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Infants too young for late-night movies?

By Katia Hetter, CNN
updated 5:20 PM EDT, Fri July 20, 2012
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • People are quick to judge parents when their children get hurt
  • Up until they're 3-months-old, babies aren't expected to sleep through the night
  • Parents tend to become nocturnal creatures to match their babies' schedules

(CNN) -- A movie? A meal out? A haircut?

Were those events even possible right after my daughter was born?

The news of a 3-month-old among the injured at a late-night showing of "The Dark Knight Rises" has already led to online criticism of parents who would bring a baby to such a movie.

Some of the comments at CNN.com included: "What kind of parent takes a three-month old child to a midnight screening of a movie?" "Bad parenting!!!"

The public gets its first glimpse of James Holmes, 24, the suspect in the Colorado theater shooting during his initial court appearance Monday, July 23. With his hair dyed reddish-orange, Holmes, here with public defender Tamara Brady, showed little emotion. He is accused of opening fire in a movie theater Friday, July 20, in Aurora, Colorado, killing 12 people and wounding 58 others. More photos: Mourning the victims of the Colorado theater massacre The public gets its first glimpse of James Holmes, 24, the suspect in the Colorado theater shooting during his initial court appearance Monday, July 23. With his hair dyed reddish-orange, Holmes, here with public defender Tamara Brady, showed little emotion. He is accused of opening fire in a movie theater Friday, July 20, in Aurora, Colorado, killing 12 people and wounding 58 others. More photos: Mourning the victims of the Colorado theater massacre
Colorado movie theater shooting
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To which I say: Back off on the judgment. Do you think anyone -- a parent or not -- would go to a movie if they could predict there would be a mass shooting?

"Judging parents at a time like this is unbelievable to me," says parenting expert Laura Markham, a psychologist and founding editor of AhaParenting.com. "We are always so quick to judge other parents when their child gets hurt, because if we can make ourselves different -- if we would never have done that -- then our child is safe.

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"If the baby drops off to sleep while you're walking him outside, but you know he will be up in two hours, and he can still sleep through anything, I can certainly understand why a parent might decide to catch a movie."

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The comfort of other moviegoers is a whole other consideration (and conversation), but when it comes to bringing a baby to a movie, it's not necessarily harmful to the kid. Plus, it can be a vital pick-me-up for an exhausted and culture-deprived new parent.

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All sense of day or night seems to disappear with the arrival of that wiggly munchkin. During those first few months after the birth of a child, parents sleep whenever we can, wear whatever is clean (and maybe not so clean) and (for the mamas who breast-feed) eat with one hand while holding the baby to breast-feed at the same time.

That's because babies emerge from the womb having slept mostly during the day and staying awake during the night. It takes at least four weeks for their melatonin production to kick in and for babies gradually to switch to nighttime sleeping, says Dr. Ari Brown, author of "Baby 411" and a pediatrician in Austin, Texas. A 3-month-old might be feeding at midnight, but the baby would not be expected to sleep through the night.

"From zero to three months, when it comes to sleep, you do what you gotta do," Brown says. "The concept of having a schedule or real sleep pattern is an oxymoron. It's just not there."

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That's why parents tend to become nocturnal creatures, feeding, changing diapers and doing laundry whenever we can. Everything else takes a back seat to meeting the basic needs of a human tadpole. Scheduling a daytime haircut requires precision military planning, lest parents are away when the little angel is hungry and lets loose with his or her piercing cries. I would have tried to go to a late-night movie if I wasn't trying to sleep.

When Atlanta mother Leah Case's daughter was 3 months old, Case and her husband would join friends for dinner, bringing along their soundly sleeping baby in a car seat. "I am an extremely regimented, scheduled parent, but if I thought my child would sleep through a movie at that age, I absolutely would have taken them," said Case, whose daughter is now 10 months. "She honestly slept like a rock anywhere we went until she was about 5 months."

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It's true that several movie theater chains have capitalized on the cries for help from movie-deprived new parents. California-based Krikorian Premiere Theatres offers "Mommy Movie Mondays" with amenities such as stroller check-in and changing tables. The "Crybaby Matinee" at Hawaii's Consolidated Theaters lowers the volume to protect babies' sensitive ears and brightens the lights so parents can easily come and go for feedings or tantrums.

With her 8-week-old son sleeping no more than three hours at a time, new parent Katie Feeney said she couldn't imagine having enough energy to make it to an early or late movie with or without her son.

Feeney, a stay-at-home mother in Brighton, Massachusetts, tends to stay awake during the day so she's exhausted by day's end. When her son wakes up for nighttime feedings, a duty she shares with her husband, she simply watches whatever she's recorded on her DVR to get her through the night.

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Do you think it's a dreadful idea to bring a baby to a movie? Or do you sympathize with parents just looking to get out of the house for some entertainment? Share your opinion in the comments section below.

CNN's Kat Kinsman, Sarah LeTrent and Maria LaMagna contributed to this report.

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