*See co-author list below
A world of “experts” and journalists tell parents about the safety of “controlled crying” or “cry it out” techniques to make babies sleep. The advice has multiple mistaken premises and conclusions about what is normal and good for babies.
Here are several foundational mistaken premises:
Mistaken Premise 1: The notion that sleeping through the night at 6 months is normal and developmentally/physiologically appropriate, therefore not sleeping through the night at age 6 months is a disorder
Mistaken Premise 2: The notion that there is such a thing as self-soothing, and the accompanying idea that when babies do not sleep through the night at age six months it is because parents have interfered with their ability to self-soothe
Mistaken Premise 3: That sleeping through the night should accompany breastfeeding which contradicts the social and biological realities of breastfeeding and the fact that breastfeeding beyond six months is a widely agreed-upon public health goal,
There is an incredible disconnect between mainstream medical notions of normal infant sleep and sleep advice for parents.
What is normal? Study after study shows that breastfed babies wake up more often than bottle fed babies (ergo, night waking is arguably normal in breastfed babies).
Some breastfeeding advocates don't seem to like to talk about frequent waking perhaps because they are afraid mothers will be discouraged from breastfeeding.
Sleep experts typically don't like to talk about breastfeeding at length because they can't be seen to be anti-breastfeeding. But their focus/obsession is that babies simply have to sleep through the night, even though this is unnatural.
What is the core message parents need to hear? Breastfeeding is natural, normal and necessary for optimal development (more here). It is the kind of feeding that babies and mothers were designed to experience. Night waking to varying degrees is normal in breastfed babies. So if a breastfed baby is waking, parents may not like it, but should understand that it doesn't mean that anything is wrong. Parents can choose to live with it rather than trying to fix it.
How to cope with night waking?
- Make breastfeeding at night easier and less intrusive for the baby. This means co-sleeping (same room) and/or bedsharing (including sleeping units added to the parental mattress).
- Understand the true (and limited) risks of co-sleeping
- Learn gentle strategies for calming babies generally
- Learn gentle strategies for gradually moving older babies and toddlers in the direction of less parental intervention at night and perhaps fewer wakings.
- The overall goal should be nights that parents can live with, not eliminating night waking at all costs. In our experience, both personal, from talking to parents and from doing research is that many parents do not find one relatively short wakening per night to be hard to cope with.
Controlled crying should never be presented as the default, best or only option. But it is difficult to say that it should never, ever be an option that might be right for certain parents (based on consideration of a number of factors).
If parents want to try a controlled crying method they should understand the risks which are:
- It will be hard for them
- It will be stressful for their baby, regardless of whether the baby continues to cry or stops crying
- It may not work or it may work only temporarily
- Parents should also get guidelines on when to give up when controlled crying isn't working and outside limits in terms of how long to let babies cry.
We will discuss more details of these points in other posts in this series on baby sleep training.
Other posts in this series:
1. Baby Sleep Training: Mistakes "Experts" and Parents Make
2. Letting Crying Babes Lie? So Wrong
3. Simple ways to calm a crying baby
4. Normal, Human Infant Sleep: PART 1, PART 2, PART 3, PART 4, PART 5
5. Understanding and Helping Toddler Sleep: PART 1, PART 2, PART 3
6. The illusions of self-soothing
7. Making breastfeeding and sleeping easier
8. Gentle strategies for encouraging toddlers to need less parental intervention at night
9. Controlled crying techniques: Difficulties and dangers
10. What are parents' moral responsibilities about infant sleep?
OTHER POSTS ON PARENTING ISSUES :
New Moms Need Social Support
Painkillers for Childbirth? The Few Pros and Many Cons
What's the Use of Midwives and Doulas?
Jesus Had a Home Birth
What if Jesus Had Been Born in the USA?
Why Continue to Harm Boys from Ignorance of Male Anatomy?
What Is the Greatest Danger for an Uncircumcised Boy?
Circumcision Ethics and Economics
Circumcision: Social, Sexual, Psychological Realities
More Circumcision Myths You May Believe: Hygiene and STDs
Myths about Circumcision You Likely Believe
Stand Up For Breastfeeding
Talk About Breastfeeding With Your Family, Friends and Doctor
Breastmilk Wipes Out Formula: Responses to Critical Comments
In Light of Last Week's Posts: Is Pushing* Formula Evil?
The REAL Truth about Breastfeeding
5 Things You Thought You Knew about Breastfeeding
The TREMENDOUS Benefits of Doing What is Normal: Breastfeeding
Myths you probably believe about infant formula
Your assumptions about infant formula are probably wrong
It’s Breastfeeding Week: Why should you care?
What Happened to Ethics in Pediatric Medicine?
Baby-, Parent- or Life-Centered Parenting?
Ten Ways to Truly Respect Motherhood
Slings and Heroes
Parents Should Know the Limitations of Science Experiments
Babies "don’t cry in Africa," why should they cry in the USA?
Blame the baby or blame the experts?
Dumb Parent(ing), Dumberer Child
How to Grow a Smart Baby
Are you treating your child like a prisoner?
Undercare: The bane of American life?
Promoting Thriving in School-Aged Children: A Checklist
Is it good to make kids afraid?
How NOT to Ruin a Child
Are you or your child on a (touch) starvation diet?
Mother’s touch of dead baby causes “miracle”
What Does Good Parenting Look Like? You Decide.
Are You a “Childist?" Test Yourself
Babies Are Needy—Does That Bug You?
Do We Need Declaration for the Rights of the Baby?
Where Are the Happy Babies?
The Decline of Children and the Moral Sense
Believing "children are resilient" may be a fantasy
How America Morally Fails its Children: What Needs to Change
Increase the well-being of children around you
John Hoffman, uncommonjohn.wordpress.com
Wendy Middlemiss, University of North Texas
Sarah Ockwell-Smith, babycalming.com
Helen Stevens, Safe Sleep Space
NOTE on BASIC ASSUMPTIONS: When I write about parenting, I assume the importance of the evolved developmental niche (EDN) for raising human infants (which initially arose over 30 million years ago with the emergence of the social mammals and has been slightly altered among human groups based on anthropological research).
The EDN is the baseline I use for determining what fosters optimal human health, wellbeing and compassionate morality. The niche includes at least the following: breastfeeding on demand for several years, nearly constant touch, responsiveness to needs so the young child does not get distressed, playful companionship, multiple adult caregivers, positive social support, and natural childbirth.
All these characteristics are linked to health in mammalian and human studies. Thus, shifts away from the EDN baseline are risky. My comments and posts stem from these basic assumptions.