Tuesday, August 7, 2012

To cry it out or not to cry it out, that is the question...

I have to admit that I have gone back and forth so many times between the two different schools of thought on the cry it out issue, it's ridiculous. The problem is, each school of thought provides such a generous helping of mommyguilt about the other, that any time I hear something from one "side," I become convinced that doing anything but what that "side" advises is tantamount to child abuse, or, at the very least, will eternally scar my daughter.

This was not always the case. The first week of Darby's life I lived in blissfull ignorance of the "cry it out" debate. My mom was staying with us, and if Darby cried, or I needed to take a shower, go on a walk, or catch up on sleep, there was a pair of arms only too willing to hold my baby. (If only I lived in a third world society where multiptle generations still live under one roof ... stinkin' industrialism.)

Then my mom left and reality hit. Read: Greg and I had no idea what we were doing. (That's only improved a little.)

It turns out that both my husband and I had been laboring under the same misconceptions about life with a baby. Basically, our naive minds had imagined a scenario like this: After a pleasant day of stroller walks and lounging on a blanket with a happy infant, Greg would return from work, after which we would eat the dinner I prepared while Darby napped like an angel. During our shared dinner, she would sit smiling at us from her infant bouncer. Afterward, we would bathe her, read a book, then place her in the crib to sleep, shut the door with a smile, and go watch a movie.

If you have a child and are reading this thinking, "Uh, yeah, that's how it was for us," then you need to get down on your knees and thank God right now.

Instead of the above scenario, we were running around like proverbial headless chickens. If we had a "good day" it was purely by chance; I had no idea how to read my baby, was usually unable to calm her down when she really got going, and there was no schedule or routine for anything, including sleep. It was really starting to wear on us.

The myriad of infant care classes we had attended taught us how to bathe her and administer baby CPR if she stopped breathing, but nothing about what to do when it's two-thirty in the morning and my baby has not yet gone to sleep except for a minute or two in my arms, my poor husband has to get up in four and a half hours, and it's almost time for her next freakin' feeding anyway, which will take at least 45 minutes, and I will probably pass out while nursing and drop my baby on the floor.

One such night, when her eyes finally fluttered shut and stayed that way for a few minutes, I s-l-o-w-l-y stood up, silently cursing the beautiful, one hundred year old rocking chair my parents had passed down to me, as it creaked all over the place. Pretending to be a rocking chair myself and trick my baby into thinking we were still sitting in it, I swayed back and forth as I crossed the room with her. I was just alert enough to realize how ridiculous I looked. After placing her as gently as possible in the crib and holding my breath while she squirmed and then fell still, I turned and climbed into bed. My husband, who had drifted to sleep, coughed innocently, and I silently gave him the biggest evil eye of my life. Just as I got comfortable, there came a dreaded sound: Darby's pre-cry, a cough/sneeze/snort combination which lets us know she's about to lose it.

I know it's terrible, but I was so tired I could not keep my eyes open, and I continued to lay there, pretending not to hear the crying from six feet away, so that Greg would have to get up. Don't judge me. He did, and after futilly attempting the same human being-rocking chair sham, he finally put her in her little vibrating infant seat and plopped it right next to his side of the bed. Every time she began to cry, his zombie arm would reach out and replace the pacifier that had fallen out of her mouth. I truly don't know if he was even awake. How, you ask, did I see all of this if I was so tired that I could not keep my eyes open? I'll tell you; as soon as Greg groggily picked her up from the crib, my first-time-mom-paranoia kicked in, and I watched him like a hawk from the bed as he rocked her, in case he fell asleep and dropped her on the floor.

Something had to change.

And it did. I came across some material that informed me it's okay to let a baby cry. Babies, I read, expend energy by crying and sometimes just need to do it. Moreover, one main reason for a baby's cry is sleepiness. A baby cries when she's tired, and silly parents only keep her awake, and crying, when they rush in and scoop her up at the first sound. By allowing a baby to cry and finally fall asleep on his own, parents are helping him to develop necessary self-soothing techniques. Responding to every cry, however, will likely create a dependant, whiny child who believes the world revolves around her.

All of this was welcome news to my frustrated, sleep deprived self, and I told Greg what I'd learned. We wondered; why had no one told us these facts before?

The material I read did not suggest an age at which a parent should implement the method, but it did make it clear that the longer we waited, the more difficult it would be, and the higher the chance of our child turning out to be a spoiled brat.

That night, at around three weeks, we tried it out. Now, in defense of this method, its harshest critics are not quite accurate. It does not promote simply ignoring a baby. For the next few nights, we laid Darby in her crib when she was sleepy but awake. When she inevitably began to cry a few minutes later, we returned to her crib, burped her, and put her back. If she cried again, we waited a little longer and then returned, put a hand on her tummy and whispered comforting words. Every time she cried, we waited longer before going to her, until eventually we waited so long that she stopped crying. When we looked in on her she was sleeping.

While she cried, I would sit in the living room "reading." In actuality I was listening to every nuance of her cry, wondering if we were doing the right thing, and obsessively asking Greg, "Are we doing the right thing?"

It only worked half of the time. The other half of the time, she simply didn't fall asleep and I, not comfortable with continuing to let her cry, would get her up again.

After a few days of this, I decided to do a little "online research" to learn whether or not Darby was just too young to make it work. That is when I discovered how divided parents, doctors, and other experts are on this issue. One article I found asserted that anyone using the method is breaking the "cycle of trust" that a baby is attempting to create with his new parents. "And it should definitely never be used with infants younger than six months, especially newborns. They are too little and scared and unable to soothe themselves."

Tears came to my eyes.

I read through the "comments" section.

"Any mother who does this is terrible. Babies only want to be held for a short time. Who cares? Just hold them. They need you."

"Mothers in Africa were shown footage of American mothers letting their babies 'cry it out' and they were horrified and asked why the American mothers weren't taking care of their babies."

"Just imagine you are paralyzed, can only see a few inches, completely dependent on others for everything, and when you call for them, they leave you alone. That is what you are doing if you let a baby cry."

By this time I was sobbing. What had I done? I flew into the next room and unintelligably blubbered to Greg everything I'd read. He lovingly hugged me and told me we could do whatever I wanted in this area, that I was not a bad mother, had only tried to do what I thought was best, and had not messed up our daughter.

That night when Darby began to cry in her crib, I bolted in to her, scooped her up, and, creaking furiously in the rocking chair, apologized for ever leaving her alone.

It's only been seven weeks, but in that time I've learned not only what each of Darby's cries signifies, but how to soothe her and get her to sleep quite easily. I have to admit that we have soothed and held her to sleep a lot. But every day I see her becoming more comfortable in her own skin, and better able to soothe herself and fall asleep without help. It's taken a lot of time and patience, but I have enough of that right now, and there is truth in the idea that this is the only time in her life when she will want nothing more than she wants me. Might as well make the most of it!

As far as crying it out, I have recently started to implement it on rare occasions. There are times when I know that she needs nothing but to sleep and is crying only because she's tired. If that happens at a moment in which I cannot hold her, like the middle of making dinner, I will let her cry until she falls asleep, which usually takes no longer than five minutes now that she is mature enough to self-soothe.

I cannot believe that I've only been a mother for nine and a half weeks, and already have something that I wish I could go back and tell my "younger mom self." Oh well.

I want to know; what are your thoughts on the "cry it out" issue? Do parents with more than one child find it more necessary? Comment below!


  1. Love what you wrote-I'm not a mom yet, but this blog is definitely teaching me things for when our little one comes in February. Laur struggled with this also and ended up letting Wyatt cry at about 5 months-she did what you did, went in to soothe him sometimes (meaning didn't let him cry more than 30 minutes straight).But let me tell you, it worked. After two weeks Wyatt went in his crib at nap time and put himself right to sleep-no fuss. It took a lot of hard work but it paid off. You are doing great :)

    Cait Jensen

    1. That is definitely good to know. I do plan on using some tough love pretty soon in order to get her to take better naps! And congrats on the pregnancy!

  2. I'm your moms neighbor and met you breifly. Remember I have twins and you literally can't hold and feed and soothe two babies at once all the time and I was told to not try or I'd go insane by another twin mom. I love your post. It's the real deal of what it's like and I literally felt insane with two premature twins who took forever to eat a tiny bit. Now I have one easy baby...the twins individually were way harder than the new baby and it is a new adventure with three. Just keeps blogging and venting because you will look back and laugh and weirdly miss some of it. I have posts of all kinds of things that at the time I was in tears over and now I laugh. Enjoy the blessing And always remember at every moment they will never be that small again. :)

    1. Oh my goodness, I cannot even imagine what you went through! .....I think God knows I couldn't have handled that! Congrats on the new baby, by the way!

  3. Every baby is so different...

    I've definitely been there and done that with pretending not to hear a baby so that Steve would be "forced" to respond--LOL! Oh...and amazing but true...we had a period for a bit more than a year where Steve, Jessica, Katie and I were all sleeping in the same bedroom because we wanted to renovate the "master bedroom" before putting all of our furniture into it. Our "deal" has been that I respond to the nursing babies at night, and Steve responds to the non-nursers. He's got the easier end of that deal...but here is the amazing thing...when we were all in the same room...I would hear Katie crying, and Steve would sleep right through it, and Steve would hear Jessica crying, and I would sleep right through it.

    I've found that as I've had more kids, I've become less fearful that I'm setting up some sort of "for ever and ever sleep props" by soothing my kids to sleep. All of my older kids, despite the "sleep props" I've used when they were babies, sleep really well, and will generally choose to get an adequate amount of sleep. When I contrast that to the bedtime battles I often had with kids I babysat...well I don't know if that was just a babysitter thing...or something that is somehow different about my kids...though I did have parents who would warn me that bedtime would be very difficult, so...

    Yes, there are definitely times when I wish I could just put a baby into a crib and she'd fall asleep on her own...but I have a pretty limited tolerance myself for babies crying, so it doesn't work for me. Especially since most of the people I know who tell me about their own experiences using cry it out generally report that they have to do it over, and over, and over (after vacations, after illnesses, after teething). Toddlers and older throwing temper tantrums are a different situation...I can easily laugh at them and walk away.

    One book I really like for bedtime sleep help is "The No Cry Sleep Solution" by Elizabeth Pantley. I find that she blends a respect for the parents' needs with a respect for the baby...not making parents slaves to the baby as some very strong opponents of cry it out do, but also doing a great job of making bedtime a gentle transition for baby.

    (if you want to read about each of my baby's sleep patterns...that's the next post...I had to break it up because I'm too wordy--LOL!

  4. I nursed Jessica to sleep pretty much every night until she was a bit more than a year old. Naps she either fell asleep in her swing (she was seriously addicted!) or in the car while driving to Nana & Popop's house before Steve went to work in the afternoon. She really was a very "easy" baby, and we used to joke that she was "spoiling us." I can seriously count on one hand the number of times she cried for more than 5 minutes at a stretch before her first birthday. That was a mix of her temperment, and us being able to dote on her since she was the only child. She did wake to nurse at night about every 3 hours until she was about 14 months old though. It was actually her waking up to nurse that led to us getting an "Arm's Reach Cosleeper" that attached to our bed so that I could easily scoop her up to nurse without having to move from the bed. We used that for all of our kids until they were around a year old, and didn't actually end up using the crib that had been given to us--we ended up giving it away when we moved out of Steve's house in Allentown. One of my cousins took the drop side off her crib (of course now they don't make drop side cribs...a travesty I think!), and tied the crib up close to her bed to create the same effect with her babies--but if you do that, you need to be VERY careful how you set it up to avoid creating a possibility of the baby getting trapped between the crib and bed. The Arm's Reach is designed to hold very tight to the bed so that a gap can't form...I can explain how to do it with a crib if you want to know.

    Then came Katie...very much the diva! But amazingly...she slept really well. She also fell asleep while nursing, but then she slept longer stretches than Jessica did, at an early age. She was sleeping 6 hour stretches by the time she was 6 weeks old. A bit of a difficult patch with more waking at night when we moved when she was about 6 months old, but it only lasted a month or two. But then by the time she was about 12-15 months old and was really mobile...oh my...bedtime was hard. She wouldn't have "cried to sleep" in the traditional sense even if we'd tried. She was (and still is) a night owl, who was happy to be put to bed...but wouldn't go to sleep. She just stayed in motion until she litterally was so tired that she couldn't move anymore--which meant that she was VERY much over-tired. So what we found that worked for her...was that one of us would have to hold her still against our chest...and she would struggle and cry for about 10-15 minutes...but then since she couldn't really move to keep herself awake...she'd fall asleep. We did that for several months, and it was really rough. But eventually she grew through it, and she and Jessica--sharing a double bed--would cuddle together to go to sleep after a pretty normal bedtime routine of PJ's, teeth brushing, stories, prayer...

    Jason and Sean pretty much both nursed to sleep for their first year...though with Jason, as he got a bit older, he wouldn't quite be asleep after nursing. He'd nurse at bedtime with both of us laying on a bed. When he was done nursing, he'd want me to roll over so that he could play with my hair. He'd fall asleep playing with my hair. When Sean was about 18 months old I had to pretty much do with him what I'd done with Katie...though for him, I was holding him still in bed. It only took about 2 weeks though as I recall, not the months and months we struggled with Katie.

    Sophie nursed to sleep for a long time...and even now, as she approaches 4 years old, I do often hold her as she drifts off to sleep, though sometimes she just decides she is tired and gets into her bed on her own, or falls asleep on a couch or some such.