10 Reasons Not To Cry It Out | By: Morgan
How to get your baby to see through the night without sleep training + 10 reasons not to cry it out!
So…Sleep Training! Grab a cup of coffee and a seat because this is going to be a LONG one! If there’s a topic I’ve been nervous to talk about, it’s definitely this. It is a very polarizing topic, and for good reason. Sleep is necessary for everyone but is especially precious for new parents! Sleep training is something that every parent nowadays hears about, whether from their pediatrician, their momma friend, or their momma.
You can find me on my blog Kind Motherhood to connect, and find more content + resources like this!
For any who are new moms or just haven’t heard of sleep training like I hadn’t, sleep training is defined as “the process of training young children to fall asleep on their own, typically by means of techniques in which the child is left to cry without being comforted, either for gradually increasing periods of time or until they fall asleep.”
There’s definitely a lot of wiggle room in this definition and no sleep training situation is alike, because no child is alike. However, in today’s post I want to talk about why I didn’t sleep train baby “L” and how I still managed to get sleep as a new mom!
When I first brought baby “L” home, I was astounded at how often she woke up at night. I heard everyone say, “you’ll never sleep again!” but I had no idea how true that was! I was breastfeeding and a single mom so night time help was not readily available to me. Thankfully, for the first few weeks I was pumping due to mastitis, which WOW was not fun, and my mom was able to give her some bottles in the middle of the night, bless her heart!
Once the mastitis faded, I stopped pumping and resumed waking up every two to three hours to nurse a night. Then, as if by magic, L started sleeping eight hour stretches at around two months old! It was a BEAUTIFUL time friend! But alas, it was short lived.
The infamous four-month sleep regression hit, and she hasn’t slept for a period of time that long since very recently. She is fourteen months old now and more often than not, sleeps through the night. Here’s hoping it continues! ;)
My well-meaning parents brought up sleep training many times, which they did with me around four months old. To be honest, I had no idea that sleep training was even a thing. I thought that babies eventually just slept in longer stretches on their own, and sooner rather than later. Once I read and researched more about sleep training, I knew that I wouldn’t, and frankly couldn’t, do it. By sharing my reasons and resources that helped me make this decision, I hope I can help some of you that may be struggling with a baby or toddler that doesn’t sleep through the night.
There are A LOT of resources so if you want the list, it will be linked in a separate page at the end of this post! An author that really inspired me and helped me find a more gentle and empathetic view on sleep in general is Sarah Ockwell-Smith, whose books I will link here.
Skip to #10 if you only want my gentle no-cry answer to your sleep problems ☺. Mine is an altered version of Elizabeth Pantley’s solution. She is the author of best-selling The No Cry Sleep Solution linked here.
*I want to preface this by saying that I personally do not believe in sleep training your baby or toddler (for the reasons I will highlight in this post), but I definitely do not want to shame parents that have done so. I realize that everyone’s situation, needs and wants are different, and I want to be sensitive to that, while also providing valid research for those interested or curious in alternative sleep solutions. We are all trying to do our best for our families and that is what’s important! *
1.Developmentally Normal Sleep
One of the first questions I got asked as a new mom was “How is she sleeping?”
It really seemed to be a hot point of conversation with strangers and friends alike. I’d reply with “not well” or “pretty well” depending on the past night’s events. Regardless of my answer, they would usually reply with “my baby……”. Comparison in motherhood is a really hard issue to deal with and as a new mom I was not prepared to deal with it (at least gracefully) at all. I would hear how one baby was a way better sleeper or a way worse sleeper and besides feeling insecure, I wondered what actual normal sleep for an infant was, amongst all the claims made around me.
The truth is that some babies are “better” sleepers than others, just like some babies are more laid back than others. But biologically normal infant sleep is across the board and is what we should be focusing on when trying to get our little ones to sleep. If our sleep expectations are skewed, the results we get can be very frustrating, which is why it’s important to be aware of normal sleep patterns. Normal sleep patterns are:
Your baby waking every two to four hours. Babies wake frequently to nurse because breastmilk digests quickly. This also occurs because frequent night waking is a protection for our babies to prevent them from falling into too deep of a sleep where they may have trouble waking back up. This is why starting solids can often lead to a baby sleeping longer but it also may not because babies have a myriad of needs that need to be met throughout the night, not just nutritional ones.
Your baby suddenly waking often after a period of sleeping “well”. Babies go through many developmental and emotional leaps that may cause them to suddenly sleep less. As adults, we too have nights where we don’t sleep well, so it is unrealistic to expect our babies to sleep well all the time. Sleeping well was not due to anything you did; it was simply a calm developmental phase. So suddenly not sleeping well does not require you to do anything to “fix” it such as sleep training. All children eventually learn to sleep through the night; therefore, it does not need to be taught. Sleep is a long and biological learning process and one that, if forced, can lead to many consequences.
Your baby needing your help to fall asleep (again and again) even into toddlerhood and beyond. It is important to note that once your baby becomes a toddler, you are not out of the woods yet (unfortunately, as I have realized). Toddlers are still developing at an incredibly fast rate and as such are susceptible to the same wakeful periods as infants. Beyond that, toddlers are now more aware of themselves and their emotions and so they might be more needy some days than others. Indulge those needs, mama, for they are only young once! Meeting needs does not cause long-term neediness; unmet needs do.
If you’re a breastfeeding mama, you know the annoying truth that any time a baby cries, from two inches to five thousand feet it seems, your boobs leak. Even if it’s not your baby!
Why does this happen? Because biologically, we are meant to comfort our babies when they cry. Aside from biology, the sound of a crying baby is heart breaking. This is because we have what I like to call our “Mama Instinct”. It’s that thing inside you that urges you to pick up your baby when everyone else says to put them down. Or that helps you know your baby better than anyone else. Or that wakes you at even the smallest noise at night. We are wired as mamas to take care of and protect our babies.
Crying it out makes even the most determined mamas upset at times because I believe deep down, we know we are meant to comfort our babies. If we listen to this God-given instinct, and don’t give into the pressures around or within us, we will build beautiful and trusting relationships with our children for years to come.
3.The Self-Soothing Myth
“If you don’t ever let him/her cry, he will never learn to self-soothe!” When I heard this, I was struck with fear. I didn’t want to deprive my baby of a valuable life skill by not letting her cry! You might have felt this same fear. But the truth is, self-soothing is not something babies are even physically able to do.
Self-soothing is a skill that requires high level thinking that babies have not developed yet.
As an adult, we self soothe by rationalization or just dealing with the emotions we feel. We can do this because our neocortex in our brain, which is responsible for helping us evaluate a situation and determine our response, is fully developed. In babies and young children, the neocortex is EXTREMELY underdeveloped, so our children are incapable of soothing themselves when under stress.
But this begs the question. How on earth do parents who do the cry it out method get their children to miraculously sleep through the night if self-soothing isn’t possible?
4.Sleep Training and The Effect On The Brain
When a parent who is letting their child cry and then finds their child has stopped crying, they assume they have calmed themselves down. Instead of calming themselves down, the child remains in a heightened level of anxiety, though this might not be obvious because they may remain quiet.
However, this does not mean they are calm. It may surprise you (it did me) that babies are biologically wired to continue to wake throughout the night even when they are “sleeping through the night”. Again, this is a safety mechanism for them.
But babies who are sleep trained don’t cry when they wake; they are silent, making it easy for us to believe that they are still sleeping and that we have successfully trained them to self soothe. So yes, the cry it out method can “work”, but there are many detrimental consequences to this form of self-soothing. When a baby is left to cry for an extended period of time, as is recommended with the cry it out method, there are long-lasting physical side effects.
It is interesting to know that humans are born eighteen months earlier than most other mammals, and as such, our bodies are still developing past our time in the womb. We are shaped in many ways by our first few years and so how we respond to our babies is extremely important for not only their emotional but physical development. Before the age of one, a baby’s brain is still completing a great deal of development.
One thing that is happening in these first years is the development of neural pathways. These pathways are what determine how we respond in stressful situations as well as our general emotional health. These pathways are highly impressionable, and stressors, such as crying, greatly affect them. The stress brought on by crying leads to an increase in the hormone cortisol and this can actually decrease the growth of the synapse and even completely melt them.
Additionally, when we let our babies cry for an extended period of time, they can experience high blood pressure, high cerebral pressure, pressure on their heart, suppressed immune and digestive support and suppressed growth hormone. You can learn more about this from Dr. Sears, one of my absolute favorite gentle parenting experts and someone I highly recommend, in his many books linked here. Beyond the physical consequences, the emotional consequences of the cry it out method can be extremely damaging.
5.Trust and Our Relationship With Our Children
If you’re familiar with my blog at all then you know that I am a huge advocate for treating our children with empathy and respect or how we would want to be treated as adults. This requires us to look at the world from our child’s perspective. From a baby or young child’s point of view, crying it out is not a means of teaching them to self soothe that a parenting expert recommended. All they know is that they are crying in an attempt to alert their momma or daddy that they are in need of them and their comfort. When that cry is not responded to in a timely manner or at all, they don’t learn to self-soothe; they learn that their needs are not going to be met and that nobody is going to comfort them, so eventually they stop crying and go into a withdrawn state.
Imagine if you were in your baby’s shoes:
If you were greatly upset and calling out for your significant other or a friend and they never responded. Eventually, you would stop crying and perhaps because you were an adult you would rationalize the reason they didn’t come.
Additionally, people may not vocalize their needs, but that doesn’t mean they don’t stop having those needs. For babies, they are learning that their needs and they themselves do not matter to their caregivers and that their cries are wasted because again, they don’t have the ability to rationalize and everything is extremely black and white to them. This often leads to insecure attachment which can cause many issues down the road.
Our response to our babies, especially in their time of need, shows them that we value and love them as well as helping build a sense of security and empathy for others. We are their caregivers and they need to be able to trust us. When we ignore their needs, the trust between parent and child is broken and it can be very hard to repair. Our babies need us to respond promptly to their cries, for it is their only method of communication.
6.Cries Are Not Manipulation
Western culture has become increasingly unsensitive to the needs of babies and children. It seems to have convinced parents that their babies are crying to manipulate them into doing their will. Now, tell me that doesn’t sound at least a little ridiculous. A baby, who cannot even walk, talk, support himself sitting up, eat food, or take care of themselves in ANY way shape or form is somehow able to master manipulation. The fact that this idea is so readily accepted and propagated throughout society makes my heart hurt.
Babies do NOT cry to manipulate us. They cry because they are babies and it is the only form of communication that they have. They cry because they have a need that needs to be met or in the case of a toddler or young child, they cry because they have a feeling that needs to be heard. We need to acknowledge and respond to those needs and feelings, just as we would want someone to do for us.
Truthfully, how often do you cry as an adult to manipulate someone into doing something? Probably never. Babies do not have ulterior motives. Their only motive is to feel good, and that is usually accomplished by being in close proximity to their caregivers, which is normal and will not spoil them. Babies are heavily dependent on us and need us a lot in the first few years especially. While the crying can be overwhelming, it is so important to remember that they are attempting to communicate with us and that as their parent, we need to respond to that in a loving and compassionate way.
7.Sleep Training Is Selfish
Here’s the thing. I know that the subtitle of this can seem really offensive, but honestly, I am not trying to offend anyone. After all, being selfish is not always a bad thing. Self-care for instance, is selfish, because we are doing something for ourselves. In the same way, sleep training is selfish because we are training our babies so that we can get our sleep back.
We might tell ourselves that it is because we want them to learn to self soothe because “that’s what’s best for them”. But if we take an honest look at ourselves, when we google “how to get a baby to sleep through the night” we are mostly concerned with “how can I get my baby to sleep through the night so that I can sleep through the night without interruptions for once, please God”. And there’s nothing wrong with wanting your sleep back. This is not to say that some parents don’t genuinely believe that sleep training will help their baby sleep better in the long term and that they want their children to have a skill that is supposedly necessary. But even the best of intentions can have somewhat selfish motives behind them.
Often, we try to justify our selfish motives in order to make us feel better about ignoring our instincts. I’ve definitely done that before. Getting our own sleep back is by all means important, but is it more important than our child’s needs?
The parent-child relationship is full of sacrifice and sometimes we have to put our children’s needs before our own or at least on the same level as our own. Personally, I believe this is one of those times. We need to break the societal mold that tells us that our children are burdens on us and that we need to control them and teach them to be independent so that we don’t have to be as present or patient as we should be. Our babies need us to be patient with them as they navigate sleep. It can be a hard pill to swallow, but it’s so incredibly important to realize.
8.Controlled crying/ The Ferber Method
Finally, we are at the alternative methods for sleep training. A quick overview of the Ferber Method is basically that you leave your baby in their crib to sleep. If they cry, you come back to comfort them (but don’t pick them up) and then leave again. The next time they cry, you wait a little longer and then go back to comfort them again. And this process repeats itself until, theoretically, the baby is not crying anymore. This is sometimes seen as gentler alternative to the standard cry it out because the parent is able to go back and comfort their child. However, there is a big problem with this method.
If we step into our babies’ shoes again in this scenario, we see that we are crying and our caregiver comes back and comforts us, so our needs are met. But then, to our shock and surprise, we are put back down, and our caregiver leaves again. So, we cry again, because we have a biological need and desire to be close to and comforted by our caregiver. And they come back again, yay! But then they leave again. This process can understandably be very confusing for a baby, or even for an adult. By doing this method, we are giving our babies a false sense of hope and they do not know if and when we are going to come back. We are distressing them over and over again, which as explained before, can be very detrimental.
Another issue that I have with this method is that Ferber insinuates that the child is crying because they “aren’t getting their way” or are having a tantrum and that letting them do so will not affect them in the long run. However, as we discussed before, neither of these are true. Many studies have tested both the Ferber and traditional cry it out methods and some (including one’s that were featured in Parents Magazine) claim to have found that there were no adverse effects. This brings me to my last point before my gentle no cry solution. Cheers to those who made it this far! We are almost there!
9.The Importance of Doing Good Research
So often as parents we are told to do things or not do things because of research that proves or disproves x y and z. Research is an amazing thing and something that I am grateful for every single day. Without it, who knows what diseases we would still have or how we would be living without internet. But it is really important to evaluate and actually read the research that people are telling you about. In the spirit of not being hypocritical, I have included all the links to the information I used in this post in separate document below! Anyway, my point is that research can very easily be misinterpreted and misconstrued.
There have been many studies done on sleep and sleep training. If you’ve ever heard that sleep training does not have any ill effects, you might be hearing about results from the famous Flinders study. The link to this study is below but to sum up, the study measured the levels of cortisol in babies to determine if they were put under any stress because they were left to cry it out. The problem with this study, and what is not shown in the parenting media, is that the cortisol was measured in the morning and not during the time that the baby was crying, so there is no way to know how stressed they actually were during the crying and therefore how high their cortisol was. There are many studies like the Flinders study and it’s important to carefully evaluate the research you hear before you take it, even if it comes from a trustworthy source, especially when it comes to our babies.
10.My Gentle Sleep Solution
WE MADE IT. Here is the solution you have been waiting for. I apologize for the extremely long introduction, but I felt that in order to better understand my reason to not sleep train, it would be best to provide the best research I can. How did I get L to sleep through the night?
The answer is I didn’t. I did absolutely nothing. She learned how to sleep with no intervention, no training necessary. Here’s what I did do though to facilitate her learning. I co-sleep. Now before you call me a hippy dippy mom (which I honestly kind of am), co-sleeping is the norm in many other cultures. In fact, the concept of leaving a baby alone in a crib let alone crying it out would be considered torture in most other parts of the world. Beyond that there are numerous benefits to co-sleeping when done safely. But I digress. Because we do co-sleep, I nurse her to bed every night/nap time while singing and then she falls asleep and I either stay with her or roll away.
We don’t have a specific night time routine per say but we do have a white noise machine. I want to talk in a future post about how we safely co-sleep and our set-up in general if you are interested! I simply had to be patient with the frequent night waking and wait it out. I know, not the answer you were really looking to hear. But, through co-sleeping I was able to get a lot of sleep because if she stirred, I could just roll over and nurse her and within a few seconds she was back asleep.
But, if co-sleeping isn’t for you, which I totally understand, there is another option. Elizabeth Pantley describes in her book, The No Cry Sleep Solution, a method that is both gentle and I’ll admit can be more practical. She recommends that you develop a night time routine with your baby and then lay them down in their crib either drowsy or asleep. Then they sleep in their crib and when they wake up, you can go and get them. I personally have found that putting a baby from arms to crib is very difficult but if you start early enough, it may not be an issue for you! But both my solution and Pantley’s require parents to realize that their infant will not sleep through the night until they are developmentally ready to do so.
If we are patient with our children’s timeline, which doesn’t last forever, then we will get all our sleep back and not have to deal with the long-lasting consequences of sleep training. I’m not saying this is easy because it definitely isn’t. But I think it’s definitely worth it. One phrase I say to myself every night and nap time is that “eventually she will fall asleep” because eventually she will. This helps me a lot because it reminds me that her not sleeping is temporary and that I will get sleep. I hope that this post gave you some hope and research to look through and evaluate for yourself! No matter what road you choose, your baby will sleep, and you can still have a securely attached relationship. Stay tuned for a co-sleeping centered post and if you’re interested in the research that I presented here, I have a list of forty or so links below!
Thanks, and see you soon ☺