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January 4, 2012

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There are parenting books, stores, catalogs, and an endless array of websites and blogs dedicated to providing parents with the very thing their tiny, sweet newborn doesn't come out with: an instruction manual. Many parents find themselves desperate for guidance in the wee hours of the morning, with a wide-eyed infant on their lap and the promise of a restful night's sleep a fantasy. While the books and blogs can be helpful and validating, parenting is a completely personal journey, and helping our little ones learn the basics of sleep is a hot topic with no shortage of debate. Today we feature two local moms who share their experience with the passionately debated ‘to cry or not to cry’ approach to nighttime parenting.

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Point: Establishing Healthy Sleep Habits

by Jaime

Each parent has his or her own comfort zone when it comes to getting their little ones to sleep, but what ultimately worked best for me was the “cry it out” or CIO method. CIO is a sleep training tool that allows babies to cry before a parent goes in and comforts them. It is based on the idea that learning to fall asleep is a skill and must be acquired through practice.

The first night we did CIO with my oldest son, I sat on the bed crying as I listened to my 7-month-old baby cry through the monitor. As I sat there, I didn’t know how I would endure the crying, but my husband kept me going. After three nights, it was as if fireworks went off in our house: our baby slept through the night from 6:30 PM to 7:00 AM the next morning without waking up even to nurse!

As our little one grew—and we grew more experienced as parents—we learned that a schedule was very important. We became the family that left nearly every social event early because of our son’s all-important 6:45 PM bedtime.

Chapter two in our parenting lives brought another baby boy. We felt as though we had the hang of this sleep thing. As some of you undoubtedly have learned as well, the second child can have an interesting way of being completely different than the first. We were back to square one.

Our second child was demonstrating colicky symptoms for the first ten months of his short life, which complicated matters. He was up between 10:00 PM and 6:00 AM while we burped him, walked laps around his bedroom, and tried anything and everything to get him to fall back to sleep. We consulted his pediatrician to make sure that he did not have acid reflux; we used gripe water to alleviate gas pains; and we prayed each night for a few hours of sleep. By month nine, we were waking up about every two hours going through the same routine.

After a pediatrician visit, we were referred to Nemours/Alfred I. duPont Hospital for Children in Wilmington, Delaware. Our son would be examined by the Division Chief of Pediatric Pulmonology ten days later. His diagnosis was that our son was completely normal and we needed to try CIO once again. The sleep specialists and doctors were strong advocates of the CIO method. With this new found reassurance, our little man was sleeping through the night within three days. Again, we were reminded that a strict schedule was the key to sleeping bliss for everyone.

I’m a believer in the cry it out method because it works. For the short-term pain of hearing your little one cry, you gain a lifetime of healthy sleep habits. It’s not for everyone, but if you can be consistent and follow through, there will be a happy, restful ending.

Counterpoint: Sleep Training with Compassion

by Melissa

A baby’s cry: it can rattle one’s nerves, particularly in the middle of the night.  More often than not, however, our initial reaction to hearing a little one wail is to respond, comfort, and soothe. These are our instincts, innate behaviors that benefit us and our children. An infant’s cry is a way of communicating that perhaps he is cold, wet, hungry, hurting, or simply does not feel safe because he is alone. It is baby’s instinct to be near us, and it is our instinct to respond.

As a mother of two, I understand the despair that is felt by a sleep-deprived parent.  I can also attest to the fact that gentle sleep training methods—other than cry it out—work. As a scientist, it was important to me to research the evidence and expert opinions behind CIO and other methods before embarking on a particular path.

When we answer baby’s cries swiftly, we are building trust—the very foundation of a positive and secure attachment. Research has shown that the early development of a secure attachment has a significantly positive impact on an individual’s relationships and emotional well-being later in life. Of course, we don’t need science to tell us this—our instincts do that for us when they urge us to tend to a crying child.

by , ,

January 4, 2012

Comments (7)

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Good sleep

For the first 9 months of my daughter's life we were co-sleepers. It was great because I was breastfeeding and working full-time. However, before she was born I was completely against bed sharing because of the dangers associated with it. As long as it is practiced correctly and safely, there is little danger and many benefits.
At 9 months, we transitioned her into a crib and she was fine, but still not sleeping through the night (probably because she continued to breastfeed). At 18 months she self-weened and it was time to hope she would sleep through the night. I investigated all of the methods and settled on the Ferber method. We developed a bed time routine and she usually settled into bed sleepy. If she cried, I would go in for the first time at 2 minutes and then the time intervals would be increased thereafter until she was self soothing herself to sleep. This method isn't full out CIO but it gave her the confidence she needed to fall asleep on her own. From that point on she has slept pretty well through the night. Of course, if she does wake in the night we let her snuggle in our bed.

Michelle more than 2 years ago

No more tears

I feel parents should use parenting methods that work for them, whether it is co-sleeping or Cry It Out (CIO). I do have a few issues with Melissa’s counter point. Three quarters of the article is about why CIO is “Scientifically” wrong. I wish she would have written about her experiences with the gentle ways to teaching a child to sleep.
For my wife and I, we chose to use our method of CIO to teach our daughter how to fall asleep by herself. We did not let our daughter cry for hours on end. What we did, was let her cry for ten minutes and then go up and reassure her that everything was ok. We repeated this cycle until she fell asleep. We are not naïve to the fact that babies sleep patterns are different than adults. I would find it hard to believe that there are CIO parents who do not get up multiple times in the middle of the night to check on their baby when they cry, convenient or not.
I also find it a bit of stretch to say that CIO parents are not as compassionate and are creating trust and emotional issues with their child. Melissa stated that “Research has shown that the early development of a secure attachment has a significantly positive impact on an individual’s relationships and emotional well-being later in life.” Is this research directly related to the CIO method? There are countless times in a child’s early development that create a secure attachment that does not revolve around sleep or sleeping patterns.
For my wife and I our method of CIO has worked for us. We have a very compassionate three year old who has slept through the night since she was seven months old. Is this a direct result CIO or do we have a daughter who is a “good sleeper”? I don’t know, but it is what worked for us.

Steve more than 2 years ago

The big picture

Cry it out was never a method we endorsed in our house and neither of my kids slept through the night until they were about 3 or 4. I knew that when they were teens they wouldn't be waking us up or wanting to sleep with us. So we lost a lot of sleep in those early years. Who cares! Think of all the cuddles we stocked up on! Parenting doesn't end at night.

Diana more than 2 years ago

Co-Sleeping is the Bomb

We had a family bed for six years and my son is now a champion sleeper. I still lie down next to him to send him off to sleep, and it has always been the time of day that we're the closest. It's when he expresses his fears and doubts, asks the hard questions, and generally lets me see him most clearly because there is nothing in the way but sleepy eyes. No TV, no video, no sports. Just us. He's happy, confident and so compassionate! I think that's because he feels safe and protected, which I also think co-sleeping fosters. Thanks for the great counterpoint!

Lori more than 2 years ago

Attachment parenting

Melissa did a great job with the attachment parenting perspective! Although I haven't heard of any of those studies before, I am a big fan of Dr. Sears and don't believe in letting an infant scream and cry while listening from another room.

Erin more than 2 years ago

Cry it out for older babies

I appreciate the studies presented, but I think that crying is a normal, natural part of having a baby and toddler. Before 6 months old, I think cry-it-out is a little extreme because babies need to eat and have their physical needs met, but most parents I know have done it later than that. My kids cry over a toy falling out of reach, not being able to have a dessert, or getting overly tired. This doesn't mean they are being traumatized and it doesn't mean that I should avoid their crying at all costs.

Barb more than 2 years ago

Ferber Method

This is indeed a difficult issue to figure out as a parent, so thank you for offering both perspectives! As a parent of only one, I've only had the experience with one child, but what seems most essential for helping my daughter sleep and sleep well is schedule. Keeping to a schedule was so important for teaching her that it was time for sleep. Having a solid bedtime/naptime routine that is consistently followed helps her get ready for sleep, too. Teaching our children how to self-soothe should be at the center of this argument. We do not want our children to be dependent upon us as parents to soothe every uncomfortable emotion as children. I think crying it out can be a too extreme, which is why I recommend The Ferber Method, which does not require leaving your child to wail for hours on end. With the Ferber Method you time your returns to your child's crib side for reassurring presence with out picking them up to soothe them. Works beautiful for us and I felt like I was still following my mothering instinct.

Jill more than 2 years ago

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