Weekend brunches with strangers are rife with idle chitchat and searches for commonality. So I wasn’t surprised when a father at a get-together recently asked me if my baby sleeps through the night. This question is the infant equivalent to “what do you do?” It’s too early to compete about who walked or talked first, so sleep is the barometer of parental success. No one agrees about what constitutes “sleeping through the night”, though. So when I say, “she sleeps five hours or so”, I feel pretty good about my answer. Evidently this number was not good enough, because the man launches into advice about upping it.
The story goes that he and his wife slowly reduced the amount of milk they fed their sons at night. Then they substituted water to trick tiny, little bellies into feeling full. And finally… Nighttime feedings eliminated altogether! “Oh really”, I manage to say noncommittally. What I’m really thinking is that this story reminds me of the frog slowly boiled in water that has insidiously risen in temperature. With the conversation ended to his satisfaction, the man walks away with a plate of prosciutto and melon. I turn to George and say, “Well that sounds like a teenage eating disorder in the making”, as I stab a hunk of smoked salmon onto my plate.
I hadn’t thought about this encounter, until everything went to pieces. The Demas family has been going through what’s called “The Four Month Sleep Regression”. When Claire woke up at 12:30, 2:30, 3:30, 4:30, and 5:30AM to eat and was up for good at 6:30AM, this man’s advice started sounding seductive. Coincidentally, a friend of mine had just sent a link to a website proffering help for sleep deprived families. When I go to click on it, there it is in all its glory -- a two-part series on eliminating nighttime feedings. So, huh, here I thought this guy was a kook. Come to find out that this theory has professional support. I read on and stumble upon words to horrify a desperate mother looking for answers: “If you don’t address nighttime wakings, your child may have SLEEP ISSUES FOREVER” (“ever, ever, ever” reverberates in my head). I perk up and start taking this idea more seriously. But as I read on, I’m looking for some science to back up this dire warning. That cannot be found. So I google “eliminating nighttime feeding” and find kellymom.com. Kelly’s mom flat out says don’t believe the hype. Scare tactics are usually designed to sell product of some kind or another, and the product in this case is sleep advice that is more appropriate for sleep-deprived parents than babies burning the midnight oil. In essence, parents are the ones with deep pockets; babies have no pockets at all.
I think she’s right. It’s easy to be swayed by slick websites and offers of professional help when you are near insanity, with a child glued to your boob and have come close to dissolving your marriage in the middle of the night on several occasions. You are willing to consider depriving your child of food. And the business of baby sleep is counting on this fact. Kelly’s mom didn’t have a solution to offer, but she provided evidenced-based information that explained the developmental reasons for this grueling sleep schedule. I still felt insane with a child glued to my boob, but I breathed a sigh of relief that our new not so normal nighttime routine was normal. (My marriage never really was in jeopardy, in case you were worried.)
But I’m no perfect parent, so who am I to judge this parenting technique? I must admit, though, that I wish eliminating feedings would go the way of leeches and thalidomide. So if you’re a parent reading this post and have successfully undertaken eliminating feedings or are consider doing so, I do apologize. Quite possibly, you are judgmental of me for not finding an answer to my baby’s sleep “problem”. Quite possibly, you will have the last laugh. If I write a post a few years down the road about my child’s continued sleep issues, please feel free to comment, “I told you so”.