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  Parenting Advice Column
  Subject: Parents try "controlled crying"

Letter:

Hi,

I have just read your article on when babies cry.

Until our son was about 10 months old, we never had a problem with his sleep, (other than a dummy [pacifier] addiction at six months and I encouraged the good old thumb because at least he can find that!) and when he did cry he always was attended to.

Things got really out of hand at about 10 months, and he woke every 40 to 60 minutes. Until three weeks ago, my husband and I got up, comforted or changed/fed every time he woke. Three weeks ago I (my husband has been doing night shift at work) began (under supervision from a local child sleep center) "Controlled Crying". It "works", but I hate it. Yes, some sanity is returning to our lives, but even still, I feel horrible. I never let him cry constantly for more than 15 minutes. I read your article and burst out crying, because what it says is what I believe.

He is a very happy child and is continuing to be so, have I done the right thing? One part of me is losing a baby emotionally (not as many cuddles - but more sleep for me), and the other is telling me that I deserve some return to "normal" sleep patterns. I did not start this "controlled crying" until I felt comfortable that his behavior was not a result of pain, hunger, or a wet nappy. I did not "cold turkey" him, his crying was 2 minutes cry, 2 minutes me, then gradually lowering the time I was with him and increasing the time I was away from him and never more than one hour a night. He now goes off to sleep after his dinner and a bath without a complaint and a maximum of two "yells" a night - no longer than 30 seconds in duration. What do you think? Do I deserve reassurance? I am beating myself up worrying that I could have harmed him.

Just recently I met a couple who are letting an 18-day-old baby just cry and cry - I felt like slapping them - how could they do that? I think I will print out your article for them. To me that borders on abuse.

Thank you.

Name Withheld


Jan's reply:

My heart goes out to you as you as you try to meet your baby's needs despite so much bad advice swirling about. But it's important to honor yourself too after all; you did the best you knew at the time. I commend you for listening to your heart and continuing to question this issue, despite the pressures of our society's sadly mistaken assumptions about babies' needs. Babies are fragile, but they are also still somewhat flexible in ways that toddlers and older children are not. That is, they are more forgiving of our mistakes, more willing to "still take a chance on love". The most important thing is to recognize that it's not too late to turn things around in the trust department of your relationship.

One point I'd like to make here, which is rarely mentioned by those teaching these heartless procedures, is that even though a baby may not be in pain, and may not be hungry or wet, he/she may still, and often, be lonely! Loneliness is a real need too - and in many ways, responding to the need for affection and touch is even more important than physical care. In fact, touching brings about positive physiological responses too. For millions of years, babies were carried all day and snuggled with all night. The babies haven't changed their needs; we've inexplicably changed our response, and in so doing, have endangered our babies' most precious possession, their trust of those they are closest to.

If you are not already using a family bed, I highly recommend this. It is wonderfully beneficial for both babies and parents, and can make night-time parenting much easier. It is far better to prevent (or at least minimize) crying than to figure out how to respond to it. Co-sleeping is completely safe as long as waterbeds are not used (babies can't push themselves up away from the bed) and the parents are attentive (not using alcohol, drugs, or prescriptions that affect alertness).

Two excellent books on this subject are Nighttime Parenting by Dr. William Sears, and The Family Bed by Tine Thevenin. We have a wonderful article by Tine, "An Oversight of Our Culture" .

Also see my article, "Ten Reasons to Sleep Next to Your Child at Night" and this advice reply.

For more on the importance of touch, see Ashley Montagu's groundbreaking book Touching, and these web sites:

  • Babywearing: A comprehensive overview of babywearing, including health advantages and psychological benefits.

  • The Baby-wearing Homepage: This is a commercial site that offers excellent articles and other resources on this topic.

I hope this is helpful. Let me know if you need anything further.

All the best,

Jan

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