I have been enjoying reading the ongoing diary of new parenthood by writer Michael Lewis (photos by his wife, Tabitha Soren -- yes, that Tabitha Soren ). I guess this is Slate's stab at Salon's groundbreaking and sadly missed Mothers Who Think section (for which I used to write). I have also been perusing the reader < A HREF=""> responses to Lewis's parenting essays in Slate's form, The Fray, with more than a little consternation. After Lewis wrote about his discomfort with any of the "let 'em cry" baby-training methods that populate the modern American parenting landscape, many, many readers expressed the view that Lewis's newborn daughter is simply manipulating her parents by waking to eat at night.


Like just about everything else related to human lactation, Americans are sadly misinformed about how our babies are biologically hardwired to eat, sleep, and grow in the first year. As Katherine Dettwyler, an anthropology professor and specialist in cross-cultural infant nutrition has noted, human infants need to nurse very frequently, including during the night, because human breastmilk is very high in water content and is digested quickly. This is true of all the higher order primates, which is one reason why mama apes keep their babies close, day and night. Many other mammal species have a much higher fat- protein content in their breastmilk, allowing the mother to nurse her offspring very infrequently. Rabbits, for example, only nurse their babies once every twenty-four hours.

I nursed my 6 year old daughter until the month before she started kindergarten (you can see a picture of here as a nursing bambino HERE by scrolling to the very bottom of the page. She's the dark-haired baby you see.) and my youngest son, now 4, until he was 3. They eventually stopped wanting to nurse at night (before age 2 with a little gentle encouragement from my husband and me), but that first year of almost constant nursing *is* tiring until you get the hang of it. Since we have always kept our babies in bed with us rather than in a babycage (crib ;-), I eventually got to the point where I would barely even wake up to feed and settle the baby.

But even with my first baby, whom I did not breastfeed, I never let him cry himself to sleep in order to "train" him to sleep on an adult schedule. I never have been able to figure out why we think it's okay to let babies and young children wail alone behind a closed door when if we did that to, say, a bedridden old person with insomnia in our care, it would be considered literally abusive.