Taking “The Wonder Weeks” with a grain of salt

July 3, 2018
Taking “The Wonder Weeks” with a grain of salt | Texas Children's
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Whether you’ve had a baby in the past few years or you’re currently pregnant, some well-meaning friend has probably recommended getting your hands on a copy of “The Wonder Weeks.” Many tout this No. 1 bestselling book as the closest thing to an instruction manual on babies for new mothers worldwide, alongside the award-winning smart phone app that helps parents track their baby’s mental development with personalized weekly calendars. As a pediatrician and a fairly young mother myself, I’m regularly asked for my opinion on the authors’ theories and explanations for those fussy phases of a baby’s life that often leave new parents exhausted, anxious and at their wits’ end.

“The Wonder Weeks” was written by two Dutch pediatricians (a husband-and-wife duo) who outlined the 10 “wonder weeks” a baby progresses through during the first 20 months of life. After 35 years of extensive child development research and observation of countless parent-baby interactions, Frans Plooji and Hetty van de Rijt identified specific periods of time when parents can expect their babies to go through a fussy phase. These time periods are said to correspond with “leaps” in a baby’s mental and neurological development, resulting in a significant change in how the baby perceives the world and further leading to disruptions in sleep, appetite and overall behavior. The chapters of the book detail each week, explaining why each “leap” occurs and offering practical advice for how to help your baby make a more seamless transition into each phase.

Sounds incredible, right? We can all appreciate some explanation behind why our babies won’t stop crying, despite all of the swaddling, swaying and shushing we provide. Wouldn’t it be interesting to know what’s going on inside an infant’s head? Why has my fabulously behaved toddler suddenly become possessed? It’s great to have answers.

What I love about “The Wonder Weeks” is how it can give new parents confidence in navigating the development of their baby. It normalizes what is often viewed as an incredibly stressful time for new parents. It also confirms that fussy phases are not the fault of the baby or parents, but rather normal phases of infant development.

While I enjoy using “The Wonder Weeks” as one of many tools needed to survive the first few years of raising a child, I always try to qualify my support for it with a few reminders for new parents. Just because your baby is supposedly going through a fussy day or week according to the schedule, don’t minimize what could be a sign of illness, injury or other serious conditions. Nothing should replace a mother or father’s intuition regarding their baby’s health. If your baby is inconsolable or you have concerns about their behavior, always consult with your pediatrician.

I also try to constantly remind parents that infant development progresses on a continuum; each individual baby will develop skills according to his or her own unique timeline. Focusing too much on what a baby should or shouldn’t be doing at a particular age will often cause more anxiety in an already overwhelmed, stressed-out parent. Progress aligned with a spectrum of “normal” is what I care most about as a pediatrician. Lack of progress is more of a concern. It’s important to remember this when parents are working through these “wonder weeks.” Just because a baby doesn’t precisely follow the authors’ proposed timeline for “leaps” doesn’t mean development is atypical. If a child skips a leap altogether, it also doesn’t mean he or she is missing out on an important stage of development. If you ever have any concerns about your child’s development, you should discuss it with your pediatrician.

Now that I have a 15-month-old boy at home who is changing right in front of me on a daily basis, I’m regularly reminded of the benefits of “The Wonder Weeks.” When he has “off” days or weeks and I can’t quite put my finger on what’s going on, it’s encouraging and even empowering to have a “why” behind what might be causing it. I’m hopeful this program continues to be a substantial resource for all new mothers out there!

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Annie W. Kerr, MD, FAAP

Dr. Kerr was born and raised in Houston in Briargrove. She graduated from Baylor College of Medicine and completed a Pediatrics Residency from 2013-2016.

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