I have a real issue with people who have convinced themselves that the best way to get their young babies to sleep is to let them cry until they pass out.
Here are some actual quotes from actual parents who actually believe that it’s ok to do this to an infant:
“ let her cry it out. Crying is good for the lungs and the more you do it, the less she’ll cry and figure out she’s not going to win the battle.”
“I know it’s hard on you letting her cry, but it;s the best way. All of mine learned to self soothe by “crying it out.” The key is to never, ever pick her up”
“It gets harder when they understand that you’re just a cry away. ”
“Took several (long) nights but it’s worth it once they understand you’re not coming back in there as soon as they start crying.”
Please note that these comments were all to the mother of a 9 month old baby (who was also born prematurely). One that can not walk yet, or talk, or change her own pants if she’s wet, or get a snack if she’s hungry. An infant whose brain is still developing those ever-important pathways for loving, dependency, and healthy attachment. A tiny child who is still learning her place in her family and her world. (Thank goodness, the post she made that sparked these comments began with “Any suggestions to get Claire to sleep in her crib all night (other than just letting her cry).” )
I’m going to give this to you from a slightly different approach. How would you feel if you were in the position of an individual left to “cry it out?”
If you are hurting - physically or emotionally, and you started to cry, how would you feel if your partner, family member, or friend just left the room and ignored you? What if you are tossing and turning, frustrated because you can’t sleep, and the people that you loved the most - the ones that you depend on for happiness, closed the door and left you alone when you needed comfort?
What if you were hungry or thirsty and unable to feed yourself? What if you were too hot, or too cold, and didn’t have the ability to change the temperature or put on more blankets? How about if you banged on the door as hard as possible, screamed out for someone to come, choked on your own tears, and still, no one came to help you?
As an adult, this would be terrifying. You would feel lonely, betrayed, and scared. Sleep would only come after pure exhaustion and giving up hope that someone will come. Two, three, four, and even more nights of this? You would psychologically damaged. Ask any psychologist.
Now, imagine being an infant, completely dependent on adults to care for you. Remember that a baby’s brain is still growing, still learning how to be a person and figuring out how this whole love and comfort thing works. Being left to cry alone is not just terrifying for a baby; it’s a nightmare, and one that will have lasting psychological effects. You are essentially teaching this infant that her needs will only be met some of the time - on the caregiver’s terms. This child is more likely to be detached, aggressive, overly clingy, shy, and victimized as she grows up. This is not something I’m just saying for effect… this has been studied.
I know that babies disrupt sleep. I know that sleep is important. I know that some babies have awful sleep patterns that make you want to defenestrate yourself.
Our story, in a nutshell:
Carmen was a horrible sleeper as an infant. 45 minutes at a time usually, and 2 hours straight, if we were lucky. This lasted for about a year. So what did we do? We worked with it.
She either slept next to me in bed, or in her co-sleeper with my husband between us. When she stirred, she would latch on to me to nurse and fall right back asleep if she were next to me. I would barely awaken, and then doze right off with happy breastfeeding hormones coursing through me. If she were in her co-sleeper, Tyme would reach over and put a hand on her to soothe her. If that wasn’t enough, he would pick her up and put her next to me, and she would latch on. Neither of us even had to leave the bed.
Some nights were worse… teething, growth spurts, who knows? But she would be wide awake and we would be, too. These nights, Tyme and I took turns caring for her in three or four hour shifts. (Tyme usually spent at least an hour of his shift carrying her back and forth across the living room while he sang sea shanties.) Having three or four hours of uninterrupted sleep was enough that we could function the next day. We would also nap when we could to make up for lost sleep. Sure, it sucked, but we survived it, and we knew when we went to make a baby that it wasn’t going to be easy or fun 100% of the time. It also doesn’t last forever…
She was moved to her own room when she was about 15 months old. She was ready, and so were we. We still kept a close ear out for her, and I would still have to get up and nurse her sometimes in the middle of the night. She’s four now and sleeps for about 12 hours a day. If we get less than 8, it’s our own fault.
So, you’re tired. You’re at your wits’ end. Please ask for help, whether from your partner, your friend, or your family member. Find time to nap in the day if they can’t help you at night. Try co-sleeping (no, it doesn’t “spoil” the baby - do the research). But please don’t leave your baby to cry. It is inhumane, plain and simple.
The best comment on my friend’s post: ”Pick her up!!!! Crying out is old school….love on her and soothe her with mommies voice and heart beat! My best friend lost her 3 month old and lives with regret of never picking up her baby….life is too short….you never know….love on her, she is only a baby!!!!”
I know that I’m going to get backlash for this, especially from defensive parents who used crying it out on their own kids. I stand by my beliefs, and I offer my daughters and myself as proof that you will live through it and your children will be better for it.
More article and resources on Crying it Out and its affect on babies:
The potential dangers of leaving your baby to cry: http://drbenkim.com/articles-attachment-parenting.html
Cry it out (CIO): 10 reasons why it is not for us: http://www.phdinparenting.com/2008/07/05/no-cry-it-out/#.Tt93ZrIk6dA
Science Says: Excessive Crying Could be Harmful: http://www.askdrsears.com/topics/fussy-baby/science-says-excessive-crying-could-be-harmful
Cry it out? No! The case for not using cry it out with your children: http://www.storknet.com/cubbies/attachmentparenting/cio.htm
Ten Reasons to Respond to a Crying Child: http://www.naturalchild.org/jan_hunt/babycries.html