When I think back through my life, if I focus just on the negative things in my life, it can feel depressing. I think back to how my parents were divorced when I was eight or when my mom left after a nervous breakdown, and I went to live with my Dad when I was 12. I think back to being called names because of my racial background or to my (mostly verbally) abusive relationship back in college and wonder what I was thinking. Or, I get sad when I think about my sister dying from Breast Cancer right before I married my husband. Less than a year later, my husband’s sister died…in our house, no less. Just this past summer, one of my older brothers died from a rare blood disorder that led to cardiac arrest. These are just a few things that have had an impact on my life and who I am, and I sometimes wonder how I have become and remain a fairly optimistic, happy person.
I am sure many of you have had your share of stressful and negative things that have happened to you or your family, too. If I wrote an article that said if all of these things happened to you, you would be clinically depressed or on Prozac, would you believe me? This is a lot of sadness in one life, I think. But, what about all the good things, too? We can’t just focus on the negative, can we?
I think back to my family trips with my four siblings. I remember my brothers telling me about trying to catch a squirrel for me on one of our trips. Although my mom did need to leave when I was 12, it was both the best and worst day of my life, because I think she did the right thing. If she couldn’t care for us, it was better for her to leave. And, she lives with that guilt every. single. day. My Dad was a rock. He showed me the importance of school, taught me that a woman can do anything, and kept me on the right path. When I went away to college, I had a BLAST of fun with friends! I was able to live life to the fullest, went on girl trips, laughed til our sides hurt, and did all kinds of fun, youthful things! And, if it weren’t for my disaster ex, I never would have met my current husband whom I’ve now known for over 10 years (that was one good thing that came out of “911”) and we’ve been married for 7 years with two wonderful boys. I could go on and on about all the great things in my life. Not to mention this website and how rewarding it has been to help so many other parents with something I’ve become so passionate about!
What does this have to do with sleep and cry it out?
My mom told me that she breastfed me, but she also did let me cry it out, though she did not use that phrase. Maybe it wasn’t called that “back then.” LOL- I was her fourth child. I’m sure she couldn’t spend eons to get me to sleep. Of all the things in my life, having cried it out as a baby really doesn’t seem that significant. From each negative thing, there has been a lot of positives to go with it. I would say I’m a very well-rounded, educated, down-to-earth, mentally sound individual. I don’t battle with depression and I’m not unable to cope with life’s stresses.
Back to the “Dangers of Crying It Out.” One article suggested your baby won’t be as smart or will suffer from a lifetime of anxiety. Another article speculated that maybe we have a “Prozac Nation” because of cry it out and, overall, lack of nurturing from parents.
One thing that is thoroughly frustrating to me about these blanket statements is they never define what they’re truly talking about. In my experience, we all have a different definition of “cry it out.”
Are you talking about 10 minutes of crying at bedtime or 3 hours straight of crying alone? Any amount of crying? Does fussing count? Does it mean that the parent has to also NOT nurture the baby during the day, too, for it to be dangerous? What about a mom who breastfeeds ALLLLL day, literally, and wants a 30 minute break to eat dinner only to have the baby cry even in Dad’s arms? Will her baby be harmed for life? What if your baby is crying laying next to you in bed or in your arms? Is colic dangerous given it’s a lot of crying, even if you are doing everything in your power to stop it? If you are in a car accident, trapped in your seat, and your baby is in the back of the car crying for 15-20 minutes while the paramedics arrive, get their gear, etc. to cut you out of the car, would your baby be damaged FOREVER? That would be a very stressful situation, indeed, and according to these articles, the levels of cortisol would increase and damage your baby’s brain. Or, perhaps the real questions is: Is it the parent’s intent that matters?
Here’s the thing. I understand why people would not want parents to ignore their baby’s cries forever and ever. That is neglect. But, to tell a suffering family that sleep deprivation or not, you can’t let your baby cry AT ALL is equally “dangerous.” We see the effects of sleep deprivation everywhere. Other articles from Psychology Today discussing the ramifications of sleep deprivation: air traffic control, behavior problems, and poor decision-making just to name a few.
There is fear on both sides: what will happen if you don’t sleep train and what will happen if you do. I am not suggesting all babies or people would react the same way to sleep training using a crying method just like I’m not blaming others if they haven’t coped as well to life’s stresses such as mine above. And, I’m not even suggesting most families should use cry it out. In personal consultations, it is rarely even the first or second suggestion we have for a family. But, it’s not off the table completely, depending on the situation, either. I have parents running stop signs for goodness sakes, with their baby in the back! Sleep training is not for a cushy lifestyle or just to make it easier for the parents. Sleep problems have been shown to be a precursor to depression and as dangerous as driving drunk. Parents come to us for help because they are truly concerned that their children are not getting the sleep they need.
So, when Ms. Alphonse poses the question “Could a lack of nurturing (because of crying-it-out) explain our ‘Prozac Nation?'” I take offense to it. First, to label a large group of people and blame one aspect of parenting is extreme. A parent who does cry it out is not necessarily a non-nurturing parent! Second, I don’t doubt for a minute that many people suffering from depression had parents adamantly against cry it out, just like many probably had parents who did use cry it out- especially since clinical depression can often be genetic. Our lives are too complex to blame just one thing as defining our personality. As my very brief account of my own life above illustrates, we are all made up of many events in our lives and to point to one thing our parents did or did not do as what makes or breaks us does an injustice to the many sacrifices parents make on a daily basis for their children. Third, a person who is on Prozac is not a bad person. They may need help dealing with depression, which they may have been born with or life’s craziness led to a difficulty in handling stressful situations. We should all try not to judge or further stigmatize others for needing some help. I applaud those who can take that step rather than try to deal with these types of things on their own. What a much happier life they probably lead with, rather than without, these medications. Sometimes I wonder why I don’t need medication with some of the things I’ve had to deal with!
And, to Ms. Narvaez who tells me the dangers of crying it out and how to grow a smart baby, I tell her that I did let my son cry it out (though my definition may not be yours), I did put him down, sometimes, he wasn’t a calm baby, and as a Kindergartener, he is reading on a second grade level (but can read sight words through third grade, at least) and doing math above second grade level (actually, what they told us was that they haven’t found his ceiling, yet). I did breastfeed, but I would bet a lot of money that there are many pretty smart people who got formula. I have wondered if his intelligence is a major influence in how difficult sleep has been for him. Maybe he can’t turn off his brain and sleep! I do know that sufficient sleep has been instrumental to his ability to learn, retain what he learns, but most importantly, his happiness (when he was a baby and now). His younger brother, whom we never let cry it out (just different temperaments!), will likely read when he’s four years old, too, but we can tell he may need to “work” a bit harder in school. It does not seem to come as easily nor is he as inquisitive to ask a lot of questions like his brother. They both have the same parents and got the same breast milk, they are just different.
I am in no way a doctor or psychologist, so take what you will from this. I am a mom who does not like the guilt trips that all these doctors (on both sides) give us new moms! I do not like extreme viewpoints that paint a broad picture without looking at the individual family’s situation. I do not believe that if you don’t sleep train, you are doomed to have a spoiled baby. In many cases, you can successfully establish healthy sleep habits while co-sleeping and/or without cry it out. I also believe that, within the right parameters, that controlled and temporary amounts of crying (along with a lot of nurturing!) is sometimes necessary for the greater good, health, and happiness of the family. As responsible parents, we limit crying as much as humanly possible and I have helped far more families sleep train without crying it out than with it.
Regardless, I know that we all do as best we can with our kids, we will make mistakes, and no matter what happens in their lives, I know that my boys will be who they will be because of all the experiences they have as they grow up, not because of one decision I made in a very short amount of time in their lives. I influence their lives, but I do not control it.
What do you think? Do you think our ‘Prozac Nation’ comes from crying it out?
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