Should a Baby “Cry it Out”?
Over thirty years ago in all of our writings, we strongly cautioned new parents to avoid the “let your baby cry it out” crowd because sleep-training was becoming fashionable and often harmful. We even added another Baby B to our list of attachment parenting tools – beware of baby-trainers. We formulated our opinion based upon common sense: A baby’s cry is a baby’s language. Babies cry for a reason.
Next, a new mother is hormonally wired to listen and respond from her heart or, in this case, her “mommy brain.” Yet, letting a baby cry-it-out desensitizes a mother to the attachment-promoting signals of her baby’s cries. As a result, babies give up and “sleep through the night,” or they cry harder and disrupt the whole household. Either way, it’s a lose-lose situation.
Fast-forward to modern research on the topic of letting baby cry-it-out and the issue it brings up. In their very informative must-read book, Chronotherapy, the authors, a sleep physiologist, and a psychologist, offer their neuroscientific opinion on the “let baby cry it out” advice. Here are some excerpts of their wise advice:
“In our view, these baby-training approaches are deeply misguided…especially when applied to babies under the age of six months…A baby’s sleep habits should not be seen as a source of bragging rights…Friends exaggerate how their baby slept through the night at three months…Their baby is not your baby.”
“The notion of letting the baby cry-it-out is wrong-headed for a whole range of reasons. On a hormonal level, extended crying leads to a higher level of stress hormones…which counteract the effects of the sleep-related hormone, melatonin…It increases heart rate and blood pressure…and practically guarantees that normal sleep simply will not happen…Eventually, baby gives up from despair, or what psychologists call ‘learned helplessness’…and that has been linked to depression. “
I just love how neuroscientists eventually put their stamp of approval on what wise mothers have long known about following their own neuro-instinct about listening to and responding to their own baby’s cries.
Dr. Bill Sears, MD
Dr. Sears, or Dr. Bill as his “little patients” call him, has been advising busy parents on how to raise healthier families for over 40 years. He received his medical training at Harvard Medical School’s Children’s Hospital in Boston and The Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto, the world’s largest children’s hospital, where he was associate ward chief of the newborn intensive care unit before serving as the chief of pediatrics at Toronto Western Hospital, a teaching hospital of the University of Toronto. He has served as a professor of pediatrics at the University of Toronto, University of South Carolina, University of Southern California School of Medicine, and University of California: Irvine. As a father of 8 children, he coached Little League sports for 20 years, and together with his wife Martha has written more than 40 best-selling books and countless articles on nutrition, parenting, and healthy aging. He serves as a health consultant for magazines, TV, radio and other media, and his AskDrSears.com website is one of the most popular health and parenting sites. Dr. Sears has appeared on over 100 television programs, including 20/20, Good Morning America, Oprah, Today, The View, and Dr. Phil, and was featured on the cover of TIME Magazine in May 2012. He is noted for his science-made-simple-and-fun approach to family health.