Thursday, June 19, 2008

Cry-It-Out Parenting

Darling Eliza brings to mind this issue. She is even more high-needs than her older sister, and life with her right now is really tough. It reminds me of the t-shirts I've seen that say, "You can't scare me - I'm a mom!" Sleep deprivation, extremely limited ability to get anything done during the day, and either remaining housebound (well, neighborhood-bound) or enduring screaming for the duration of any car trip. It really sucks in many ways. Luckily, I know from personal experience that it ends, and that fussy babies can become lovely little girls. It's just a question of battening down the hatches and doing what it takes to survive these few months, while respecting baby's needs and still allowing the parents some opportunity to catch their breath. In my opinion, having a securely attached child who can trust me and know all her needs will be met (NB: that's not to say in the future all her wants will be met) is well worth the trial by fire at the beginning.

However, many people disagree with this. The mainstream idea in our culture seems to be that babies should not inconvenience their parents too much, that their crying is not vital communication but obnoxious noise pollution to be stamped out, and that babies must be pushed toward independence as soon as possible. Thus, the cry it out advice. And in an exhausted state, many parents latch onto the advice as the holy grail of infant parenting - a way to get some sleep, some chores done, and some peace and quiet. It's understandable why people choose to do this. And it does "work" with many average babies - they give up trying to communicate their needs, or get exhausted, and go to sleep. I just can't bring myself to adhere to this technique when I consider the baby's point of view. Imagine being unable to move out of bed on your own, unable to take care of even your most basic needs, and in a scary, unfamiliar place. You call for your caregiver again and again, with increasing panic. No one comes. Eventually you become exhausted and fall into sleep. I just couldn't do that to my child.

Add in that high-needs/fussy/spirited/intense babies don't stop and fall asleep. They tend to cycle up and up and up, making themselves and everyone around them miserable. And mothers are wired to ache at their babies' crying like that, to intervene and make things better. It's almost as cruel to a mother to tell her she must not respond as it is to the baby. Message board postings about CIO attempts abound with phrases like, "my husband forced me to stay out of the room," "my husband had to hold me down," and of course, "we both cried for an hour."

In addition to all that, there are indications that practicing attachment parenting actually promotes healthier independence in older children, whereas babies left to cry and pushed to grow up tend more toward clinginess. Given that, and that the tough infant times last less than a year in most cases, why would anyone practice "detachment parenting?"

Next post: Ezzo parenting


AlisonM said...

I don't know that this is one of those either/or issues, actually, because of my own experiences. Audrey wasn't exactly attachment parented, although I did have to carry her around in a backpack because she wouldn't tolerate the stroller, and we'd take naps together, and she got a good deal of lap time, since she loved being read to almost from day one. That being said, neither of my girls slept with us. My sleep issues would not have allowed me to adequately care for them during the day after not being able to sleep because of the sounds, movement, and closeness of so many other bodies. (I had enough trouble with just the husband in bed!)

The problem we ran into was that I would automatically go to her when she awoke in the night, which was every two to three hours. That's expected in the beginning with a breast-fed infant. When she was 8 months old and it was still going on and I was pregnant again, something had to be done. Much as I hated it, we decided to try letting her "cry it out" in the middle of the night. The reasoning was that being nursed back to sleep had ceased to be a necessity and had become a habit, and it was a habit that wasn't doing anyone any good. Mom and Dad needed some sleep, and she needed to learn how to sleep without food she wasn't hungry for anyway.

Night one was hellish. We tried going in to see her without taking her out of her bed, but that made it worse, so we had to just lie there and listen. Her dad and I cried almost as much as she did. Night two she woke up a couple of times, cried briefly, then went back to sleep. Night three she slept through.

Overall, she wasn't abandoned or neglected, and after the cry-it-out nights, she still wanted (and got) "up" and "sittabap!" (sit on your lap!" I even kept strapping the backpack on around my rapidly expanding belly and carried her around.

I would never have agreed to let her cry before she was eating solids, or withhold attention or affection, but I think that my particular situation warranted the method.

Hugo said...

In my opinion there are discernible differences to the cries, when the first cry starts we (or mom or I alone) are out there almost immediately but when consoled and returned to bed our daughter sometimes tries to get us back with whines not actual cries (though mommy and daddy sometimes disagrees when it is a whine and when it is a cry)
When that happens we do react different and put her back in bed soft and friendly but a bit more strict and impersonal.
Apart from a few transitional periods we are happy to have a very good sleeper because during those off periods I can understand people going mad because of sleep deprivation!

Cogito said...

I agree, older babies definitely can develop preferences, and cry when they are not met. And when you seven month old develops a preference for company every 30 to 60 minutes all night, you just have to let her cry sometimes and get used to sleeping for longer periods without assistance. At least we did. There comes a time when you are going to seriously lose your mind, and some crying is preferable to not being able to function.

Then again, I just came across the blog Ask Moxie, and she talks about expected sleep regressions around 4 months and 9 months, which certainly illuminated our current situation! So sometimes they're going to not sleep and there's not much you can do but wait for it to be over. Not great news, but it's nice to know what's going on.