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Another academic weighs in on CIO

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.

Her work is fascinating and her perspective on cry-it-out is refreshing. Some of the things worth checking out include:

  • Is "crying out out" appropriate for infants? This user-friendly document provides an excellent review of literature on the use of extinction in the first year. It compares the availability of research on cry it out with infants (little to none) with the widespread mainstream parenting advice in books and media to use cry it out starting at 3 to 6 months of age.

  • Culture and perception around infant sleep: She has presented a couple of papers that touch on how our culture of individualism and societal pressure to have babies sleep through the night makes parents more anxious and stressed about their infant's sleep habits, resulting in them feeling like they have to do something about it (rather than just letting it run its course).

  • Interview with Macall Gordon: The Talaris Institute has published an interview with Macall Gordon where she talks about her research on cry it out. This includes a little tidbit on the history of CIO, which is something I had been trying to figure out (who suggested this in the first place? when did it all start?). In the interview she touches on the difference between whether cry it out works (which has been researched) and whether it is safe (which hasn't been researched well enough).

Throughout her work she emphasizes that parents should, of course, make their own decisions. However, her findings underscore the need to do more research on the psychological and physiological effects of cry it out. Until that research is done, we cannot assume that cry it out is safe and my personal fall back position is that the research that does exist on the detrimental effects of prolonged crying (yes, cry it out is sometimes prolonged) along with my mommy instincts is enough reason for me to avoid cry it out with my kids.

You can check out all of Macall's work at Infantsleep.org (also now in my Parenting Resources links).

« Inspiring Change | Main | Co-Sleeping Safety »

Reader Comments (17)

I believe that children have a genuine need to connect with their parents at night. But even if it could be proven that CIO leaves no psychological scars, the effect on the parents can't be discounted. Parents should not train *themselves* to ignore their children's cries.
If parents are having a hard time meeting their children's nighttime needs they might consider adjusting their own hectic schedules. If no adjustments can be made, Elizabeth Pantley's book, No Cry Sleep Solution, teaches a gentle way to encourage children to sleep through the night.

January 16, 2009 | Unregistered Commentermother in israel

I just had another acquaintance (who read my blog) email me asking about sleep and NOT using CIO, because it seemed like all her friends cio, ferberize, etc. It broke my heart, yet I was so happy to be able to share with her that she need to give in to societal pressures and that parenting how she wants is beneficial! I sent her here for some additional thoughts and inspiration. Thank you for keeping such a wonderful blog. :)

January 16, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterMaria

Last summer I was at a party and there was a pregnant woman there. One of the other ladies was giving her advice and suggesting one of the popular CIO methods saying, "It went against everything I felt, but it worked." When that lady left, I made a point to tell the pregnant lady, "If something goes against my mom-sense, I don't do it. I feel we are given that mom-sense for a reason." We really shouldn't ignore our mom-sense.

January 16, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterHeather


Amen! I think it is so sad that our "mom-sense," or our mothering instincts have been so suppressed that we can't trust ourselves to know anything! We've been trained to think we're ignorant, stupid, and incapable, and have to rely on pediatricians and "parenting experts" and "supernannies" (who often don't have children!) to tell us how to raise our kids!

So much of the advice seems almost cruel, especially for infants. And then, inexplicably, once the children are in elementary school, the advice switches to almost stifling protectionism and sheltering.

I am a firm believer in mothering instincts (and fathering instincts, now that my husband's have been turned on!) and believe parents AND children would be much better off if we all learned to listen to our instincts instead of thinking we had to have someone else tell us what to do all the time.

January 16, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterStacey

thank you for stopping by my blog - i can only hope that you'll stop by more from time to time, because i plan on doing a few more opinionated articles on parenting & such over the next couple of months. it'd be great to have your gentle insight!

January 16, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterkalen

I just found this blog through Kalen's site. I'm so excited because I'm an attachment parenting advocate! I can't wait to read more!

January 16, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterhopekaibear

Thanks for a great post and some more leads to look into.
The more we talk about this issue the more people will think twice.
I feel that the product is all there in front of us with the way we behave towards others the amount of violence we have and the emotional disorders we have...sigh.
Look forward to more posts

January 17, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterMegan

[...] off again to my friend over at phdinparenting blog for passing this information along.  It is our duty - responsibility - to ensure parents get [...]

I find this really interesting, I want to do some more research on it and see where it leads me. I am having my baby soon and I'm wondering how effective this method would be. I dont see it doing much good, then the baby isnt getting proper nurturing, right?

Amanda Little

January 20, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterAmanda Little

Wow, what a fantastic article on the emperical evidence (or lack thereof). It breaks my heart that little babies are subjected to CIO. When I am at my most feisty I am convinced it is child abuse.

January 25, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterMegan

My kids were terrible sleepers for years. We briefly tried CIO, but it was too hard for all three of us - my younger son just became increasingly upset.

When it was time to stop breastfeeding, I took over the night-time routines, since it was hard for their mom to put the kids to bed when they weren't being fed first. After trying CIO and comforting (which would happen hourly), I put a mattress on the floor of their room, and rubbed their back without picking them up if they became upset.

This lasted about 6 months for both of our boys, but they can finally sleep through the night!

January 28, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterFamily Anatomy

Thank you for this article. I too am an attachment parenting advocate (and mother of a toddler who most definitely does not 'sleep through' and never has - we've fended off pressure to CIO for a long time) and often find it difficult not to get too enraged about CIO. I'm shocked to see it in government-run parenting courses and public health organisation-written manuals on parenting in my country. Information like this gives me something solid to quote when arguing against it. I'll look forward to your future blogs! I will mention it on my blog as well.

February 1, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterMorgan

Thx for this article. I am getting pressure (from my parents, nonetheless) to break my 22 MO of his cuddle request every night and to let him CIO. Hearing my son scream "Mommy" for 20 minutes feels so wrong.

June 17, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterSarah Jo

[...] or not. Also, as I discussed in my follow-up post Cry it Out (CIO): Is it harmful or helpful? and Another Academic Weighs in on CIO there is no evidence that cry it out is safe, despite what its supporters will tell [...]

Another mama friend referred me to your blog today. I like the content of your blog, and I appreciate its message. However, I feel your blog title, and the title of posts such as this one, are incredibly misleading. While parenting is an very tough job that requires much introspection and learning, you are not technically working toward/ the holder of a PhD in any discipline. You read parenting books and synthesize them in a way that is understandable and meaningful to your readers. I think this is a valuable skill and service. However, the job of a PhD candidate is to critically analyze primary literature in their chosen field and to develop empirical research based on testable questions. That is not the scope of your blog. While I know the title of your blog is likely simply meant to be catchy, it basically discredits those of us who are working toward/ the holders of PhDs in the eyes of the public (or anyone who is not aware of the distinction).

September 19, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterPhD mama

@PhD mama:

Thank you for your comment.

With regards to the title of my blog, I understand what you are saying and I'm sorry if you feel that it discredits people who are working towards or are holders of PhDs. Yes, I have chosen it as a catchy title, but it is more than that too. I chose it for a number of reasons:
1) I chose parenting rather than doing a PhD at this point in my life. I have completed my Masters and now I'm moving on to the next stage...but in a different discipline.
2) I think parenting is as hard as (if not harder) than doing a PhD. As someone with a Master's degree who has published journal articles and seriously considered applying to PhD programs and as the wife of a PhD candidate, I have a good idea of what is involved in a PhD program.
3) I want to examine issues related to parenting that have not yet been examined. Part of that is reading books, studies, and research by others to get background. Part of it is introspection, hypothesizing, testing ideas, and so on. I want to make people question the status quo. Question what they believe. Present theories, evidence, and so on for different ways of doing things or thinking about things.

I am insulted that you think the blog is nothing more than synthesizing parenting books. I think I've put a lot more into it than that. But I'm not sure how many posts you actually read.

With regards to the title of this post, I'm not sure what you are objecting to. Are you questioning Macall Gordon's academic credentials? No, she doesn't have a PhD (as far as I know), but she certainly is doing academic work in this field.

September 19, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterphdinparenting

Thanks for the post, it helps sum up a lot of my own feelings on the whole cry it out approach. One thing I wanted to add was that when I read (only bits of it) the book "Healthy Sleep Habits Happy Child" (which advocates CIO -- labeling it "extinction," which I think is an interesting choice of words), I was struck by how judgmental it was and how it seemed to assign a great deal of blame for child behavior on mothers (though the term "parenting" was used, it was clearly aimed at mothers). Very 19th century as far as I could tell.

April 9, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterJenJen

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