Kaz Cooke. — Light-hearted and very honest take on parenthood with information on sleeping eating, immunisations and childcare.

Related stories