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Cry it out (CIO): Is it harmful or helpful?

About a month ago, I wrote a post outlining the scientific and emotional reasons why we have chosen not to use the Cry It Out (CIO) method with our children. In brief, the ten reasons are:

  1. CIO can cause harmful changes to babies' brains

  2. CIO can result in decreased intellectual, emotional and social development

  3. CIO can result in a detached baby

  4. CIO is harmful to the parent-child relationship

  5. CIO can make children insecure

  6. CIO often doesn't work at all

  7. Even if CIO does "work", parents often have to do it over and over again

  8. CIO is disrespectful of my child's needs

  9. Deep sleep from CIO is often a result of trauma

  10. Our world needs more love

Several people have commented on that post, both in the comments to that post and in other places, questioning the rationale that was posted. The greatest area of critique appears to be that a lot of the research presented looks more broadly at children whose parents are not responsive to their cries and doesn't specifically look at situations where parents are loving and responsive all day long, but just let their children cry to sleep "for a few nights". They insist that there are children that are left to cry it out that are perfectly happy and healthy despite going through the sleep training.

Fair enough.

This is acknowledged in at least one of the articles that I linked to (Pinky McKay - The Con of Controlled Crying):
Although many baby sleep trainers claim there is no evidence of harm from practices such as controlled crying, it is worth noting that there is a vast difference between "no evidence of harm" and "evidence of no harm". In fact, a growing number of health professionals are now claiming that training infants to sleep too deeply, too soon, is not in babies' best psychological or physiological interests. A policy statement on controlled crying issued by the Australian Association of Infant Mental Health (AAIMHI) advises, "Controlled crying is not consistent with what infants need for their optimal emotional and psychological health, and may have unintended negative consequences." According to AAIMHI, "There have been no studies, such as sleep laboratory studies, to our knowledge, that assess the physiological stress levels of infants who undergo controlled crying, or its emotional or psychological impact on the developing child."


There are things that cannot feasibly or ethically be researched

Imagine a poster in your pediatrician's office that says something like this:
Dr. Sleep of the Infant Sleep Laboratory at the University of Good Night is seeking parents of babies that do not sleep through the night to participate in a study. We are looking for parents that are committed to being responsive parents and meeting their child's needs. Some participants in this study will be required to respond to their babies needs at night. This will be the control group. Other participants will be required to let their baby cry to sleep following specific instructions on how long to let the baby cry and under what circumstances it is okay to check on the baby. We will then monitor your child's physical and emotional health and development at certain intervals during childhood and early adulthood to determine the effects of letting your child cry to sleep.

Would you sign your child up? Of course not. First of all, most responsive parents would not be willing to let their child cry. Second of all, I'd be willing to bet that even those responsive parents that do resort to CIO would not be willing to have a researcher dictate specific terms to them. And without this, it would be hard to get valid scientific results. I'm also pretty sure that a study like this would not make it as far as the poster stage. It wouldn't make it past the ethics board that all medical research proposals need to go through, so I don't think we need to worry about coming across this poster.

The issue of alcohol during pregnancy is one that is similar to the issue of crying it out. We know from data that has been collected that some women that drink alcohol during pregnancy end up having babies with Fetal Alcohol Syndrome. Other women that drink alcohol during pregnancy have babies that are perfectly healthy. It would appear, from anecdotal evidence, that some women are heavy drinkers during pregnancy and have healthy babies. Others are only light drinkers and end up with babies with fetal alcohol syndrome. Ideally, we would do more research to understand better why alcohol impacts some babies and not others and to figure out how much alcohol under what circumstances is okay. However, it is not advisable or ethical to tell certain women to drink while pregnant in order to study this issue further. As a result, health organizations advise women to abstain from drinking while they are pregnant.

We don't know which babies will turn out okay and which ones won't

Some babies of mothers that drink during pregnancy turn out okay. Others get fetal alcohol syndrome. Some kids that are bullied at school brush it off, others suffer from depression, get bad marks, commit suicide or murder. Some children that are victims of sexual abuse are able to get over it and move on, for others their lives are ruined. Some children who are left to cry it out will turn out okay and others will suffer intellectually, emotionally and socially.

The human brain is a sensitive organ and we do not know why it is so resilient in some people and so sensitive in others. We do know that the brain is particularly sensitive during the first few years, so it makes sense that someone with a sensitive brain is going to be even more sensitive as an infant and even more susceptible to potential damage.

Because we don't know which babies have resilient brains and which ones have sensitive brains, we cannot assume that any one baby will be okay as a result of crying it out, just because others have been okay.

We don't know how much is too much

Some of the so-called sleep experts and sleep trainers will put limits on how long to listen to your baby crying before you offer reassurance. But how did they come to their conclusion that 5 minutes, 15 minutes, 30 minutes, 60 minutes, or whatever is a reasonable amount of time to leave a crying child before checking in? There are no scientific studies that say that a certain amount of crying is okay and your baby still knows that you are there and that you care and that you will meet his needs but that after "X" minutes it is no longer okay anymore. We don't know what the snapping point will be for any particular child. So for an "expert" to tell you that a certain number of minutes is okay, is ridiculous.

We need to question what we define as success

Parents generally define success as uninterrupted sleep. Sleep trainers will measure success "by the reluctance of the child to call out for his parents, even if he still wakes up, needs help, or is traumatized by fear" (Paul Fleiss - Mistaken Approaches to Night Waking).

Personally, I reject any parenting tactic that has, at its core, a goal of teaching children not to connect with their parents when they need them. Some people will say that if you are otherwise always responsive to your kids, but just do CIO, then they will still know that they can come to you. But will they really? Will they always know that it is okay? Perhaps a thought will linger on their brains that it is best not to disturb their parents at night. And then when they have been drinking at a party and can either call their parents to pick them up or accept a ride home with someone that has been drinking, they figure their parents will only be upset at being disturbed. Maybe not all children that are left to CIO will make that choice. Perhaps enough reminders from their parents that it is okay to call will sink in.

However, I'd rather just get the right head start and teach my children from the start that they can reach out to me whenever they need me. If that message sinks in, that is what I define as success.

It is your choice, you need to feel comfortable with it

My original post was written to explain my reasons for not using the cry it out method. I put it out there for the benefit of parents who are being told that their baby must sleep through the night and that they must use sleep training, cry it out, controlled crying, or whatever you want to call it to achieve that. I wanted to provide a balance to that voice that is strong and give another perspective to those parents that might benefit from it.

While I do believe in the reasons that I posted, that only really matters for my children. You need to believe in the reasons that you are doing things the way that you do them with your children. If you feel confident that the "lack of evidence" that CIO is harmful means that it is harmless, that is your choice. And I hope that you are right. But I'm not taking the chance.

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Reader Comments (52)

[...] See also follow-up post: Cry it Out (CIO): Is it harmful or helpful? [...]

[...] [Technorati] Tag results for mental health wrote an interesting post today onHere’s a quick excerpt About a month ago, I wrote a post outlining the scientific and emotional reasons why we have chosen not to use the Cry It Out (CIO) method with our children. In brief, the ten reasons are: CIO causes harmful changes to babies’ brains CIO results in decreased intellectual, emotional and social development CIO results in a detached baby CIO is harmful to the parent-child relationship CIO makes children insecure CIO often doesn’t work at all Even if CIO does “work”, parents often have to do it [...]

August 12, 2008 | Unregistered Commenter» Cry it out (CIO): Is i

Not to justify why going with the CIO route is better, but rather why it worked for our family...
After I had my first son, he was early, under-weight, and had trouble nursing. The staff at the hospital were concerned, and rightfully so. They told me to wake him every 2 hours no matter what to feed him. This went on for 4 months straight....no sleep for Mom! I was literally a walking zombie. There was nothing that worked to help to break his habit of waking every 2 hours. He simply wouldn't sleep. We decided to let him CIO. After just 1 night he slept through ever night since (other than when he is sick, or has a scary dream). He is now 4. He is a bright, happy, energetic, loving child. There is nothing wrong with him in any way, and I think this method can possibly be beneficial if it is RIGHT for that family. For us, I wasn't able to look after him properly because of sleep deprivation, and after doing this, I was such a better Mom.

http://sexdiariesofamom.blogspot.com/" rel="nofollow">Sex Diaries of a Mom

August 12, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterMama of Romance

I love this quote:

"He awakes in a mindless terror of the silence, the motionlessness. He screams. He is afire from head to foot with want, with desire, with intolerable impatience. He gasps for breath and screams until his head is filled and throbbing with the sound. He screams until his chest aches, until his throat is sore. He can bear the pain no more and his sobs weaken and subside. He listens. He opens and closes his fists. He rolls his head from side to side. Nothing helps. It is unbearable. He begins to cry again, but it is too much for his strained throat; he soon stops. He waves his hands and kicks his feet. He stops, able to suffer, unable to think, unable to hope. Then he falls asleep again."


If I were laying in my bed, unable to speak for some reason, crying for help, and my husband stood outside the door insisting it would be "good for me" to self-soothe, that would be spousal abuse.

Four children and I've never "had" to CIO/sleep train. No parent EVER has to. I know we all try to be great parents, but sadly misinformation and encouragement to ignore your child has made the mainstream media as acceptable - and frankly, it's not.

August 13, 2008 | Unregistered Commentergeriatricmama

Mama of Romance,

Thanks for stopping by! As I said above, it is your choice and you need to feel comfortable with it.

But I don't think it was the only option available to you in your situation. I think it was a quick fix to a problem that you perhaps felt powerless to fix.

I don't usually use sexual analogies when talking about parenting, but since you're coming in from Sex Diaries of a Mom, maybe it will work...

After giving birth, most women don't feel like getting right back into a sexual relationship. Some of them are ready early. Others take longer. Their spouses can gently help guide them back to a place where they want to have sex by romancing them, helping out with the things that stress them out, and generally being kind and supportive. And they will come around, with time.

However, there are certainly plenty of men out there that are not willing to wait, not willing to do what it takes to help bring their wife around slowly. Those men have 3 choices, they can live with it (just like a parent of a bad sleeper can just continue to live with it), they can force their wife to have sex or they can have an affair. Those last two options are "quick fixes" that I would equate to CIO. They might solve the immediate "problem", but I think they damage the relationship in the long term.

August 13, 2008 | Unregistered Commenterphdinparenting

geriatricmama - thanks for sharing that quote!

August 13, 2008 | Unregistered Commenterphdinparenting

I'm sorry but you need to step down from your high horses for a while. First off, don't pretend that you somehow base any of this on science. Take this paragraph for example:

"Some babies of mothers that drink during pregnancy turn out okay. Others get fetal alcohol syndrome. Some kids that are bullied at school brush it off, others suffer from depression, get bad marks, commit suicide or murder. Some children that are victims of sexual abuse are able to get over it and move on, for others their lives are ruined. Some children who are left to cry it out will turn out okay and others will suffer intellectually, emotionally and socially."

All of your initial examples can be proven scientifically. We KNOW that some children that are victims of sexual abuse will suffer tremendously from this later in life, or that some kids being bullied at school will develop depressions. There is plenty of evidence for this. However, no evidence whatsoever indicate that SOME children who are left to cry it out "will suffer intellectually, emotionally and socially." No evidence at all suggest that ANY children who are left to cry it out "will suffer intellectually, emotionally and socially." This is only your opinion and it is not based on any facts. You have the right to think, believe, hope or guess whatever you like, but don't pretend that you know something that you don't.

I could as well say that "SOME children who are NOT left to cry it out turn out ok and others will never develop into happy and independent individuals."

Bottom line, for some babies, controlled crying may work well and help to develop healthy and necessary sleeping habits. As a matter of fact, by NOT developing healthy and necessary sleeping habits, one could certainly harm a child intellectually, emotionally and socially. Plenty of evidence show that our sleeping habits affect our mental and physical health (that's why sleep deprivation so popular in Guantanamo Bay...).

September 13, 2008 | Unregistered Commenteroi

@oi: When you say "by NOT developing healthy, necessary sleep habits, one could certainly harm a child intellectually, emotionally and socially" you are propagating the myth that children that are not "trained" to sleep will never become good sleepers. Children that are consistently parented to sleep and comforted when they cry at night do develop good sleep habits. It doesn't need to be forced. The only time it "needs" to be forced is when the parent becomes too frustrated with the natural process or when the parent is creating an unhealthy sleep environment (e.g. television in a child's room, letting a young child drink caffeine, bedroom that is too cold or too warm, etc.)

September 13, 2008 | Unregistered Commenterphdinparenting

Also @ oi:

You said "However, no evidence whatsoever indicate that SOME children who are left to cry it out “will suffer intellectually, emotionally and socially.” No evidence at all suggest that ANY children who are left to cry it out “will suffer intellectually, emotionally and socially.” This is only your opinion and it is not based on any facts. You have the right to think, believe, hope or guess whatever you like, but don’t pretend that you know something that you don’t."

In fact, there is http://askdrsears.com/html/10/handout2.asp" rel="nofollow">plenty of evidence that excessive crying causes intellectual, emotional and social harm to the child. And SOME children that are left to cry it out do end up going through excessive crying. I know that for a fact. I have observed and heard about parents that let their children cry themselves to sleep for periods of up to an hour or more EVERY night. I know of parents that close the door to their child's room at 8pm and don't go back in until 8am NO MATTER WHAT. By anyone's definition, those situation would describe consistent excessive crying and there is evidence that excessive crying is harmful.

However, where there isn't enough evidence, is whether a few nights of crying will cause lasting damage. I don't know this for sure. My educated opinion is that it would cause a breach of trust at the very least and possibly have more damaging effects. It is something that I am absolutely not willing to do with my kids. But, as I said in my post, "If you feel confident that the “lack of evidence” that CIO is harmful means that it is harmless, that is your choice. And I hope that you are right. But I’m not taking the chance."

September 13, 2008 | Unregistered Commenterphdinparenting

What you completely fail to consider in all of this is the potential harm from sleep deprivation for both parent and infant. What about that aspect of the equation? Have you ever seen a truly sleep deprived infant? It's not good, let me tell you.

It's all well and good to proclaim no CIO, ever, but when Mom wraps her car around a telephone pole because she hasn't slept more than 45 minutes at a time for months, maybe a little bit of CIO sleep training wouldn't have been such a bad thing.

September 14, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterEgrrrl

If you've really really really tried absolutely everything else and nothing else works, then Elizabeth Pantley has an option in her book that involves some crying, but NEVER involves the infant being left alone to cry. If at the end of the day and after really trying everything else and nothing else works, then maybe an approach like that is better than having no one get any sleep.

However, I think a lot of parents assume that CIO is the ONLY way to get a baby to sleep and assume that there can be no harm from it because "sleep experts" recommend it.

Also, if you do have to resort to some sort of crying approach, then that is your choice, but I don't think you can assume that there is no harm at all. If my child wouldn't eat anything but pop tarts, then I would feed him pop tarts rather than having him starve and sure he would look healthier and happier than when he was eating nothing, but I wouldn't pretend that it was a healthy diet and that it was having no ill effects on his health.

September 14, 2008 | Unregistered Commenterphdinparenting

[...] And as they search, Google and other search engines bring them to resources that might help them decide whether to ignore their instincts, put in earplugs, and let their baby scream. And sometimes those searches bring them here, to my blog, to my posts on Cry It Out: 10 reasons why it is not for us and Cry it Out: Is it harmful or helpful?. [...]

@ Sarah V.

Thanks for your comment. I honestly don't remember how I came across your post. It may be when I was researching the topic and looking around to see what information was available.

I'll read the studies you posted when I have a chance and either comment back here or do a follow-up post and then link it from here (depending on how much I have to say!).

November 14, 2008 | Unregistered Commenterphdinparenting

@Sarah V.

Now I've read the studies/abstracts and wanted to reply in more depth to what you asked/stated.

First off, with regards to the research that you posted, it is laden with a lot of culturally biased and incorrect assumptions.

1) In the two for which there are only abstracts, I don’t have a lot of info to go by. However, I’ll make a few observations. First, they seem to assume that an infant that is waking at night is a “problem”. However, this is not consistent with what we know about normal infant sleep (http://www.kellymom.com/parenting/sleep/sleep.html). One of the abstracts says "If parents experience young children's night awakenings as a problem, teaching the children to fall asleep by themselves usually solves this problem quickly”. Perhaps we should educate parents about what normal infant sleep is and what they can do to gently encourage better sleep, rather than telling them that night wakings are a problem and they have to use CIO to solve that problem. Second, they have only looked at the immediate result of using CIO. They have not looked at the eventual result. Many of the consequences of excessive crying described in my original post would only be seen later in the child’s life, in school years or beyond. Third, they talk about so-called “sleep disturbed” babies being more insecure than babies with unknown sleep behaviour. The problem here is that what I would call “attached” a lot of people in Western society call “insecure”. They expect babies to be independent and perfectly happy to wander away from their parents and be in the company of strangers. That is not normal in my books. I consider it normal for an infant to be wary of strangers and attached to its parents. Attached children grow into their independence over time. They are not forced into it. The abstract talks about “anxious” children having benefitted from extinction (CIO). I would call that pushing independence on a child that is not ready.

2) With regards to the full study that was posted, I have a few comments:
(a) It looked at the results of an intervention at 7 months on the baby and the mom at 2 years. What if the effects aren’t seen until later? What if the eventual behaviour problems that result from being left to CIO cause the mom more depression and stress than the so-called “sleep problems” the mom was facing at 7 months?
(b) I think it is great that the moms that did CIO were happier as a result of it. Having a happy mom is also really important to child development. However, one of my big worries with CIO is that people assume it is the only option. They don’t try other options before doing CIO, so the maternal stress and depression could have been alleviated without causing potential stress and depression in the baby. I also think it would be really interesting to know whether moms that were left to cry frequently themselves as babies are more predisposed to being depressed in early motherhood. That would be a fascinating study!
(c) The study talks about the prevalence of sleep problems in Australia and the rate at which they drop off. First, THEY DO DROP OFF! In most cases, no intervention is required. Just patience and perseverance. Babies will learn to sleep on their own in due time. Second, I wonder how much the “sleep problems” that we see in developed countries are cultural problems – i.e. we perceive something to be a problem that other cultures do not or because we often force our children to sleep separately from us, they do not sleep as well as babies in different cultures.
(d) The things they call “problems”, I wouldn’t consider “problems”, e.g. rocking a baby to sleep, feeding an infant at night. Again, these are culturally biased perceptions of what is okay and not okay. So if a parent is trying to get their child to sleep well without rocking or feeding and without doing CIO, well then yeah, they might have trouble. I believe in parenting to sleep until the child is ready to do otherwise.
(e) The comments about anti-depressants irked me. There are antidepressants that are safe for use in breastfeeding mothers as indicated by the leading expert on Medications and Mother’s Milk, Dr. Hale: http://www.kellymom.com/health/meds/antidepressants-hale10-02.html

Then you asked: If you believed that no research had been done into psychological effects of controlled crying, why were you writing a post in which you specifically claimed that it *had* been proved to cause all the harmful effects you listed? And why are those claims still up there even after it’s been pointed out to you that the research you’ve cited has nothing to do with controlled crying, and that there’s no evidence for any of the statements you made about it?

First, there is no difference between excessive crying in order to get a baby to go to sleep and excessive crying in the middle of the day. Excessive crying is excessive crying. There are studies that prove the damaging effects of excessive crying. Even if those studies were not linked specifically to CIO method of getting babies to go to sleep, they do show the detrimental effects of excessive crying, which would apply to CIO. Saying that those studies are not about controlled crying would be like saying that studies that prove that eating too many calories will make you gain weight didn’t look specifically at eating too many calories between midnight and 1:00am. It doesn’t matter when the calories are consumed. If they are consumed, they will make you gain weight.

Second, I went back and changed the language in some cases on the points I was making from, for example “CIO causes harmful changes to babies’ brains” to “CIO can cause harmful changes to babies brains”. We know that excessive crying causes harmful changes to babies brains. Studies have proven that. What we don’t have is a concrete definition of what “excessive” is and while some babies may only need CIO for 5 minutes, many of them need to be left to cry for much longer and much more often before it “works” if it even works at all. So I would say that some babies that are left to CIO are being put through excessive crying, but it is possible that some are not. Personally, I am not comfortable leaving my children to cry on their own for any length of time, but I do recognize that there aren’t specific scientific studies saying that leaving a baby to cry for 5 or 10 minutes would cause damage to their brains.

Finally, you said that reading my posts means that parents who have already done CIO are subjected to unnecessary guilt.

I don’t buy that any more than I buy the argument that we shouldn’t talk about the benefits of breastfeeding and the dangers of formula feeding because we might upset some mothers that had difficulty breastfeeding and ended up going to formula. Just because some people didn’t know better, couldn’t do better, or chose not to do better, doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t inform others about the best way to do things. I also think a certain about of guilt is healthy, because it helps us improve. I feel some guilt over having an epidural with my son’s birth and over letting the nurses in the hospital give him some formula in a bottle when he wasn’t able to nurse. I now know better and it led me to do more research and to plan better for the birth of my daughter to avoid those same problems.

November 15, 2008 | Unregistered Commenterphdinparenting

I nursed my child until 23 months. He was in bed with me the first 6 months and my boob was his binky and he would suckle the entire night. After 6 months and no sleep because of uncomfortable contorted positions, I moved him to his crib where I had to go to him every 2 hours until he was 18 months.

Every night, the 11:00 pm and the 1:00 am wake-ups, I used to feel loving warmth and tenderness towards him. At the 3:00 am waking I felt annoyance, at the 5:00 am feeling I felt rage and resentment. You have to realize that tending to your child for 18 months, every 2 hours, during which 45 minutes is spent nursing/rocking and gingerly putting him in bed, another half hour is spent trying to calm the emotions of exhaustion and rage and resentment, and when finally you do fall asleep, this starts again is another half hour!!! Needless to say, I sacrificed a lot for my child (I gained 25 pounds from the time he was born till I CIO, because I had so much sleep deprivation and such little energy that I had to eat constantly for energy, as well a using it as stress management). My lack of energy, zest and wakefulness, robbed me of quality aware time with him, and his lack of sleep made him fussier.

After 18 months of both my husband and I arguing both sides of the matter, analizing, dissecting and researching every possible alternative, I felt I had no choice. It was either my sanity or hearing my child's cries. I did not want to CIO earlier, but the time had come to give it a try.

That first night, as I followed the sleep routine, I told him that mommy was gonna put him in the bed and leave, that I would be right outside in the den and that I loved him, but that it was time for bed and that he needed to sleep alone. I put on his usual night music, I nursed him and put him in bed. He snapped right up to full attention, yelling and screaming. I kissed him and told him I loved him , closed the door and left. He cried for 20 minutes the first night (and his cries were more argumentative than anxious). He slept 10 hours straight! (Note, he'd been waking up every 2 hours since birth). Second night he cried 10 minutes. Third night 3 minutes, forth night 2 minutes. And never again. Now I put him to bed, he tells me Byebye, rolls over and sleeps. In fact, when he is tired, he comes and tells me it's time for sleep. I remember that first week, I was so elated at being able to sleep again, and true enough, just like the CIO experts predicted, his naps regularized as well, so he was sleeping 10-12 hours per night and 3 hour naps. It was heaven. He was rested, we were rested, he was happy, we were happy.

I do believe it was a matter of timing. He was old enough to understand at 18 months, and I had had enough of being a sucker parent. I had become part of his sleep routine (like a binky or blanket, rather than a source of connection), and his cries were more about complaining about the change in routine, rather than a panicky, insensed crying.

My child is extremely social, well adjusted, healthily attached, expressive, and intelligent child. I cannot stress that enough. He gets along with everybody. He learned to count till 15 in 3 languages by 20 months, and the alphabet by identification (not just by heart) by 21 months. He speaks well in 3 languages at 24 months. He is active, openly affectionate and loving to all the family (large extended family as well), and is a pleasure to be around.

There may be murderers who would have been CIO children, but there are also murderers that were never CIO. It is ridiculous to imply that CIO will determine criminality and connect it to social behavior. CIO is not a precursor to anything, not even remotely if child is well cared for emotionally during the rest of the day. In "olden" times, their were less criminality rates than today, and back then almost all kids were CIO because parenting in the past was about discipline and dictatorship-style ruling of the housefhold. If you are a responsive, loving, caring parent in every aspect of the child's life , the child will always feel that connection. If you ignore your child's need for attention all day, then continue at night, I agree that there will be detachment issues, but this is not attributable to CIO, but the parent's general attentivess and responsiveness to child's needs.

You state "Also, if you do have to resort to some sort of crying approach, then that is your choice, but I don’t think you can assume that there is no harm at all. If my child wouldn’t eat anything but pop tarts, then I would feed him pop tarts rather than having him starve and sure he would look healthier and happier than when he was eating nothing, but I wouldn’t pretend that it was a healthy diet and that it was having no ill effects on his health."

If you let your child starve for a few hours, trust me he would eat anything you offered him and wouldn't hold out for pop tarts, you know the saying, beggards can't be choosers. I think it is irresponsible and a short-lasting quick-fix solution for parents to cater to a childs' every whim, and undermines a child's confidence in himself to learn things. A child needs to learn that there are boundaries, due to health and safety issues. You wouldn't let your child play with a knife in order to make him stop crying. As an adult and a parent, it is your responsability to make sure your child grows up emotionally, intellectually and physically stable and giving in to every demand of a child is not the way to do it. I'm not saying you have to be dictatorial or strict in any way, but it is your job to reasonably set limits that will guide your child to healthy habits that will make him a well-adjusted person. Bad sleeping habits are directly connected to health and obesity rates. I would rather go through a week of CIO (with whatever comfort level I can deal with), than to let my child parent themselves and lead themselves to bad sleeping/eating/behavioral patterns. A lot of parents want so much for their kids to like them all they time, that they are too scared to set limits. If your child wanted to hit another child, would you let them do it because you knew that forbidding him would cause tantrums and crying?

Sleep habits that depend on assistance from the parent to fall asleep is just that, a habit. After a certain age (child-dependant), that routine must be changed for another one that is healthy for everyone. Any change of routine will cause the child to be upset and cry, regardless of the age, so why prolong the sleep deprivation? I'm not saying to do CIO on a 4 month old child, or to do it as a first resort method, or on a child who is crying so intensely that they are about to hyperventilate, or to give up trying any other methods. As a parent, you do what you are comfortable with, regardless of what others try to tell you. You listen to advice, you weed out what you don't agree with, and you push forward. But CIO is not a damaging method if done in an attentive way I think. You listen to the types of crying, the intensity. Are the cries those of supreme distress, panic, anxiety, fear, or are they cries that are demanding, argumentative, protesting, frustrated. The latter is just their version of whining and complaining. The former means that they are not ready yet and need your comfort a little longer. There has to be an element of reason to the method. No book, or theory about how many minutes to let them cry can tell you more about your child then what you yourself know just by listening to your child.

In any case, after 18 months of fantastic days with my baby, but horrendous night, we are all a happy, sleeping family, and I have absolutely no doubt in my mind (not even 0.000001%) that it caused any damage in trust, connection, emotional, social, intellecutal development, etc.

In fact, he gained confidence in himself. He learned that he is able to fall asleep without assistance. A new skill learned. Just like learning to feed himself, and learning to talk, or learning to go potty, the new skill of sleeping unassisted was learnt.

I hope you realize I do not attack you for your views, (trust me I've been in that mind-frame), but to imply that others are being careless parents, taking a risk on their children's health, safety and moral/social development is unfair and unsupported and unevidenced.

Good luck to all who try CIO. Believe in yourself and your child and know that one day this will all be a distant memory and you will be snuggling in your beds and coming back to life not a zombie anymore. And for those of you who are absolutely against CIO, do not judge the others, and I sincerely hope that your sleep issues get fixed using whatever other method you trust.

December 26, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterJanjik

@Janjik – Thank you for your comment. I appreciate the effort and thoughtfulness that you put into it and I can tell that you thought hard and long about what would work for your family. Good for you.

However, you are making a lot of assumptions in your comment that are inaccurate.

You assume that all babies will learn to go to sleep on their own in a few nights, which is not true For example, I know people whose baby has to cry for 30 minutes to get to sleep every nap and every night and it didn’t stop after a few nights (they continued it for over a year). Also, even when it does work, some parents have to do it over and over and over again each time the child is sick, teething, working on a milestone, goes on vacation, etc.

You seem to equate not doing cry it out with permissive parenting. I do not cater to my child’s every whim (that’s what grandparents are for!). I set limits, but I do it in a manner that is respectful and gentle. To me, that means not making abrupt changes from one day to the next, especially as it relates to things that are important to my child. If I want to make a change, we do it gradually.

You also say that “If you let your child starve for a few hours, trust me he would eat anything you offered him”. That is not necessarily true. Just like CIO doesn’t “work” for some children, withholding food will not make all children eat anything. My daughter will eat just about anything if hungry enough, but my son would probably starve himself for days and then gag and cry through eating something he didn’t want to. That is not the type of environment I want to raise my child in.

You say “After a certain age (child-dependant), that routine must be changed for another one that is healthy for everyone. Any change of routine will cause the child to be upset and cry, regardless of the age, so why prolong the sleep deprivation?” Again, you are making assumptions that are incorrect. Children do learn to go to sleep on their own without people teaching them to do so. Sure, some parents don’t want to wait that long and that is fair, but there are gentle ways of teaching your child to go to sleep on their own. They require more patience than a few nights of CIO, but it is possible. Again, gently and slowly is key for me when making significant changes.

You also say “And for those of you who are absolutely against CIO, do not judge the others, and I sincerely hope that your sleep issues get fixed using whatever other method you trust.” People that are absolutely against CIO do not necessarily have sleep issues, They may have used gentle methods to encourage good sleep or it may have just come naturally because they created a healthy sleep environment without necessarily doing anything specific.

December 26, 2008 | Unregistered Commenterphdinparenting

I surfed through here from Justmommies.com, and I love what you have to say! Your replies to posters who disagree are very respectful and informative, and I have really enjoyed reading your blog. I am also an ardent supporter of night-time parenting and responding to all cries, no matter what time of night it is!

My daughter nursed until she was about 25 months, and I night-weaned her when I got pregnant again. Until then, she was waking at night to nurse frequently, and all I can say is, I'm glad I can function ok with interrupted sleep! After I night-weaned her, she started sleeping "through the night" (we still co-sleep) as long as someone was sleeping with her. I could see that her night waking was a habit, but I didn't consider it a problem as much as a phase that would pass. And now, she goes to sleep easily, sleeps deeply, falls back asleep at night with no problems if she wakes up for any reason, and I never resorted to letting her cry alone!

I dont think I was left alone to CIO when I was a baby, but I always did have problems sleeping as a child and a teenager - insomnia, fear of the dark, nightmares, frequent waking. The one thing I knew was that my mom was "off limits" at night, and I think that was one reason the problems persisted. While there may not be scientific evidence to support the theory that a lack of night-time responsiveness by parents causes problems in later childhood and adulthood, I'm sure there is anecdotal evidence to support your theory.

Again, thanks for your respectful, well-reasoned, well-researched posts.


January 2, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterStacey

[...] January 15, 2009 by phdinparenting A few weeks ago Macall Gordon dropped by my blog and left a comment on my post about why we don’t use the cry it out method to get our children to go to sleep. Since then, I’ve been reading a lot of his work and found that it supports my assertion that there is no proof of the safety of cry it out or any real understanding of the long-term consequences. [...]

Hi, this reply is to OI and to all the parents who believe that letting a baby cry all alone in his crib until he falls asleep is harmless. It isn't. I remember very vividly one time it was done to me. I was two-and-a-half. I could vividly, to complete and utter detail tell everything about the experience--where the crib was, how I was laying, how i was feeling, and the condition of my diaper due to being terrified. I was lying on my left side. My right arm was over my body, and the palm of my hand was on the matress. My left hand was under my cheek, as I was laying on it. I had a baby blanket half over me--I kicked it down in a fit, I was facing the wall, and my diaper was one of the older style plastic backed ones that was wet and soiled to the brim because my body had a physical response as a result of my terror. I was so very scared. I could even tell you what was scaring me. I wanted someone to come so bad, but nothing. I screamed and screamed and screamed and screamed and screamed and screame and screamed and screamed and screamed and screamed ans still nobody would respond. Finally, my mom came into the room. She got mad and said, "You need to knock it off and go to sleep. Stop that right now!" She changed my diaper and then left, very silently shutting the door. I screamed and screamed and screamed and screamed and screamed and screamed and screamed and screamed until I fell asleep. I could go on no longer. I remember it to this day. It haunts me from time to time. And you'd think that because I'm twenty-four years of age that something so long ago and so very irrelabant would just go away, right? Wrong. It stays with me forever.

Could that be the reason that I've never ever awoken my parents in the night when I had a bad dream? Possibly. I'd awaken them for anything else, such as when I wet the bed or did not feel good, but I must say that I stood in front of their door, for probably twenty minutes contemplating if I should bother, before I called them to help me. I told them that I remembered that experience when I was two, and they had much to say. I told my parents how much it still hurts me. Thank God they don't deny it or brush it under the rug. But they never knew how long I'd just stand outside their door when I was a child, comtemplating for several minutes, before I'd silicit their help. I promise and made a vowel that I'd never ever do that to my children. Yes, this can be learned in babyhood. The blog writer is so correct in saying this.

I'm twenty-four years of age, and I've been in serious trouble many many nights in the middle of the night, such as when my friends and I were out bar hopping, roaming the streets out of town, or when a horrible crisis just arose, and I never bothered to call my parents to let them know or to even silicit their help and advice. I would have loved them to talk me down when things got so bad, but I never dared to call them, despite the millions of times my parents said I COULD call whenever I was in trouble. I handled everything on my own, even the time when I had to accompany one of my best friends to the ER, in the middle of the dangerous drug-filled, crime-ridden city, in the middle of the night because there was an extremely terrifying crisis, and I would have loved to hear my mother's voice then because I was so afraid. Without showing my friend I was so scared for him, I hid the fear, used all of the things I learned during my med certification classes that I had to take before working with the mentally challenged, and did what I had to. I was a trooper. I did what I always do. I pretended that my parents did not exist and thought of how I'd solve my problems like if they were dead or something like that and I could not call on them. Then, I'd put my problem solving into play. Thank God I have a very level head and can think very clearly in extremely high stress situations. I navigated them well, took control, and got out of trouble. This is what I mean when I tell my mother "I'm a stranger in your midst. There is soooooooooooooooo very much of my life that is unknown to you, and I'll never tell you. It is for me to know and for you to never, ever find out." I wonder where the deep rooted thought and principle within me comes from that I should not call my parents in the night--for anything. I'd probably call the police first if someone had broken into my house and threatened to rape and kill me before I'd ever, ever call them. I'd probably call my parents after the fact. As a matter of fact, that is what I'd certainly do. They are always the last to know. They find out after everything is said, done and handled.

So, stop saying that this method is so harmless and that it works because it doesn't. I'm living proof. Is my personal story enough?!

January 21, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterReina Brown

Egrrrl, why would you have to use CIO? If you were sleep deprived, could you not find a trusted friend or family member to watch your baby while you got some much needed rest? Could you not have your partner take turns with you dealing with night wakings? This is what people do in most caregiving situations. They take turns so sleep can be gained. There are many responsible ways to handle situations like these. If you have nobody in your life, look for a crisis nursery. Most every town has them. They will keep your baby or young child so you can get some nights off, much similar to respite care for the elderly or disabled for no charge at all, hence the reason it is called a crisis nursery. You should never, ever resort to traumatising your baby for your benefit or to gain some much needed sleep. I mean never. I hope that my advice helped. Trust me, it really DOES work.

Now, let me ask you something. Try to think and be reasonable, okay? If you were caring for your old granny, or your mother, and she kept waking you up through the night, would you resort to this? Probably not because it is considered abuse, and Adult Protective Services would be all over you. So, how is it any different with a baby. Are babies inferior or something? Do they not deserve the same honor and respect?

I've been a caregiver for awhile, starting out with working for the mentally challenged for community service hours. For hours, you spend time in classes talking about all the ways you'd handle behavior, address certain issues, and so much more. Never was CIO among them and neither is ignoring of any kind to train or "condition" an individual. This is because it is wrong! Let me give you ANOTHER couple of illistrations. Perhaps, it might help?

I also helped to care for one of my childhood friends, who is now dead, who must have woken up four times a night on a GOOD night. Yes, I was really sleep deprived. I was feeling horribly. I was still expected to care for him, as well as run my company that I own. Was it easy? No way. But, I can sleep at night knowing that I did all I could for my friend, who is now resting in peace. He was a life unfinished. He was so young. He hadn't had the chance to live yet.

I have another friend, who suffers from MS, and she is one of my very best friends. She is declining miserably. Things are steadily getting worse for her. I told her that I'd help her if needed. Now, what if she was calling my name every single hour on the hour because she needed something? Would I just ignore her some of those times, prioritizing which of her needs were more important? No! Absolutely not! I'd go to her side every single time. Heck! She could call out for me and just want me there so she could have my company. Perhaps, she needed a hand to hold. Perhaps, she needed the human touch, which is so very vital. No matter the reason, I'd respond EVERY single solitary time. But, what if I was tired? What if I felt annoyed? Could I do it then. Again, the answer is no! Did I present a good enough argument for you? If you can't see it now, then you are just unreasonable.

Sorry, I just have a major habbit of not sugar coding anything at all. I find it gets you nowhere anyhow. That is an important lesson I learned long ago. I don't make too much of a practice of being fake. I'm one hundred percent real, and I speak what I see and how it is. Life's tough. Get a helmet. I have not an ounce of simpathy for you. Use the brain that God gave you, problem solve, and be creative. Stop looking for quick fixes because you want the easy way out, which is what CIO really is. Having a baby is ANYTHING but convenient, and taking the convenient route will be to the detrament of your child. I've seen so much, been through so much, and have been a caregiver long enough that it makes rearing a baby a walk in the park, just as easy as inhaling and exhaling. Sweetie, endure a little why don't ya.

The blog writer is much nicer than I am. Oh yes. How can she do it?

January 21, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterReina Brown

Janjik you are very fortunate, and I mean very fortunate that your son was not ruined. Do you care to tell me about all the many children who WERE actually ruined with this method? What about my story? Can you explain why it still haunts me now? I'm glad your son is super intelligent and such a brain because there are many babies, including myself, who are just not so lucky.

January 21, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterReina Brown

Dear Blog Writer;

i just wish I could be as nice as you. I wish I could handle such disagreements as well as you had. I'm just so passionate and nurturing that it is so hard to do. I see no logic at all in using this method, no matter what the circumstance is. A baby is just as helpless as someone who is elderly or mentally challenged, hence I regard them all the same. I treat them the same and respect and dignify them the same. I see no difference at all. A baby, just as the elderly, disabled, or mentally challenged is just as helpless and needing one hundred percent care, so why is a baby regarded any different? I never can understand it or wrap my head around their reasoning. I can't even begin to think like that.

Even as a younger child, when I was asked by my mother to babysit my little sis, I never made her CIO. I just stood near her crib and patted and rubbed her until she was asleep, and I was smart enough to wait awhile to walk away so she'd not wake up. Just think, I still had my inocence as a young nine year old, not corrupted by sleep experts or having no information of any kind, and I thought that letting a baby cry to sleep was mean and ignorant. I could never understand why my parents or friends parents would do it. I hated it. There were times I'd go into a bathroom, or I'd go into my room, and I'd cry until the baby stopped. Sometimes, I'd fall asleep before the baby. My parents never knew I did this. I told my dad this year. Letting a baby cry like that always hurt me so much. It hurt beyond belief. And today, I feel the same. Nothing has changed a single bit.

Keep up the good work in educating and informing parents. It is my hope that I can look past the rage and passion I feel about this inhumane practice enough to calmly educate parents. God bless you and your efforts. You're a trooper.

January 21, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterReina Brown

@Reina - Thank you for sharing your perspective on this. I think it is worthwhile for parents to consider.

January 22, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterphdinparenting

[...] See also follow-up post: Cry it Out (CIO): Is it harmful or helpful? [...]

[...] A few weeks ago Macall Gordon dropped by my blog and left a comment on my post about why we don’t use the cry it out method to get our children to go to sleep. Since then, I’ve been reading a lot of her work and found that it supports my assertion that there is no proof of the safety of cry it out or any real understanding of the long-term consequences. [...]

Holy cramoly! What a touchy subject this is for a lot of people. I for one just want to say thank you. I'm on your side.

April 15, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterMelodie

Wow. I'm exhausted just reading this. I'm trying to decide whether to go ahead and let a nanny come in and help my 8 mth old to learn to sleep through the night. Apparently the idea is she stays next to the cot and comforts him but at no point picks him up or feeds him etc.
Can I ask a question? Do you have any alternatives to suggest other than going into them every 2 hours in the night (particularly as now my son is at the age where he seems to wake up completely and is very hard to settle back to sleep). He is exhausted during the day as am I. He is so much happier on the odd nights he only wakes up 2 or 3 times rather than 7 or 8!!
Would it be appropriate do you think for someone to be there to comfort him this way despite the fact he is crying? secondly, do you think there is an appropriate age to start teaching kids that the middle of the night is not play time? thirdly, to people who have done CIO - how did you stop the kids from hurting themselves? I'm inclined to put up cot bumpers now he can stand in his cot to stop him from murting himself but these apparently are a SIDS risk.
Any advice would be appreciated from both sides of the argument!! thanks

April 21, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterJulie

@ Julie: Thank you for your comment. Here are my thoughts on your questions.

Do you have any alternatives to suggest other than going into them every 2 hours in the night (particularly as now my son is at the age where he seems to wake up completely and is very hard to settle back to sleep) I wrote a post that might have some helpful suggestions for you: http://www.phdinparenting.com/2009/02/28/gentle-baby-and-toddler-sleep-tips/" rel="nofollow">Gentle Baby and Toddler Sleep Tips. One of the really key things for me was http://www.phdinparenting.com/2009/01/09/cosleeping-benefits/" rel="nofollow">co-sleeping. Not only did I not have to get out of bed to tend to my kids at night, but it also prevented them from waking up completely because I was able to "catch" them when they first started stirring (rather than when they were fully awake) and I also didn't have to take them out of bed to tend to their needs.

Would it be appropriate do you think for someone to be there to comfort him this way despite the fact he is crying? I do think it is better than leaving the child alone. But I think it would be better for it to be a parent. The "nanny" that you mention would be a stranger to your child and I'm not sure how comforting that would be to your baby. Imagine if you were really upset by something and wanted your husband to comfort you and instead he hired someone else to come and comfort you. It just seems odd to me. I could understand a single parent maybe doing it if they were so exhausted that they couldn't cope and didn't have anyone close to them that could help out. But I would do that just as a "break" to get one night of sleep or something, not as a solution for teaching a child to sleep.

Do you think there is an appropriate age to start teaching kids that the middle of the night is not play time? Absolutely. Right from the start. But to me that doesn't mean leaving my child to cry it out. In our house, nighttime has always been nighttime. We insist on that. Unless they are really sick or something, we don't get out of bed at night. My kids get upset about that sometimes and I have had requests for everything from going outside, having chocolate eggs, watching sesame street, and so on. But at night, the answer is "no, it is nighttime, it is time to sleep". But if they need me, I am there.

To people who have done CIO - how did you stop the kids from hurting themselves? I’m inclined to put up cot bumpers now he can stand in his cot to stop him from hurting himself but these apparently are a SIDS risk.
I didn't do CIO and I don't have anything to add here other than what you have already said. Your child could end up getting hurt with or without the bumpers.

April 21, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterphdinparenting

Thanks for getting back to me so quickly! It's nice to get the other side as your arguments are where my gut instincts are. However I have no parental support and my husband works a lot and I am getting quite desperate. I take him into the spare bed at night but i am scared that this will create another problem of having to eventually wean him into his own bed at some stage!! what age did you end up getting your bed back to yourself? I find i get a sore neck / back as i am in weird positions having to keep my hand on his tummy trying to calm him down when he startles too. My husband is very keen for to the CIO for my own sanity - and when I went to visit the GP the other day for my son's cold he was more concerned for my health!!
I can't afford to pay for the nanny to keep coming in and giving me a night off for potentially years if that's how long it takes but I am not keen to hear him screaming at all.
ps thanks for sending the link on tips to getting them sleeping - we are literally doing everything you suggest! and he has little problem getting to sleep - the issue is he doesn't stay that way!
thanks again - i appreciate any advice you can give. the CIO is obviously a last resort but I feel like I am there (in fact a couple of months past there)

April 21, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterJulie

@ Julie:

My son got his own bed when he was 1 year old, but we didn't get him a crib. We just got him a comfortable double bed with a bedrail on it. That way we could go to him at night if he needed us. He is 4 now and still does need us sometimes at night and one of us can go and sleep with him as needed. He isn't ever awake for more than 30 seconds though, so no one is really losing any sleep. He just wants someone next to him (which I can understand, I do too!). My daughter just turned 2 years old and is still in our bed. She almost always sleeps through the night as long as someone is next to her. We don't have another room to put her in right now (we are renovating), so she'll be with us until we can make space (perhaps bunk beds for the kids in one room once my son is old enough to sleep on the top bunk).

April 21, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterphdinparenting

THanks for the tips I will have to see how I go

April 23, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterJulie

Would you believe i've solved the problem myself?! (very relieved as wasn't looking forward to a stranger coming in to do it!) I just let him cry for a maximum of 10 mins at (making sure he was really tired first so he would fall asleep after 10 mins) during the daytime naps and this seems to have convinced him he doesn't really need to fully wake up when he stirs at 4am etc! He even makes it through to 7 if I put him down at 7.30. Nap times are 9 (for about 45 mins) and 12.30 for 2 hrs then a cat nap in his pram at 4pm for half an hour or so which gets him through dinner and bath time. Iam so happy and so is he. I guess it's all in the timing - I was ready at 8 months to let him cry a bit as I know he's not hungry etc and I think I may have been partly to blame for the problem in the first place for rushing in at the first peep. Poor kid. He's much happier now he's sleeping!!! he's still waking at 1amish for a small feed but i can handle that!! Let's hope it continues and this isn't a one off....although it's been 3 nights now so fingers crossed. I definitely don't feel like I've done him any damage letting him cry a bit - he really needed the sleep!

April 30, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterJulie

[...] I want to get people to consider less mainstream parenting practices and help them to be confident in doing so. That includes helping a friend to feel more confident about her parenting choices by flaunting her crunch, getting people to reconsider whether punishment is an effective discipline tool or if there is a better way, or challenging the notion that babies should sleep through the night and that if they don’t, you need to let them cry it out. [...]

You’d have to put me in handcuffs connected to a post to stop me from going to my child's room if he is crying! I run like the wind, up the stairs, and comfort my child. I have been doing this since my first born was born. He'll cry sometimes in his sleep, and I will also go peek in his room. Usually, he stops right away, and continues to sleep, other times, I'll need to lie down with him to comfort him. When BABY who is 17 months old cries? I always pick him up or at least rub his back and tell him I'm there. I can't IMAGINE leaving him to cry and cry and cry! HOW HORRIBLE! My best friends have tried "CIO" and I tell them I don' t know how they can do this! I know, they're tired, the lack of sleep gets to some moms, they're at their wits end, but seriously! If only they go in to soothe their baby, they'll have a better night's sleep, too. I don't care that I'm up about a dozen times a night. I'm used to it now. Sure, I do sigh and huff and puff sometimes, but nothing would keep me from attending to my crying child. I do think it has to be a bit harmful, for sure. They're left to cry and no one goes to them? And then they fall asleep with that big sad deep breathing and tears stained on their face? HORRIBLE, OMG, I don't care how tired I am. I've told my friends that I think it's just wrong, too. This is one thing I'm totally passionate about.

June 25, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterLoukia

I'm like the last commenter. A few times in the last few weeks, Lily has started the night out in her crib, if we go to bed before she wakes up for her first night bfeed, we'll leave her in bed. At her first cry (or even if I hear her moving around) I am right beside her. I don't care how tired I am or will be, I will never, ever let my baby cry and not see how I can console her. Even when she is a full grown woman.

There are lots of parenting choices that others do (even in my family) that are different to mine, and I don't say anything to keep the peace, but CIO is definitely NOT something I keep quiet about.

My heart breaks at thinking that someone would leave their child crying and purposely ignore it.

I love the fact that my husband believes in this as much as I do.

Also glad to have found the #4 comment website.

June 25, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterCindy

[...] Cry It Out (CIO): Is It Helpful or Harmful? [...]

Letting baby cry to sleep: Does research say it's safe?...

In an earlier post, I pointed out that some of the research relied upon by opponents of the cry-it-out...

August 12, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterParenting: Curious Dad

Reading this all really saddened me for those who are adamant on using CIO, and for those who are so sleep deprived they don’t feel like there is another option. Maybe we were lucky, I don’t know, I only have one child at this point but we never felt that we even had to consider CIO. We also became parents later in life when only one sleepless night causes many days of catch-up.

In a lot of the examples it seems as though one parent is missing. My husband and I are partners in creating a home for our family and in raising our children. Sure the mom is often going to be the primary caregiver, especially when breastfeeding but there are a number of ways Dad can help out besides making dinner and tidying up a bit.

For us my husband slept in the guest room during work nights and helped out on the weekends. We each took a morning on the weekend to sleep in. When he came home from work, he would take Ellen for a bit so I could sleep. I fit in the sleep during her naps and wore her to get the minimum of housework required to live comfortably completed.

We found that when she started on solids at 6months, the frequent overnight feedings lessened. By a year, even less. Ellen slept with us and we were so thankful as twice I woke up to her so hot and still asleep, with a severe fever. We didn’t completely wake up when she stirred. Although we were not well rested, we were not desperately sleep deprived.

As for her sleep routine, she is a little over 2 and sleeps in her own room, through the night. She often asks to go to sleep, sometimes we have to lie with her, sometimes she just rolls over and says, ‘good-night’. It wasn’t hard to get her into her own room, we started with having story time there, then naps and finally introducing it at bedtime. In the beginning she wouldn’t always want to sleep in her own room but we didn’t worry about it and let her sleep where she is more comfortable.

Our philosophy was that Steve & I had to adjust to living together, so we have to do the same with our children. Ellen does not dictate life in our home, she is a child that needs guidance, encouragement and support as she discovers the world around her, there are rules that are non-negotiable and others that are flexible, I would prefer for her to sleep in her own room through the night, but she will always be welcome to wake us up and we will be there for her. As for running out on the street, that is not negotiable, she is simply not allowed.

Sometimes I think as parents we over think and come to radical solutions without really looking at the issue. CIO to me is really radical, Ellen’s crying was physically painful for me, I couldn’t imagine retaining my own sanity listening to her cry so much, it would feel like a failure to provide a safe and nurturing environment for her.

September 13, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterCarol-lynn

I love, love, love #1 in comment 12. Perception of a "problem" is everything! Perception of "secure" attachment is everything!

September 17, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterErin

[...] on excessive crying in general, that the cry it out method can be damaging, but that has also been told over and over again by commenters that none of the research about the damage of excessive ..., I was [...]

[...] it out” method and I will do what feels right for Avery and me in order to be successful. (CLICK HERE for a stellar explanation against CIO [...]

February 5, 2011 | Unregistered Commenter7 weeks old. « Mommy Is

Hi Annie, I've just been doing some thinking & writing on our experiences with co-sleeping & had added a link to your article. Hope this is ok.

March 7, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterÁine

[...] you’re interested, here’s a quick link to Annie’s, PHD in Parenting article, one of many, outlining reasons why controlled-crying may be [...]

My mother let my brother and I sleep on the living room floor with her until I was ten. I think CIO would have been a better option. I have a two year old step son who went through about a week of semi-CIO (we went in to check on him but did not pick him up or let him out of the crib) because my husband was sleeping on the floor next the crib every night to keep him from screaming and crying all night. After a week, step-son is sleeping through the night, and if he cries these days we know there is something actually wrong and we can comfort him without worrying we are reinforcing a destructive behavior.

There are some extremely willful kids in the world. I was one of them. I don't think it's healthy to let kids dictate their sleep schedules or their feeding habits. Otherwise--and we all know this--they would end of eating cake every day and sleeping on the couch in front of the television. I actually was the kid sleeping in front of the couch and eating junk food.

What if you have a job? Seriously. My husband was functioning on about two or three hours of sleep every night and working full time and watching the kids when he wasn't at work. If you have the time to wake up every two hours for two years of your life, then awesome. Have at it.

But alot of people have to be functioning adults who will get fired for acting like zombies on the job.

Just a thought.

April 17, 2011 | Unregistered Commentermdhdghg


First, I don't think it is healthy for an adult to dictate a sleep or feeding schedule for a child. An adult can create an environment conducive to good sleep and good nutrition, but forcing an imposed schedule on a child (especially an infant) isn't healthy. Parents have needs. Children have needs. It is up to the parents to create an environment and balance that allows both to be met: http://www.phdinparenting.com/2010/01/20/intersecting-needs-maslow-interdependence-parenting-caregiving-relationships/" rel="nofollow">Intersecting needs: Maslow, interdependence, parenting, caregiving, relationships.

Second, I do have a job (as do a lot of parents who have night parented children who woke frequently) and never had to let my children CIO. I also didn't have to sleep on the floor next to a crib because they slept in the bed with us until they were ready to move to their own beds. There are plenty of ways to create a healthy sleep environment that works for everyone without anyone having to sleep on the floor or sleep on a living room couch eating junk food. Our kids slept in our bed for quite a while. When they did move to their own rooms, we moved them to a comfortable double bed that we could join them in if they did need someone during the night. Even if my kids had been up all night long every night, in our home there were two parents and we could have split the night and still both gotten enough sleep (in fact we did that in the early days with my son when he was waking a lot at night). There is no need for both parents to wake up with the child every time.

April 18, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterphdinparenting

I respect your story and I am impressed with the level of detail you remembered from such a young age. However, my opinion is that, just because you remember a single night of incredible distress, does not necessarily mean your problems with anxiety stem from that. I would be a little careful in automatically assuming there is direct correlation.

I say that because neither I nor my siblings were ever left to cry it out. Not only that, but my parents had TONS of help. We never slept alone either. We shared a room with our parents and, eventually, with my grandma and aunt. There was always another adult in the room until we were, oh, 10 maybe. I also remember one time when I was almost 3 that I had a nightmare with a lion. I was incredibly scared but didn't think to wake my parents or any other adult in the house. I remember this vividly as well. And I know it isnt because they wouldnt comfort me. To tell you the truth, I don't know why I didn't. But I have a feeling it has to do with my own personality, and not so much the type of care I was given.

When we kids got our own room, my mother would often lay with us if we were scared and wait for us to fall asleep before going to her room. My parents just didn't have it in them to listen to us cry. Ever. Despite all of this, my sister and I have major night time anxiety. My sister, despite being well over 30, still has trouble sleeping by herself. She needs someone in the room with her.

So, basically, I always thought we were coddled way too much at bedtime and developed issues because of that. The fact that we were never taught to sleep by ourselves and that we are naturally anxious (and had INCREDIBLE separation anxiety as children) did not bode well for us. We still see the effects of this. Of course, how easy it would be to just blame my parents for all this, but the truth of the matter is they were actually responsive and loving, so is that what I'm going to complain about?

So this is my very personal anecdote. Your parents used CIO, mine didn't and wouldn't ever, but the end result was still the same.

What caught my attention in your story is how independent minded and resilient you are. When you were older, you still "wanted mommy" in a bad situation, like so many of us do. I guess we all feel that way. But you trusted yourself to do what you had to do and you succeeded brilliantly. Another way to look at it is that you didn't call your parents in the middle of the night because you felt it might worry them and, since you're an adult, you can certainly handle it without mom and dad.

"I’d probably call the police first if someone had broken into my house and threatened to rape and kill me before I’d ever, ever call them"

And what in the world could your parents do in that situation? Of course you'd think to call the cops first.

May 8, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterSophia34

You contradict yourself. You say you were ruined but your examples points to someone very smart, very resilient and grown up. You obviously still need something from your parents, and I'm not sure what that is, but I would suggest you look into this a bit further. They seem willing to help and listen.

I am not an advocate of CIO, but of "non-judgement" and truth. Taking care of an elderly or mentally disabled person is not the same as taking care of a baby 24/7. The emotional, mental and physical drain are not even in the same realm. It has nothing to do with how nurturing you are, or how high your pain threshold.

I guess I am a firm believer in not going to either extreme. Yes, parents do need to teach independence and real life skills. No, parents can't just ignore their kids all day and all night. What is the middle ground here? It's hard to find, but I think necessary. We can do damage if we go to either extreme. Too much of anything is a bad thing.

May 8, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterSophia34

I know this is an old post, but this topic is very dear to my heart. I am a childbirth educator, birth and postpartum doula and breastfeeding counselor. I am also a mother of four. I remember being in the middle of it all and thinking, "This is never going to end! I will be sleep deprived for the rest of my life!!" But you know what? You make it through! And you are all okay in the end.
Parenting is not about quick fixes. Though we search high and low for them. From the moement of conception we are looking for the easiest, least disruptive to the parent, way of doing everything. The fact that we would rather numb all sensations of childbirth than experience the incredible power we mothers have in the process is the beginning of what seems like handing over our power. We don't believe we know what we are doing. There are experts everywhere we turn to tell us what we're doing wrong, and how if we'd only listen to them we'd have a much EASIER life.
You know what? Parenting isn't easy. Who ever said it was going to be? And you know what? Thank GOODNESS it isn't easy! How else would we relish in our successes and truly appreciate the every second of blessing we are given with our children? With every trial and hardship, we are taught lessons of humility and wisdom. Do you know how much wisdom my children have given me in the past 11 1/2 years? More than I ever imagined! I would never have gained this on my own!
Parenting teaches us the best of life's lessons. Lessons of sacrifice, patience, grace, love, dying unto oneself, beauty, joy, etc. All of my children slept with me in my husband's and my bed until they were 15 months or older. All were breastfed throughout the night. All were gently parented back to sleep. All now sleep in their own beds for the entire night. And all feel confident that I will be there with them if they need me.
To say that NOT letting my baby learn independence from a young age is harmful is silly. To say that I NEED to let my children CIO in order to be able to learn to sleep is ridiculous. My children are confident, incredibly independent children. They are secure in the fact that their parents are there for them no matter what.
Sure there were a few nights when I was tired as all heck. But for the past few years I've had my bed to myself and a full night's sleep and I am SO thankful for those years of sharing sleep and wakefullness with my babies. And while I'm glad to not be waking regularly throughout the night any more, I do miss those little baby snuggles and middle of the night connections. The years go by so fast. I don't know why anyone would want to rush them.

June 20, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterAmy Hoyt

We are defined by what we experience. Don't let a few bad memories define you and hold your life back; then place blame on people or the events.
Handle it. Talk about it. Grow up. Define yourself for who you are and what you want to be. Emotional damage and low self worth because of CIO? Blame is a wonderful thing, it takes all the responsibility off you and leaves you no room to grow.
Letting a scary childhood memory of CIO define you instead of letting it help you grow is childish. I feel sorry that you picked a bad experience to shape your life around, instead of the good and happy experiences.
As a parent, try to let the good outweigh the bad. Love you kids, care for them, and let them grow. CIO is not going to destroy your kids any more than a stubbed toe, locking oneself in a closet, or losing that first tooth will.

January 4, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterConcerned Reader

I know this post is "nearly ancient", but I feel compelled to comment anyway. Since beginning researching pregnancy, birth, and caring for children while I was pregnant, I have become passionate about a few topics. One of those topics is CIO.
Since my son was born, I absolutely cannot stand by while hearing my baby, or other babies, cry. It tears at my heart, makes my blood pressure skyrocket, and totally infuses me with the need to DO SOMETHING.
Because of that urge, I could never understand why any parent would choose to use the CIO sleep training method. It breaks my heart to hear of other people touting the successes of using that method, knowing that their poor babies cried without their loving parent holding them, after having been loved, parented, held, and soothed for months or even years when they cried.
So far during my parenting journey, I have had a few sleep issues. During the first four months of my son's life, I somehow allowed my mother-in-law to influence me when it came to decision making on how and when and where my son slept. She said that it was best for him to sleep in a crib, learn to be independent, and not wake during the night. After four months of waking every one to two hours to get up, get my son out of his crib, put my son in my bed, feed him, wait for him to fall back to sleep, put him back in his crib, and then finally trying to fall back to sleep myself, I was a very sleep deprived Mommy.
At a certain point, I could no longer cope with the sleep deprivation and just listened to what my son was telling me, what my heart was telling me, and just let him sleep next to me in bed.
Since then, he and I have perfected the art of breastfeeding while still sleeping. It took about two weeks, and both of us were happy sleepers!
He has slept in my bed since, and he is now 12.5 months old. I did nothing to encourage him to sleep through the night, only just co-slept, and breastfed during the night. Now, he only wakes once or twice - thirty minutes after he falls asleep (before I come to bed for the night), and he sometimes wakes once thirty minutes before he wakes up for the day. We both sleep soundly, and well. And there was never more than a ten second cry before or during sleeping time.
He is learning to sleep completely through the night all by himself with just my presence to encourage him.
So, in particular, this quote from a comment you replied to resonated with me: " People that are absolutely against CIO do not necessarily have sleep issues, They may have used gentle methods to encourage good sleep or it may have just come naturally because they created a healthy sleep environment without necessarily doing anything specific."
That is, in fact, what happened with me.
It still, though, totally befuddles me why anyone would choose to use CIO because it seems to really contradict instinct. A baby's crying even elicits a PHYSICAL response to the listener.
I guess I'll never know.

July 5, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterVirginia B.

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