Thursday, July 19, 2018

Why we won't be doing Cry It Out


There has been many a night where I've been googling advice for how to get your baby to sleep. Inevitably I would end up coming across some kind of advice involving Cry It Out (CIO). This is a form of sleep training which pretty much involves leaving your child to cry in their cot several nights in a row until they learn to "self-soothe". The most extreme version is called "extinction". There are slightly less extreme methods where you come back after fixed amounts of time or you pick the baby up to comfort them and then put them back down again, or where you just pat and shush them. They all involve letting the baby cry and say that it's normal for your child to "protest" any changes. "Controlled crying" is another term that is often used. Once the baby has been fed and has a clean nappy then the idea is that they are fine and you need to "help" them learn the skill of falling asleep by themselves. It doesn't matter if the baby is crying for other reasons such as being too hot/cold/tired/uncomfortable. You can probably already tell I'm not a fan! There are even articles written by baby sleep coaches which make you feel like a bad parent for not doing Cry It Out! Being able to fall asleep independently is a skill that children need to learn just like riding a bike you are told. One site went on to say that babies who sleep better are more successful in school when they are older. They imply you are damaging your baby by not sleep training! It's confusing as a parent because obviously you want the best for your child.

Could there even be some babies who don't respond that badly to CIO methods? One Irish blogger I came across wrote that her baby "only" cried for 15 minutes the first night and then slept great from then on. A friend of mine told me that one day she just put her baby down in her cot after which she "fussed" a little bit, not full on crying before falling asleep and from then on she slept fine in her cot! I remember thinking ok I'll try it if it's really that easy! I put Mini into her cosleeper in a dark room with white noise playing. We had the baby monitor on and my husband and I watched downstairs to see what would happen. At first she seemed happy enough playing by herself. Then she started to winge and make unhappy noises. I waited a moment longer but her whimpers started to escalate so then I quickly went and picked her up. She hadn't even been left for long, maybe two minutes and she already had tears in her eyes and looked really upset. I felt awful seeing her like that and decided I wouldn't be trying that again! My husband is on the same page as he also can't bear to see Mini upset.


The thing is of course I get it. Being sleep deprived myself, I understand why parents are tempted by CIO. Just a few nights of letting your baby cry and then they start sleeping 10-12 hours a night without waking up, allegedly! What's really happening though? We aren't just talking about leaving a baby to whinge a little, this can be full on hysterical crying being ignored. Research suggests leaving babies to cry for long periods like that is traumatic for them and can cause anxiety in later life. In order to form a secure attachment, their caregivers should be responsive to their needs. There was a study which showed that even after the babies stopped crying on the third night their stress hormone cortisol was still raised. It is also unrealistic to expect young infants to sleep for so long without needing to feed, especially breast fed ones. It is normal for babies to wake several times a night and sometimes society needs to adjust its expectations and not make parents feel like their baby is "bad" for not sleeping well.

There was one site I read and it talked about how sleep deprived parents are in danger of being in a car accident. The mothers are more likely to get depressed and depressed mothers are less responsive to their baby's needs which is bad for the babies. Cry It Out seems to be particularly popular in the States. It's no coincidence in my opinion that the parental leave there is also really short compared to other countries. Parents who are having to go back to work when their babies are still only a few months old and still sleeping badly naturally find it difficult! I know I am lucky that living in Germany we can take advantage of the long parental leave. On nights when Mini sleeps particularly badly I can go back to bed during her morning nap or just have a lazy day at home. I don't know how I would be able to function in the office after particularly bad nights.

I accidentally joined a facebook group that supported Cry It Out while I was searching for gentle methods to encourage longer stretches of sleep. Some women were writing things like how sleep training saved their marriage! Reading a lot of the posts on the group started to really upset me though. People weren't just leaving their babies to cry for 10-15 minutes but hours on end! Night after night. Some of the babies were getting so distraught they were even vomiting. And the sleep training wasn't only done once, whenever the sleeping got worse again the parents would have to redo the Cry It Out methods. I felt so sorry for the babies. Whenever a mother in the group would write how hard it was to ignore her baby's cry, the responses were to just "wear earphones", "drink wine" or telling them that they are doing their babies a "favour" helping them learn that skill. It just seemed so wrong and unnatural to me. There was one mother who wrote that her baby now hyperventilates and gets upset as soon as she brings him into the bedroom and isn't the happy smiley baby he once was anymore! There's something wrong with that picture.

Adjusting my expectations and not comparing our baby to others has helped me a lot. When I used to have the idea that Mini should be sleeping long 8-10 hour stretches without waking then I would feel like a bad parent because we are so very far from that. However, once I came across other resources which were more realistic about baby's sleeping patterns and what is normal especially for breastfed babies who tend to wake more often at night, then I felt much better about the situation. Sometimes just reading accounts from other mothers helped. For instance knowing how common it is for a baby to prefer to sleep in your arms than in their cot! The sites I found most helpful for adjusting my expectations were; Milk Meg, Kellymom and Sarah hockwell-smith. This also made me laugh; To the losers who haven't sleep trained their babies. These all made me realise how normal it is for a baby to wake up frequently at night for various reasons while they are so young. I read up on safe co sleeping and this is what has helped me alot! Also reminding myself that the sleep will improve and seeing how happy Mini is when she wakes up beside me.


Recently, I started reading Elizabeth Pantley's "The no cry sleep solution", a gentle parenting book. She writes that when you start searching for sleep training tips there tend to be only two trains of thought, one which advocates cry it out and the other which says basically do nothing, wait it out. Eventually babies will learn to self soothe even if it takes until they are aged two or three. It is a shame that isn't much in between the two camps and hence the book tries to bridge the gap by offering lots of gentle ideas which I am hoping to try. She points out that improvements using those suggestions won't happen overnight. It could be several weeks or even months before you see an improvement but her ideas don't involve leaving the children to cry which is great. There was a study I came across which showed no long term benefit of sleep training. Six months later babies who weren't sleep trained were sleeping just as well as the babies who were, implying that the "wait and see" approach might not be so bad.

That said, I'm going back to work in a few months and I really hope I'll be getting more unbroken sleep by then. In the meantime I have started trying some gentle suggestions from the book. One tip is when the baby wakes to wait for a moment and see if they settle by themselves before doing anything. I had gotten into the habit of picking Mini up immediately when she would stir and breastfeeding her back to sleep. Now I try (whenever I remember) to wait first and sometimes she falls right back to sleep without any help, or just after I stroke her head a little. When it looks like she is starting to wake up fully then I just feed her. The good thing is that after drinking she usually falls back asleep quickly which is great. It's just the frequency of her wake ups can be tough! I am hoping that once she starts solids that might help her sleep longer too. Also when my husband is on his parental leave he'll be available to help out.

As previously mentioned, I understand the appeal of doing some sort of sleep training. Ever since the four month sleep regression started Mini has been waking every 1-3 hours all night long. When she sleeps for 2 or 3 hour stretches it's not as bad. The nights where she's waking hourly are really tough though as you can imagine! I feel like a zombie some days. However, a baby's only way of communication is through crying and I don't think that should be ignored. There are many reasons for them to cry that don't just involve hunger or needing a nappy change. Sometimes they just want comfort. The world can be a scary place for them! Lately Mini doesn't feed as well during the day because she can be too distracted by everything that's going on around her and then she needs to catch up overnight. This is quite common for 4-6 month old babies. If I were to leave her to cry, then she could end up underfed!

If you are thinking about using the Cry It Out method yourself, please wait until the baby is at least six months old. I don't judge other parents who have sleep trained. At the end of the day each family has to decide for themselves what is right. However, why not try out some more gentle methods first? For now we are mainly doing the "wait and see" approach knowing that Mini will eventually learn to sleep better in her own time. We are also going to try gradually getting her used to taking some of her day time naps in her cot if possible. At the moment she still only naps in our arms or very occasionally in the buggy. Not that I don't enjoy Mini napping on me, it's very sweet!

Do you know of any good baby sleeping tips that you have tried or heard of that worked? Was it just time that made the biggest difference?

17 comments:

  1. I never could do the CIO method. I just slept in the recliner with my little one for months on end so we could both get some sleep! Unfortunately my little one did not start sleeping through the night until after he turned one and that lasted several months until where we are now with him waking up once a night again at 2 1/2. The plus is that now he is in a full size bed so at least I can just climb in bed with him and get back to sleep! I have found every child and mother are different and you just have to do what works best for you and your baby :) At some point they will sleep through the night.

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    1. I hadn't planned to cosleep until I realised it was the best way of us both getting some sleep. It's amazing how things change once you have a baby, all the things you previously thought go out the window! I have heard it could be after aged one before the sleep might really improve or older.. Yeah, I remind myself that she won't be waking this often as a teenager ;-)

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    2. I feel like no one ever plans to co sleep, but it ends up working out for a lot of people! It worked really well for my daughter. I was able to get the sleep I desperately needed.

      Delete
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  2. We tried CIO at 9 months and again around 15 months. Both times it was a disaster. Each night, she cried harder and longer than the one before. It just wasn't going to work for her. I read a TON of books, and paid for a personalized sleep coaching program. I took away helpful bits from each. Unfortunately, nothing at all that we (her parents) tried actually did anything, I don't believe. In our case, we just had to wait for something to click in our child. She's now 4 and still not a great sleeper, though she did finally start sleeping mostly through the night around age 3. Until then, I was pretty much a sleep-deprived hot mess. Some kids are just "easy" and some are not. Still, I think there's good reason to try different things, even CIO (though I do agree with you that it's best for older babies), because you never know when your baby will be the one to cry for a few minutes, then sleep peacefully the rest of the night. Good luck to you, and I hope you get some uninterrupted sleep soon!

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    1. "a sleep-deprived hot mess" - I definitely feel like that some days! Yeah I've already read lots of different approaches and tried quite a few things already(a bedtime routine, putting baby down sleepy but awake, encouraging naps after 1.5 hours awake time, feeding to sleep, rocking to sleep etc) and nothing seems to work consistently! And then other times I just go with the flow and don't stress about it. My worry is how I'll manage once I go back to work if the sleep is still bad then. Thanks for sharing your thoughts! :)

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  3. I agree you shouldn’t do anything that makes you uncomfortable as a parent. I don’t really have any advice since I’ve been pretty lucky in the sleep department, but I pretty much do everything on demand for my baby. I’ll feed her if she fusses or hold her or bounce or rock. She does soothe fairly easily. Schedules are pretty alien to me, but I enjoyed both infants and they are thriving. Part of building confidence as a parent is saying no to stuff that doesn’t work for you.

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    1. I've realised that feeding on schedule definitely didn't work for us so we still just feed on demand. I've read so many sleep sites which talk about awake times, how after 1.5-2 hours awake time the baby should sleep. If you miss the window the baby can get overtired. Keeping an eye on the awake time and tired cues works pretty well for naps but come evening time it's all over the place. I've had many evenings where I'll be trying to put her to bed for hours. In the end just bringing her to bed with me around 9ish and feeding to sleep lying down seems to work best! Yeah I agree that we have to do what feels right to us as parents. We know our baby best.

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  4. I don't really understand the idea of cry it out. Yes, children should eventually learn to self-soothe, but not when they're still so little! I don't like the idea of leaving them to cry before they're old enough to realise that someone not coming instantly doesn't mean nobody is coming ever. And how does it work with subsequent children? DO you let baby 2 cry and cry while your poor older child is trying to sleep? Of course, I am not a parent (yet) so who knows what decisions I will end up making when I'm truly desperate for sleep...

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    1. Yeah the babies left cry don't understand why their parents/caregivers are suddenly not coming and it can be scary and upsetting for them! I think there are some babies that winge a little when overtired and then fall asleep (my friend's baby does that), but that is totally different to a baby who is left hysterically crying!
      Yeah I can understand why it is tempting. I wish there were more easy gentle methods out there. You sort of get used to getting by on hardly any sleep at some point!

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  5. I think a lot of babies are just all over the place about sleep around this age. My guy is almost four months, and as long as we don't let him get overtired (easier said than done, especially when Grandma watches him and decides he doesn't need a nap when I tell her he does!), my husband can usually rock him to sleep with classical music playing around 8:30 or 9. We keep trying to get into a "bedtime routine," but it's always one thing or another, and one time he was overtired by the time I was giving him his little baby massage, and it made him cry! I think it's just a work in progress -- and every single baby is different -- and we all do the best we can, with love and responsiveness at the root of it all.

    My son is still getting up 3 times a night to feed, and I tried once to cut out a night feed, but he seemed so confused and kind of panicked that I don't know when I'll have the heart to try that again! I'm here for ya, bud, as long as you need. Things will fall into place eventually.

    It's so good that some countries like Germany have generous maternity policies, and basically criminal in my mind -- and dangerous -- that the US is so cavalier about early motherhood, giving it virtually zero value and leaving a lot of working women with little choice but to try extreme methods or go completely insane. :(

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    1. Yeah I think it's pretty normal at this age for the sleep to be all over the place like you say! I'm hoping after six months there will be some improvement.. Our routine is that my husband rocks and sings to help her wind down and then I feed her to sleep in a dark room with white noise. But if it doesn't work after an hour I give up and try again later.

      It isn't right how little maternity leave there is for women in the US. The babies end up suffering. I've seen some women on the facebook group I mentioned already doing cry it out on their 2 and 3 month old babies because they were going back to work! And some of the mothers have this idea that babies should be able to go 10-12 hours without feeding at night by then which just isn't right!

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  6. I did not give birth to my baby, I brought him home from the hospital at 3 days old. He was detoxing from the substances his mother used during her pregnancy and he was colicky to boot. He did not sleep. Like, not ever. He was only comfortable being held, so every time I would try to put him in his bassinet, he would scream. He also hated sleeping on his back (at 4, he still prefers his tummy) probably from his tummy discomfort. He generally would fall asleep around 10 and sleep until about 1 am and then be up every hour until 6 or 7 am when he would sleep for another two hours. I was home with him for 2 weeks before going back to work (because that was all the annual time I had saved up - I could not afford to take an unpaid maternity leave as a single parent but it would certainly have made our lives so much easier!). I slept during my breaks and over lunch because I was perpetually exhausted. There were times, in desperation, I would prop myself up with pillows in bed and doze with the baby on my chest because it was the only way he would sleep. It was awful! I distinctly remember when he was about 10 months old, I tried to let him cry it out after a very difficult night. He was so distraught over it, I never did it again. In fact, that was when I decided to let him sleep with me when he woke up in the middle of the night. To this day, he will start out in his own bed and end up in mine. He just seems to need the comfort of someone sleeping next to him. He is four now and showing no signs of stopping his nightly routine. If I try to put him back in his bed, he wakes up and comes back to mine anyway, so I don't bother. Eventually, he will be old enough to want to sleep on his own. As long as I can get some sleep until then, it's all good. ;)

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    1. That must have been really hard! I can't imagine having to go back to work so soon with a small baby, I'm sorry there wasn't more support for you. Sleep deprivation can be so challenging! It sounds like you did your best for him. Those kids are lucky to have you!

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  7. It's very important to remember that babies do not make melatonin (the hormone needed for long stretches of sleep) until they are 16 weeks old. Prior to that 16 week mark sleep training is just horrible for little ones because 1. they don't have a circadian rhythm and without melatonin can't establish one and 2. their bodies are generally not ready to go a long period without a feed. Once they are between 4-6 months they should be able to both store up more calories during the day and produce that wonderful magic sleep hormone.

    There are gentle things we can do as parents after 16 weeks to encourage more sleep at night. Adding a feeding (or solids) during the day. Slowly pushing last feedings back a bit, slowly shortening day time naps, establish a nighttime routine (bath book, breast/bottle, bed.) Every child starts sleeping through the night eventually, whether they've been sleep trained with CIO or not.

    I think as a society (especially here in the US) we need to realize that having a baby is a huge adjustment, we don't just go back to "normal" plus one. Everyone should expect to be exhausted that first year of baby's life. I was a single working mom and didn't sleep train because CIO wasn't an option for me either. I co-slept with my son (yes, it can be done safely, he's 21 now and just fine) until he was about 2. It made nursing super easy, bedtime a breeze and really gave us plenty of snuggle time after a long day of me being at work. I don't regret a second of that time. By the time my son was 2 he was clearly ready for his own space so we transitioned, the door was always open if he wanted a cuddle or had a bad dream but by the end of age 3 those night time visits stopped too. Every family is different and my experience with my son is just that, mine. I'm sure if I had had any more children my experience with them would have been different too. All we can do as parents is follow our hearts and instincts and do our absolute best to make sure they are safe, loved and cared for.

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    1. Yea when I hear about people letting their babies cry it out at barely a few months old or restricting night time feeds, it just doesn't sit right by me. I feel like I was somewhat unprepared for how bad the sleep deprivation could be and just how long it would last! Cosleeping has helped so much. Somehow I'm able to function the next day.

      I plan to continue cosleeping once I go back to work too. It will be a nice way to reconnect after I've been gone and still get some baby snuggles! Thanks for sharing your experience

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