Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Crying It Out

The number one advice I receive from other mothers is to let my baby cry it out at night. Before I was a mother, I thought it was the norm. I first experienced the situation when babysitting at 13. All the kids were in bed. I had rocked the baby to sleep, but he kept crying once laid in his crib. I didn't want the other kids to wake up, so I held him until the parents returned. The mother told me I should've just let him cry it out.

Now that I am a mother, I think it's the most worthless advice I've ever been given. Here's why:

Note: This discussion on crying it out pertains to sleep training only and not other times babies cry.

1A. It doesn't solve the problem. Babies cry for a reason: they are hot, cold, hungry, tired, uncomfortable, in pain, scared, lonely, etc. Letting them cry it out does not allow you to figure out what the real problem is and fix it. Crying it out is a quick-fix solution, stopping the symptoms but not the cause.
1B. What if there is no problem? Sometimes babies cry because they are cranky or just feel like crying--we've all been there when we were pregnant, remember? Think about those times: what did you want? Maybe you wanted time to yourself or maybe you wanted a hug. Find out which your baby needs. If Baby calms down on his or her own, great. If not, Baby may need some comfort, even if the crying continues (just because your hubby was doing everything right, doesn't mean you stopped crying either!). The American Academy of Pediatrics says, "The best way to handle crying is to respond promptly to your infant whenever she cries during her first few months. You cannot spoil a young baby by giving her attention, and if you answer her calls for help, she’ll cry less overall."

2A. It's detrimental for communication. Babies only know how to communicate through crying. Ignoring them shows that their thoughts and feelings are unimportant or second class to yours. They may lose trust in you or become distant. The AAP says, "By responding to his needs, you increase his trust and attachment to you, thus laying the groundwork for healthy growth throughout his childhood." If crying bothers you, teach your baby other ways to communicate, such as through signing.
2B. Won't that let babies think they can get anything they want? Absolutely not! Communication is about sharing and listening, not about granting wishes. Let us follow the example of the ultimate parent: God. Heavenly Father listens to all our prayers, even if He doesn't answer them right away or in the way we want. He is always there to comfort and help us whenever we need Him. That doesn't mean He takes away our trials, but He does support us through them. Also, remember we are talking about babies, not toddlers. Babies, especially newborns, cry for their needs, not wants.

3A. It's bad for baby. You know what it's like to sob by yourself for hours. It's not good physically or emotionally.
3B. Does that mean you should never let your baby cry? No. The wait time before answering a baby's cry depends on the baby's age and the situation. Use your mother's intuition to decide when it is appropriate to let your baby cry and for how long. But don't allow it to escalate to a meltdown, which only makes both of you feel more frustrated.

4A. It's bad for you. Mothers were built to respond to their babies' cries. When you don't, you're going against your natural instinct. It should bother you (in a worried way) that your baby is crying.
4B.Will that turn you into a doting, overprotective, or "helicopter" mom? Not if you curb that instinct. Always check to ensure your baby is okay. If he or she is, then you can turn off your worried button. But leave your compassion button on, especially if you get annoyed easily. It will keep you from doing or saying anything hurtful to your crying baby.

5A. It sets up bad parenting habits. Crying it out is to get babies to sleep on your schedule and make your life easier. It's about being in control. It doesn't take into consideration the baby's needs and wants. There are no standard sleep habits. Think about adults: everyone needs something different to get good rest. Some need perfect quiet. Some need to read or wind down with TV. Some like lights on, others pitch blackness. Some go to bed early, some late. Some wake up several times at night, others are deep sleepers. Babies are the same. We shouldn't force them to do something that doesn't work for them just because it works for other babies or for us. We need to learn patience!
5B. Won't that allow babies to grow up spoiled? Nope. Parenting is not about power and control. Of course, you are the authority and your children should respect you. But respect is earned by showing respect. Let go of the desire to be in control. If you exercise proper authority--having rules and boundaries-- but show compassion and flexibility, your children will be more likely to obey and do it willingly.

For those with babies who struggle with sleep, I recommend The No Cry Sleep Solution, by Elizabeth Pantley. The sooner you read it the better. I realized that some of Bugaboo's struggles were a result of errors I made when he was a newborn. I did not want him to suffer for my mistakes by letting him cry it out, so I used her methods to break bad habits. It's been a roller coaster ride thanks to teething, moving, family, and sickness, but in the long run, Bugaboo has progressed so much. Before the massive chaos, he was only waking up once per night and going back to sleep easily! No crying involved. Now that's a happy solution for both of us.


Mrs. Sanchez said...

Thank you again for a wonderful post as an informed devoted mother.

Several times I felt the urge to temper your message and then you yourself did that (which I loved reading!)

I also really like that you provided a resource at the end, which I still haven't read.

This is such a controversial subject and one that can be really touchy. I do think it is important to learn about before and appreciate that you post your opinions.

I'm going to go ahead and post mine to add to the discussion (since despite having not had my own baby yet, I am now naively opinionated on the subject). I do think some of my opinions have definitely been shaped by you, and others from my experience with older kiddos who are developmentally delayed. Here are a few things I thought while reading your post

A) While cry-it-out can be an easier but ineffective way to parent, so can picking a child up when he/she is crying in bed. (not always, but sometimes in both cases)

B) When a child is crying because he/she is cranky or tired he does not know what is best for him. As a parent/caregiver it is your role to make an informed and executive decision whether the child understands it or not. In sleep training (depending on the baby's age), this may mean you respond to a cry by low soothing sounds and rubbing his/her back instead of picking the baby up and rocking it. You are still responding to his need for comfort but in a way that may help him/her develop better sleep habits in the long run.

C) I think it is really important to consider the family's needs (as a whole) in the sleep situation. As an infant the parents devote their entire lives to the baby's schedule, but as the baby gets older, it needs to become more balanced. I definitely believe that parents will be better parents if they take care of themselves and sometimes that means changing sleep plans to work best for everyone.

*That is it. :) I have more ideas as a behavior therapist, but those will remain my own unless probed (as they have are more lengthy to explain). Thanks for the venue. I understand that all my Moms are doing their best and I may never form a concrete opinion, but certainly can not until I raise my own babies.

Francesca said...

Francine, as usual, you made excellent points. "A" I imply: I didn't say you had to pick up the baby, just respond to his or her cry in the most effective way. "B" I do address in number 1. "C" I didn't address, and I'm glad you brought it up. Many times I've had to let Caden cry a little so I could calm down or let Justin handle it and just go to bed. Parenting is a case-by-case job, not always easy. And of course, my method may change with the next baby because each child is different.

Don't doubt yourself just because the kids you work with aren't yours. Of course it will be different once you do have your own baby, but it's important to have ideas and tools to work with to help you find out what is best for you and your baby. Love you!

Mrs. Sanchez said...

Love you back! :)

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