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.