‘Training’ a baby to sleep via leaving them to cry is, for some reason, considered a perfectly legitimate parenting technique. However, more and more evidence is coming to light to prove that it is damaging to a baby’s health, and to the parent-child bond.
So what does CIO attempt to teach babies? It is supposed to teach them that they are not in control; that mummy won’t just run in to baby’s bedroom at the first squeak. It is designed to ‘teach’ children to ‘settle themselves’ to sleep. However, all it accomplishes is teaching that child that, no matter how hard they cry, their needs will not be met. It teaches the child that there is no point in expressing their needs. It teaches them that nobody cares.
There are many variations of CIO; ranging from the harshest — shutting the door at whatever time the parent deems to be bedtime and not going back in until morning, no matter what — to the modified, supposedly more gentle version which usually involves returning to the infants bedside to comfort them at various intervals, usually without being ‘allowed’ to pick them up.
So why is this practice so dangerous for babies, and for the bond between the parent and the child?
A baby’s cry is a reflex; not a manipulative action. They sense a need, and then make a hell of a lot of noise in order to get that need met. What Crying It Out (CIO) neglects to take into consideration is that for a baby, wants are the same as needs. A baby’s need for comfort is as real, as intense and as physically painful as their need for food. Ignoring the crying, and therefore the need, is telling your baby that their needs are insignificant to you.
Going back to that ear-piercing baby cry — it is there for a reason. There is a reason why hearing that cry makes your heart rate increase, and why it triggers your milk let-down reflex. Ignoring that cry is biologically incorrect, and that is why every single mother who practices CIO will tell you how hard it is, and probably that they cried just as much as the baby for the first few nights. Bear in mind, here, that the whole concept of CIO was invented and promoted by men — men who have never carried, given birth to or nursed a child.
And what damage does CIO do to the baby? Most people think that a bit of crying never did anyone any harm — this is not true. When a baby cries, the stress hormone Cortisol floods the brain. New evidence is emerging that shows that frequent overexposure to this hormone can cause the baby to grow into a more stressed, highly-strung and angry individual.
The chances are, if you decide to practice CIO, your baby will eventually start sleeping better. They won’t stop waking in the night (waking in the night is normal and natural for ALL human beings, not just babies), but they will probably stop calling for you after a few nights. Success, you may think. Well, that all depends on your definition of success. If your definition of success is succeeding in moulding your child, your perfect and unique little baby, into a compliant infant who has simply given up, then yes. You have succeeded.
Now, I am no stranger to sleepless nights. I am not one of these mums with children who slept 6 hours straight from 4 weeks old who proudly proclaims that they never left their baby to CIO. My baby didn’t sleep… hardly at all, for a year. And there are other mums I know who’s children didn’t ‘sleep through’ until well into their 2nd year of life. The fact is, there are better ways of dealing with sleepless nights, without having to resort to subjecting the baby to night after night of consistent neglect.
In my humble opinion, it comes down to this — Babies are a full-time responsibility, even at night time. Our job as parents does not stop when the sun goes down. Infancy is such a short time, and regardless of what others may say you are NOT ‘creating a rod for your own back’ by co-sleeping, or otherwise tending to your child’s night time needs. You are actually helping to create a secure, well-rounded individual. You are investing in the future.
Babies are unique little beings, not drones to be moulded. If you want something with less responsibility attached to it, get a cat.