Monday, January 4, 2010

Falling victim to well-meaning advice, and how to save yourself and your baby

Babies are not the only victims of CIO, sleep training, controlled crying, whatever you want to call it.  Parents can be too.

You're exhausted, you're confused, you're not sure what to do.  Maybe your baby is crying and you're at a loss.  Maybe your baby just isn't sleeping the way everyone thinks they should.  A friend or loved one says "Oh sweetie, its okay, just leave the room and let that baby cry, its good for them".  Some people take this advice, leave the room for a couple minutes, collect their sanity, and are able to go back and attend to their babies needs with patience and love.  Others leave the baby for long periods of time, and the baby's distress escalates to extreme levels and the baby may shut down and sleep deeply out of trauma, or they may even vomit from the stress.  Some may get so worked up that they are unable to settle back down until they reach severe exhaustion.  Counter-productive much?  Some parents may find that the baby is even more needy after such an episode.  You're not sure what this is all accomplishing, but you keep doing it because otherwise you must be a 'bad parent'.  Or maybe you stop, but feel guilty about 'giving in' to your baby.  My dear women, please don't be bullied or guilted into going against your instincts.  You have them for a reason.  It is difficult to hear your baby cry for a reason.  They have the ability to cry for a reason.

This so-called "advice" being dispensed to you from people who care is a remnant of a darker time, and often isn't even practiced in the ways that the original "creators" intended. 

I don't feel like I should have to specify, but people will always nitpick, so here it goes.  For one, a toddler having a tantrum is totally different than a baby crying because they need something.  Second, a baby crying that you can't console but are still TRYING to help is not the same as CIO.  Third, needing to leave your baby to cry for a couple mintues simply so you don't SNAP and harm them is also different and often necessary.  It's no fun, but neither is child abuse or shaken baby syndrome, so in this case no one sane would fault a parent for needing a brief breather.

Now, maybe you're wondering how letting your baby "have a good cry" could possibly be bad for them.  Maybe you think that mothers who respond to their babies are "spoiling" them.  The case against crying it out is about more than opinions, so although I do have a lot of opinions on it, I'll give you some evidence too. 

I ask simply that before you decide to give it a try, or dispense vague advice about it to other parents, please be fully informed first.  Some people put more thought into what diapers they use than what night-time parenting policies they hold!  DON'T under-think something this important that can impact your child in profound ways.

Babyhood is very temporary, although I know the nights sure can seem to drag on.  "This too shall pass", and chances are it will end up passing far too quickly for your liking and you'll end up longing for the day your child actually wanted to be in your arms for more than a few seconds!  Sleeping through the night is like any other developmental milestone for your baby.  It won't happen until they are both physically and emotionally ready, and that age will vary from child  to child.  Just as a child can't be forced to walk or talk before they are capable, they shouldn't be forced to sleep in ways that are unnatural to them.  Night-waking is even protective for your baby.  If your baby wakes up often, it could be their brain's way of protecting an extra-vulnerable child from SIDS.  It could also be that your child misses you during the day if you work or are away for other reasons.  They need contact with you in order to develop properly, and they may need to compensate for it by being extra "needy" at night to get the closeness and nurturing so important to them.  Most adults these days can't even cope with life without numbing agents.  We have alcohol, food, drugs, medications, sex, cell phones, shopping, internet, books, television, work, hobbies, friends, gossip, and other distractions galore.  A baby is a brand new human being, but we expect them to be "independent" and "self-soothe" from an early age.  Do any of us adults really know how to do that?!  We are INTERdependent creatures, and many even co-dependent.  We rely on eachother for everything.  Someone had to raise you.  Someone had to produce your food.  Someone had to build your house.  Someone had to make your clothes.  I could go on, but I'm sure you get it.  Aside from physical needs, we rely on others for friendship, love, validation, conversation, and simple human presence.  Again, why do we expect babies to NOT need these things?  CIO is demanding more of them than we would ever be able to handle ourselves AND stay mentally/emotionally healthy.  Many people give more consideration to the needs and feelings of an animal than they do to a child, and we wonder why everyone (at least in America) is fat, medicated, and numbing themselves to high heaven with various addictions and distractions.

This world can use a lot more love.  Start with your baby.

"Science tells us that when babies cry alone and unattended, they experience panic and anxiety. Their bodies and brains are flooded with adrenaline and cortisol stress hormones. Science has also found that when developing brain tissue is exposed to these hormones for prolonged periods these nerves won’t form connections to other nerves and will degenerate.

Research has shown that infants who are routinely separated from parents in a stressful way have abnormally high levels of the stress hormone cortisol, as well as lower growth hormone levels. These imbalances inhibit the development of nerve tissue in the brain, suppress growth, and depress the immune system

Researchers at Yale University and Harvard Medical School found that intense stress early in life can alter the brain’s neurotransmitter systems and cause structural and functional changes in regions of the brain similar to those seen in adults with depression.

One study showed infants who experienced persistent crying episodes were 10 times more likely to have ADHD as a child, along with poor school performance and antisocial behavior. The researchers concluded these findings may be due to the lack of responsive attitude of the parents toward their babies.

Dr. Bruce Perry’s research at Baylor University may explain this finding. He found when chronic stress over-stimulates an infant’s brain stem (the part of the brain that controls adrenaline release), and the portions of the brain that thrive on physical and emotional input are neglected (such as when a baby is repeatedly left to cry alone), the child will grow up with an over-active adrenaline system. Such a child will display increased aggression, impulsivity, and violence later in life because the brainstem floods the body with adrenaline and other stress hormones at inappropriate and frequent times.

Dr. Allan Schore of the UCLA School of Medicine has demonstrated that the stress hormone cortisol (which floods the brain during intense crying and other stressful events) actually destroys nerve connections in critical portions of an infant’s developing brain. In addition, when the portions of the brain responsible for attachment and emotional control are not stimulated during infancy (as may occur when a baby is repeatedly neglected) these sections of the brain will not develop. The result – a violent, impulsive, emotionally unattached child. He concludes that the sensitivity and responsiveness of a parent stimulates and shapes the nerve connections in key sections of the brain responsible for attachment and emotional well-being.

Infant developmental specialist Dr. Michael Lewis presented research findings at an American Academy of Pediatrics meeting, concluding that “the single most important influence of a child’s intellectual development is the responsiveness of the mother to the cues of her baby.”

Researchers have found babies whose cries are usually ignored will not develop healthy intellectual and social skills.

Dr. Rao and colleagues at the National Institutes of Health showed that infants with prolonged crying (but not due to colic) in the first 3 months of life had an average IQ 9 points lower at 5 years of age. They also showed poor fine motor development.

Researchers at Pennsylvania State and Arizona State Universities found that infants with excessive crying during the early months showed more difficulty controlling their emotions and became even fussier when parents tried to consol them at 10 months.

Other research has shown that these babies have a more annoying quality to their cry, are more clingy during the day, and take longer to become independent as children 

Animal and human research has shown when separated from parents, infants and children show unstable temperatures, heart arrhythmias, and decreased REM sleep (the stage of sleep that promotes brain development).

Dr. Brazy at Duke University and Ludington-Hoe and colleagues at Case Western University showed in 2 separate studies how prolonged crying in infants causes increased blood pressure in the brain, elevates stress hormones, obstructs blood from draining out of the brain, and decreases oxygenation to the brain. They concluded that caregivers should answer cries swiftly, consistently, and comprehensively." Source

"Babies who are left to cry it out do sometimes fall into a deep sleep after they finally drop off. And their parents and sleep trainers will hail this as a success of the CIO method. However, babies and young children often sleep deeply after experiencing trauma. Therefore, the deep sleep that follows CIO shouldn’t be seen as proof that it works. Rather, it should be seen as a disturbing shortcoming."  Source

"It has been suggested in the past that CIO is healthy for infants’ physical development, particularly the lungs. A recent study looking at the immediate and long-term physiologic consequences of infant crying suggests otherwise. The following changes due to infant crying have been documented: increased heart rate and blood pressure, reduced oxygen level, elevated cerebral blood pressure, depleted energy reserves and oxygen, interrupted mother-infant interaction, brain injury, and cardiac dysfunction. The study’s researchers suggested that caregivers should answer infant cries swiftly, consistently, and comprehensively, recommendations which are in line with AP principles.

CIO supporters tend to view their infants’ cries as attempts to manipulate caregivers into providing more attention. Holding this view can be detrimental to the immediate and long-term health of the baby. In the field of cognitive psychology there exists the premise that our thoughts underlie our behaviour. Thus, if we think positively about an individual, our behaviours toward them tend to be positive as well. Conversely, if we think negatively about an individual, we will behave correspondingly. Consider people in your own life whom you consider manipulative – how does that perception influence your behaviour toward them? It is unlikely that the interpretation of a manipulative personality will result in the compassionate, empathetic, and loving care of that individual. Infants, quite helpless without the aid of their caregivers, may suffer both emotional and physical consequences of this type of attitude.
When faced with a crying baby, it may be prudent to ask yourself the following questions: Why am I choosing this response? Do I want my baby to stop crying because he feels comforted and safe, or do I want my baby to stop crying for the sake of stopping crying? What is my baby learning about me and the world when I respond in this manner? If I were a baby and was upset, how would I want my caregivers to respond?" Source

If you're still not sure, some further reading:

Mistaken Approaches to Night-Waking

Should my baby be sleeping through the night?

Children need touching and attention, Harvard researchers say:

CIO, is it harmful or helpful?

The Con of Controlled Crying: 

Sleep training, buyer beware!:

Stress in Infancy:

The case for not using CIO with your children:

The list could go on for pages!  At least now you can never look back at your choice to use CIO if you make it and say "I wish someone had told me I didn't have to do that!"

You may now be thinking "Well, its all fine and dandy for you to condemn CIO and give all the evidence in the world against it, but what else am I supposed to do?!"

Well, as Pinky McKay once said to me, the alternative to 'neglect' is 'responsiveness'.

Now to break it down, the reasons your child doesn't sleep "well" or "through the night" can vary.  It is helpful to understand how babies sleep, and to have REALISTIC expectations of them, instead of grandma's definition of "good sleep". 

8 infant sleep facts every parent should know

31 ways to get your baby to sleep, and stay asleep easier

5 reasons high-needs infants sleep differently

Sleep problems FAQ

100 ways to calm the crying

The no-cry sleep questions


Lauren said...

Fantastic information! I noticed one of my favorite anti-CIO sites was quoted! YEAH!!

Jill said...

Wonderfully informative! Thank you for all you do!

Jennifer said...

Fabulous as usual! I remember my 6yo crying once as a baby and my mother-in-law was holding him and wouldn't give him back. She told me crying was exercise for his lungs (silly me, I thought that's what breathing was!). I was hysterical. I finally grabbed him, ran outside, locked us in my car, and nursed him and regained my calm. Thankfully MIL has come a long way and knows not to question me now, lol.

Amy said...

Thank You....this my son to a T:
//Other research has shown that these babies have a more annoying quality to their cry, are more clingy during the day, and take longer to become independent as children //
He will only sleep for about a half hour during the day and a couple hours at night if he's not with another warm body. So we are happily co-sleeping for now.

Samantha said...

Thank you very much for writing this!! I don't believe in CIO, and this allows me to defend my position alot better!!

Anonymous said...

Thanks so much for writing such a great article. I am surprised that there are still people out there that believe in the controlled crying technique, it seems so old fashioned and uneducated.

Hellena Post said...

From the information you quoted, it's most likely that you've already discovered Ethnopaedeatrics, but in case you haven't, check it out. It backs up all you say, and as well goes a long way to explaining why we've evolutionarily developed the way we have, why babies cry, and explains the biological reasons for their cries being met with comfort and ACTION!. There's a book called "Our Babies Ourselves" By Meredith F. Small, which is basically a description of a new science formed between the meeting of anthropologists and paedeatricians. I've been a 'Continuum Concept' mum myself, but this book gives you all the scientific facts behind why attachment parenting, co-sleeping, and demand feeding are not only biologically and evolutionarily kinder, but also essential if we want to bring forward a more peaceful and loving future for us all....Thanks for your writings!

Anonymous said...

I just wanted to say thank-you for this blog post!
Last night i started weaning my 9month old from his constant night feeds.
Weaning him from night feeds is not the happiest thing i am doing, but because of my current situation its something i have to do. I read your blog before we started and all the links. Using all the hints and ideas and remembering all the info about how my baby will be feeling about it we had a great night, he really seemed to allow it to happen and let himself be comforted in other ways than breastfeeding, and i felt strong enough to get through the night and not just leave him to cry, like some people have told me to do.

annika said...

so, im visiting my fathers mother at the old age home with my newborn.
after all the admiring, i start getting the advice. and cry it out is one of the.. cornerstones, if you will.. from this and subsequent visits, ive come to understand why my father is the way he is..poor guy-as much as i dislike him, shiiit.. i feel bad for him. he is, and likely always will be what was described in the article. unattatched, not in control of his feelings and.very terrified of his own emotions. thanks for the artical..

Life in the Heavrin house said...

I let my first baby cio- not my second. I speak out against it every chance I get.

Heidi Maxwell said...

Thank you!! My husband SO needs to read this. He just doesn't get it at all.

We tried a CIO at naptimes with our first, and it totally made her shut down. I stopped after a few weeks and now we parent them to sleep.

One question my hubs had that this article touches on was: "How is CIO at bedtime bad, but letting her cry in her car seat OK?" I tried to explain that when she is in her car seat and crying that I AM trying to soothe her by touch and by voice, and if we were to plop her in her crib to CIO, we aren't there for her at all!! Hmmph.

Kiddo said...

Fantastic article. Thanks.

Steffi & Patrick said...

Thank you!

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