Sleep deprivation. It seems rampant among parents of infants and toddlers. In our foggy, groggy, bleary-eyed quest to get more sleep, some of us feel desperate to find "the one thing" that will finally get our children to sleep through the night. One of the most controversial methods that has gotten quite a lot of attention over the past few years is the "Cry-It-Out" method. In a nutshell, you allow your baby/toddler to cry until they fall asleep. This method can enlist different variations which included intermittent comforting, or "camping out," when you stay with the child as they cry themselves to sleep. When I first read about this method - almost five years ago - I was horrified. I could not imagine leaving my daughter in her room to cry until she exhausted herself and "gave up." At one point when I was desperate for sleep (my daughter woke up every 45 minutes to an hour to nurse until she was almost a year old), I tried letting her stay in her room for 10 minutes while she cried to see if she would fall asleep. It was the longest 10 minutes of my life, and she didn't go to sleep. She actually got more and more upset until she almost threw up. I felt awful.
This topic is something that I really had to research because I never followed the method and so I couldn't say 100% whether it was beneficial or not. And the truth is, there will always be those who say it works and is harmless, and others who stand firm that it will cause long-term damage. From the research I did, however, science seems to prove that it is detrimental. Did you know that children's brains grow the most during the first year of life? That all of the synapses and neurons and electrical signals that form the basis for an intelligent, independent, emotionally-balanced child form from touch? Darcia Narvaez (Professor of Psychology at the University of Notre Dame and Executive Editor of the Journal of Moral Education.) states: "DNA synthesis occurs rapidly following conception and through the first years of life. Nerve growth factor is a hormone that facilitates development. Both are promoted by TOUCH. When mothers stop touching their infants, DNA synthesis stops, growth hormone diminishes (Schaunberg, 1995). Physiologically, the baby goes into "survival mode." Our ancestors carried and held (all the time) and slept with their babies, maximizing growth." Despite what current Western belief seems to be, the more attention and touch you offer to your young children, the more independent they become later in life. By meeting the needs of your child before they become distressed, you are helping them to form a foundation of trust and positive expectation. A child who learns that their caregivers are attentive to their needs, and will nurture and soothe them and provide exactly what they're looking for at all times, will be much more confident in being independent and caring for themselves (and others) as they get older. On the contrary, babies who are left to scream and cry alone become distressed, and during the critical time when brain development is rapidly occurring, stress can do damage that may never be repaired. Cortisol, the stress hormone, is elevated when babies become distressed, and this hormone destroys neurons, which means that those vital connections made in the child's developing brain may not actually be completed. In a study conducted at the University of NorthTexas in 2011, "...5 infants aged 4 to 10 months in a five-day inpatient sleep training program, researchers monitored levels of the stress hormone cortisol in the babies, who were left to cry themselves to sleep without being soothed. The scientists measured how long the infants cried each night before they fell asleep. The mothers sat in the next room and listened to their children cry but were not permitted to go in and soothe their babies. By the third night, the babies were crying for a shorter period of time and falling asleep faster. However, the cortisol levels measured in their saliva remained high, indicating that the infants were just as "stressed" as if they had remained crying. So while the infants' internal physiological distress levels had not changed, their outward displays of that stress were extinguished by sleep training." Even as adults, we know what it feels like to need comfort during times of emotional, mental, and physical stress. Even though we are capable of self-soothing, this is not always the case, and having someone we love and trust care for us during difficult times can bring immense relief to our souls. Imagine the plight of an infant or young child who do not yet know how to self-soothe and are desperate for touch and loving connection.
While I would never judge a parent for trying to figure out ways to get more rest (it's HARD not getting enough sleep!), I would implore you to reconsider using the Cry-It-Out method, at least until you do more thorough research on the potential effects on your baby. The article that made the most impact on me can be found here: https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/moral-landscapes/201112/dangers-crying-it-out
, and I would encourage you to read it and - as always - follow your first intuition. Our Resident Mom, Lindsay Lewis