Monday, Oct. 1, 2012
Written by Celeste White
The current motherhood War of the Roses is roughly this: Baby Wise versus Mayim Bialik. Persistent and early boundary-setting defines the former, attachment parenting the latter.
Most of us are somewhere along the spectrum between the two extremes. The tensions between those two options is most sharply felt when it comes to that most precious family commodity: a good night’s sleep. For both of my babies I felt torn between his need for soothing, quiet (read: being held) sleep and my own desperate need for at least four solid hours straight. The very early weeks notwithstanding, you reach a point in your child’s early infancy when things become predictable enough that you must decide: do I let him cry it out? If you’ve tried it, you know that it does brutal things to your conscience and your feelings. If you can get past that bit, however, is it worth it? Do you think that fostering a capacity to self-soothe trumps concerns that you are doing damage to your child’s trust in you?
We can’t very well ask the squealing baby (and besides, if he could talk, he’d convince you the damage is irreparably devastating and you simply must hold him constantly) and our own consciences are not exactly reliable in those early weeks. In comes science. A new study published in the journal Pediatrics indicates that using the “cry it out” method for sleep training has no long-term psychologically detrimental effects. The study did not employ full on “cry it out” method where parents simply put a child into his bed and leave the room, allowing him to cry until he falls asleep. Instead they used two other types of sleep training — “controlled comforting” (wherein parents return to the room of a crying baby at intervals to offer limited soothing) and “camping out” (wherein parents sit in a chair next to baby’s bed and, over the course of several weeks, move the chair incrementally out of the room until baby is falling asleep alone). In the short term, the babies got the message and did fall asleep faster and with less interruption through the night.
More interesting were the results of re-examination of both mother and child when those children were 6 years of age. Various tests were administered to assess emotional health, behavior, sleep issues, quality of the parent-child relationship, and levels of cortisol (a hormone that, if abnormal, can indicate early exposure to high levels of stress). There was almost no difference on any measure between the children who underwent the two types of sleep training and the control group. In fact, “16.5% of children in the control group scored as having emotional or behavioral problems, compared with 12.3 percent in the [sleep training] group.” That tells me that allowing Alexander to cry for 10 minutes before he falls asleep very well may be as harmless as I hope it is — but that my checking on him because I can’t listen to his crying longer than that is probably pretty spot on.
I want to know what you think, what worked for you, and if you have a strong opinion either way based on your own experience. Let me know at www.theind.com/themotherload.