When Evie and Ethan were born we entered into the several-week period known as the Zone of No Sleep — for Mommy, since she was breast-feeding. After that, we too had to teach our children to sleep on their own.
Parenthetical to counter the inevitable cries of “Where were you, Lazybones?”: A lot of people will tell you that you can refrigerate or freeze milk for use by Daddy, but THEY LIE. Every bottle we tried seemed to infect the milk with disgusting artificial overtones. (And yes, it does mean you have to taste it to tell the difference. ‘Nuff said.) Yes, there is a distinct possiblity that out of all the different models we tried, every single one was the wrong one, but in the end it became a matter of economics. In our case, Daddy goes to work early and, thanks to our particular situation, Mommy stays home with the kids. So if someone was going to catch a nap in the middle of the day, it had better be Mommy. Ergo, Mommy did the waking up and feeding, and a damn fine job of it, too.
Anyway, back to the main point. When the kids were old enough to go four hours between feedings, we made a concerted effort to teach them to sleep rather than demand unnecessary feeding. Feeding is not something human beings do just for sustenance. We also do it for comfort, or out of habit. Sleep is just as necessary to health as food, and children have to learn good sleep habits just like they need to learn good eating habits. In this case, the “eating habits” when a child is being breastfed is sort of a foregone conclusion — they are eating what’s provably best for them, and they always eat as much as they need to. So we do what we can by teaching good sleep habits on top of that. Part of good sleep habits is learning that it is not normal to interrupt sound sleep to eat constantly. While one or two night feedings is completely normal for babies after a few months, we didn’t find more than that was helpful at all for our kids.
Sleep is also just as important for mothers. Sleep deprivation is unhealthy and can be dangerous, especially if mothers are behind the wheel during the day. I would be willing to bet that parents taking the road that Heather & Jon (and Eleya & I) took — in other words, taking control of the feeding schedule — are distinctly lowering the effects of postpartum depression and/or birth-associated psychological stress. This is not beauty sleep we’re talking about; there’s no vanity involved, only the sense that the parents have to be in reasonable condition to make good judgments about the actual work of parenting.
It took very litle time for both our kids to start sleeping six, and then very shortly eight, hours a night on their own. They both were paragons of health throughout the process, normal to high in their weight category for their age, and (thanks, we’re convinced, to breast-feeding) never suffered from ear infections or other maladies — until they were older, off the breast, and socially interacting with the seething pits of viral investation we like to call Other People’s Kids. (In all seriousness, we’re not freaks about that, either. It’s how your immune system learns, too.)
It’s about time people realized that one way of parenting is not better than all others. We all try to do the right thing, and that’s all we can do.