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Dodged a Sleeping Bullet

New study says letting babies cry it out is actually OK … phew!

Thank God for medical and psychological studies. As a mom, many of these studies serve as a performance review of sorts, allowing us to cross out those past mommy decisions we mentally leer at as being one of our less coveted decisions.

One of my most prevalent mommy moments was when I came to the realization that I would have to use a hybrid “cry out” method with my oldest child.

It was the week before my daughter was due and I had a 17-month-old boy who refused to nap or even go to sleep at night by himself. He would conveniently fall asleep on my chest around 4 p.m. during Oprah and also around 10 a.m. when I needed a morning snooze to recharge from my previous night of sleeplessness.

But with the realization that a fussy newborn was about to enter the home, I quickly flashed forward to nights of not one but two babies simultaneously screaming, waking the other and me running from one room to another in an attempt to soothe them both. The mere thought was exhausting…

Having read the Happiest Baby on the Block, the No Cry Sleep Solution, the Baby Whisperer and even paid for an over-the-phone sleep specialist to give me advice (her riveting conclusion being – yes, he has sleep issues), I felt I had to go to the most foolproof of them all. I read about the Ferver Method and although I felt more like Cinderella’s stepmother at the thought of putting my chubby-cheeked, blue-eyed prince through such torture, animalistic inclinations toward survival were forcing the removal of my first-time-mom pair of rose-colored glasses.

So I read fast, during the commercial breaks of an Oprah episode actually, with my sleeping baby boy at the peak of my mountainous belly. I felt my heart rate sputter while I read of endless hours of agonizing screams, tears and cries that would inevitably fatigue my little baby so much that he would fall into an exhausted stupor. I realized then that I would combine my knowledge of “soothing” my baby to sleep with the harsh freedom of allowing him to cry it out, thus creating an environment where I would reassure him and then leave. (At the time, I believe to most moms, I was categorized as a huge wimp for not going full bore.)

But it had to be done. He needed to learn to sleep on his own. And I needed to be able to live with myself for it. It was better for his brain development, his coping skills and his overall self-esteem as he was already nearing 18 months.

So I set out to try it first during a nap. I tuckered him out at the park, fed him a filling lunch, gave him his blankie, and his binky and was out the door. Within five minutes I was on the side of the house, peering into a broken slat of his wooden blinds. The sight was heartbreaking. I caught a glimpse -- full tears until he almost puked, red face, standing up, binky and blankie on the floor of his room, not anywhere near arm’s reach. I went in, gave him the binky, covered him up, reminded him of sleep time, gave him a kiss and left. And I did this repeatedly, each time adding 10-20 minutes onto the time I waddled in and out.

But I was relentless in my desire to succeed. I had tried almost everything else and nothing had been successful.

I put on headphones and pulled out the ice cream. And waited. One hour. Still screams. Two hours. More screams. Three hours. I almost called the neighbors to make sure they knew we were both alive. Finally. Asleep.

This episode continued over and over for about three days, and my soothing was needed less and less as the days and hours progressed. He realized that I meant business and that sleep time was sleep time. No negotiations. It was an empowering experience for the both of us.

I have always been happy that it worked. But I always wondered if it scarred him. Now at nearly 8 years old, my oldest still has trouble falling asleep and I have wondered if it were due to the jarring methods I implemented early on.

So I was happy when, earlier this month, Pediatrics came out with a study that says that letting babies cry it out has no long-term behavioral or psychological impacts. It also does not harm the parent-child bond, which I never really worried about but winced at when I realized I hadn’t thought about that end result…

The study also mentioned how letting a baby cry it out was helpful to the mother, reducing stress and depression resulting from a lack of sleep herself. And truly, that had been more of my justification than any in my case. In my limited experience, I knew that a well-rested mommy was a better mommy in my household.

In reading this study, I was happy to hear that years later, I might have dodged a bullet with respect to sleep “scarring.” I love studies when they work in our favor.

Now, if they could just hurry up and write a few studies about how putting hot sauce into your son’s mouth when he repeatedly yells at cute old ladies or using the “sink or swim” method in the pool actually teaches a child to swim, I’d feel like Mother of the Year.

To read more on the study: http://healthland.time.com/2012/09/10/its-o-k-to-let-babies-cry-it-out-at-bedtime/

Jerie October 20, 2012 at 08:50 PM
Hello, I'd respectfully like to share my thoughts with you on your article. The research you are referring to (and all research) says to NOT leave your baby to "cry it out." The article you read actually refers to "camping out", or letting them cry for 5 minutes at a time, increasing to ten, and so on. I'm sorry to say your child's sleeping troubles sound like the typical problems a child who was left to cry it out experiences. Sometimes the problems start right away, sometimes they start later in life. But because the baby was just left to cry, they learn to associate bad feelings with sleep and going to bed. Babies who were never made to "cry it out" are harder on the parents for the first few years, until they learn ON THEIR OWN learn to fall asleep, then they have better sleep than their CIO counterparts, for the rest of their lives. Its a disservice to a human being to cause them to associate bedtime with bad feelings. ALL the research, even the recent research, says in no uncertain terms, to NOT leave your baby to cry it out! Tuning it out with ice cream and headphones is something parents do but it makes the people who parent their babies in the day and night cringe.

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