How could I have a blog on sleep training and not address this study out of Australia? Nearly everyone I know who is aware of my deep passion for helping infants and toddlers sleep sent me this article the week it came out. It was posted to my facebook page, people called me on the phone about it. “Finally!” they cried (not really, no one cried, except the babies in the article), “Proof once and for all that Crying It Out (CIO) is not harmful!”
It would have been great if the study could have proven such a thing! There is such a raging debate on both sides of this issue that it would have been wonderful to finally have a definitive study that absolutely proved that using CIO could be an effective and non-harmful tool – and by no means the only tool – in helping babies and toddler learn to sleep at night.
I think my favorite part of the study is where researchers note that, “modern parents have ‘unproven concerns’ about the ‘patting on the bottom’ technique (which they would call ‘controlled comforting’) and other behavioral interventions. (NY Times parenting blog)
That right there characterizes the exact idea I try to communicate to new moms. In the US we have somehow developed this outright fear of our babies-of hurting them psychologically and emotionally, and we’ve been duped into believing that the crying of a newborn necessarily means that we must always and immediately attend to the baby. Of course you attend to your baby, of course you meet it’s each and every need, but sometimes I take particular issue with the way mothers are told that, “Crying is a late sign of hunger” by many pediatricians. Of course I’ve taken that quote somewhat out of context, but every time I hear it I’m reminded how we’re always taught to think of a crying infant as a hungry infant. There are simply so many other needs a baby must have met. They have no other form of communication, so a reasonable person would expect a baby to cry a lot.
Newborns and infants cry when they’re cold, which happens frequently since they have such little body fat. They cry when they have an itch they can’t scratch, they cry because the room is too bright, or they’re tired, and yes, absolutely they cry when they’re hungry. I don’t know why I’ve veered off on this crying tangent, except that I feel like CIO is frequently equated with not feeding your baby enough. And thus begins so much guilt mother’s feel. I would argue that our mother’s and grandmothers just didn’t feel as guilty as we do now. It took me several years of parenting before I stopped feeling bad constantly for not being a good enough mother.
It would be better if as mothers we all supported and loved one another. I desperately wished that as a society of mothers we traded in our guilt for a belief that our fellow mothers are probably doing the best they can. I think that for many of us that comes with time, but if we could address the guilt before it ever began, well that would make transitioning to motherhood much, much easier.