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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Nonmember comment from FarmersWife
September 11, 2012 at 5:33 PM
For now I'd say I'm a lucky one. We cosleep and breastfeed so no getting up for anything and little one sleeps great! We've only had maybe 4 'sleepless' nights. We can totally count on a good nights sleep. No worries no crying, training, etc. truly blessed. Now that your all mad :-p I feel like I'm SCREWED for the next one. I feel like I don't know how to raise an infant?!?! This one was too easy. Everyone says how easy he is. Oh and my point.... I'm against cry it out. And my baby nurses to sleep and stays asleep piece of cake. But. If moms exhausted, baby's screaming, needs are met, mom cant stay awake. Do you even have a choice?! Cryings sometimes safer right???? I feel like this is the breast bottle debate. Of course not crying is the better option. But there are situations where that IS still the right option.
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Nonmember comment from Nicole
September 11, 2012 at 5:56 PM
There are plenty of parents who support the 'cry it out' method, who aren't doing it to be selfish as you accuse. It is a very useful tool to teach a child to self-soothe. To write an article accusing every parent who uses this method of simply being selfish is irresponsible and self-righteous. You quote ONE STUDY in your article. If you are so certain this ONE study is accurate, then why are you SO certain that THIS ONE study is not? Oh, because the other study seems to give your opinion that you are the perfect parent credence. As a pediatric nurse, I see many children raised with many views of parenting, whose children are growing up well-adjusted human beings. Now, I know I haven't done a formal study, but I'm sure I've seen more kids in the last 6 years than either of your studies. Parents like you are the ones most like to have children who feel entitled and that they can do no wrong and that it's okay to throw a tantrum because that gets you immediate attention and gets you what you want. You might want to get off your high horse and realize there is more than one way to successfully parent a child, and each of those ways will also produce not so successful children. Personally, I think the style of parenting will alot of times depend on the personality of the child. Try not to let your head spin on that one while you're judging others.
September 11, 2012 at 6:32 PM

I for one couldn't bear to let my kids cry themselves to sleep. They all slept either in our bed or in our room for the better part of 2 years or more. When they were ready they moved on to their own beds in their own rooms. They are all adults now and don't seem too clingy, although they do occasionally ask for favorite recipes ( or share their own).

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Nonmember comment from M_ps
September 11, 2012 at 6:38 PM
Love this!! My daughter is 10 months and I still rock her and respond to every cry!! So tired of hearing "let her CIO" ... I became a parent to give 100% to her, not to decide when I fell like being a mommy
Facebook comment from Liz Weissmann
September 11, 2012 at 6:39 PM

babies cry for a reason and it is a biological imperative that they not cry. crying without aid in the first 10 days of life causes an area of the brain to not develop correctly and increases the chance of anxiety (and meds for it) later in life.but they cry because there is no other way to communicate their needs.

Facebook comment from Glenn Perez
September 11, 2012 at 7:05 PM
not even monkeys let their offspring cry it out, and they are animals!
Facebook comment from Cayanne Ramuten
September 11, 2012 at 7:06 PM

Thanks for this.  I think in our society, people think that having and taking care of a baby is suppose to be easy... it is on TV, and no one really talks about all of the challenges... I had no idea.  But when I did become a parent, it only felt right to me to listen to my baby and try my best to meet her needs with compassion.  I've always followed my instincts and certainly with CIO (which I tried for 5 minutes once) my whole body screamed at me, "THIS IS WRONG!" so I never tried again.  I've always kept a solid routine and my child has always slept pretty well (except when sick or teething).  I think there are a lot of other options and CIO shouldn't be the first thing you do... I mean, I don't believe in it at all... but I know some parents feel they have to and every situation is different.  But I do feel a little twinge in my heart every time I hear about a little tiny baby having to cry cry cry cry it out.

Facebook comment from Emily Noe
September 11, 2012 at 7:51 PM
I have sleep-trained both my children(now 4 and 10 months) and I have never once left my child to scream if I thought something was wrong. There have been many times when they were sick and couldn't help that they were in pain and had to cry, I went to them no problem and snuggled them to sleep. I know when my child is crying because she just doesn't want me to put her down, or if shes in pain or hungry. If she's just being fresh, I let her cry. If she gets too worked up, I'll go in and soothe her. Parents who let their kids CIO aren't monsters and they certainly don't ignore their children, they just don't jump up at every little peep. There have been studies proving that the parents who DONT let their kids CIO tend to have more needy children who have major separation anxiety even in later years. My kids are very aware that they are taken care of and will always be despite the fact that we had them cry a little bit to learn to put themselves to sleep
September 11, 2012 at 9:15 PM
I love this article :) well said i agree 100% with it
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Nonmember comment from NavyWife
September 11, 2012 at 9:24 PM
Oh, look....another CIO article to debate over. We all do what we think is best for our kids. That being said....I did a mild form of CIO with my son when he was a couple of months old. People can think what they want of me, but whatever. My kid, my way. He's now a healthy, happy almost-3 year old. THAT is what matters. Oh, and I'm currently pregnant and I plan on using the CIO method if I need to. Some people just can't handle it when others do things differently. Those people are called "control freaks".
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