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This was the exact question that I got asked yesterday and I love this question!  Unfortunately it isn’t a short yes or no answer, but there is some concrete information out there that can really help parents.  But there are also a lot of emotions out there that can really complicate this topic.

So the shortest answer?

There are two extremes:

  • Cry-it-out extinction where the parent leaves the child alone in the room for the night is on one end
  • Attending to every single whimper so that the child never cries is on the other hand.

Neither of these is recommended by a single expert.

 

So now for the longer answer:

Your child is going to cry at some point.  That is OK and is normal, expected, not going to cause any harm and is actually recommended with you there to support your kiddo.

You and your child are going to go through transitions as they grow.  You will eventually stop night feedings, your child may develop fears, you might return to work, your child will develop separation anxiety, your child will drop naps, your child will develop independence, and with each of these transitions, there will be some adjustment to the change.

There will be tears.

You can be there to support those tears.

You can also give some space.

So on one end of the spectrum cry-it-out might look like this:

Your 6 month old baby sleeps in a crib in another room.  You have your baby on a pretty good schedule but she is still waking every two hours at night.   You make a plan with her and your husband that you are only going to feed her two times at night.  You tell her that she can do it and that you will be there for her.   Then when she wakes when it isn’t time to feed, you or your husband are there to comfort her.  You may lie by the crib or you may rub her back for 2 minutes and then leave for 5 minutes until she stops crying.  After a couple of nights, she gets used to the new schedule and only wakes to feed twice a night. 

And on the other end of the spectrum, cry-it-out might look like this:

You share a bed with your 13 month old.  You feed her when she asks but it is getting to be too much because it is every one to two hours at night.  You would like to bring the feedings down to one or two feedings per night.  You make a plan with her and your husband that you are only going to feed her two times at night.  You tell her that she can do it and that you will be there for her.   Then when she wakes when it isn’t time to feed, you or your husband are there to comfort her.  You may sleep in another room while your husband comforts her so that she doesn’t try to get milk.  Or you may just remind her while rubbing her back or cradling her that there isn’t any food until a certain time.  There will be crying and you will be there for her and comfort her while you cut back on night feedings.   After a couple of nights, she gets used to the new schedule and only wakes to feed twice at night. 

 

What does the research say about cry it out?

You have probably heard that there are studies that say that cry-it-out will cause long-term damage to your child.  You may also have heard that cry-it-out is just fine for your baby.  There are actually only two heavily referenced studies on cry-it-out and both of them only give limited info on the subject.  The only thing experts truly know about this is that we don’t know enough and we could do a plethora of studies to learn more.

The cry-it-out is bad for babies study

This study was done with a group of babies in a lab and it was testing the synchronicity of the mother’s and baby’s cortisol levels when they were crying-it-out.  We don’t know much about how the babies were supported but what we do know is that after 3 nights, the mothers’ cortisol levels went down and the babies’ cortisol levels remained high.  We do know what cortisol levels are an indicator of stress and we do know what certain amounts of stress are bad.  We also know that it good when mothers are in tune with their babies.  So yes, there will be a certain amount of stress with crying-it-out.  Does it cause long-term damage?  This study doesn’t show that it does.

The cry-it-out is fine for babies study

This study was done over five years with a group of families and one group of families was given sleep training information and the other group got no additional information.  After 5 years, they couldn’t tell much of a difference in either behavior or sleep habits.  So what does this show?  Nothing really. It just says that the babies who may have been sleep trained turned out fine and that the parents who didn’t sleep train have children that sleep just fine. 

Summary:

Your babies are going to cry and that’s OK.  All babies will cry.  

You choose the level of support and when you want to make transitions.  

It isn’t recommended by anyone to leave your baby to cry for hours by yourself.  You baby may cry for hours, but you will be there so support them. 

 

 

 

Wagon

A difficult part of parenting is knowing that everything will change.  At times, it can bring comfort hence the ever popular “this too shall pass”.  But it can also bring anxiety when in not knowing how to handle situations.

For instance, many parents don’t want to introduce pacifiers or thumbs because sometime down the road, things will change and they will then have to take them away.   Or your dentist says that you can no longer give your child a bottle right before they go to bed, but then your children will scream and will never go to bed.  Or you gave your child an iPhone when they were tiny and now it’s all they want all the time and you want to restrict the use.

Here’s the good news; anyone can adapt, any child can adapt.

What ever change you want to introduce, you can do it! Your child can adapt to anything.  

I like to picture families traveling across the states during the gold rush in a covered wagon pulled by horses.  Then I like to put a modern family inside that wagon and I here, “Honey, the kids will never be able to take a nap if the wagon is bumpy or cold”.  “We can try to serve them beans for dinner, but I don’t think they’ll eat it.”  “If we don’t warm their milk enough, they’ll never drink it!”  

No, these families and these children had to adapt.  They had to sleep wherever and however they could.  They ate whatever was offered to them.  

Even though our situations today are much more comfortable, we have to remind ourselves that we don’t have to make our situations perfect.  

Over the last month, our house was under construction and it was loud.  So loud that the walls sometimes shook.  The first 3 days were very difficult.  Both of the boys cried and wanted to be held all the time.  We left the house as much as we could but we had to be home for nap time.  So let me tell you, I didn’t think that the boys would be able to nap, but they did, they adapted.

We are in a generation where we have options.  I could have said, “let’s not do the construction”.  I could have said, “You have to stop construction for two hours every day”.  But I know that mothers haven’t always had options.  I know that children can adapt.



Be the mom on the wagon.  If your child can no longer have a bottle before bed, pretend that you are on the trail, and you left your only bottle at the last camp.  You are not going to head back 20 miles and 2 days out of the way to collect one bottle.  Your child on the wagon has to adapt to not having a bottle.  There’s no other option. 

Be the mom on the wagon.  If your child is used to getting to eat whatever they want at dinner time and you can only cook one meal, pretend you are on the trail and that’s all the food you have.  Whatever is on their plate, they can eat and if they don’t want to eat that, then that’s fine, there will be food tomorrow.

Be the mom on the wagon.  If your child is screen addicted and wants the phone, ipad, tv or computer all the time, pretend you are on the trail and the only entertainment for them is the great outdoors or a book or playing with you or by themselves.  You can just say, “not now.”  “I don’t know where it is (hidden high in a closet)” or “oops!  it’s not working right now..”  

With all of these changes, your children will fuss, they will tantrum and they will scream.  Because it is an effective way for them to get what they want.  But be the mom on the wagon; even if they are screaming, you physically can’t get the bottle, more food or a new electronic toy.  Be consistent, stick with it and your children will adapt.  They will be fine with it once they realize that it it their reality.  
 

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