Monday, November 29, 2010

Cry it out? No way.

Because my sister is seven months pregnant and I have a four month old, the topic of babies comes up quite frequently during family gatherings. Thanksgiving weekend was no exception. For some reason, my sister asked my mother if she ever let us cry ourselves to sleep when we were babies. My mother promptly answered, "Of course not! Whenever you cried, I comforted you. You actually think I would've just let you cry?" My other sister challenged my mother, recalling an incident in which she remembered my mother forbidding her to go pick up our younger brother, who was crying hysterically in his crib at the time. She seemed to remember my mother saying something to the effect of "I don't want to reward him for crying. He needs to learn that nighttime is for sleeping. " My pregnant sister nodded and told us she remembered the same scenario, adding that mother had been pretty adamant about not letting anyone interfere with our brother's ability to "self soothe."

My mom, understandably embarrassed, insisted that she never let any of us "cry it out." I think it's safe to say that after hearing my sisters elaborate on their memories, my mother had simply fallen prey to what has become an unfortunate norm for parents today. She felt she had no other option. I only wish she'd been able to read an article I stumbled upon right before I gave birth to my oldest son. This article (along with many afterward), helped to solidify my decision to never allow my babies to cry it out. No matter what.

Here is an exerpt from what I read:

We live in an age where we can know that the baby is safe in another room, despite the loudness of his cries. Does this mean we should leave babies to cry on their own? Cry It Out (CIO) proponents often advise that babies left to cry will eventually stop, and the duration of future crying bouts will decrease. What are the emotional consequences of crying for the infant when she is left unattended? John Bowlby and colleagues initiated a series of studies where children between the ages of one and two who had good relationships with their mothers were separated from them and left to cry it out. Results showed a predictable sequence of behaviours: The first phase, labeled “protest”, consists of loud crying and extreme restlessness. The second phase, labeled “despair”, consists of monotonous crying, inactivity, and steady withdrawal. The third phase, labeled “detachment”, consists of a renewed interest in surroundings, albeit a remote, distant kind of interest. Thus, it appears that while leaving babies to cry it out can lead to the eventual dissipation of those cries, it also appears that this occurs due to the gradual development of apathy in the child. The child stops crying because she learns that she can no longer hope for the caregiver to provide comfort, not because her distress has been alleviated.

According to attachment theory, many babies are born without the ability to self-regulate emotions. That is, they find the world to be confusing and disorganized, but do not have the coping abilities required to soothe themselves. Thus, during times of distress, they seek out their caregivers because the physical closeness of the caregiver helps to soothe the infant and to re-establish equilibrium. When the caregiver is consistently responsive and sensitive, the child gradually learns and believes that she is worthy of love, and that other people can be trusted to provide it. She learns that the caregiver is a secure base from which she can explore the world, and if she encounters adversity she can return to her base for support and comfort. This trust in the caregiver results in what is known as a secure individual.

It has been suggested in the past that CIO is healthy for infants’ physical development, particularly the lungs. A recent study looking at the immediate and long-term physiologic consequences of infant crying suggests otherwise. The following changes due to infant crying have been documented: increased heart rate and blood pressure, reduced oxygen level, elevated cerebral blood pressure, depleted energy reserves and oxygen, interrupted mother-infant interaction, brain injury, and cardiac dysfunction. *
That last sentence was heart-wrenching to me. We create those symptoms in our own babies??? And why? Because their crying is inconvenient to us? Because people tell us our babies should be sleeping through the night by the time they are three months old? Nonsense. Neither of my boys got that memo and I'd have it no other way.
Instead of letting our children cry it out, my husband and I decided early on that we were going to comfort them and work hard to instill in them a sense of confidence and self-worth because they knew they were loved. Our oldest is two and a half years old and sleeps from 7 PM until 7 AM without interruption. He does not fight bedtime. In fact, it is because he sleeps so well that my husband and I are able to maintain this blog; we have several hours to ourselves each evening because we are not involved in a war to try to get our toddler to sleep. Our secret? When our son was a baby and cried at night, we fed him, rocked him, hugged him, rubbed his back, and comforted him in any way we knew how. We never left him to fend for himself as a helpless infant. He grew to know that bedtime was not something to fear because if he needed us, we were there for him. We hoped that the hard work we put in that first year would pay off in the end and you know what? It has made all the difference. :)


  1. Mom let him cry only after she felt he was old enough to use the crying as a "manipulation" tool. She says she tried all of the things you mentioned above (comforting, feeding, hugging, rocking, etc.) for months and it didn't work so she felt letting him cry was the only option. It definitely worked - he did learn to self-soothe...but it scarred me for life.

    And, I am 8 months pregnant by the way. :)

  2. I think there is definitely a difference between letting a 3-4 month "cry it out" than let's say a one year old. After 6 months baby's learn quickly to cry to get your attention for more than just the usual routine & they can learn to manipulate you especially at bedtime. I know that after 11 months of sleeping with Mom and Dad it was a tough transition for Justin to sleep in his own crib. Every time we put him down in the crib (asleep or awake) he objected rather loudly. We had no choice but to let him cry. I would go into the room every 5 mins. or so, rub his back, or pat his bottom, & tell him that we loved him. After 2 weeks of this routine, he finally learned to accept his crib. I think if we didn't stand our ground and train him to sleep in his crib, he would still be in our bed. I think that what works with one child doesn't always work with another. Maybe your Mom doesn't think she let your brother cry it out because he was an older baby. He may have been at the point where he was beginning to gain some independence and needed to learn to self-soothe (Maybe she needed a break. After all, she had 3 older children who depended on her too.It is hard to be the Mom of a full house!)