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

September 11, 2012 at 4:27 PM

I tried cry it out with my son when he was 8 months old...I just couldn't do it.  When my baby cries every instinct tells me to soothe. I hate it when people say babies are manipulative, when baby cries, you should go to them. There is nothing wrong with a baby to want mommy. I swear, there is nothing wrong with this article, I think its great!  And another thing....why do we expect babies to sleep alone? I don't want to sleep by myself.  My son is 4 and comes in my bed every now and then, I love it!  I don't think there is anything wrong with it at all. He doesn't want to be alone, no human really wants to be alone all the time. Humans enjoy being with other humans. I have never understood the whole "making baby sleep alone". It just doesn't seem right. Yes, I know sometimes we need a mommy timeout, but I just mean in genral, your baby is hardwired to need human contact. I do not think it is a manipulative tactic for a baby to cry to get some attention.  If I have the opportunity to have another baby, I would do things a little differently and not subject the child to crying it out. I understand if you put baby down to pee, or if you have something that needs tending. I just do not believe in the whole sleep training garbage.

September 11, 2012 at 4:31 PM

"And another thing....why do we expect babies to sleep alone?"

It's great that your son loves to co-sleep but not all kids do.  My daughter HATED it.  She was miserable when we co-sleeping.  Even with the air conditioner kicked up she would wake up all sweaty and hot because there was too much body heat between her and us.  Plus she loves to stretch out and would get pissed if we took too much room away from her.  She only sleeps well when she's in bed by herself. 

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Nonmember comment from Amanda
September 11, 2012 at 4:34 PM
corrinacs: I had TWO babies with colic and a fulltime job and a student and NO... I would have NEVER changed my mind to not allowed my babies to CIO. It IS selfish. How on earth you could have gotten "a good night's sleep" with a screaming baby... I dont know. You're nerves are made of more steel than mine. I just couldn't. She cried. And I cried with her. Then I slept when I could. What's weird... I'm still on top of my game. I choose my kids over it all and I find a way. It IS possible.
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Nonmember comment from Andrea
September 11, 2012 at 4:34 PM
Hear, hear. Well said. If a baby is crying, it needs something. Even a baby with colic can be held or worn in a sling for comfort. As an adult, if I am in pain (physical or emotional) and crying, I'd just liek someone to show they care by being there, holding my hand or offering a hug or rubbing my back or just holding me while I cry. They may not be able to solve the issue that's making me cry, but they can be there for me. My second child cried a lot for the first few months. He was either asleep, eating, or crying. I wore him and let him sleep on my chest and within a few months the crying stopped. Children can learn to self-soothe without crying. They can learn to go to sleep on their own without crying or deliberate "training." Both of mine have. It's a slow process just like learning to walk, talk, eat with a fork. Gradually, with support and time, they learn. Learning to sleep peacefully can be just as natural a process.
September 11, 2012 at 4:36 PM

Amazing that we all survived our childhoods since most of us were left to cry it out. 

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Nonmember comment from Sarah.S.
September 11, 2012 at 4:37 PM
Being a mommy martyr helps no one.
Stating that it is selfish to not put off eating and sleeping so your child will never cry is bull. Try caring for a child who is into his fifth night of np sleep, knowing you have to work in the am. Placing said child in his crib and walking away was the best thing that a mother could do for both the child and herself. Being a good mother does not always mean you chuck your health and well being out the window.
BTW, 39 minutes of crying and he slept the whole night. Next night, 16 minutes of crying, next night straight to sleep!
He is a healthy four year old with NO issues and he knows mommy is there when he needs her!
Facebook comment from Taylor Askerzada
September 11, 2012 at 4:38 PM
This women seems a bit opinionated, however, what I believe her bottom line is, is valid. I am 9 months pregnant, my husband is Military and has no choice but to put his work first in most cases, and I also have a two year old. We co-sleep with our son still. He has his own bed and we put him in it often, but when he crawls out and comes to us, and that is not a problem. When he cries at night, I figure out what is wrong (currently we are dealing with severe growing pains in the legs/feet) and I fix it. I'm exhausted, and I know when this new baby is born it's going to be a whole new set of challenges, but letting my child sob alone is not an option for me....that is why co-sleeping is so convenient, he's right there to be soothed. It may not be what works for everyone, but most people should figure out what is TRULY best for their child first, then themselves, and not worry so much about what other people do.
Facebook comment from Wendy Matson Bergonse
September 11, 2012 at 4:39 PM

AMEN to this. It's called parenting. I could never have let my baby cry it out. It just went against my nature as a mother.

Facebook comment from Felicia Albright
September 11, 2012 at 4:41 PM

THats what I was going to say Venae. And how many of us ended up with adhd?  I had 5 kids, and if they were clean, fed, changed, etc, but refused to sleep even though I KNEW they were past exhausted, I lt them CIO for a few minutes, Usually after 5 minutes they were asleep. I refuse to be one of those parents who has a 7 year old in bed with them every night because the kid can't sleep without me being up his  or her butt 24/7


Facebook comment from Megan Rudnick Ross
September 11, 2012 at 4:42 PM

As with most parenting things, different strokes for different folks. I sleep-trained my daughter at 4 months, the age they can start to self-soothe (she had found her thumb), and it took a week and a half. The first night or two she cried for about 20 min. on and off, and I went in periodically to let her know I was still there. Each night after that it got less, and then she went down no problems. She is now almost 3, is not hyperactive, and continues to be a good sleeper. 

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