Crying it out is not just a parenting decision made in the night between a mom and dad, it's a huge topic with big voices discussing the ramifications -- pro and con -- all over the world. Babies need to sleep, just like parents do -- it's imperative for their growth and the sanity of everyone in the house. But how we get baby to sleep brings up the issue of crying it out or not crying it out.
I interviewed four moms -- two who practice CIO and two who do not -- for their thoughts on how crying it out works or doesn't work for them.
I first cried Roman out when he was about 5 months old. Before that time he was co-sleeping with me and feeding about three to five times a night. When my husband and I made the decision to CIO, we did so with a heavy heart. We could barely tolerate it when he cried for two seconds let alone cry for god knows how long.
The first couple of times we failed and ran into his room after about five minutes, then on our second try, he cried for about 15 minutes then went to sleep. That was the end of our co-sleeping and the start of a scheduled 7:30 p.m. bed time.
I don't want to make CIO sound easy or a magical cure-all. It is not. As a matter of fact I think that our baby's temperament has as much to do with our success than any method or schedule. For example, I am in Korea right now with Roman. We are staying at my mother's house. She is old school and doesn't even understand what crying it out is. The minute he cries, she comes running into my room to console him. She also believes that babies should co-sleep until about 3 and breastfeed almost as long. Roman does very well here and sleeps just as well as he would back in NYC in his crib alone in his room.
But in all honestly, after a trip to Korea, we will have to cry him out again for three days or so. It's mostly due to jet lag. But CIO does really teach him to sleep alone and at a certain bed time. It always re-sets the clock for us.
On an emotional level, it's very hard to hear him cry even if it's for five minutes. Despite what anyone says about the effectiveness of the CIO, I sometimes wonder if it's worth the emotional toll it takes.
We used the Ferber method on our son starting at 5 months -- when it was harder to get him to go to sleep. It's the more PC way to say cry it out. I felt Kennedy needed to learn how to put himself to sleep and, when it was bedtime, he needed to understand it was bedtime. We never let him cry for hours as some people assume. I think the longest was about an hour. And it was very hard. My sister-in-law was over during one of these times and she looked at me like I was crazy, wondering why I'd let him cry so long. I explained to her that it's for the best.
We never left him alone -- we had a monitor and we could see he was okay, just fighting sleep and crying. In about a month's time, he was sleep trained and we all slept better after that.
I'm against it because, luckily enough, I have a whole year off on maternity leave. And my job during this time is to purely teach my child things, such as self settling and sleeping through the night. I don't use CIO because I think it's wrong. My child should know that when he cries it's for something serious and I will be there right away. Ben grizzles and whines when he's tired and trying to fall asleep, but as soon as he cries, I pick him up, settle him, and put him back down. I actually only let him grizzle and cry for two minutes and hold him for four minutes (he's only 3 months old). We've been doing this for almost two weeks now.
I should mention that we were also taking away the whole feeding/sleeping association because he would wake up and only fall back asleep on the boob. So we did the Baby Whisperer routine of EASY (Eat Activity Sleep You). Anyway, it's progressing beautifully. Just in the last couple of days, we've been able to put him down fully awake and he doesn't grizzle that much anymore. We don't even really have to pick him up. Whereas in the beginning it took us an hour of pick up/put down.
I also want to stress that babies will learn how to fall asleep on their own in their own time. As long as you watch for the cues and be really attentive to your child's needs, I think you'll be on the right path.
It causes brain damage so I'm obviously against it. But I will admit, I tried it, at my husband's insistence, because it's what we learned from our parents. We got it in our heads that we would spoil her if we responded to her every need. I bawled the whole time. Izzy cried for an hour, slept for 15 minutes, then woke up bawling and I ran in to grab her. She was clingy and nervous the whole day, and I knew that going against my maternal instinct and forcing her to cry (which solves nothing other than making her give up) was not a parenting technique I was going to practice.
I think in my case, it was a mix of desperation and bad parenting advice. I allowed what my father said to cloud out my own maternal instincts. I think that happens a lot with other people, too. We hear all the time that if we run to a crying child, it will coddle them. It is a myth in our culture that has been perpetuated for generations. Now that I have my daughter, I am seeing firsthand how responding to her needs is helping her to become a more independent, secure individual.
There are many other people who do it because they want a quick fix. People need to realize that your child grew inside your body for 9-10 months. They don't pop out and develop all life skills in 6 months. It takes close to a year for your child to even fully grasp that they're a unique entity and that you still exist when you leave and will return. CIO often happens right in that time frame when kids are figuring that out, and all it does is confuse them, teach them their voice is worthless when it's dark (how SCARY would that be to know that you're alone in the dark, and the person you trust the most is the one who leaves you there?). The best quote I know is that the infant stops crying because they have lost hope that the caregiver is coming ... not because their distress has been alleviated.
Especially as a nursing mother, my breasts ache and let down when I hear my baby cry. That to me says my body/brain knows my baby needs me and responds in an appropriate manner.
Where do you stand on the CIO debate?
*Editor's note: Minji began CIO at 5 months -- this corrects the original version which stated 3 months.
Image via MJTR/Flickr