It's Okay to Let Babies Cry It Out if You're a Cold-Hearted Scientist

by Michele Zipp September 11, 2012 at 3:07 PM

baby crying in cribWhen I became a mother, I knew that being selfish wasn't an option. I had twins, two little beings with needs I had to fulfill. Each day I learned more and more what not being selfish was, what it was like to put my own needs aside to care for babies who depended on me. It's not easy, but it's beautiful ... what we do as parents.

If my babies didn't fall asleep when I hoped they would, I didn't leave them in their room to cry it out, hoping their little lungs would get tired as they worked themselves up to a cortisol frenzy, stressing out their tiny little bodies while their minds think, Mama isn't coming for me. Why am I alone? My life -- the TV show I wanted to watch, the meal I wanted to eat, the phone call I wanted to make -- was easy to put on hold. I didn't become a mother to let my kids cry their faces off. I didn't become a parent to ignore their needs. But some callous researchers are trying to tell parents that it's fine to let babies cry.

Just like the Australian researchers responsible for this questionable conclusion want you to ignore your child's cries, I want parents to ignore these researchers. What they are saying is damaging because I truly believe it's in every mother's instinct to go to their child if they cry. A mother's instinct should be respected. And the very facts these scientists present are problematic.

More from The Stir: 10 Ridiculous Things I've Done to Not Wake My Newborn

There were only 225 children tracked in this study, and only half went through sleep training, most popularly called crying it out. Yet not all of them cried it out; some parents did the "camping out" method where they stayed in the room to soothe baby often by putting a soft hand on baby's belly to let her know mama is still there if she cried. Here, the parent didn't leave until baby fell asleep. Camping out is not the same as crying it out. I don't think that's enough to make a bold statement that crying it out is okay for babies. Because shouldn't it be a parent's job to make sure baby isn't crying every night at bedtime? When a child cries when he hurts himself, should we ignore those cries, too? If we go with this kind of CIO logic, ignoring a child's cries when he's hurt will help him learn that he will get hurt in life, get over it, move on, shut up because no one cares, no one is going to kiss your boo-boo and make it better.

So how do we deal with our kids' bedtime as parents? What about our lack of sleep, eating food and actually being able to have a moment to chew and enjoy it, having a moment to watch Real Housewives? I think we all deserve that, but when we sign up to become a parent, we often have to put our kids first. I'd rather be the one who cries myself to sleep because I'm overtired than have my child be upset at bedtime. I'd rather bear the burden. I'm bigger, older, stronger. My early life has already been shaped by the decisions my parents made. Now it's my turn to do the best for my children. And to me, letting my kids cry it out isn't the best I can do. It's selfish. Letting my kids cry it out is essentially telling them, Sorry, mommy's not in the mood for this bedtime routine. I have better things to do. Sleep training doesn't seem worth it when there is a risk of damaging my child's brain development.

We also cannot forget that they have linked crying it out with hyperactivity in kids. The study also says that while sleep trained kids turned out fine, the benefits were often short-term. Very often just when a parent thinks their child successfully graduated from crying it out to a good night's sleep, they regress and more "training" needs to happen. That's a sad cycle of too many tears. And the researchers also warn that there are some kids who will not benefit at all from sleep training, and that it may do more harm than good.

Sounds to me that there are too many variables. And when it comes to my kids' health and well-being, that's not something I want to risk. I'll just have another cup of coffee and put my DVR to good use -- and I'll remember it's just a phase. These early years fly by and soon enough your kid will be all grown up and you'll spend mornings wishing she'll wake up and join you for breakfast.

Does this change your mind about crying it out? What do you think of sleep training?


Image via tamakisono/Flickr

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Michele Zipp

loves vintage and will defend skinny jeans to the death though she is highly superstitious and "death" is probably a bad word choice. She has a touch of the hoarding disease and enjoys sleuthing, the worst reality shows, and wearing high heels, even at the playground. She's an AP mom of twins, slightly crunchy but with a pedicure.


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Comments 200

September 11, 2012 at 4:07 PM

Roxanne71 and angelmarie - there have been studies linking CIO to higher levels of cortisol in the brain which can trigger ADD/ADHD later in life. Here's a site with some info (I just googled it and it was the first site that came up - there were others that google found, as well):

September 11, 2012 at 4:07 PM
I will never understand full-blown CIO. I can understand letting a few minutes go by to see what the deal is. But if you're not going to able to be there for your crying child (whatever that reason might be) I don't think you should have kids just yet. It's not fair to them.
Facebook comment from April Ciezki
September 11, 2012 at 4:11 PM
I wish I could find this article in spanish. I have relatives that only speak spanish. And that's what they want me to do, to let my baby cry it out so he won't be so attached to me.
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Nonmember comment from Jessica
September 11, 2012 at 4:11 PM
We did the crying it out method. I wouldn't do it any other way, and I plan to do it again with the baby I'm currently pregnant with. It wasn't my idea at first, it was my husbands. We moved her to her own room at 3 months, and went through 2 weeks of the "crying it out" method before we no longer needed it. It was not "selfish" as you put it. I wanted NOTHING more than to go in and soothe my crying baby. I sat on edge each night while she cried until she fell asleep. But is was so worth it. She is the BEST sleeper. She is nearly 4 now and she will ask us if it's bedtime yet. She goes to bed at 8 each night and goes to sleep with little to no fuss every night. She's been this way for years. It has been such a contrast to my friends who did not do this, who's 3 and 4 year olds still get up in the middle of the night to play, or who are up until 10 or 11 o'clock at night. As I said, I would and will do it again.
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Nonmember comment from B.cunningham
September 11, 2012 at 4:13 PM
Even when the evidence says that it doesn't cause brain damage YOU crazy anti-CIO mommas still can't let it go! I now realize that no matter how much proof there is you will still go around saying this kind of BS! There is a word for this kind of behavior and it's called being ignorant! Educate yourselfs and listen to the science!
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Nonmember comment from marie
September 11, 2012 at 4:13 PM
How can you "call BS" on CIO being linked to hyperactivity when research is cited? Did you not click the link? And clearly there are extenuating circumstances to almost anything. Yeah, if you have a job for which you HAVE to get sleep, if the choice is CIO and keep the house vs. attachment parenting-style and being homeless, then I'm sure most people would agree that CIO is a better approach for you. But that doesn't mean that if a person has the resources to comfort their child, they should think it's totally cool to ignore their baby's cries just because some people have to. Latch-key parenting is, sadly, a necessity for some people. Does it follow that it's the best way for people who can afford to do otherwise? Obviously not. No one can do everything, but hopefully people do as much right as they can. That isn't a guilt trip, that's just life. Chill out, people.
September 11, 2012 at 4:13 PM

"If we go with this kind of CIO logic, ignoring a child's cries when he's hurt will help him learn that he will get hurt in life, get over it, move on, shut up because no one cares, no one is going to kiss your boo-boo and make it better."

I don't know of any CIO or sleep training expert that would tell someone to ignore their child if they were hurt.  Your point is idiotic. 

"My life -- the TV show I wanted to watch, the meal I wanted to eat, the phone call I wanted to make -- was easy to put on hold."

Do you really think that is why parents use CIO?  So they can watch a TV show?  It's so they can SLEEP!  So they don't have to wake up constantly throughout the night then act like a miserable zombie the rest of the day. 

September 11, 2012 at 4:13 PM

My daughter was a horrible sleeper.  We tried co-sleeping and all the non-CIO sleep books but nothing worked.  At 13 months old we had finally had enough.  I was stressed and sleep deprived to the point that I was deeply depressed and it was effecting my marriage.  Plus I was usually too exhausted most days to play or interact with my daughter. 

I finally broke down and bought Dr Ferber's book and read it.  One of the best investments I have ever made.  I loved that his CIO method involves short intervals of CIO then going in to soothe the child.  I would leave her for 5 minutes to cry, then go back in to soothe her, etc., until she finally fell asleep.  And the best part is that I only had to do it for one night for a total of 30 minutes.  After that she fell asleep and stayed asleep all night, every night.  In the 2.5 years since we did the method she's only had one minor sleep regression and it only lasted for 3 nights and it was mainly due to an illness. 

The Ferber method was truly a blessing for my family and I would not hesitate to do it again.

September 11, 2012 at 4:16 PM

Yeah, but the way they phrase this article is letting your child cry it out...for hours on end.  OBVIOUSLY people see the CIO method differently than others.  It's not liek you just put your baby in bed, walk away, and leave them until they shut up.  No.  In order to help them learn it's okay, then you have to constantly return in certain time intervals to reassure them that they are fine, and calm them down.   Just because one child might have had ADD/ADHD doesn't mean they all will.  It's just "a possibility" in their eyes.  My children are perfectly fine.  Have no issues whatsoever and go to bed no problem.  To assume that the method is to just leave them hours on end of crying and parents ignoring is ridiculous.  Obviously not many people have researched it either.  MANY people use the Ferber method & it in no way is just hours of crying.  You ALWAYS return to let your baby know that things are okay.   So to have written this article and not have known all of the just beyond me.

September 11, 2012 at 4:19 PM

"Roxanne71 and angelmarie - there have been studies linking CIO to higher levels of cortisol in the brain which can trigger ADD/ADHD later in life."

Most "studies" are bullshit so is this one. 

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