'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


To add a comment, please log in with

Use Your CafeMom Profile

Join CafeMom or Log in to your CafeMom account. CafeMom members can keep track of their comments.

Join CafeMom or Log in to your CafeMom account. CafeMom members can keep track of their comments.

Comment As a Guest

Guest comments are moderated and will not appear immediately.

Bertha21 Bertha21

I will never understand why people let their babies CIO, babies need love! Get over having to put them to sleep and just do it,  stop being selfish. They will learn when they are ready! If you chose to have a baby you should do everything that goes along with taking care of them. Babies are tiring but their needs should come before yours.

antfa... antfarmer101

Oh for pete's sake... this mess again/still?

From birth to six months, our daughter slept in our room. We got up whenever she cried, fed, changed, loved on her. Around six months, we started putting her in her own room and letting her fuss a little. She was old enough to sleep through the night without needing to eat, so when she would cry, we would wait a few MINUTES to see if she would go back to sleep on her own. AMAZINGLY, it often worked!! It's not that difficult to determine if your child is going to be up and needs you or if she just turned over and woke herself up and is fussing a little. CIO doesn't mean ignore your child all night...it means let them realize that hey, even though I woke up and it's night, I don't have to have mom or dad to help me sleep.

I knew when we decided to have her that there would be sleepless nights and I'd never just leave her alone to cry and scream if there were something wrong. But parents need sleep too. A human being can't go a year, two years without sleep. And I was not willing to be a jacked-up zombie with a bad attitude...that's not fair to her either. So we compromised and everyone was happy. It's not child-abuse, it's not damaging her, it's not neglect. It's parenting

hutch... hutchfam2007

OH YEAAAAH. this debate again. its always so fun. thanks cafemom for pitting mothers with differing opinions against each other once again... *eyeroll*

btw nobody does this unless they are a neglectful person, not CIO at all, Nonmember Ashley... you obviously do not know what CIO is anyway.,  ...alone in a dark room, screaming until his voice is hoarse and so stressed that he eventually passes out...


nonmember avatar Tonya

Letting a tiny baby cry it out always went against everything that felt natural to me as a mother. Never did it.

hutch... hutchfam2007

LissD: As an adult, have you ever cried so hard and long that you ran out of tears and could no longer physically open your eyes? Its an awful feeling.

Again, this is NOT CIO,. it would be NEGLECT. Learn about the technique then talk about it.

Traum... TraumaRadio

I used to be completely anti-CIO but then I had my daughter. She will scream in our arms for three hours, or she'll cry for a couple minutes while laying down and then sleep all night. I don't think that's technically crying it out but I still feel awful when she's crying and it's my fault for letting her get too tired.

nonmember avatar NavyWife

I did CIO with my son for a week, and in 10-minute intervals. 10 minutes of crying, I went in and comforted him but didn't pick him up, left the room, lather, rinse, repeat. My son is happy, healthy and still loves me. It's not for everyone. Every parent has different methods that may be wrong to one person and right to another. I'll do what I believe is best for my child, just like you would do for yours.

jpfsmom jpfsmom

What's that flopping around in the meadow? Oh that's right...the dead horse that came back to life to tell us how mundane this topic has become.

jpfsmom jpfsmom

LissD, as an adult, I have cried like that and I prefer to be alone, I know not the same as a baby and most parents that do cio don't let it reach that point so your argument is a strawman one...if that.

Mommy... MommyOfOne2710

Wow. People obviously don't understand CIO. It's not just letting your baby scream for hours on end.

21-30 of 123 comments First 12345 Last