Firstly one of the things that motivates me to teach and write about Hand in Hand parenting is that there is a lot of the parenting advice out there is just wrong, and completely unscientific. Never has this been so true as with crying-it-out. Even the Doctor who invented crying it out, now admits that he made a mistake!
Crying-it-out is a really short term solution, that can worsen your child’s sleep in the long run. In the short term, a baby gives up on being responded to and may fall asleep from exhaustion, with a high level of stress hormones in their body. But as they get older they may start expressing all that stress through nightmares, or other challenging behaviour.
I think it’s really sad that so many parents are lacking good information on children and sleep. We often think our only two solutions are to ‘cry-it-out’ or ‘wait-it-out.’ That we can either wait until our child miraculously starts sleeping through the night, or that we have to resort to crying it out because sleep deprivation is making our lives really hard.
In the SnoozeChat I talked about the third way of helping older babies and toddler’s sleep through the night. It’s based on the fact that one of the most common reasons that older babies (who are not hungry) wake in the night is because of emotional reasons. Just like adults babies, and children often wake because of stress and tension.
Babies are actually born with a completely natural way to regulate their sleep, and sleep through the night when they are ready; that is crying.
When we first become parents we’re on a steep learning curve. Trying to decipher our babies cries, making sure we meet all their needs, and figuring out how to be the best expert on our baby.
One of the areas in which most new parents (including me!) get confused is with our baby’s crying. Nobody ever taught us that babies don’t just cry to get their needs met. They also cry to heal and recover from stress and upset.
So when we’ve triple checked we’ve met all our babies needs, and they’re still crying, then it’s possible they are crying to heal. For me the tell-tale signs were that this crying happened regularly, often in the evening. I kept assuming my daughter was hungry, but she just didn’t seem to want to breastfeed. I would bounce her around, trying to pace the room and use movement to quieten her, until I realised that what she actually needed was for me to sit with her and be comfortable with tears.
Babies actually need to cry a lot to recover from their arrival into the world, and to release stress and overstimulation. The psychotherapist Matthew Appleton, talks about the ‘cultural blind-spot,’ we have around birth and how it can be painful and traumatic for babies, as well as mothers.
Listening to tears is how we can help our babies recover, and when they can natural regulate their emotions they will sleep better.
We most notice times of the day when we’re avoiding our baby’s emotions by ‘shhhing’ them, feeding them when they aren’t hungry, or waving a toy in front of their face to distract them from the upset. When we stop their feelings, what we are actually doing, is stopping the natural process they have for sleeping well.
If we simply stay and listen, our babies will naturally be able to regulate their sleep, and they will sleep through the night, when they no longer need to wake to be fed (at least most of the time!.
Crying is an important signal our babies give us. We should always trust our instincts about what our baby needs at any moment, as we are the best experts on our children. We should also seek medical advice if we are concerned in any way.
As we get to know our baby, we may get an idea of when they are fine and well, and simply need to be held and cry to heal. That’s one of the most powerful gifts we can give them, our presence and acceptance of how they feel.
And if this post resonates with you, please share it with the sleep deprived parents in our lives! Crying it out is never necessary. And the whole family will benefit from a good night’s sleep.