You’re locked in a bed room when suddenly you’re thirsty. The only way to quench your thirst is for someone on the outside to bring you a drink. So you begin to call out. Over and over. Again and again. But no one ever comes.
Now reimagine this scenario, but this time you are hungry. Or scared. Or hot/cold. Or lonely.
Eventually, you get tired of begging. Your throat hurts from calling out. You have exhausted yourself by simply asking for your BASIC NEEDS to be met. You give up waiting for the door to be opened, so you do the only thing you can…. sleep.
This, ladies and gentlemen, is an adult’s equivalent to the widely popular sleep training method for infants referred to as the “Cry It Out” (CIO) Method.
I FULLY support any parenting choice, as long as it is an informed one.
If you have spoken with professionals who have expertise on the matter at hand, done thorough research, and truly weighed the pros and cons, then by all means. BUT if you are making your choices based solely on convenience or ease, PLEASE, stop now and reevaluate.
Background of the CIO Method
The Cry It Out Method came into effect somewhere around the 1880s when medical professionals were under the assumption that babies should not be touched unless absolutely necessary due to germs and the transmission of disease. Can you imagine being an infant during that particular time period? To go through infancy without physical comfort?
Parents in those days were advised to ignore their natural instincts to care for their children and instead rely on scientific principles.
In 1928, the theory of “spoiling” a baby was presented by behaviorist and President of the American Psychological Association, John Watson. His advice to prevent an “overcoddled” adult was:
Let your behavior always be objective and kindly firm. Never hug and kiss them, never let them sit in your lap. If you must, kiss them once on the forehead when they say good night. Shake hands with them in the morning. Give them a pat on the head if they have made an extraordinarily good job of a difficult task, (pp. 81-82, Psychological Care of the Infant and Child, Watson and Watson)
Psychological Evidence that dispelled CIO Method
Erik Erikson was an ego psychologist who emphasized the role of culture and society and the conflicts within the ego. Erikson’s theory of psychosocial development, Psychological Issues Vol 1 Part 1: Identity and the Life Cycle, was published in 1959. He found that there are eight stages of development, with five of them occurring before the age of 18.
The first stage of development, with an age classification from birth to one year, is Trust v. Mistrust. During this stage a baby looks to its primary caregiver for stability, consistency, and care.
This stage has the ability to influence every relationship that they form in their lifetime. A successful completion of this stage leads to the development of the virtue hope. However, if any type of crises occurs, it can result in anxiety, insecurity, and an overall mistrust of the world.
Along these same lines, Jean Piaget, a biologist, psychologist, and epestemologist, created his own systematic study of cognitive development. It consisted of four separate stages that each relied on the concept of schemes.
The first stage “sensorimotor” takes place between the ages of birth and two years old. It involves learning through motor actions and places a strong emphasis on object permanence. An infant who has a sense of object permanence will understand that even though an object is hidden from sight it does still exist. According to Piaget’s theory this perception is not acquired until substage six (of six), beginning at the age of eight to twelve months.
Expert Opinions on the Method
- Dr. Margot Sunderland, Director is Education and Training at The Centre for Child Mental Health in London, Honorary Visiting Fellow at London Metropolitan University, Associate Member of the Royal College of Medicine, and Child Psychotherapist of more than 30 years, has this to say in regards to the CIO Method:
“I would be very surprised if any parent continued to use ‘cry it out’ if they knew the full extent of what is happening to their infant’s brain. The infant brain is so vulnerable to stress— after birth, it’s not yet finished!”
She goes on to list the results of an infant’s prolonged uncomforted crying to be: elevated blood pressure; elevated cerebral pressure; erratic fluctuations of heart rate, breathing, and temperature; suppressed immune and digestive systems; suppressed growth hormone; apneas; and extreme pressure on the heart resulting in tachycardia.
She also warns that:
“any uncomforted infant mammal will stop crying. So it’s not an achievement when you hear their crying stop. It’s a process known as ‘Protest-Despair-Detachment.’ A resigned, self-protective, giving up.”
- Dr. Howard Chilton, Consultant Neonatologist at the Prince of Wales Private Hospital and the Royal Hospital for Women in Sydney, has stated that:
“Cry It Out makes absolutely no biological sense.
Like other primates, humans are a ‘continuous contact’ species, but we are even more than that — we are born the most immature of all placental mammals. The most important point is that in the early months, our fetus-like babies have to embark upon massive amounts of brain development. They have to lay down life-long brain connections and embed fundamental beliefs about how safe and secure their world is, how reliable their parents are, and how valued and loved they are.
This is a vital time during which they are learning from their parents (but their mother in particular) new things about the world around them and how to deal with stress. So it makes no sense at the darkest, scariest time of the day to abandon them to a regime of nocturnal neglect.
Cry it out also contradicts the very basic parental instincts of nurturing and caring for those we love the most in our lives. It truly makes no sense.”
Studies in Support of CIO
While you can probably find just as many studies FOR this sleep training method as you can AGAINST it, I have noticed two major issues with these studies.
- There is no way to determine the accuracy of the findings. The majority of the findings were based on Intent To Treat. Basically, parents were given advice, but there is no way to know for certain who followed the advice given.
- Only the parents were evaluated. While levels of depression in mothers decreased, the infants involved were not evaluated to see what affect it had on them.
In the end…
I don’t understand how any parent can listen to their child scream, and NOT take action. Especially during infancy! They have no other way to communicate than by crying, and the CIO method shows them that their voices don’t matter.
They aren’t little forever. Parenting involves sacrifice, we all know this from day 1. You’re going to lose a little sleep, but that’s life.
Obviously, as a parent it is your right and responsibility to choose the best method of parenting for your children, but please, let your angels have a voice.
If sleep training is something you feel is absolutely necessary for the health and wellbeing of you and/or your child, there are other effective sleep training methods that aren’t traumatizing to an infant!