When you have a baby, everyone including their grandmother (especially their grandmother) loves to tell you how you should raise your child. Why not let your baby cry herself to sleep? Put jelly on a pacifier to encourage her to take it? Give your baby some cereal now that she’s 4 months old? Or at least a taste of ice cream? And oh by the way, you aren’t going to breastfeed the child until she’s 2 or 3 are you? Because you know some weirdos do that kind of thing and it just ain’t right.
Each of these statements are based on actual conversations. They all have a few things in common: they were offered without my prompting and are mostly based on outdated ideas. The current recommendation from the American Academy of Pediatrics is exclusive breastfeeding for the first 6 months of life. Beyond that, they recommend the continuation of breastfeeding after the introduction of solids up until at least one year of age and for as long as mutually desired after that. In addition, to reduce the risk of SIDS, parents are encouraged to sleep in the same room as their infant for at least the first 6 months, and ideally up to a year after birth. So how exactly do you let a baby cry herself to sleep when she’s lying right beside you at night?
Thanks, everyone. I know that most advice comes from a place of concern. But also, no thanks.
People love to judge parenting styles. I’m not immune. It’s really easy to have certain opinions when those views clash with what your personal beliefs are. I used to turn my nose up at the concept of parents letting their children’s sleep schedules dictate their days. That is of course until I became one of those parents.
Older generations in particular seem to be overly concerned about “spoiling” children.
Spare the rod, spoil the child. (Remember that old gem?)
In reality, babies are born with the most immature nervous system of any primate. As a result, they also happen to be dependent for a longer period of time. Crying is their primary means of communication. Feeding a baby “on demand” versus on a schedule is not an act of “spoiling” but instead teaches the infant that they can rely on having their needs met. This helps foster healthy attachment in children.
As a new parent, it’s virtually impossible to be unaware of the various methods of sleep training that exist. A few bleary-eyed Google searches at 2am can make you an expert in no time. One of the most common approaches is to let the baby “cry it out”. There are different variations of this philosophy, but they all involve ignoring a baby’s cry for a certain length of time. It’s considered to be one of the fastest means of “teaching” a baby how to self-soothe and is often favored during periods of desperation.
Arguments for and against the “cry it out” method run the gamut from Letting a baby “cry it out” causes brain damage to Don’t worry if your baby cries until they throw up. They might even think it’s fun! (I wish I was kidding…)
It is unclear what causes a baby to stop crying during these efforts. Have they actually learned the art of self-soothing? Or have they simply learned that no one is going to respond to their cries, so why bother?
Of course, human temperament can have a lot to do with the type of effect such an approach might have. Some infants may come away unscathed. Others may experience psychological damage. Unfortunately, we lack the research necessary to gauge the extent of possible repercussions and the foresight to estimate what kind of outcome to expect for any given child.
A recent study did not find the “cry it out” method to increase cortisol (stress hormone) levels, attachment, or behavioral issues one year after the experiment took place. However, the youngest infants involved in the study were at least 6 months old. My daughter is only 4 months old.
I completely understand how seductive a decent night of sleep is. Especially for the working parent, at some point, it may be non-negotiable in order to function. In addition, disrupted sleep can contribute to depression and exacerbate health problems. A parent needs to be able to take care of themselves in order to take care of their children. Fo’ reals, I support the notion that you do what you gotta do. I am pro-choice. I support a woman’s right to make her own decisions about her body. However, I don’t believe that I myself could go through with an abortion except in the most extreme of circumstances. This is how I feel about letting a baby “cry it out”. To each their own, but I myself don’t think I have the stomach for it.
Of course, I might feel different in another sleep-deprived month or two. But that’s another story…
Blunden, S. et al. (2010) “Behavioural sleep treatments and night time crying in infants: Challenging the status quo”. Sleep Medicine Reviews.