I am a member of the ‘cry-it-out’ generation. When my daughter, Ameli, was just a few days old, my mother suggested we leave her to cry for twenty minutes and she would sleep better. If she was still crying after twenty minutes, we could go in comfort her, and then start again. I sat in the next room crying as I heard my newborn crying. We did it twice, and I vowed never again.
Since then, Ameli has slept either in her cot next to our bed, or in our bed. She is either soothed to sleep, nursed to sleep, or if we’re out and about tends to fall asleep in the sling before being transferred to the cot next to our bed.
To me, the whole concept of crying it out is cruel. Yes, babies need to learn, but babies also need to be mothered.
I know that if I was hungry, cold, tired or just feeling the need for affection and human touch and I lay in my bed crying and my husband simply ignored me, our relationship would very quickly suffer. If he could leave me to cry, and tell me to ‘just go to sleep’, or tell me ‘you need to learn’, but withheld his affection from me, I would not feel that I was able to trust him.
How then, can I ask a baby who has no understanding of life away from my heartbeat, or of temperatures outside of my womb, to whom quiet darkness is new, strange noises are unsettling and being alone is unknown, to get over it and go to sleep?
In her book, What Mothers Do especially when it looks like nothing, Naomi Stadlen talks about the heightened distress that some mothers feel when they hear their babies cry at night. She finds it surprising to see how many of these mothers were given sleep training themselves as babies, and draws an interesting parallel between those who were subjected to sleep training, and have become distressed parents.
She goes on to suggest that it perhaps â€œreactivates their own early shock at being trained to sleep without their parents at night. They have not retained conscious memories of crying. But when these mothers turn to their parents for suggestions for getting their babies to sleep at night, they are startled to hear about how they themselves had been left to cryâ€.
This makes sense, in many ways â€“ you just have to look at the effects of cry-it-out style sleep training to see it.
I have listened to so many mothers over the last ten months talk about sleep and how desperate they are for their little ones to sleep through the night, and I’ll admit, eight solid hours sounds blissful, but at what cost?
I love how Stadlen phrases her thoughts on the false picture so much literature portrays of what motherhood involves: â€œToo much literature today implies that being a mother is about changing a baby’s ‘inconvenient’ behaviour.â€ She specifically mentions Gina Ford, who offers to help parents listen to what their babies are really saying and suggests that mothers who follow Gina Ford’s books are â€œencouraged to attend to the book before their babies.”
So yes, babies do sleep better when they have been left to cry, but they do so out of sheer exhaustion, and out of a very early awareness that no matter how long they cry (even to the point of being sick) no one will attend them. They are alone for the night and must console themselves. In an adult we would expect this to lead to depression (which makes people sleep more too!) and in a child it can be called neglect, but in a baby it is okay?
I know that cry it out and sleep training are emotional and sensitive topics for many people, and I know that everyone has their own thoughts and ideas and will do behind closed doors whatever they feel they have to. But I also know that before we can continue blindly following the instructions of an old man (Truby King) who tried to teach us how we should mother our babies it is our responsibility as mothers to at least know the true consequences of our actions.
I strongly recommend that every mother make the time to read What Mothers Do especially when it looks like nothing. It is not a ‘how to’ guide, but presents motherhood in an amazing and refreshing light.