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CRY IT OUT OR PICK UP

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WHAT SHOULD YOU DO WITH YOUR BABY’S SLEEP HABITS?

What are parents to do when their infant has repeatedly woken them up every night for months on end? Do they attend swiftly to every cry or should they simply let them “cry it out?” This dilemma has sparked many impassioned debates amongst concerned parents. Some argue that babies thrive on attention and affection and by neglecting your child you are doing them harm. Others counter that by weaning babies off constant attention you are allowing the child to develop some form of independence while, at the same time, affording yourself some semblance of sleep which is critical to proper parenting. There are valid points to be said on both sides of the arguments with a variety of studies pointing to conflicting evidence. Here we will try to explore all aspects of each side of the debate in order to offer some guidance to any torn parent who is just trying to do the best thing for their child.

The building of independence of the crying child is at the root of this debate. What fosters it best? Letting them come to it in your baby’s own time while you attend to his or her needs with love and affection or letting him or her learn to deal with a situation on their own? Those on the “pick up” side claim that parents who quickly attend to the needs of their bellowing baby build a sense of self-confidence for their child.[1] Their child sees themselves as worthy of love because of their parents’ fast responses to their cries. This builds the confidence required to be independent. Another study found that the “crying it out method” may lead to a baby crying less often throughout the night or for shorter intervals and that their levels of cortisol, a stress hormone, were higher than normal.[2] High levels of cortisol can be inhibitory to healthy brain development.3

The “crying it out” method was pioneered and recommended famously by Dr. Richard Ferber. It is a sleep training technique meant to help babies fall asleep without parental aid. It involves breaking sleep associations through gradually not engaging in the activities that your baby usually needs to fall asleep such as continuous nursing or rocking. Proponents of this method claim that it builds independence for children through learning how to self-soothe. However, the method also raises questions about whether it is producing enough distress to cause long-term damage to the infant. Numerous studies, though, have provided contradictory results to this notion showing that children who were recipients of sleep training techniques were not at an increased risk of psychological, behavioral, or emotional disorders at age six in comparison to their non-sleep trained counterparts.[4],[5] Another study found that babies who had to wait longer for their parents to intervene at 3 months of age turned out to be better self-soothers at 12 months of age.[6] It is possible that the lack of intervention allows babies to figure out the best way to fall asleep which could translate into important skills later on in life such as dealing with anxiety and stress.

Both sides of the debate offer compelling claims with evidence from numerous sources. The “pick up” method may not be doing any harm to a baby’s path to independence, but it appears that the “cry it out” method won’t either. “Picking up” your baby may help you to have more bonding time with them, but at the same time minimizing your intervention throughout the night may allow you to get more sleep. Getting adequate sleep as the parent of an infant may seem like an impossibility, but it is something to strive for. This is because it allows you to make better decisions which is critical as a parent.[7]

We recommend you to look analytically at both sides and try to choose what is best for the temperament of your child and of course take into consideration your lifestyle. Please comment below the style that has worked for you! We would love to hear your story.

REFERENCES

[1] Stein, Judith A., and Michael D. Newcomb. “Children’s Internalizing and Externalizing Behaviors and Maternal Health Problems.” J Pediatr Psychol Journal of Pediatric Psychology 19.5 (1994): 571-94.

[2] Wendy Middlemiss. “Infant Sleep: A Review of Normative and Problematic Sleep and Interventions.” Early Child Development and Care 174.1 (2004): 99-122.

[3] Gerhardt, Sue. “Why Love Matters: How Affection Shapes a Baby’s Brain.” Infant Observation 9.3 (2006): 305-09.

[4] Price, A. M. H., M. Wake, O. C. Ukoumunne, and H. Hiscock. “Five-Year Follow-up of Harms and Benefits of Behavioral Infant Sleep Intervention: Randomized Trial.” Pediatrics 130.4 (2012): 643-51.

[5] Hiscock, H. “Randomised Controlled Trial of Behavioural Infant Sleep Intervention to Improve Infant Sleep and Maternal Mood.” Bmj 324.7345 (2002): 1062.

[6] Burnham, Melissa M., Beth L. Goodlin-Jones, Erika E. Gaylor, and Thomas F. Anders. “Nighttime Sleep-wake Patterns and Self-soothing from Birth to One Year of Age: A Longitudinal Intervention Study.” J Child Psychol & Psychiat Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry 43.6 (2002): 713-25.

[7] Harrison, Yvonne, and James A. Horne. “The Impact of Sleep Deprivation on Decision Making: A Review.” Journal of Experimental Psychology: Applied 6.3 (2000): 236-49.

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