Subscribers to this barbaric practice told me for years that the only reason my kid didn’t sleep through the night was because I was incapable of allowing her to “cry it out.” We had a wrinkle in the plans, with her post-nasal drip, which after incessant crying, usually led to choking on snot, which ultimately meant vomit everywhere. We tried it once. Once was enough. I subscribe to the John Rosemond approach: every kid up to the age of 2 should think the universe revolves around him. It’s your job after that to make it clear that it really revolves around you.
But I digress: back to the barbarism of allowing small babies to cry until they learn not to cry since no one will come to their aid. Sounds like Romanian orphanages, doesn’t it? Or the Babywise kooks. In addition to failure to thrive, dehydration, and the like, infants will develop reactive attachment disorder: in short, the inability to form a secure attachment to caregiver. This leads to lifelong problems.
Turns out, it isn’t just social problems. From an article, “Is Crying it Out Dangerous?” that caught my eye on Yahoo:
If the link between parent and child is strong enough that kids can “catch” their parents’ stress, it may stand to reason that babies crave the physical connection that comes with a cuddle. It’s something that plenty of parents are more than happy to provide during the day but, when it comes to bedtime, the modern emphasis has been on teaching good sleep habits — and giving mom and dad a break.
Most sleep-deprived parents get to the point where they’re willing to try almost anything in order to get a good night’s rest. While some decry it as cruel, others have had success with the “cry it out” method — teaching babies to “self-soothe” by letting their nighttime crying go unanswered.
But is “crying it out” about establishing independence? Or is it just a way of making those early years easier for parents?
In an article published this week in Psychology Today, one researcher says that crying it out could be dangerous for children, leading to a lifetime of harm.
“A crying baby in our ancestral environment would have signaled predators to tasty morsels,” writes Darcia Narvaez, an Associate Professor of Psychology and Director of the Collaborative for Ethical Education at the University of Notre Dame. “So our evolved parenting practices alleviated baby distress and precluded crying except in emergencies.”
You mean back in the day, cavewomen didn’t ignore their babies cries? So much for barbaric, eh?
When babies are stressed, their bodies release the hormone cortisol, which can damage or even destroy neurons in their still-developing brains, researchers at Yale University and Harvard Medical School have found. That can lead to a higher incidence of ADHD, poor academic performance, and anti-social tendencies.
Intriguing, isn’t it? Mental, not just social, consequences from the lack of care at night.
Human babies are hardwired for near-constant holding, breastfeeding, and having their other needs met quickly — the hallmarks of Attachment Parenting, Narvaez points out — in order for their brains to develop properly. Even Dr. Richard Ferber, whose sleep-training method is commonly called the Cry It Out Method, says that he never intended parents to completely ignore their babies’ nighttime tears.
But that’s what it turned into. He’s never fully backtracked his methodology, only offered a poor defense of how it’s implemented:
What [Ferber] does encourage is teaching children to soothe themselves during normal nighttime wakings. But many parents extend his advice to include all bedtime-related crying. That’s the type of crying it out sets kids up for stress-related problems, trust issues, anxiety disorders, reduced brain function, and a lack of independence, Narvaez writes. And since the problems are on a genetic level, they can’t necessarily be fixed later in life.
“In studies of rats with high or low nurturing mothers, there is a critical period for turning on genes that control anxiety for the rest of life,” Narvaez writes. “If in the first 10 days of life you have low nurturing rat mother (the equivalent of the first 6 months of life in a human), the gene never gets turned on and the rat is anxious towards new situations for the rest of its life, unless drugs are administered to alleviate the anxiety.“
Genetic-level problems. Who knew that gene expression isn’t final at birth? Certainly not most sleep-deprived mothers who are led astray by well-meaning friends who sing the praises of “crying it out.”
Nurture your babies. Try to get help when and where you can. But don’t turn your back on an infant in need.
On a related note, Pundette: Daycare is just as bad for your kids, for similar reasons.
UPDATE: linked by Pundette as a “Recommended Read.” Thanks!