I set out to write a thoroughly-researched paper. And I’m still going to do that, to the best of my ability, because I think research is important and necessary. I think each parent needs to individually research for themselves what they’re doing and potential effects. But first, my own story and why I’m not a cry-it-out mom….just my heart and my ideas, not because of the latest research, but because of the visions and dreams God gave me as a mother.
Because you know what? I think research is important and revealing. But I also think that sometimes, mothers (and people in general) just need permission to think for themselves. Moms need permission to trust their God-given instincts, not just what Dr. Jo-Shmo says. I know that can be taken to a harmful extreme, because some moms will use it as justification for the selfish decisions they make in regards to their children…however, those moms aren’t likely do the research anyway. And what’s even more hurtful and angering to me, is the fact that there are so many moms who are trying to do the best they can for their babies. Moms who really do care about their babies. And because we’re taught to listen to the experts, they gradually crush out their instincts. They do everything that goes against what they believe in their hearts to be best for baby, all for the sake of their baby’s “good”. If someone had just told these mothers, “It’s okay for you to trust your instincts and do what you feel in your heart your baby needs. GOD gave you those instincts, and the ability to know what your baby needs,” then maybe more babies would feel the love their mothers feel for them. More babies’ needs would be getting met.
Sometimes, this mothering instinct doesn’t exist. But I believe God created it in every woman. Some women crush it out in their selfishness, choosing self over their baby so many times, that eventually, it doesn’t even phase them. Some women let the experts crush it…becoming so convinced that what they say is right, and that they must set aside any personal feelings which will “harm” their baby’s well-being. Sometimes, an undeveloped girl, who perhaps never had a solid family or good mothering role model, becomes a mother, long before she’s mentally and emotionally prepared. But I believe in God’s plan, every woman has a mothering instinct. And the women of America and other similar countries can reclaim that if they so desire. They can grasp a hold of the right and privilege God gave them as a mother, instead of letting the experts fill that role. They can choose to kick selfishness and become the mothers their children need. Role models can become available to girl-moms, coming along side as gentle friends, guiding and aiding. We can reclaim what God gave us.
For years before I became I mom, I knew I’d never do cry-it-out. I read occasional research, but otherwise didn’t thoroughly research it. It was one topic I didn’t need to in order to reach my conclusion. I just knew, in my heart, that I couldn’t, and that it couldn’t be part of God’s plan for babies. There’s an aspect of God that’s nurturing, like a mother. The aspect that pulls us close to his breast….he chose mothers to show this kind of love to the world. And I don’t think cry-it-out fits in with the nurturing picture of God.
In my heart, I knew God had entrusted me with a beautiful daughter to care for to the best of my ability. Ben and I are the primary people right now who get to give her a picture of God’s love- the kind of love that never leaves or forsakes. Leaving her to cry in a dark room doesn’t get that kind of message across. She has real needs.
I know…she doesn’t, especially at 11 months, need to nurse every 45 minutes for nutritional purposes. (And most nights, she doesn’t.) But that doesn’t mean that she doesn’t need me. Even if her diaper’s dry, she’s not hot or cold, and she’s not hungry, she still may need me. She isn’t developed like an adult, and expecting her, at her maturity level, to learn to “self soothe” is absolutely ridiculous. Sometimes she needs to nurse just because she needs to know I’m there with her. Sometimes she needs to touch me just to know I’m taking care of her. There isn’t anything wrong with this. It’s just my baby girl acting like a baby….in older babies/children, it’s toddlers acting like toddlers. Someday, they’ll need to learn a certain level of self-soothing. Independence, to a certain degree, is healthy for everyone. Society doesn’t need clingy, useless, dependent people. But adulthood is a long ways away from babyhood and babies just aren’t developed to the degree of being able to healthily self-soothe. Before my little girl can become independent, she needs to know that she can rely on me. She needs to know that she can trust me completely, before she becomes confident in her own self. If I let her cry it out, but met all her needs during her awake times, I’d be conveying that she can trust me….sometimes. And that sometimes, I’m just going to ignore her. An older child might need to learn that you can’t always be there for them. They might have to deal with difficult situations in school or the neighborhood, they’ll have to reason out problems on their own. But not a baby.
If I were a helpless baby, I can’t imagine enjoying being a dark room, in a cold bed, by myself. Being put and there and told to “go to sleep” and then seeing the door shut on the thing (person) most familiar and beloved to me would be terrifying at best. And so…I choose not to cry-it-out.
Cry-it-out doesn’t fit with any other aspect of our parenting philosophy. And for the record, I do desire healthy, independent, confident, bright, social children. I think cosleeping, babywearing, and in general, meeting their emotional needs until they’re ready to fly on their own, accomplishes that. I’ve seen it in my own daughter already, and I’ve seen it in the lives of many others. Forcing independence doesn’t create independent children. If anything, it causes more issues for them.
Basically, I want my babies to know that I love them, and that they can trust me to always be there for them. Cosleeping, soothing our babies to sleep and meeting their nighttime needs help me accomplish that. Cry-it-out doesn’t.
A quick web search will reveal that cry-it-out is a very heated topic, with plenty of “research” on all sides. Everyone has their bit of proof….sometimes hard research, sometimes random opinions based on a few examples. From what I’ve found thus far, there needs to be a lot more research on this topic before we can make very scientific conclusions. There’s been a lot of preliminary research but not enough follow up yet. Studies like these are especially difficult and costly, because people need to be followed for decades to learn of all possible outcomes. Furthermore, there are lots of factors to weigh in- humans are such complex beings, that it’s hard to isolate cause and effects. Nonetheless, as more parents move to a mindset of being concerned about the well being of their children, and as more question the authorities and consider their instincts, I think we should see some pretty interesting in-depth studies over the next few decades. Unfortunately, that means that tons of babies in the intermittent decades are going to be very affected- positively or negatively- by cry-it-out or not. Which means we need to take what we have, trust our instincts and parent to the best of our ability with what we know.
I personally believe that cry-it-out is harmful, and that we’ll see more evidence of that over the next few decades. I think we’ve seen enough about the damage excessive crying in general does, and also, as mentioned before, I sincerely believe God gave us instincts for a reason. However, it’s a choice for each parent to make, and you can find all sorts of stuff on both sides out there. Like I said, we only have so much to work with….and if you, as the parent, decide it wouldn’t be harmful to your baby, it’s up to you to decide what to do. There isn’t enough solid evidence for me to try and scientifically convince anyone. But there is enough to feel convinced myself.
Babies only have one means of communication: crying. They cry to express all sorts of needs, and as parents, it’s our job to meet those needs. Many parents are told they must be careful of spoiling their baby, but you can’t spoil a baby by responding to their needs. When a baby is much older, you can tell the difference when they’re crying just because they’re mad (i.e. you take something away they can’t have) and because they have a need. Till then, you don’t need to worry, because your baby isn’t tantruming, they’re asking for you- because they need you. And your 6 month old won’t turn into a 6 year old brat because you answered their cries.
According to a Harvard study, amongst several others, leaving a child to cry unattended predisposes them to a sensitivity towards trauma later in life. Cry-it-out is specifically addressed in the Harvard study. M. Commons and P. Miller of the Harvard study say: “Instead of letting infants cry, American parents should keep their babies close, console them when they cry, and bring them to bed with them, where they'll feel safe.” Commons goes on to say, “Parents should recognize that having their babies cry unnecessarily harms the baby permanently. It changes the nervous system so they're overly sensitive to future trauma.” It appears that the high levels of stress a baby undergoes when left to cry uncomforted results in a permanent change to their hormonal makeup, thus causing them to be oversensitive to stress and trauma later in life. It means they might not be able to handle very small inconveniences without breaking down in stress.
There are many studies out on the effects of prolonged/excessive crying, and none of them look promising for the neglected babies. While most of these studies don’t specifically address cry-it-out at night, crying is crying. Also, we don’t know what “excessive” crying is. What qualifies? Would 30 minutes at a time? 60 minutes? Or is it 60 minutes a day? We don’t know- and, due to how inhumane a study with the intentions of finding out would be, we may never know exactly what the mark is that we must stay under in order to avoid permanent damage. A baby who’s made to cry-it-out, and only cries for 5 minutes before falling asleep, may not suffer permanent damage. We just don’t know when the hit point is. I, for one, would rather err on the side of instincts and attend my baby when she’s crying.
It might be worthwhile to note here, that we’re talking about prolonged/excessive crying alone. Some babies are naturally fussy, and we aren’t seeing long term damage so long as all their needs are being met- which is to say, they get attended to whenever they fuss. Vivi was an extremely fussy baby, and I spent many hours pacing with her, or trying other methods of soothing, while she fussed. Unlike with most babies, just having her close to me wasn’t enough to soothe her, even though I never allowed her to get to a point of hysterical crying in the first place. But, I was holding her close, attempting to comfort her. She knew- and knows- that I was there. The issue here isn’t fussy versus non-fussy babies….it’s responsive versus non-responsive parents.
Cry-it-out is typically promoted for babies as young as 3 months- and some even promote as young as 8 weeks. This is very disturbing, considering that all the research that has been done on cry-it-out (leaning in all directions- harmful/unharmful, helpful/unhelpful) has been done on older babies and toddlers. There have been a few 4 month olds included in some of the studies, however, most are over a year, with a minority of children in the 6-12 month range. I don’t promote cry-it-out as being healthy at any age (and there are some interesting things out there on the damage cry-it-out has caused to toddlers), but I find it most disturbing when experts are telling parents to let their tiny newborns cry-it-out when we haven’t seen anything about the success or harm of this mentality on babies this young.
Another issue to question would be: is cry-it-out really successful? Yes, some, maybe even many, of the babies learn to sleep through the night. And in our American culture, that’s what we want. But is that really what’s best- for anyone? The American culture as a whole is so set on the healthiest thing being to sleep 12 hours straight that we’ll go to any lengths- even that which feels against everything we believe- to make it happen. Some studies suggest that many babies, especially breastmilk babies, still need at least one nighttime feeding for nutritional purposes at 1 year.
Perhaps part of the push for sleeping through the night is our culture’s idea that babies should sleep in their own beds (often in their own rooms). In this situation, it wakes a baby totally up when they have to call out for you, wait for you, be removed from the crib, etc. This disturbs their sleep, and could, perhaps, eventually become unhealthy. It also fully disturbs your sleep, as you’re completely awake by the time the charade is over. So, it’s no wonder parents feel exhausted and desperate. But there’s another alternative to consider- safe, healthy, and ideal for everyone: cosleeping. When parents cosleep with their babies, no one has to fully wake up in order for the baby’s nighttime needs to be attended to. And if your baby is older and you feel the need to nighttime-wean, the family bed is an emotionally-comfortable (for the baby) place to do that. Here they can still feel and touch you (ideally, the father, so aren’t right up against your breast/milk), and know that you’re there. When they’re ready to be independent (somewhere between ages 1-4, usually), they can move to their own bed. By this time, they’re probably already putting themselves to sleep naturally, and they’ll still feel confident in their ability to come/call for you in the night if need be.
Many pediatricians and researchers are finding that the sleep a baby falls into after cry-it-out is a deep sleep as a result of trauma, rather than a healthful, restful sleep. In other words, many of the babies who cry-it-out eventually get so exhausted, they give in. However, this is after their cortisol levels have been raised, experiencing elevated stress, and more, which leads to a troubled (and unhealthy) sleep. The child might sleep through the night, but it isn’t restful sleep, and most certainly, it isn’t healthy. It’s not healthy for adults to go to bed stressed (that Bible verse about not going to bed angry really has some healthful merit behind it!), and it’s not healthy for babies. So when it’s bragged that someone’s baby “sleeps through the night” perhaps we should stop and evaluate just how healthy that sleep is, how it was achieved, and what kind of sleep they’re getting.
Other potential negative effects of sleep-training/cry-it-out include: detachment, long term sleep problems, brain damage and underdeveloped brains, and long term dependence. I don’t think there’s enough evidence to say for certain that these things are linked to cry-it-out, but there’s enough to make me very suspecting. I really hope I’m wrong and that there won’t be long-term negative effects on babies who cried-it-out. Many of the mentioned items are issues cry-it-out is supposed to guard against, like dependence. But, babies who are forced into independence won’t be naturally independent…these often tend to be even more clingy and to lack self-confidence. Babies who’re given love, attention and attentiveness will thrive and mature, and when they’re ready, they’ll grow naturally in independence.
Obviously, science never proves anything, and in this case, science is so lacking that there’s a lot of grey space. Which leaves room for each parent to consider and contemplate what’s best for their babies. And that, I believe, is where common sense and instincts come in. My instincts, unmarred by a need to listen to experts, tell me God intended for me to be close to my daughter (and future babies)…they tell me my body was created for this season of life….they tell me that when Viviana cries, it’s because of a real (whether physical or emotional) need…they tell me that I was created to nurture, love, respond and care for my daughter, at all hours of the day and night.
What do your instincts tell you?
Also, Sweet Dreams by Dr. Paul Fleiss & The Baby Sleep Book: The Complete Guide to a Good Night’s Sleep for the Whole Family by Drs. William, Robert and James Sears and Martha Sears.
~And various other sites whose links I forgot to jot down (or which weren’t overly helpful because they were more emotional than anything else)- found mostly through Google (or the sites listed above), as Google Scholar didn’t provide much.~