If you told me before I actually had a child that I would be writing a blog post defending the practice of crying it out, I would have laughed. I had no intention of sitting outside my child's bedroom door listening to him wail a la Mad About You. I read books while I was pregnant about mothers being genetically predispositioned to respond to their infant's cries. I read The Happiest Baby on the Block, which points out that babies in the womb are held and fed 24-7, so it is impossible to “spoil” a newborn by holding them too much, or feeding them too often. This all worked well for us- I was the mom who kept having to check the baby because it seemed that he just never did anything but sleep. The pediatrician had to tell me to quit waking him up to feed him. He slept through the night without us really having to do anything, which was a huge blessing since I was working at that time. We had to get up at 6 am for work. If the baby woke up at 5, I could walk into his room, tell him it wasn't time to wake up yet, and he would go back to sleep. (Keep reading- don't hate me just yet...)
Then we hit six months or so. Teeth started coming in, the baby could sit up on his own and I wasn't working anymore. The grandparents were visiting and the baby woke up at 4 am. I jumped out of bed and ran into his room, wanting to make sure that he didn't wake the visiting grandparents. I figured his teeth must be bothering him, or he must be hungry, so I nursed him, and he went back to sleep. Perfect- no problem, no crying it out. This became our routine for a while... and then several weeks... and then I couldn't remember the last time he slept through the night. He would wake up about 4 and I would nurse him, but then he stopped going back to sleep. He'd look at me after nursing for close to an hour and be ready to play, to start his day. He wasn't napping well during this time either, so we were both bleary eyed and quite cranky. I am not proud of my parenting skills during that time. I was getting very little sleep, barely functioning. I was constantly fighting with my husband and on edge all the time. I literally could not function with the amount of sleep we were getting, and I can't imagine it was much fun for the baby either.
Enter Dr. Ferber, the supposed sleep expert. I went to the library and checked out the latest edition of his book. I am by no means an expert on the subject, but the major points that I remember from the book made a lot more sense that I thought they would. Teaching children good sleep habits, including being able to fall asleep on their own if they wake during the night, is an invaluable skill. Children should be able to fall asleep on their own and stay asleep all night long. The Ferber Method (or what I remember of the method from a read a few months back) advocates training your child to fall asleep on their own gradually, yes, by allowing them to cry it out (CIO). It's actually a lot more humane than I thought before actually reading the book. The idea is to let the child know that you as the parent are there, but that they need to fall asleep without your intervention. On the first night of Ferberization, you allow the child to cry it out for a short amount of time (as little as a few minutes, I think- going off memory here) and then go back into the room and comfort them. The amounts of time that you allow the child to cry it out gradually increases until he or she falls asleep. The child is never left to cry without parental contact for more than 30 minutes.
So we embarked on our Dr. Ferber journey. The next night when baby T. woke up, I went into his bedroom, made sure that he was not wet, hurt, or otherwise in need of something, then explained that it was still nighttime and he needed to go back to sleep. Then I would set the kitchen timer, glue myself to a chair right outside his bedroom door, and read Dr. Ferber. I would go in after the recommended time, remind the baby that he was okay and that it was time to sleep. And then I would curse Dr. Ferber. What the hell did he know anyway?? There were nights that I HATED the man, his book, life in general. It was torture to sit there and listen to baby T cry. All I wanted to do was go in there, pick him up and do whatever I possible could to make him stop. But I'd tried that- I'd tried letting him get up in the middle of the night, nursing him, rocking him, walking him, begging him, and it got us nowhere. So he cried. It was miserable.
The longest baby T ever cried was two hours. He woke up at 3 am and I went in to him and told him that he needed to go back to sleep- it was still night time. I was in his room again at 3:30, again at 4 and again at 4:30. According to Dr. Ferber, 5 am is morning, so at 5, baby T got to come out. It was a huge relief. I think, but don't quote me, I nursed him and he went back to sleep. It had been a L O N G night for us both. The next night, it only took three times of me going in there to remind him it was night time and he fell back to sleep on his own. More progress was made the following night when I didn't have to go in more than once. We finally slept through the night again.
I'm not going to claim that thing have been perfect since then. Baby T still doesn't have a great nap schedule. To be honest, he's been waking up again in the middle of the night. When we were on vacation, there were nights that he was up every two hours. There are nights though, that he does sleep through, and on the nights that he wakes up, I can explain to him that it's time to sleep and he generally settles himself back down. I am a very proud mamma when I hear him cry out in the middle of the night, then hear him turn on his musical glowworm and settle himself back to sleep without needing me at all. We are both getting more sleep and the difference in baby T is amazing. He laughs more, has fewer meltdowns and is actually less clumsy then when he wasn't sleeping.
So where is this post coming from? Well, it's actually in response to a post written by Hobo Mama, in which she argues against CIO. I like Hobo Mama, I agree with a lot of her posts, and I don't think she's necessarily wrong about this. I just know that for us, not using CIO was not working. After reading her post this morning, I felt like a bad mom. When I put my child down for his nap and he cried, and I let him, I felt like a bad mom. The alternate title of this post could be, “Why and How I am not a bad mother even though I let my kid cry it out.” I hope that maybe, for someone else, the post will serve as the “What and How you are not a bad mother either even if you let your kid cry it out” post. My purpose in writing is NOT to attack Hobo Mama, Attachment Parenting or those who choose not to use the CIO method, it's simply to say, that didn't work for us, and this did. Also, me feeling like a bad mother is not the fault of Hobo Mama- I get to a place of self doubt without a ride from anyone else, thanks.
Hobo Mama's main point, in bold, is, “Believe your baby has something of value to say to you.” I'm right there with her on that one- I don't think that baby T cries just for kicks and giggles. I believe that when he cries, it's because he has something to express and that's his only way to do it. That being said, I'm not convinced that when he cries when I put him down to sleep, it means that he needs me to be right there in the room with him. I think it's just as possible that he's saying, “I'm tired (or overtired) and I'm mad that I need to sleep. I want to play. I don't want to stop and take a nap.” I feel this way as an adult. I know how much sleep I need in order to be healthy, to be a good mom and good wife. And yet, I constantly rationalize staying up just a few more minutes to finish a blog post, or read one more chapter, or finish some household task that I'm convinced needs to be done at 11 pm. I would LOVE to be one of those people who survives on four hours of sleep every night. I know that's not me, and honestly, sometimes that makes me mad. I don't want to go to bed. Isn't it possible that my son feels the same way? Couldn't this be what he's communicating with his cries? And isn't it my job as his mother, his GOOD mother, to make sure that he sleeps, that he gets what he needs?
So if we've established that my child needs sleep, then why not get him sleep without the crying? I've tried! I promise I've tried! I've tried rocking, nursing, driving, walking, begging, bribing and praying the child to sleep. I've tried sitting in his room with him. I've tried rubbing his back in the crib. I've tried music. We have a solid bedtime routing with stories and cuddles. We use the lavender bath soap. We tried co-sleeping and it wasn't for us- for any of us, baby included. If he falls asleep nursing and I try to put him into the crib, he wakes up MAD. Same deal with the car. He won't sit still anymore for me to rock him. The begging and bribing seem to have fallen on deaf ears. The best and fastest way to get him to sleep is to leave him in his crib to get mad about having to sleep in the first place. After he makes his feelings known on the subject, he generally settles himself down for a nap. Sleeping at night has fortunately come a lot easier for us and these days he goes down at night without much fuss, thankfully.
To conclude this VERY LONG blog post, I just want to say that this is what worked for us- maybe it will work for you too, maybe not. This is what allowed me to provide sleep for my child when nothing else I did seemed to be working. My “baby” is now thirteen months old and was about eight months old when I started letting him cry it out. My feeling about letting a newborn cry it out are very different. In no way would I advocate leaving a hungry baby or wet baby to cry it out. I knew/ know that my child's basic needs were met before concluding that what he truly needed was sleep.