The “Cry it Out vs. No Cry Method” debate in the parenting world is heated, extensive, and passionate on both sides.
This “great debate” is one fuelled by extensive needs, of laments of “I used it and mine turned out fine,” “they are only small once, cuddle them while you can,” “three nights and it was over, best thing I ever did,” and “they just need you, co-sleeping fills that need and you both get sleep.”
If you strip the two arguments down, on both sides; you could argue that it is this:
Sleep and Presence vs. Closeness and Attunement
The cry it out (CIO) and controlled crying (CC) “camp” argue three fundamental points:
- Sleep deprivation is incredibly unhealthy, not just for parents but for bub too. Everyone needs their SLEEP to be healthy, in many ways.
- Sleep deprivation for parents, particularly the main caregiver (usually mum), often means that she “just gets by” during the day; her PRESENCE suffers because she is exhausted, and PRESENCE is a very real need for a baby too! And also, no one wants to miss out on being present with their baby due to being so very exhausted.
- The last point is that the separation and crying that baby experiences from CIO and CC methods is minimal and does not equate to significant/long term stress. It is argued that only significant and long term stress pose a risk to babies and adults alike, not short term. So these methods are not of concern.
The “no cry method” group, also have three fundamental points:
- All crying indicates a physical need, and one of those needs is for CLOSENESS, and that is a 24hr need. Parents are parents for 24hrs in a day, not from 7am to 7pm. It only lasts a short time, baby will sleep enough with naps included, and mum can sleep when baby sleeps.
- Sensitive ATTUNEMENT is a foundational principal for developing a secure attachment in a baby and toddler, and so leaving a baby or toddler to cry, and their needs ignored, is going to be damaging to the development of a secure attachment.
- Being left alone, whilst crying, for any period of time does equate to significant and/or long term stress in babies. Their lives have been much shorter so the time period as a percentage is much greater, they are not yet developed enough to understand what you are doing, and stress changes the neurological wiring of the brain creating long term consequences.
From looking at these (very paraphrased) arguments on each side, it can be seen that it isn’t even really about “mums needs vs. baby’s needs” but more an issue over perspective and support.
The reality is that yes, we are biologically wired (as are our babies) for closeness. Sleep is a need essential to survival so does not need to be “taught” but can be impacted upon; sensitive attunement is foundational for a secure attachment, and every parent and baby wants/needs to experience presence so as to not miss out on this beautiful time.
When we lived in tribes and villages, this was an easy balance, the practices used supported all of these needs, and parents themselves were supported so that they could have proper rest and so be present, close, rested, and attuned. However, that village is rare in the western world, making balancing all of these needs, often, a one-woman job. Even with partners who are involved; the primary caregiver is just that: primary.
In western culture we have so much information, and even more Misinformation, at our fingertips. Opinions and anecdotal evidence are beyond pervasive and vary to the nth degree. And human nature dictates that human beings will often seek out that which reinforces their beliefs, not something that challenges it, especially when so very tired. Often all that is needed is an answer, and what looks easy is appetising. I guess the problem is: define easy! = Perspective.
The parenting world landed with two paradigms: Behaviourism and Attachment Parenting.
Behaviourism telling parents that we need to “train” our babies and children, and Attachment Parenting stating that it is all about meeting physical needs.
So whilst the argument isn’t one of parents needs over babies, using either one of these paradigms alone can mean that one or the other does suffer to some degree. Baby misses out on some primal needs, or mum experiences significant sleep deprivation putting her at significant risk of depression, anxiety, and more (which then would further impact on baby, as babies whose a parents suffer from a mental health issue are proven to experience significant long term detriment).
It is cyclical, difficult, and no-one appears to have an option that meets everyone’s needs. Something has to give, someone has to go “without,” some sacrifice needs to be made…
Or does it?
The problem with today’s world is that everything tries to be brought down to two options, this way or that one, my way or your way, right or wrong, bad and good, and so it goes. But there is always (ALWAYS) a third option if we are willing to seek it out, and/or we are willing to be open to it.
There is a third option to this equation. It isn’t just Behaviourism vs. Attachment Parenting, Cry Methods vs. No Cry Methods.
It is possible to have your cake and eat it too. It is possible to have a baby whose needs are met, whilst being well rested enough to enjoy them!
Enter: Aware Parenting (AwP)
This is a paradigm, not an offshoot. A foundational model that gives you an entirely separate option.
Aware Parenting is NOT a middle ground between Behaviourism and Attachment Parenting, it is a paradigm that understand the needs of all people involved, it is steeply based in research, science, and practice, and it brings together information with real, every day, practical tips and strategies. It has been around for more than 35yrs, and was created by Aletha Solter Ph.D.
The foundations of Aware Parenting are that of Attachment Parenting (however from the perspective of Attachment theory, and not as a list of “must do’s”), Non-Punitive Discipline, and Healing from Stress and Trauma. So as to not turn this article into a book I won’t go into all of these, however I do have available a FREE eBook which breaks these core principles down, and if you wish to have a look you can gain access here.
In regards to sleep; sleep is deeply linked to our ability to process stress, and our emotional regulation. Healing from Stress and Trauma.
Solter (2011), in her works, explores the work of William Frey a chemical biologist who studied the chemical makeup of tears and found that there are three categories.
1. Basal tears – These keep our eyes moist.
2. Irritant induced tears – produced by an irritant such as onion fumes.
3. Emotionally induced tears – those produced when we feel sad/angry/stress/frustrated etc.
What was found in the emotionally induced tears were proteins that are the same proteins our body produces when we become stressed. The conclusion of this work, was that these tears are actually our body’s natural process for removing biologically induced chemical waste. Just like how we use the toilet to rid our bodies of unused fuel (waste). More so, is the notion that no secretion of the human body is meaningless, all have a valid survival and health purpose, so why would tears be any different?
I addition to the above, there is a significant body of research that suggest infant crying is a requirement to signal distress, and when met increases the development of a secure attachment (Bowlby 1969, 1980, 1988; Leerkes, 2011), that infants cry to signal a need for emotional communication (Nakayama, 2015), and that certain forms of infant crying developed specifically to reduce the risk of parental neglect (Soltis, 2004).
Furthermore, babies cannot emotionally regulate themselves, and this cannot be taught. It is something that develops over time, once the brain is capable of such regulation. This requires the neo-cortex part of the brain, which doesn’t finish developing until we are in our twenties (Middlemiss, et al., 2012). However the limbic system of the brain, is fully developed at birth, and as such babies are primed for emotional connection. In addition, this emotional connection and regulation is supported by close proximity to others and how they relate to us (people) especially in early infancy, it helps them to regulate and align their emotional and physical inner states. (Propper et al., 2008; Lewis, et al., 2000; McCain, et al., 2011; Graham, 2008)
So what does all of this mean for parenting?
It means that when all seems to be clear but baby continues to cry and struggles with sleep, Solter recommends that the best course of action, is to hold you baby lovingly in your arms and simply listen to them cry. Whilst being empathetic and present. Just as you would do for a friend. Without distraction. Holding your baby and listening to their feelings expressed through tears, is called crying-in-arms and it is entirely different to letting a baby cry-it-out (CIO). This empathic presence increases the chance of a positive physiological response in the person who is crying, (Hendriks & Vingerhoets, 2002), and Solter argues that it has many physiological and emotional benefits, which does include improved sleep.
Therefore, when babies cry (after we have checked for any physical needs or illnesses) and it seems as though they are “crying for no reason,” or are “over tired.” It is actually more likely that they are crying because they are upset/stressed/frustrated etc. because being a baby is hard and very overwhelming, even in the most peaceful of households.
However, it is very important to also check for any not-so-obvious issues that could be present, as these are likely to prevent your baby from settling even with these methods, because the stress from those issues will still be present. Some examples are; being near/far sighted, having sensory issues, allergies/intolerances and so on.
Just like we are, babies too are effected by stress and when they are stressed they have trouble sleeping. Doesn’t it then make sense that with the use of CIA (having a good cry with their parent whom they feel safe, connected and close to) will result in a relaxed physical and emotional state that promotes sleep?
If you have ever experienced the benefit of having a deep cry with someone who can hold space for you (who doesn’t try to “fix it,” look for the silver lining. brush over, or distract you), and who can just acknowledge how you are feeling without shying away from those feelings; you will know how profoundly healing this is. It is the same for our beloved babies.
And with this process, you are able to meet yours and your baby’s need for Sleep (improved through healing from stress and trauma), Presence (because you both can sleep), Closeness (through both CIA and meeting other needs), and sensitive Attunement by meeting physical AND emotional needs.
You CAN have your cake and eat it too. Or rather, you can be there for your baby and have your sleep too.
Bowlby J. (1969). Attachment and loss (2 ed., Vol. 1). Attachment. New York: Basic Books.
Bowlby J. (1980). Attachment and loss. New York: Basic Books.
Bowlby J. (1988). A secure base: Parent-child attachment and healthy human development. New York: Basic Books.
Graham, L. (2008). The Neuroscience of Attachment. Retrieved from Linda Graham, MFT, Resources for Recovering Resilience: http://lindagraham-mft.net/resources/published-articles/the-neuroscience-of-attachment/
Hendriks, M. C., & Vingerhoets, A. J. (2002). Crying: is it beneficial for one’s well-being? International Congress Series, 1241, 361-365.
Leerkes E. M. (2011). Maternal sensitivity during distressing tasks: A unique predictor of attachment security. Infant Behavior and Development, 34, 443–446
Lewis, T. A. (2000). A General Theory of Love. New York: Random House Inc
McCain, M.N., Mustard, J.F., & McCuaig, K. (2011). Early Years Study 3: Making Decisions, Taking Action. Toronto: Margaret & Wallace McCain Family Foundation.
Middlemiss, W. I., Granger, D. A., Goldberg, W. A., & Nathans, L. (2012). Asynchrony of mother-infant hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis activity following extinction of infant crying responses induced during the transition to sleep. Early Human Development, 88(4), 227-32.
Nakayama, H. (2015). Emergence of amae crying in early infancy as a possible social communication tool between infants and mothers. Infant Behavior and Development, 40, 122-130.
Propper C, Moore GA, Mills-Koonce WR, Halpern CT, Hill-Soderlund AL, et al. (2002) Gene-environment contributions to the development of infant vagal reactivity: the interaction of dopamine and maternal sensitivity. Child Dev, 79, 1377–9
Solter, A. (2011) The Aware Baby. (Revised ed.). Santa Barbara: Shining Star Press.
Soltis, J. (2004). The signal functions of early infant crying. Behavioural and Brain Sciences, 27, 443-490