Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Why Cry It Out?

I actually don't know how to answer that. Seriously, I can't figure out what the upside is to letting a baby cry by themselves.

Earlier this week, on a message board I frequent, members were asked to define what it means to let an infant cry it out. Personally, my definition of crying it out is somewhat broad. It's first, ignoring the importance of baby's crying as a communication tool. Then it's leaving them to soothe themselves when the parent is capable of responding (sometimes we're in the car, or going to the bathroom but will get there when we can.  For me, that doesn't count).  It usually goes hand-in-hand with sleep training.

Babies cry. This is normal. I've seen some Attachment Parents get so hung up over their abhorrence of letting baby CIO, that they try to make it so that baby never cries. I don't think this is practical or normal. Baby should cry. That's their first form of communication.

But we should respond to a baby's cry.

First of all, it's a mother's instinct to go to her baby.  Baby cries, we answer.  This is how they know their needs will be met.  Some parents think this will spoil their kids.  But while we're not born as blank slates, there are still a lot of things we humans need to learn.  Having their cries met will teach our babies two things: that someone is there to take care of them, and that they can trust us to do so.  These things are so important, I think it's partly why we're so strongly wired to respond.  And I'm distrustful of anyone who tells me to ignore my instinct as a mother. 

Apparently there's an MD in New York City (I read about it here) who actually tells people to put their babies in a room and leave them.  Period.  The blogger who wrote about her experience with it actually had her baby crying for five hours the first night.  She says she's not sure how she survived it.  Honestly, I'm not sure either.

Her baby was only 10 weeks old.  And she was told to ignore her baby for 9+ hours at night.  Yes, you read that right, 9+ hours.  Apparently, it's important for babies to "self soothe".  I don't know how babies are supposed to know how to soothe themselves.  They're just babies.  Sometimes I still need soothed as an adult.  And if my husband were to ignore my tears, insisting that I needed to learn to calm myself, I might have to throw something heavy at him.

During the night baby may cry because he or she is hungry or thirsty (breastmilk is digested fast, and formula does not take too much longer), because he or she is lonely and needs to know that comfort and protection is still there, or they may cry because they're in pain, sick, or have gotten themselves into an uncomfortable position.  I'm disgusted that a pediatrician would encourage such stringent sleep training, but even more so that they would do it at 8 weeks old (which is when she recommended they start).

The doctor in this story apparently compared night feeding an 8 week old to eating a 3 am pizza.  I can't tell you how many levels on which this comparison fails.  Breastmilk is nutritionally not comparable (being healthy, unlike pizza).  Babies need to eat more frequently than grown-ups, and breastmilk meets a need for fluids as well as food.  I know I like some water in the middle of the night.  My baby doesn't know much, but he does know when he's hungry.

In the blog post, the baby eventually gave up on the hope that someone would come to her, and her crying stopped.  To me, that's the saddest part of the story.  I want my children to know that I'll be there, even at night, to go to them if necessary.  Sleep is important, I know.  Believe me, I'm not getting much of it these days.  But so is his learning that he has a voice.  A voice that is valuable, and will be listened and responded to.

Responding to a baby's cry acknowledges them as people who deserve to be heard.  It teaches them that they are cared for and loved.  It allows us to meet their needs for food, fluids, and comfort.  And it plays into our most basic instinct to nurture our infants.  So, honestly, I really can't see the sleep being worth missing out on all of those things.


  1. Well said. I don't think we let our daughter cry on her own until she was about 11 months old or so; that was about the age she started changing her cries from the "I'm hungry/wet/whatever" cries and the "I don't want to sleep, I'm bored" cries. We usually don't pick her up with the latter, but we will if it goes on too long. I could never leave my baby to cry. I always look at it from my own point of view: If it would make me feel bad, chances are it would make her feel bad. It sucks to be ignored when your hurting or needing something for adults, so of course it is even more so for infants, who can't effect any change on their own! My baby (baby is a relative term, ha) is now almost two years old, and we still follow the same rule for her crying. Doesn't matter how old she gets, if she needs us we will be there. I think she has figured out that we are always there for her and love her though, judging from the amount of kisses we get. :) I think everyone thinking of doing CIO should read your post, and then have to stay in solitary confinement wearing an adult diaper constantly not getting fed unless someone comes to help them...oh wait, no one will! They just have to learn to sooth themselves. This has been way too long of a comment, I know. I should totally have written this as a blog post instead. Ah, well! Love it, Anne. As usual!

  2. I've had this conversation a million times over with my husband. When I had my son at 21, I didn't know many people who had children and my own mother wasn't an encyclopedia of knowledge either (she couldn't remember much from my babyhood). So, I did everything by instinct and I thank the Goddess I had a wonderful pediatrician who never fed me any garbage about ignoring my crying baby for 9+ hours. The only times I've ever let him CIO was when he was just a bit cranky or when he wanted to get into something that I thought was dangerous, like trying to climb onto a shelf or play with a bag of recyclables that had to be taken out. Even now when he throws temper tantrums, I let him cry to get his frustrations out and then we go about doing whatever activity we were previously doing.

    As mothers, we have intuition and instinct and it's so sad that some of us (especially young ones) are told to ignore that for the ideals of a Doctor who thinks they have it all figured out. Every child is different. Every situation is different. Thank you for posting!!

  3. When my daughter was born (almost 33 years ago) everyone told me to "let her cry." My well meaning landlord (a nurse) told me to set the timer for 10 minutes. This resulted in the crying getting more intense until I had a panicky, very upset baby. Rightfully so.

    Babies cry when they need something. They are far too young to have any other motives or to become "spoiled." My daughter, (I believe as a result) always resisted going to bed and staying in bed, until she was a teenager :)

    My second child, five years later was born to a mother who was much more sure of herself. I decided from the beginning I would not only never let her cry it out, but wouldn't let her cry. The minute I heard her start to make sounds in the night or after a nap, I would go to her. She was the happiest baby ever. She slept through the night by two months, took regular, good naps and people would often comment on how they never heard her cry. That's because she didn't need to.

    To all new mothers out there - listen politely to all the advice you're given, but listen more closely to your heart. As new as you are to this, you are the baby's mother and by nature you are well equipped to make the best decisions about your baby.

  4. Oh goodness...this theory goes way back as far as I can remember and even back then I thought it was absurd. I never ever let my babies "cry it out". My babies only cried when they needed something or were sick, so when I heard them cry I was right there whether it was 2 a.m. or not! Too many people are just fantatics with too much time on their hands and letting a 2 week old cry for hours on end will surely affect the rest of his life in one way or another. :(

  5. Aine, that is great advice. I know exactly what you mean about the happiest baby ever! Everyone comments on how well behaved our daughter is at grocery stores and what not; well hmmm, it's because we pay attention to her needs! She doesn't cry because we give her what she needs, taking away the need to cry!

    What a novel idea, eh?


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