Monday, June 20, 2011

Why don't you "cry-it-out"?

"Crying-it-out" (CIO) almost seems like a rite of passage for today's parents. From friends to parenting books to some pediatricians, it is touted as the only way to get your baby to "sleep through the night." As such, many people have wondered why our family doesn't plan on letting our babies "cry-it-out."

My parents never let any of us "cry it out." When I was a kid, it sounded like the harshest thing in the world. But in readying ourselves for parenthood, it seemed like my parents were perhaps the exception. At first I figured that we, too, would have to resort to CIO because, well, that's what everyone told us we would have to do. However, after quite a bit of research on both sides of the argument and some heartfelt searching, we have chosen to not let our babies "cry it out." Here are our reasons why:

1) Babies are not one-size-fits-all: While there are certainly trends and averages in baby needs, no two babies are the same. As such, supposing that all babies could or should be "sleeping through the night" at such-and-such an age is faulty. To force a child to sleep through the night before they are ready could have negative health, emotional, and developmental consequences.

2) Increased risk of SIDS: As I mentioned in my post about co-sleeping, cultures in which bed sharing is the norm, the rate of SIDS is lower and in some cases, non-existent. One of the reasons this is likely so is because in these same cultures, crying-it-out is considered abusive and is virtually unheard of. In the first year of life, night wakings are part of a baby's survival techniques. If a baby sleeps too long or is in too deep of a sleep, the rate of SIDS is significantly higher. This is because their biological clocks, essentially, don't "wake" them to save them from falling into too deep of a sleep.

3) Unhealthy bodily changes in babies: When babies are left to cry alone for extended periods of time, their heart rate and blood pressure increases, muscles tense, and their bodies are flooded with harmful stress hormones. Extended crying in babyhood has been linked to ADHD, behavioral problems, learning disabilities, violent outbursts, and anti-social behavior in children.

4) Goes against a mother's natural tendencies: It's incredible how mothers know their baby's cry from any other baby. Even as early when I was in the hospital after giving birth, I could tell if it was my baby or another baby that was being wheeled down the hall from the nursery. I believe this recognition is very important for mothers and babies. It is a survival technique for the baby and a bonding technique for the mother. When a mother's baby cries, like her baby, her heart rate rises, milk flows to her breasts, her blood pressure rises and she feels a legitimate need to tend to her baby. In ignoring a baby's cry, a mother causes herself the same type of physical changes that would occur during an intense argument or following a traumatic event.

5) Reduces parents and babies confidence in sending/receiving cues: Babies cry for a reason. It's their only way to communicate. When parents ignore their baby's cries, it causes them to lose confidence in their abilities to communicate their needs. As such, many babies will stop crying at night (the sign of "success") because they know their cries will not be responded to. This could prove dangerous in the case of a life-threatening situation (i.e. baby has blanket caught over her head but since she's in her crib, doesn't cry for help) or discomforting (i.e. baby is cold, teething, sick, or otherwise uncomfortable but doesn't cry for help). For parents, it results in less sensitivity towards their babies cues. When crying is ignored, it is hard to be able to ascertain what the crying is for.

6) Can result in a detached baby: Similar to the previous point, babies who are left to cry may feel rejected by their loving parents. Though the parents know they're trying to teach the baby a skill, babies don't understand that. All they understand is that they have been left. This can lead to feeling abandoned and can result in babies who are fussy, "not there", or otherwise apathetic.

7) My heart can't take it: When we're driving in the car or I otherwise truly cannot tend to my crying baby, my heart hurts but I know there's nothing I can do in that moment. I don't think my heart could take it when there is something I truly can do--go in and pick up my baby, rock him, hold him, nurse him, or otherwise give him comfort.

8) Sometimes it simply doesn't "work": Some babies truly will not give up. They vomit, they bang their heads against the crib, they cry for hours, etc. and still will not let up. Unfortunately, the only way to know if your baby will or will not respond to CIO is to try it. We're not willing to take that gamble. Also, even if it does "work", in that after a few days your baby doesn't cry when you put him down to sleep in his crib, bouts of teething, vacation, visitors, or any other disruption to baby's schedule may require parents to do it all over again. I don't think I could put myself or my baby through multiple rounds of CIO.

9) Babies have nighttime needs: While a baby may not need (in the sense that they can survive without it) a night feeding or a cuddle, most of us adults desire a snack, a glass of water, a trip to the bathroom, etc. in the middle of the night. I don't know many adults who go without one of those things for 12 hours from 8pm to 8am, so why do we expect that of our littlest ones?

10) Babies have feelings too: I don't know about everyone else out there, but if I was having a hard day or a hard time acquiring a certain skill, I would feel awful if my husband left me to just "cry it out" alone. In fact, I would feel awful about myself and would likely resent him for ignoring me, even if it was in my "best interest."

11) This world needs more love: I especially think about this with subsequent children. If my preschooler were to watch me intentionally ignore his baby brother or baby sister's cries, then what does that teach him about empathy and compassion? Tending to my baby's needs will show older children that we should respect one another's feelings and "comfort those who stand in need of comfort."

All this being said, I know many loving parents who chose to let their baby cry it out. Most say they felt awful, but their mother/pediatrician/friend/book told them this is what you have to do to help your baby learn to sleep. In reality, if it really did only take a few nights and if things did go as smoothly as "the books" say it will go, likely, no harm has been done. All in all I think families need to make the decision whether or not to cry-it-out. But, I do think it should be an informed decision rather than one based simply off of what someone else (books, pediatrician, friend, grandma, etc.) who doesn't know your child nearly as well as you do, says you should do.


  1. We let our first CIO at 6 months, after she was already sleeping about 11 hours straight at night in our bed. She was a textbook baby from the beginning and this was no exception. The first night only took her 20 minutes to get to sleep. The next night it took 10 and the third night it took about 4. She has never cried to sleep since. She is still my best sleeper.
    Our second was completely different. We didn't even make it one full night of trying to CIO before deciding it wouldn't work for him. Even until he was 3 he'd spend a small part of the night in our bed. And I loved every minute of it. He sleeps just fine all night on his own now, but still loves to cuddle at bedtime.
    Our third learned to sleep in her crib all night without much crying at all. We started making more of an effort in that area when I got pregnant with number 4 and she was 20 months (just before she weaned too). It was an fairly quick and easy transition. Who knows what we'll do with this baby, but I don't think CIO will work for his temperament. Every baby is different and you'll know what works for you/them and what doesn't. Follow your instincts.
    BTW there is an old episode of 'Mad About You' where they let their baby CIO. Made me so sad to watch in some ways. I'm glad CIO wasn't that bad for our first.

  2. Desiree: I love how you are such a wonderful example of a mother who followed her instincts and adapted to each child. Each child and each parent is different. You are such a great example to me.

  3. In our ward here in Brazil there is a mission president couple who are the parents of 12 children. This past Saturday we were at a barbecue together and I asked (desperate for advice) how she got 12 children to sleep through the night. Her answer was much the same as Desiree's answer: every one of her kids was so different. Their oldest was a horrible sleeper and they eventually decided to let her cry for 30 minutes (well, her husband decided and basically had to lovingly force his wife to go along with it!). She ended up being that textbook baby as well - only 25 minutes the first night, less the second, less the third and then a perfect sleeper after that. Most of her other kids didn't need CIO and one needed her dad to help her to sleep until she was like 6 years old! There really is no one-size-fits-all solution.

    After talking with them on Saturday McKay really wanted to try letting Harper cry a little more before rushing to her. So I very reluctantly agreed to set a 30 minute limit and see how it went. Lucky for me, we haven't had any hard cry-outs! The first night we tried it she woke up several times during the night, but only cried softly for a few seconds before going back to sleep. There was one night that I only let her go for about 10 minutes because I could just tell by her cry that she wasn't ready for sleep. So I got her back up for an hour or so and then she slept perfectly - only waking up once to eat - that night. Last night I soothed her to sleep and she slept for almost 12 hours without making a peep. I was reading a sleep book I have that I really like (Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child by Dr. Weisbluth) and read about how moms can tell what the different cries of their babies mean. I totally agree. I can tell when Harper is exhausted and just needs a minute or two to fall asleep, and when her crying is only going to stress both of us out! I feel like I'm rambling, but I love reading about these things that we are going through together!

  4. I love the part about your post that says the I I love what you said- that the world just needs more love. That is so true- and I love the part about being an example to your children about how to love/take care of their younger siblings.

    One thing I've noticed about CIO is that with Eddie at least, he's learned that when I put him in his crib, it's time to go to sleep, so he usually does just that. I think that sometimes we parents can disrupt their natural sleeping process with jiggling, bouncing, etc. which Hogg says is detrimental anyway. Also, being able to sleep on one's own without props is a skill many adults still haven't achieved- this is due to the same overstimulation that is harmful to babies. We sit at our computers late into the evening, and then have a really hard time shutting it off and just going to bed- it seems we can just keep going and going, and we want to "finish" whatever it was we were doing instead of just going to sleep. Or we have to read a little to be able to sleep, or eat, or whatever. My husband has the gift of sleep- hits the pillow and out- and I want that for my kids. Who knows how much of that is wired or learned, but I know we can unlearn how to do that as well.

    Most of the time when Eddie is pouting a little before a nap, it's just him letting of some energy, winding down before sleep. If I were to go in when he cried, it would wake him up. Hogg talks about the 20 minutes it takes for them to get through the three stages of sleep, and that any interruptions starts it over. I have definitely noticed this to be the case with Eddie.

    Also, another benefit of CIO for us is that Eddie DOES cry for other reasons- which makes me feel empowered that I can tell the difference. For example, since he has learned to go to sleep without much crying, if he did start crying, I would know to go in right away because something is wrong- blanket pulled up too high, etc. Or if he keeps waking up early from naps, I would know he's going through a growth spurt and needs more food, or if he cries longer than usual before a nap I know I kept him up too long and therefore adjust his waketime- stuff like that. For me, knowing that he's not crying because he just got put in his crib really helps me decipher what the problem really is- hunger, overstimulation, whatever. If we hadn't gone through the process, I think I would still wonder why he was crying.

    For us, CIO is about achieving baby's sleep without me having to wear him, which hurts my shoulders a lot by the end of the day. And I can't carry him in my arms all day either because I have tendonitis in my wrists, and even just holding him while we're at church or something is long enough for me to have to take ibuprofen and go home. And although Eddie likes the closeness, he gets hot and drips sweat, and squirmy, and prefers to be able to move about. Plus, I have to cajole him to sleep in the sling- constantly reinserting the paci, bouncing, whatever- which is tiring, and I'm already tired anyway. Doing that for every nap would just wear me out; not worth it when he doesn't even sleep as soundly in it. In his crib, he'll usually nap a consistent 1.5 hours or more, but in the wrap, he usually wakes up after 45 minutes because stuff is going on around him, and he wakes up during a transition and then wants to participate.

    So while I like the pros you write of for wearing Hyrum, I think that what you said is exactly right- that each family and baby is different. I think it's important to recognize that there isn't necessarily a "better" or "more loving" way- I feel like I'm loving Eddie best by teaching him to sleep- (and baby sleep is sacred, no?) without wearing myself down all day to do it. We both win!