'Cry It Out' Sleep Training Now Considered Dangerous


crying babyWhen my first child was an infant, sleep did not always come easily for him (or, as a result, for me or my husband). Some nights our son would conk out on his own and stay asleep through the night (though I'd still wake up to check on him). Other nights, it didn't matter what we tried, our baby wouldn't go to sleep until he was good and ready, and it was impossible to predict when (and how) that time would come.

Many people suggested that we let our son "cry it out" in his crib. "Have you tried 'Ferberizing' him?" they'd say, referring to the methods of Dr. Richard Ferber, a pediatrician who recommends parents let children fall asleep by themselves at bedtime -- even if that means allowing them to cry for extended periods of time -- in order to train them to be self-sufficient. "Ferberizing," such an ugly term. Machine-like. Cold.

My husband and I made a few half-hearted efforts at not responding right away to our baby's cries at night. But we could never really hold out for long. After a minute or two, if our son was still howling, we were by his side or he was in our arms. (Who could sleep through that racket, anyway?) Letting him howl for minutes or even hours on end? Even as every fiber of my being felt drawn to respond, to hold him, shush him, bounce him, and rock him? That just felt like a primal wrong to me.

Ferber's methods have long been controversial (he himself has softened his stance), but now they're being labeled downright dangerous. According to University of Notre Dame psychology professor Darcia Narvaez, research has shown that "letting babies get distressed is a practice that can damage children and their relational capacities in many ways for the long term." What's more, she writes in Psychology Today, "Giving babies what they need leads to greater independence later."

Narvaez maintains that babies cry for a reason and suggests that, when parents don't respond to their infant's cries, it can, among other things, negatively affect the baby's brain development, lead to neural and digestive disorders, keep them from being able to self-regulate and self-comfort, and even "stop growing, stop feeling, stop trusting."

Ugh. This must be terribly frightening news for the many parents who have relied upon (and in many cases, sworn by) the "cry it out" method of sleep training. Even I, with my few random half-hearted attempts at not responding to my infant's nighttime cries, feel a little unsettled. Have I irreparably damaged my child in some way? It makes you realize that, at the end of the day, we really have to trust our own instincts as parents. If an expert's advice doesn't feel right, it probably isn't.

Did you try "cry it out" sleep training with your child?


Image via Chalky Lives/Flickr

baby first year, baby development, baby health, baby sleep, bedtime


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Ember... Emberbaby

Absolutely not, if either of my babies cried they were comforted and taken care of.

ashjo85 ashjo85

No, I believed that it's impossible to spoil an infant. For the first year, when she cried, we responded. We're lucky, we had an easy kid who really only cried when she was hungry.

memek... memekisses

I don't much care what a "study" shows about babies. Ill do what I and MY baby feel works for US.

starr... starrsitter

The foundation of the traditional model of CIO is that infants can be spoiled and should also be on a schedule that is convenient for the parent.  This is, as most parents can tell you , ludicrous.  Infants lack the ability to manipulate.  They cry because they need something and responding to those needs creates a baby who is reassured that someone is there to care for them and allows them to continue to progress.

For those of you who will, inevitably, see this research as an attack, understand that there is a great deal of difference between the traditional model of purposefully trying to put an infant on a set schedule and letting them wail until they adhere to it and sometimes not being able to comfort your child regardless of how hard you try and finally having to let them cry for a little while.  One is bad parenting.  The other is a normal part of life.

Prett... PrettyGirlMyers

News flash- it's absolutely possible to spoil an "infant". if you've got a 6 month old who refuses to sleep throught the night and continually wakes up and isn't hungry or wet, then it's time to sleep-train them. And there is absolutely nothing wrong with teaching your child how to put him/herself to sleep. Suggesting that it can cause the damage proposed by this "study" is downright laughable. Kids today are entirely too coddled, and it's because they have parents who refuse to teach them how to be independent.

Rhond... RhondaVeggie

I don't need a study to tell me that babies need love. Leaving a baby howling and alone is just plain evil, I don't know how anyone could do that and call themselves a parent.

Mama2... Mama2MonkeyBoys

There's a difference between letting your baby scream for hours on end or rushing in at the first sign of a whimper. CIO is a reasonable compromise between the two. Most people can tell if their babies are just NOT going to sleep. At which point, you go in and soothe them. It's not rocket science. 
For most of us, allowing our babies to cry for a little while - when we KNOW there is nothing wrong with them other than the fact that they want to be held - is necessary. Unless your child learns to self-soothe, you're going to be rocking them to sleep or snuggling them to sleep for years. Both of my children have cried it out, and they're both fiercely independent little boys.
I'll go ahead and keep doing what I do, thanks.

Kritika Kritika

To imply that a 2 month old should be "independent" is completely asinine. I agree with starsitter on this. Have any of you heard of RAD?  

kerwo... kerwolfe712

Ferber's book is about a great deal more than "cry it out".  I believe that "cry it out" as it is most often thought about in our society is inherently dangerous.  But as my daughter reached her first birthday, she suddenly had trouble sleeping.  I read the entirety of Ferber's book, which greatly helped me to realize that the best solution was the one that had my daughter getting the sleep she needed, not the one that best fit my pre-conceived notions of how parenting should be.  Co-sleeping was no longer working for us and using some (but not all) of Ferber's ideas, she began sleeping in her own bed next to mine, the week after her first birthday.  Five months later, she chose to start sleeping in her own room.  For me, bedtime would be better if it meant cuddling or rocking, but I was forcing her to do something that didn't settle her down and reading the Ferber book, which was not something I had ever anticipated needing, helped me to recognize the signs that she was ready (and preferred) laying down by herself.  

mande... manderspanders

They aren't giving an age range here... and I see CIO as being more about setting boundaries.

Almost any baby under 6months can't be spoiled and their needs should be met on demand; however, I think that as babies grow and start to understand their world, they need to have boundaries, too. I know an 8 month old who knows how to whine and does so to get what he wants (usually when his mom walks out of the room and he wants her in sight; or when he wants out of the exersaucer and onto the floor).  But I think the age at which a parent needs to start using boundaries DOES vary from child to child.  At some point in their young life, a child is going to have to cry it out; parents can't fix everything or cater to all their wants all the time.

That being said, I can't believe that people actually take these articles and "research" to heart. You know your baby, do what your instincts tell you... not some researcher.

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