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.

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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

Facebook comment from Claudia Beaudoin
September 14, 2012 at 9:08 AM

I am a very protective mom, and I did teach my children to sleep in their cribs. Yes they did cry, and I went back every 1, then 2, then 3 minutes and so on, like I learned and by the 10 minutes, they fell asleep.I never let them cry if they were sick or in any kind of pain. The cry of pain is different, and parents know it.  It worked for my boys and today a 5 and a 2 year old, they sleep in their beds all night. They are happy  and independent children , and my husband and I are also happy, plus we sleep all night. I do not do cold turkey. I let them give up the bottle and the pacifier with a little help.  No one but the parent know what is best for their child or their own life. Now having the guts to say that a parent that let their bay cry is a bad parent, is the same as saying that a stay home mom is a better mom then a mom that goes to work.... plain ridiculous!

September 14, 2012 at 2:56 PM

If you ignore their cries it's a vicious circle you're creating, at least at first, because they'll just cry more.  (Later they'll just stop crying all together, which I guess is what some people want.)  My son would just sort of whimper as a newborn, and I was right there.  I slept on a futon right next to his crib, none of this warehousing him in his "own" room.  He learned right away that he didn't have to cry much or loudly--his needs would be taken care of.  Crying is the only way a little baby can communicate, and we are the ones who need to do everything for them, because they can't.  If they feel secure, loved and taken care of, they don't become huge criers.  Of course if they are ignored and continue to be ignored even after crying their lungs out, they learn not to cry at all, because no one will help them.  What sort of person will they become if that is the case?  A person who thinks no one cares.  We can look to the prisons and mental institutions and get a good look at some of those people.

Facebook comment from Jennifer Hopkins
September 14, 2012 at 8:16 PM

You people have got to be kidding me. What happened to letting your children learn to self-soothe? What happened to children being able to grow up and learn conflict resolution and become well adjusted adults? No wonder prison populations are rising, because too many people can't step back and let their children figure things out for themselves, instead they hover and rush in to save the day every time a whimper is heard. Our parents let us figure out the big bad world, their parents let them, so on and so on. I realize it is painful to listen to your children cry, but how often do you wonder what they will do when they are grown and you are not there to coddle them anymore?

I have three children, I know how difficult it can be, but I can speak from experience, as my ex husband hovered (and still does) over my middle child in just this manner, and now he is a co-dependant child with an expectation for everything to be done for him. That cannot be said for either of my daughters. Do what you think is right with your kids, but don't try to make me feel like a bad parent because I don't rush in at every little noise.

Facebook comment from Jennifer Hopkins
September 14, 2012 at 8:19 PM

That is crap. A large portion of the prison population are individuals who did not understand consequences and how to handle their own conflicts because their parents never let them. Do some research before you start criticizing the parents that don't give up their entire lives to follow their child around and wipe their mouths and cater to their every whim until they are 40 and still living in the basement.

September 15, 2012 at 2:46 AM

Ugh, another article that just makes new mothers feel like selfish monsters if they let their child CIO the right way. You are supposed to wait until the child is at least 6 months old and you are supposed to put the child down while he or she is awake and then try to soothe him or her. Then you leave for 5 minutes and come back and try to comfort the baby. Then you leave the baby for 10 minutes and come back to comfort. Then you leave for 15 minutes and come back to try and comfort the baby. Then this is the maximum time you leave your child for! You keep coming back every 15 minutes until the child falls asleep. Since you are coming back and comforting the baby and making sure that he or she isn't hungry/wet/poopy, etc then I don't see how this is selfish. The way I just explained is the official CIO method. I feel confident enough to say that there are a good amount of new moms who use the CIO method as a last resort because they are tired or depressed or both.

September 15, 2012 at 2:48 AM

Jennifer Hopkins:  We are talking about BABIESwho cry because they are hungry, wet, or don't feel well.  Maybe you think it's better if they cry and cry in an empty room and no one responds?  That's what happened to my father as a baby and he had emotional and mental problems and addicitions until his death.  Babies need love and nurturing.  If you can't talk, then you cry to try to get someone's attention and get fed, changed, or just held.  It has been proven that babies who had less physical contact grow up to have lower IQs.  How would you feel if you could only make one sort of noise to get your needs met and no one listened?  Like no one cared.  My son is thirteen now and quite independent, and also knows he is loved and cared for.  I have a life that is seperate from him and I do not cater to his every whim.  I just did the unthinkable and responded to his cries when he was a baby, like most mothers from most cultures have done since the beginning of time.  We wouldn't all be here if that didn't work.  I'm sorry you too busy doing your nails or whatever to give a shit about your baby.

Facebook comment from Lisa Parker McGreggor
September 16, 2012 at 8:59 PM

this is stupid

September 17, 2012 at 11:30 AM

Eh, once my children started sleeping through the night, I let them cry it out. This was about 6 months old. I would put them to bed, and they would cry for a little and then fall asleep. It really depends on your situation, and how you feel. I am not going to judge if someone lets their child cry it out or not. Its no ones business but ur own.

Facebook comment from Katie 'Tate' McCullock
September 17, 2012 at 12:34 PM
Coming from a mom who struggled with post-partum depression for almost a year, I am bothered and disgusted by the way some moms tear down others for how they choose to parent their children. Be careful what you say, words hurt. And there could be a new mom out there feeling completely overwhelmed with motherhood and her only sanity is to sometimes put down her child to cry for a bit so that she can take a moment to breathe & keep some sanity. And this article will make her feel like crap. Is that really what the world needs, more people judging & tearing down others, especially moms when the job is hard enough. I used the CIO method with the 10 min interval & my son is an incredible sleeper. I did it because I would rather teach him to self- soothe & have some alone time then lose my cool because I had reached the end of my rope. I had never visited this blog before, but will not be back again. I choose to not support moms who tear other ones down.
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Nonmember comment from Summer
September 20, 2012 at 2:31 PM
The headlines this study is receiving, often beside a photograph of a very young baby, are truly very misleading and very unfortunate for babies and parents alike! The media seems to do a horrible (irresponsible) job when it comes to sharing research--especially when it comes to questionable studies. First, in this study, the babies were 7 months or older, not a young little baby like the ones accompaning the coverag of this story. Secondly, I'm not sure that "crying it out" was actually one of the techniques used (as so often referenced in the title of these articles)...I *think* parents were instead coached in gradual extinction, where they gradually increase the amount of time babies cry. Also, it seems that the PARENTS in the test group were offered these sleep training techniques, while the parents in the control group were not offered strategies to help improve sleep. So it may be that this study only compared CHILDREN OF PARENTS who received education at the peditiatrician's visit, and those of PARENTS who did not receive info about these training techniques. I've only seen the abstract so it's unclear to me if the parents in the test group followed the advice, or just received advice. Anyway, I find it completely irresponsible for the media to report that "crying it out is okay for babies"!
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