Myth of the Devious Baby

I recently saw an article wherein it was hypothesized that babies wake at night not out of hunger (it was stated that babies can eat enough to remain full all night and so hunger isn’t the reason for waking), but subconsciously do this to keep the mother exhausted enough that another baby isn’t conceived yet. The conclusion was that babies are resilient, so just let them cry. I have several objections to this.

1) While a baby technically can take in enough to remain full all night, that assumes that the mother’s breast capacity will deliver that amount in one setting, that a bottle is given, or that the baby will eat that much at one time. Personally, I have a lower breast capacity (unrelated to breast size), and so my babies need to nurse frequently to keep my supply up. A baby has a small stomach, and so might not want or be able to take in enough in one sitting to satisfy him all night, too. An adult should also be able to go all night without a snack or drink, but how many of us do? Yet we expect a baby to do what we can’t or won’t do?

2) This makes it sound like it’s all on the baby, when it is instead a nursing relationship. A mother’s prolactin levels are highest at night, which indicates that a mother’s body is designed for night nursing, too. The baby can likely sense this, and so wakes in response to the mother, too.

3) This assumes that sleeping for an 8-hour stretch is good for the baby. In fact, sleeping so deeply isn’t good for the baby. Sleeping in one 8-hour stretch is rather new for adults, too.

4) this assumes that night nursing equals exhaustion. It can, that’s true, but it doesn’t have to do so. Safe co-sleeping can help a mother to breastfeed and get the sleep she needs.

5) While babies are indeed resilient, letting a baby cry it out has been shown to be harmful.

6) This assumes that the only valid reason for a baby to wake is hunger or a wet diaper. Why do you wake? How many times do we wake because we’re hot, cold, or had a bad dream? We can remedy that ourselves, but a baby cannot.

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3 thoughts on “Myth of the Devious Baby

  1. Thank you for this, Pettit. It’s greatly appreciated. I would also apply quite a few of these to bottle-fed babies and toddlers. Bizzy still doesn’t sleep through the night except on rare occasions and, if she does, it’s like a ten-hour stretch. She usually wakes at least once a night for a bottle or cuddles, a diaper-change, or all of the above.

    I know that our doctor really wants her off her nighttime bottle and us picking her up when she wakes at night, but, truthfully, I am loathe to deny her the things that comfort her, as she is still so little. Also, our house is very tiny. Her room is what used to be the library next to our bedroom (it has no door) so her “crying it out” would mean that NO ONE in the house would sleep, including her. Never mind the fact that Elizabeth has amazing stamina and lung capacity and doesn’t just cry herself to sleep; if she is of a mind to cry, she will cry, no sleep in sight.

    I appreciate your post, Pettit. It has given me encouragement and support today, in a situation where I often wonder if I am doing the right thing.

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