Probably every young parent has struggled with the cry it out method, and asked themselves, “Should I let my baby cry it out?” For the new parent, it can be difficult to discern from the many sources of information which opinions are best for your baby.
Well-meaning relatives and friends may push you to raise your child the way they were raised and the way they raised their babies. But many decisions, such as the cry it out method and whether you should let your baby cry it out, has to be made by the parents and based on what they feel is best for their baby.
With that said, if you are a new parent who is struggling with the choice to let your baby cry it out, or how long to let the baby cry it out, it is important to note that you are not alone. Even those well-meaning relatives who seem so sure of their decision on this topic most likely struggled and felt fear that they were somehow harming their little one.
In order to be assured that you are doing the best you can for your child is to research and learn. Knowledge is power, and the best way to gain confidence in your decisions with your new baby is to make sure that they are informed decisions. Let’s look at whether or not you should let your baby cry it out.
Doesn’t Sleep Training Mean Letting my Baby Cry It Out?
The short answer to this question is, “No.” According to Psychologist Jodi Mindell from Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, too many parenting books and mommy blogs confuse the topics of “Sleep Training,” and “Cry It Out Method.” Mindell is an expert who has been helping babies go to sleep for over two decades.
She explains that the cry it out method seems cruel to many parents because it is much like abandoning their child to fend for his or her self when the baby is too young to understand what is happening. Mindell stated that many parents think that the cry it out method means that you put the baby to bed and shut the door, leaving the child alone in the dark, and you don’t come back until morning.
What often happens when a mother does this is that she sits miserably in guilt, hearing her child scream for help but ignoring every instinct to run comfort that child. The child, in turn, feels terrified, abandoned, and in distress and actually wears him or herself down, “passing out” in exhaustion. All that has been accomplished here is that the child has learned early on that he or she cannot trust the mother to take care of the child. This is not sleep training.
Crying It Out to Exhaustion is Considered an Outdated Practice
As WebMD points out, allowing a baby to cry it out until he or she passes out is an outdated approach that is no longer recommended by most professionals. It is not a healthy way to train your baby to get to sleep. This can cause feelings of abandonment to grow in your baby during a crucial time when his or her personality is beginning to form.
It was once believed that if you held your baby every time he or she cried, that the baby would become “spoiled” and turn into a difficult child. The truth is actually just the opposite. Studies show that newborns who are soothed immediately when they cry and have their needs met quickly by their parents are more trusting. These babies tend to be less demanding when they get older.
There are many different variations of the cry it out method, from allowing your child to cry for a few minutes to leaving them screaming and terrified, alone in the dark until they exhaust themselves to sleep. That is never good for your baby. If you, the parents, are having a hard time and just need a few minutes to yourself, however, it is perfectly fine to lay the baby in a crib and let him or her cry for a very short time while you get yourself together.
The Ferber Method of Crying it Out
For parents who insist on using a “crying it out” approach to sleep training, the Ferber Method is a much milder way to allow your baby to cry for a bit without abandoning the child. This approach to sleep training was created by Pediatrician Richard Ferber, who is the Director of the Center for Pediatric Sleep Disorders at Children’s Hospital, Boston.
Ferber wrote the book, ‘Solve Your Child’s Sleep Problems’ in 1985 and updated it in 2006. In this book, Ferber introduced his method, also known as “graduated extinction,” which gave parents a way to allow babies to cry it out a bit without leaving them completely alone and scared as they fall asleep. Some professionals agree that if a parent is going to use the “cry it out” method, this milder approach is the best for the baby.
With the Ferber method, a parent can allow the baby to cry for a few minutes, usually starting at 3 minutes. Then the parent goes in and comforts the baby for a bit. The times between soothing the baby are gradually increased until the baby falls asleep. Although this method does call for leaving the baby, if a baby is showing distress and isn’t calming down, then the parent shouldn’t leave the child alone.
This method was created as a way to teach babies how to soothe themselves and fall asleep on their own in time. It also helps babies learn how to fall back to sleep on their own if they wake up in the middle of the night. The negative of this method is that the parent is not supposed to pick up, hold, or feed the baby during the comforting period, and the light is supposed to stay off. Of course, any sleep training method can be varied according to the parent’s choices.
Many Professionals Against Letting Baby Cry It Out
There are a lot of medical professionals who are very much against any type of cry it out method. One of them is Dr. Margot Sunderland, who works as the Director of Education and Training at The Centre for Child Mental Health in London. She has over three decades of experience as a child psychotherapist and many other credentials. She has written 20 books on children’s mental health.
According to Sunderland, most parents would absolutely refuse to use any sort of cry it out method of sleep training if they were aware of what that training does to their baby’s brain. The stress on the undeveloped brain of a baby when it is uncomforted is literally toxic for the child. Not only is their emotional well-being damaged, but their ability to handle stress and crisis later in life is stunted also.
The stress on the baby’s brain when he or she is left alone can cause many physical issues as well, such as elevated blood pressure and cerebral pressure, apneas, suppressed growth hormones, heart fluctuations, as well as fluctuating breathing and temperature, digestive and immune system suppression, and so much pressure on the baby’s heart that tachycardia can result.
According to Sunderland, any mammal will eventually stop crying when it is abandoned. So when a baby who has been left alone in the dark to cry it out finally stops crying and goes to sleep, it is not because he or she has learned to soothe themselves. It is because the baby has undergone a process called “Protest-Despair-Detachment” in which he or she has given up. The baby has learned to detach from the hope that his or her parents are coming to help.
There are many other professionals who disagree with the cry it out method. While parents certainly should make their own decisions about how to approach sleep training for their baby, serious consideration should be given to the possible harm it could do to let your baby cry it out. Many new parents are starting to realize that not everything they were taught truly applies anymore.
There is absolutely nothing wrong with holding your baby anytime he or she needs soothing, or just because you want to. Connecting with Mommy and Daddy is one of the healthiest ways that your baby can learn human interaction. Giving your baby all of the attention that he or she needs is also a great way to teach the child that you will be there when things are hard.
By soothing your baby, you show him or her that her feelings are validated and that you are there to protect and love them. These affirmations are much healthier for babies than being left alone in the dark to fend for themselves while they are too young to even form the words that explain what is making them scream.