Sunday, 26 December 2010

Controlled Crying

Funny how sometimes two very different views on the same topic appear in your reader. A few days ago, Rachel at Really Rachel wrote a post on the blessings of Controlled Crying, while, Analytical Armadillo wrote a post on the curse of Controlled Crying/Crying it out.

Controlled Crying, for those who don't know, is when you put your baby down to sleep and allow her to cry, reassuring her without picking her up while leaving her for increasingly longer periods of time. It's meant to teach babies to self settle and sleep through the night. Crying it out is the same thing without any reassurance.

Attachment Parenting, which promotes responsive parenting, unsurprisingly advocates that controlled crying is not good for the baby. It cites not just parental intuition to support this, but also studies that demonstrate that if a baby's cry is repeatedly or habitually not responded to, this may result in a greater occurrence of depression, ADHD or violent behaviour in the older child and adult. A parent who is always responsive to the needs of the baby (who can only communicate through crying) will support healthy brain development and the outcome is hopefully a balanced person.

This is all nice and well in theory. Most parents try to be as responsive as they can, but we can't always be perfectly responsive. Two examples to illustrate:

Cubling was a "colicky" or "spirited" baby. She cried for hours in the late afternoon, evening and sometimes early night. Often, her crying could not be consoled with anything apart from constant breast feeding. I couldn't constantly breast feed her because I would not have any nipples left to tell the tale, or let her feed on my (nipple) blood (yes it was that bad). Her cry had stamina. She was able to keep herself awake for 12 hours when only 3 months old. She cried so much that I would have done anything to avoid further distress. Controlled crying or crying it out was a definite no no, because I felt she had already cried far too much. However, I did get to the point of sleep deprivation that made me despair. My decision was to try and supplement with formula at 4 1/2 months (which we stopped soon after as she wasn't taking much anyway) as I thought she was hungry. Then we sleep trained through cuddles and without tears at 17 months when she learned to sleep for a minimum of 5 hours without feeds. She eventually slept through at 2 years of age without further "sleep training".

My decision not to do controlled crying was based on feeling that it may tip the balanced which was already pretty bad in relation to amount of crying. I couldn't bear to cause crying on top of the hours she had cried without any cause by me. However, I also got to the point where I was so at the end of the tether that I understand anger towards a baby as well as severe sleep deprivations and its dangers. It may actually make you a short tempered parent which may lead to poor judgement and behaviour.

Second example: So far with Snowflake, while she isn't a great sleeper at night, I've not been severely sleep deprived and don't see a necessity to embark on controlled crying. Her two main problems are an inability to settle in the evenings and that she doesn't travel well on car journeys after night fall (the two may be linked). She does not comfort feed, and while she generally sleeps from 1am to 11.30 am, she wakens hourly to two hourly most nights. We co-sleep and I feed her back to sleep. I'm a good sleeper, and somehow I don't find broken sleep too hard going this time.

Both Cubling and Snowflake cry without me being able to be responsive. This is not in a Controlled Crying setup, but with Cubling it was colic and with Snowflake it's car journeys. With in-laws living an hour's drive away, and good friends in Edinburgh, we've had numerous journeys where Snowflake cried throughout the journey. We have stopped on such journeys, but the bottom line was that as soon as she's in the car seat, she screams and at the end of the day, we have to get from A to B.

Which brings me to my point. Of course we all want to reduce the amount of crying a baby does. But some crying surely must be ok, otherwise we couldn't live our lives, as other people have needs too. Controlled Crying, if it works, only involves a few days of some amount of crying and that's that. Surely that's no worse than us undertaking regular car journeys which cause crying? If 4 days of controlled crying for 1 hour or 30 mins each day means good quality sleep for the baby (which is a benefit for the baby) and the end of sleep deprivation in the parent (let's not underestimate the benefit that has for the baby - I did have violent thoughts and it only takes a slightly less controlled person than me to turn thoughts into actions), this surely is no worse than the car journeys we impose on Snowflake.

Of course, controlled crying may not work for your baby, and I still believe that I would not let a baby cry for 2 hours without picking her up (which is approximately the time I'm sure Cubling would have cried before falling asleep of sheer exhaustion had we done controlled crying). But if it works with relatively small duration of crying, I really don't see how it can be damaging for the developing brain, provided that the parents are responsive otherwise.

Nobody has to go down the route of controlled crying. I've read that for Pants with Names, it didn't work. If I can avoid it, I will. We sleep trained through co-sleeping at 17 months because Cubling had finished teething which messed up any sleep pattern we ever had again and again. It worked in a week without any tears.This is what worked for us, controlled crying is an option that may well be the right solution for others.

My advice to any parent is that patterns and routines can be changed, they are not set in stone and there are many ways of doing it. Pick what's right for you, do some research, be informed and then make a confident attempt at making a change. Chances are it will work. Don't do it because you feel pressurised by other parents or health visitors (mine kept going on about controlled crying). It's ok if your child doesn't sleep through at 24 months. Some take longer than others but will still get there. But if it stresses the living daylights out of you, then maybe you need to try something new.

As Rachel put it, if you can't cope, something has to change. Not just for you, but also the baby. There are two books which I found very helpful on the topic: The No-Cry Sleep Solution, Teach Yourself Baby Sleep, and of course this one: Secrets Of The Baby Whisperer. And if you do cope, there's most likely no need for controlled crying.



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