I imagine this new research will reignite the debate about methods such as controlled crying and the pros and cons of leaving a baby to cry it out or self-settle.
Most babies do eventually tend to finally fall asleep. You then sigh a sigh of relief that that’s all over now and they are content and sleeping soundly. Right? Well no. No they are not content. That is according to a study.
I had a trouble sleeper as a first baby. I also had a baby that wasn’t getting enough milk from my supply (a different story) but the lack of milk supply led me to doing a day stay at the local maternal health centre when she was about 5 weeks old. It basically was a day where you went in and spent the whole day and they weighed her before a feed and after to establish the amount of milk she had consumed.
Anyway I digress a little here. It was while I was at this day stay that the health nurse thought I should also get ‘on top off’ her sleeping. She was an extremely cuddly baby (and still is an extremely cuddly and affectionate 8 year old) and would prefer going to sleep being held.
I know! Before you all make a judgment and your mouth is permanently ajar I should say that yes, while I was a first time mum I also did not agree with (personal choice as every parent has) letting my child become unsettled and/or distressed in order for them to get to sleep. I was a big believer in that you can’t spoil a baby and that they indeed do need your love, attention and they are crying as a way of seeking that attention. This article is not about judgment on a parenting styles or pointing a finger about right or wrong. I’m telling you my personal story and being honest.
So on this day as I said the nurse thought she should tackle this with me too. I didn’t ask her to ‘help’ and I don’t like confrontations so thought “what the heck I’ll go along with it” as she is the health nurse and I felt I had to listen and do as I was told. Well, I lasted about 1 minute. What felt like the longest 1 minute of my life! I couldn’t leave her to cry. She was my 5 week old baby who was calling out to me. She needed me. I went to go in and the health nurse stopped me and sternly told me this is what I needed to do. I waited all of another 10 seconds and firmly told her that’s my baby I can’t leave her to cry. This was said while I was holding back my own tears. I was traumatized. I dread to think what my poor tiny totally dependent on me baby was thinking what was happening to her. I still get upset at the memory of that day. I’m a bit of a softy but certainly no push over. My kids do not rule the house. There is structure and rules but I could not bring myself to have my baby cry for attention and not receive it. So yes, I snuggled my baby, I sat with my baby…..we did what worked for us.
Did it really work for us you ask? Yes and no. She was very what some would call needy to get to sleep as a baby and as a toddler but on the same token she is now 8 and is very independent so I didn’t scar her for life and while it perhaps wasn’t ideal all the time it was a lovely bond we had and I am comfortable with what we did. We met her needs; we showed her how much we love her by being there for her and attending to her needs. Ok, her need at sleep time was not the same as other babies/toddlers but at the end of the day no two babies/toddlers are the same either. (I must also add that this was a sleep only ‘thing’ not a routine thing. You will understand why I make that point as in the study it referred to both points).
So, that leads to me back to the original topic of leaving a child to just ‘cry it out’!
Don’t be fooled! While they may very well have gone to sleep they are by far contented. Babies who are left to cry it out are unhappy for hours after the crying. This is proven. The levels of stress hormone cortisol remains high. That’s not a good thing!
The study(published in the Early Human Development Journal) that we are referring to was conducted on babies aged between 4-10 months. Many of the children in the study were having trouble settling without being comforted or getting into a routine. The levels of cortisol were measured in both the mothers and the babies. (The mothers were in another room and not able to go to their babies). In this study by the 3rdnight there was indeed less crying to settle the baby however the levels of cortisol still remained high which demonstrates the babies were experiencing high levels of physiological distress. All this sleep training demonstrates is that all outward displays of internal stress become extinguished. These results have now led to a further and more comprehensive study to be conducted.
At the end of the day it is what works for you. You know your baby best. As a parent we do the best we can and it is important to not fall into a particular trap because we think it is best or we were guided to it. Trust your instincts. If you don’t feel right doing it …simple don’t!
Please be aware that we do acknowledge that controlled crying for some has been successful. We are not advocating for controlled crying but at the same time do not wish to place any bias on those who wish to use it.