There is a constant debate among parents about the right and proper way to teach their child to fall asleep. The main argument is how to respond to the baby’s crying. There are followers of the CRY IT OUT approach who believe that the baby should be left to cry until he falls asleep by himself. On the other hand, there are parents who believe it is important to respond to their child’s cry.
We live in an era when we know that the baby is safe in the other room, despite the intensity of his crying. There is no doubt that persistence in a long-crying approach will produce results, and gradually the times of crying will decrease, but does that mean that we should leave the baby to cry until he falls asleep on his own?
In short, a baby who does not get a response to his crying may become an indifferent, insecure, anxious, less intelligent, and less healthy adult.
In detailed, here are the reasons why not to let your baby cry until he falls asleep by himself.
1. The Mental / Emotional Reason
According to results of psychological studies, a response to crying will help the child develop emotionally and physically. Edward John Mostyn Bowlby, the father of the attachment theory claimed that each person was born with reflexes and instincts to interact with his primary caregivers. A warm and intimate relationship between the baby and the parent is essential for optimal health and for basic existence. From an evolutionary point of view, there is a survival value to this need and to this relationship with the parents.
What are the emotional consequences of prolonged crying?
Bowlby found that emotionally the child gradually develops apathy and stops crying, but not because he calms down or learns how to cope with distress, but because he learns that he can no longer expect his parents to respond to him. He feels abandoned, and if he is abandoned, no one hears his cries, and no one will come to treat him, so there is no point in wasting the energy to cry. Infants are not born with the ability to regulate their feelings so, in times of distress, they seek physical closeness to their parents so they can calm down.
A child who receives a consistent and sensitive response from his parents gradually learns that he is worthy of love so he develops greater trust in the environment as well. A baby who gets a lot of warmth and love, and positive experiences, will create more healthy relationships in the future and will develop more positive traits. On the other hand, it was found that those who were not treated warmly by their parents during the first years of life would be insecure and could even suffer from anxiety.
A research was carried out examining two groups. One group included children who grew up with warm parents who responded to the needs of their babies and didn’t let them cry. The other group included babies who grew up with parents who practiced the Cry-It-Out method. The results of the study show that infants from the first group became much more independent toddlers than the other group’s infants, who became more dependent and anxious.
2. The Physical Reason
More and more studies from recent years reinforce the claims and prove time and time again that prolonged crying affects the children not only on the mental but also on the physical level.
Today, brain scientists know that childhood experience is much more important than we ever imagined! Babies are born when only 15% of the connections in their brains are connected! Babies are born with only the basic connections that will enable them to survive. The remaining 85% will connect in the first three years of life, and are affected by the baby’s experience in these three years. It is also proven that prolonged crying is unhealthy and causes an increase in heart rate and blood pressure, and can even cause brain damage and impaired heart function.
Another thing: have you heard about Cortisol and its effects? Cortisol is a hormone that is released during distress. In excess, it has the following effects:
- Destroys neurons
- Triggers failure in stem cells function
- Damages brain structure
- Damages connectivity of the nerve cells
- Weakens immune system
(That’s why they say that 80% of all our ills are caused by stress…)
Now… There are studies that show that the Cortisol levels in the bodies of babies who were left to cry alone, stay very high for long hours after they stopped crying. Sometimes even for days. We think that if the baby stopped crying – he is calm, and everything is ok. But the reality is, that the cortisol hormone is still affecting him.
3. The It’s-Bad-Also-For-Parents Reason
The crying of a baby also makes it difficult for the parents. The hysterical baby crying raises the level of tension, causing pressure and feelings of loneliness.
According to reports, the US Army has used recordings of a baby’s crying as a psychological pressure in prisoners’ facilities. But there is no need to go so far… Which parent is not familiar with the feeling of helplessness while hearing a crying baby and the drop of tension immediately after it? Adults can react with impatience and anger to baby’s cry. In extreme and severe cases even to shake and hurt the baby.
This pressure harms us. It causes changes in the body that are supposed to protect us but can also cause damage. Damage that can lead to digestive problems, blood pressure, muscle pain, back pain, chest tightness, sleep disorders, and more.
I do not know parents who will ignore a child who comes home crying after a big fight with his friends, or after a failure in an important test. Every parent will try to help his child to overcome the difficulty or the crisis. Probably they will also guide him how to deal with such situations in the future. So why ignoring a young crying baby is acceptable? Understand, we are not born with the ability to fall asleep alone by ourselves. Therefore it is unlikely to drop on a young baby the responsibility to learn to do it on his own.
So How Can I Teach My Baby To fall Asleep By Himself?
Well, to be honest, I am a co-sleeper. It means that my babies fall asleep while breastfed and sleep together with me in the same bed. I believe that this is the natural way for mammals. But I will not try to convince you to co-sleep with your children. I’m well aware of the demurrers concerning this issue. And since there are no studies with conclusive evidence in the favor of co-sleeping, I will not recommend it unequivocally.
Perhaps I will only express my personal opinion and say that for me it was a life-improving change when I decided to start sleeping together with my (second) child. Both the child and I became calmer, during both night and day. With my third one, it was clear to me that we will sleep together since the day she is born. And so it was. Until this very day :). Yet, I want to offer an alternative to those who believe that a child should sleep in his own bed.
I personally, didn’t try the method I’ll describe below. My friend, though, who is a sleep-counselor, promises that it is possible to respond to the baby’s difficulty, but at the same time teach him independence in sleep. By the method she advises to use, immediate response to crying is important and necessary. If you respond correctly to your child’s difficulty you will strengthen his confidence.
First, it is important that you always help your child to calm down from crying. Then, it is also very important that you do it in a consistent and correct manner. Maintain a sleep routine and soothe your baby in a compassioning way. When the child is calm, put him into his bed, but do not leave him alone. Put a hand on him, sing him a lullaby.
As soon as the baby begins to cry again, lift him up again. In this way, you will help your child to “make friends” with his bed. Unlike a child who cries a long time in his bed, your baby will learn that the bed is a pleasant and comfortable place. When he is calm again, put him back in his bed. And so on.
It can take a while for the baby to calm down in the bed and not on the arms of a parent, but stay patient. In the end, it will happen. In order to avoid much crying, stay consistent with your actions, so he can learn how things work. Don’t start playing with the baby while trying to put him to sleep, and don’t go out of the room with him. Just continue with the soothing, and then putting into bed when calm.
Many people associate soothing a baby on the arms as pampering/spoiling. They think that the baby “learns” to cry in order to make his parents hold him. It is important to understand that their brain is incapable of this behavior at all. It is clear today to the brain scientists that the brains of infants are simply incapable of manipulation. There is no such thing as a baby crying because he wants to be “pampered”. He cries because he needs something. And needing a hug and warmth, it’s not a treat, it’s a legitimate need for a baby!
From all the reasons I listed above – PLEASE DON’T LET YOUR BABY CRY.