Friday, April 25, 2014

My Response to "Babies Cry to Prevent Siblings"

When I first read the headline, "Babies cry at night to prevent siblings, scientist suggests," I laughed, somewhat hysterically.  It's an amusing theory - one you could almost believe, given not that a baby's cries may interrupt parents who are getting busy (been there!), but that night nursing prevents ovulation (though not reliably).

Then I saw Dr. James McKenna's name and thought, "Oh, good, actual science."

Then I read the end of the article and thought angrily, "How irresponsible! This man is a scientist?! What a..." Well, I try to be polite here, so I won't finish that sentence.

The article ends,
Although we’ll never know exactly why babies evolved to cry at night, Haig’s idea offers one interesting explanation. Whether he is right or not, there is another message lurking in this study, and it’s a message for modern parents: Babies who don’t breastfeed during the night and babies who take bottles don’t wake up as much during the night — and they don’t seem to be worse off for it, Haig says. That result implies that nursing throughout the night isn’t necessary. So moms shouldn’t beat themselves up if they don’t always heed the nighttime calls to breastfeed, Haig says. 
“There’s a tendency to think of infants as incredibly fragile beings, and if you do just one thing wrong, they’re ruined for life,” Haig says. “That to me doesn’t make any evolutionary sense. They should be fairly robust and handle all sorts of variation in sleeping arrangements and feeding arrangements."
Yes, moms shouldn't beat themselves up for not breastfeeding.

And true, babies won't be ruined for life

But it never fails to tick me off when there is encouragement for babies to sleep longer than is biologically normal at night, because it is dangerous.

Babies' frequent waking helps protect them against SIDS.  A baby sleeping too deeply for too long may have difficulty rousing.

I will never forget the day I came home in third grade to find my mother crying.  My five month old cousin Timmy had died in his sleep.  

I'll never forget meeting family from far away for the first time, at least in my memory.  Never forget that I was all cried out by the day of the funeral, and I felt so guilty not to cry at his graveside.  I'll never forget the little stuffed elephant I was given that had been his - I still have it, mixed in now with the zoo my kids have in the top bunk in their room.

Breastfeeding reduces the risk of SIDS, by 60% for any breastfeeding.  And for exclusive breastfeeding, the risk is reduced by 73%.
(Hauck, Fern, John M. D. Thompson et al. Breastfeeding and Reduced Risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome: A Meta Analysis Journal of Pediatrics 2010)
I find it incredibly ignorant for a "scientist" to fail to recognize the importance of breastfeeding and night nursing in favor of his asinine sibling rivalry theory, and to tell parents, "You don't need to breastfeed, it's not really important.  Get some sleep!  Ain't no thang."

It's supportive to tell mothers not to beat themselves up.  It's supportive to tell mothers they aren't "ruining" their kids by not providing all that is optimal in life.

It is NOT supportive to represent yourself as a scientist, an educated person, and flat out ignore science - life-saving science - when in a position to raise awareness among parents.


I'm deep in birthday party planning, and am trying to keep this short.  Just to try to be clear without rambling on, I am NOT saying parents are responsible for SIDS or we don't all need SO much more sleep or anything judgmental of anyone but David Haig.  And maybe the author of the article I read, who looked into McKenna but still went with "Ain't no thang."  

What are your thoughts?
Leave a comment or join the conversation on Facebook.  


  1. My first thought on seeing the headline was "If that's true, my kids failed miserably." I'm pregnant with my sixth (and the youngest I've ever weaned was a week before age 3).

    But this whole idea that sleep is so precious you should freely ignore your kids even if it endangers them (and the sleeping-too-deep aspect of SIDS is not exactly unknown) really makes me angry. Even stretched out over as many kids as I've had, it's really a tiny amount of time in my life and in theirs to suck it up and deal.

  2. We must keep in mind that many OBs and pediatricians are not even fully educated about all the benefits of breast feeding, so it's no surprise to me that a scientist isn't either. It's unfortunate though that all three of these figures are seen as reliable sources for breast feeding information!

  3. I think there a reason why mom wake up on instinct just a couple minutes before baby does to feed at night... at least it is my case. And it is sooo much easier to breast feed at night then to bottle feed any day of the week!!! You just pull it out n both of u go back to sleep... at least in my case! Im sorry but these quack doctors A are not women and B must not have or care or understand children!

  4. My midwife told me that breast milk was much more digestible, thus babies eat more often. The study was interesting right up until he made unsupportable statements about night feeding! Do your research, buddy! boo hiss!

  5. Luckily my daughter screamed and carried on, no matter how much I wanted to sleep, if I ignored her. I tried CIO, I am quite ashamed to say, and it didn't work. My daughter DEMANDED to be fed at night, well past a year. As frustrating as it was, I had no choice. I feel sorry for babies who give up, quieter personalities who just go back to sleep. :-( I saw this article and didn't read it after the first few sentences. I think it's okay to have children close together, mine will be exactly 2 years apart. I think if you get pregnant, your body must be ready. And your children will adapt.

  6. My twins ate through the night (formula after the first four months and regular milk after a year, I might add) and when they were about 9 months old, i started giving them a small amt of cereal during the night feeding. Babies cry because they are hungry.

    1. Babies cry because they're hungry and because they want the comfort of nursing their mothers (and a million other reasons). Babies are designed to NURSE, and frequently.

  7. Not everything has to have a reason greater than itself. I find it frustrating that the media throws "research" around to their agenda and that we eat it up to justify convenience for us. Even in this research we are trying to understand babies through how they impact us as opposed to just loving them for who they are... babies... who cry, sometimes at night.