Cave Babies, Cry It Out and Ruffling Feathers

Night

Have you wondered whether sleep training may be for you? Do your friends swear by it? Doctors and paediatricians often recommend crying it out (CIO) for babies as young as a couple of months old. CIO goes by many names such as the Ferber method, sleep training and the variation of controlled crying.

As a mother, it feels like an unnatural method for helping babies sleep. So I immersed myself into the world of infant sleep. And learnt about what normal infant sleep should look like. Want to know what I found out?

WHEN DID BABIES BEGIN SLEEPING IN CRIBS?

Babies’ sleeping alone is a new concept. Our prehistoric ancestors knew a crying baby could attract predators, so babies were held close, sleeping with their mothers and nursing on demand.

These days sabre-tooth tigers don’t roam our bedrooms looking for dinner. You and I know that, but babies don’t; they’re born with their instincts fully intact. They don’t know they were born in 2015 as opposed to the Pleistocene! They truly are Cave Babies!

WHY DID THINGS CHANGE?

A little history lesson can give us insight. In the late 19th century, the spread of “germs” was a huge concern. With limited knowledge doctors advised parents to touch their babies as little as possible to prevent the spread of infections. Family members were told to sleep in separate beds to limit “sharing breath”. Doctors thought breath contained “vapors” which may cause disease, so babies were moved out of parental beds and into cribs, often in separate bedrooms.

“Overlying” or deliberate suffocation of infants was also an issue at the time, especially among the poor living in crowded cities. It led to local church authorities imposing laws banning parents from sleeping with their babies.

The industrial revolution also had a dramatic effect on family life with nuclear families moving into cities away from their extended families. Parents, especially mothers, had less help with child rearing and early, perhaps premature, independence subsequently became a valuable trait.

THE BEGINNING OF DETACHED PARENTING

In the early 20th century, Dr Holt, considered by many to be the father of pediatrics, taught that babies should never be played with. He suggested parents could “spoil” their infants if they gave into baby’s needs such as frequent feeding, carrying and comforting. Although infant crying increased as a result of Holt’s advice, concerned mothers were told “not to worry” as baby’s needed to cry in order to “develop their lungs”.

In the 1920’s, Dr John Watson, the founder of behaviorism, wrote many papers on topics of child rearing. Despite no evidence to back up his claims, he warned against the dangers of too much mother love. Together with his wife, he advised the following to avoid overcoddling children:

“Let your behavior always be objective and kindly firm. Never hug and kiss them, never let them sit in your lap. If you must, kiss them once on the forehead when they say goodnight. Shake hands with them in the morning. Give them a pat on the head if they have made an extraordinarily good job of a difficult task.”

In a more recent essay in Psychology Today, Professor Darcia Narvaez explains that in the early 20th century most parents saw “men of science” as the experts in child care. New parents chose to listen to their advice rather than to the wisdom of their own mothers and grandmothers.

The motivation for this advice was to establish early independence in children. Parents were told if they showed affection, played with, carried, hugged and kissed their babies their children would become whiney, needy, clingy and “failed individuals”. We know now, and to be fair, knew then, the opposite is true.

Darcia quotes a government pamphlet from the early 20th century which stated that “mothering meant holding the baby quietly, in tranquility-inducing positions” and that “the mother should stop immediately if her arms feel tired” because “the baby is never to inconvenience the adult.”  A baby older than six months “should be taught to sit silently in the crib; otherwise, he might need to be constantly watched and entertained by the mother, a serious waste of time.

Reading this type of advice today seems absurd and somewhat comical. Sadly, though, it has entwined its way into contemporary parenting like a weed choking our inborn mothering instincts.

Claim your FREE Guide: The Lies Surrounding Infant Sleep That You Can Safely Ignore as a New (or not so new) Parent

THE RISE OF CRY IT OUT

In 1894, Dr Holt published his book The Care and Feeding of Children. It became an instant best seller. Structured as a series of questions and answers, the book asks the question, “How is an infant to be managed that cries from temper, habit, or to be indulged?”

Holt’s answer: “It should simply be allowed to ‘cry it out.’ This often requires an hour, and, in some cases, two or three hours. A second struggle will seldom last more than ten or fifteen minutes, and a third will rarely be necessary.”

Holt is right about one thing. Once you’ve ignored a baby and left it to cry, the second occasion is usually shorter. And the third is shorter again. Does this mean Cry It Out works? No, it doesn’t. It means babies learn crying is pointless. They feel abandoned and it erodes the trust babies instinctively have in their parents.

THE NEGATIVE EFFECTS OF CRY IT OUT

CIO causes stress. And here’s why:

  • Ignored crying increases blood pressure in the brain, raises stress hormones, obstructs blood from draining from the brain, and decreases oxygenation to the brain.
  • Excessive crying results in an oversensitive stress system. Later in life this can lead to a fear of being alone, separation anxiety, panic attacks and addictions.
  • In babies, chronic stress can lead to an over-active adrenal system, and increased aggression, impulsivity, and violence.
  • One study showed persistent crying episodes in infancy is linked with a 10 times greater chance of the child having ADHD, resulting in poor school performance and antisocial behaviour.

Our interactions with babies, whether positive or negative, affect the way the brain grows. Neuroscientists have documented that loving interactions can increase the number of connections between nerve cells.

According to the Australian Association of Infant Mental Health: “Infants are more likely to form secure attachments when their distress is responded to promptly, consistently and appropriately. Secure attachments in infancy are the foundation for good adult mental health.”

WHAT DOES CRY IT OUT SAY ABOUT OUR SOCIETY?

Sleep training has become so ingrained in parenting culture that it is almost seen as a rite of passage for new parents. More a question of “when” rather than “if” you will sleep train your baby. What are we teaching older siblings when we say it is ok to ignore a crying baby? Are we modelling empathy?

Parenting culture tells us if a baby has been fed, has a dry diaper, is warm and continues to cry, it is crying for no reason. I say bullshit. It may be inconvenient. But it’s the truth.

Babies are helpless, defenceless little creatures who need comfort. At a young age, they need their parents…a lot! They need to be carried, touched and comforted. It’s as necessary as food! They’re crying because they need their mum. How could that be a bad thing?

I recently read Tizzie Hall’s book, Save Our Sleep, Toddler. I wanted to make sure I had a well-rounded understanding of all aspects of sleep training. One paragraph caught my attention:

“I often come across a toddler who has learnt to vomit at bedtime during failed attempts at controlled crying. If you have one of these toddlers you will need to teach her that vomiting will not get your attention or buy any extra time. This is hard, but it has to be done to stop the vomiting. The way you achieve this is to make the bed vomit-proof.”

Does this make you feel…sick? This advice is akin to cruelty to children. Suggesting parents ignore their child who is so upset they vomit is criminal. Yet, Tizzie is a best-selling author. How many books would she sell if it were babies buying books and not adults?

MANAGING AN INCONVENIENCE OR RAISING A CHILD?

Many believe babies and children must fit around adult schedules and adhere to artificial timetables. Parent-led rather than baby-led parenting has become the standard. The notion that “the baby is never to inconvenience the adult” is an oxymoron. There is nothing convenient about parenting. Becoming a parent has been the most inconvenient….blissful, joyous, awe-inspiring, humbling experience of my life.

It would be easier to follow the crowd.  To use a crib, a pacifier and an exersaucer. To ignore my baby and let him cry. It sure would make for far easier conversations at mummy groups! But that’s not for me. My only important parenting critic is my son. And he never cries because he sleeps with me and his dad. He’s in our cave, as nature intended.

We owe it to our kids to have the courage to honor our innate instincts in the face of society’s biologically abnormal expectations. Let’s ruffle a few feathers! Does it matter if it takes a little longer to get babies to sleep by helping them with compassion? Is there anything more important we could be doing with our time than helping our vulnerable babies when they need us most? Does it matter if we miss a rerun of yet another TV show? And instead lay with our babies while they fall asleep? What are we setting our kids up for if we teach them they’re on their own from the start?

Our society needs more love. More compassion. More hugs and more kisses. Rates of depression, suicide, anxiety and addiction are skyrocketing. Isn’t it time to take a good look at the way we shape our society? It begins with children and parenting choices.

Childhood is fleeting. In the blink of an eye our babies will be all grown up. And I know I will be daydreaming of lying in the dark nursing my boy to sleep.

Claim your FREE Guide: The Lies Surrounding Infant Sleep That You Can Safely Ignore as a New (or not so new) Parent

SOURCES

The following sources were used in the creation of this post.

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COMMENTS
  • March 31, 2015

    I learned a lot in reading your post about CIO, Tracy. It caught my attention because I love babies—holding them, cuddling them, reading to them, walking with them, patting them, and yes, changing them. I had never thought about the history of cribs and their impact before. Our granddaughter had colic, and I used to walk with her for hours to help her get comfortable. It was so rewarding to feel the total relaxation of her little body when she finally went to sleep, that I never put her down in her crib. I sat and held her in a comfy lounge chair or rocker and treasured the closeness. As she got older, she transitioned to her own crib and then bed, but her parents always helped her if she had a bad dream or needed some reassurance during the night. How can a child learn empathy if he or she doesn’t experience it?

    • April 01, 2015
      Tracy Gillet

      Hi Mary Lou,
      Thank you so much for your thoughtful comment. I have learnt so much since becoming a mum…and continue to constantly. It is fascinating to learn how parenting habits came about. When I was pregnant we bought a crib, it was one of the first things we did, I was so excited! Then when I was about 7 months pregnant my midwife said to me in a very matter-of-fact way “you’ll be co-sleeping”! I had no idea what she was even talking about. As far as I knew babies slept in cribs. Anyway, our crib was never used and Thomas has slept with us every night and it has been the most amazing experience. It sounds like your granddaughter was a lucky girl with a wonderful grandma and very responsive parents. I totally agree on empathy, they mimic everything we do! Thanks again!

  • September 01, 2015
    Leia

    Hi Tracy! I am on baby number four and have coslept with all of them. However, around six months of age I would “sleep train” them to go to sleep on their own in their own crib. I always hated this milestone but somehow managed to convince myself this was just part of parenting. Thanks to the Internet and blogs like yours I am learning as much as I can about attachment parenting and could not be more grateful. My youngest is 4 months old tomorrow and is starting to move around more and more. I am just curious as to where you lay your son down for naps (or more specifically when you are not laying next to him)? Thanks in advance.
    Leia

    • September 29, 2015
      Tracy Gillett

      Thank you for your comment Leia! Great question and one of the challenges of attachment parenting for sure – the reality of co sleeping. For naps until Thomas was around 9 months old we used a hammock. This one – http://www.naturessway.co.nz/shop/Baby+Hammocks.html It was amazing and Tom loved it. They say they usually last babies until well over a year but Tom was long from birth so didn’t last that long. After that I toyed with the idea of a floor mattress for a few months. I put a crib mattress on the floor and had him on that. He was always big so I pretty quickly switched to a twin mattress. Montessori recommends floor mattresses and I know people who have had babies on floor mattresses from birth for naps and night time – you need to make sure the room is baby proof of course. Often I’ve co-napped with Tom as well on our bed – it’s just too tempting at times! I work from home so have a little flexibility to do that – and only one child. Now Tom only naps once a day and he sleeps on our bed and is fine with it. If he wakes he can get himself down safely. There are other options to make your bed safer if you want your baby to sleep on it – we never got any but I did look into it. Things like bumpers you can put under the fitted sheet so they can’t roll out. Also bed rails. Hope that helps and please feel free to contact me any time. Good luck and really appreciate your comments.

  • February 12, 2016
    Sarah McRae

    Hi Tracy, great article. Since reading this, in the evenings I have been breastfeeding my daughter and laying with her on our bed while she falls asleep – it has become one of our favourite moments in the day and a lovely bonding time.

    During the night, she usually wakes up twice to nurse. She is 9 months old. From what I’ve read, baby sleep consultants seem to advise that you may be feeding for comfort rather than hunger during the night, that feeding them to sleep every time doesn’t give them the opportunity to self-settle, and that your 9 month old should be sleeping through the night – all of which I’m really struggling to get my head around. I’d be really interested to learn your thoughts, although I think I know what you might say!

    Thanks so much, Sarah

    • February 15, 2016
      Tracy Gillett

      Thanks so much for your comment Sarah and I understand 🙂 My view is that comfort is as valid a need as hunger. I’ve heard it a lot – people saying “she’s only nursing for comfort” – but that assumes breastfeeding is for nutrition only and the benefits go well beyond that. “Self-settling” or “self-soothing” is a milestone babies and children are best to reach on their own. Just like we wouldn’t try to force babies to walk or talk before they’re ready. It’s a life skill and if it’s forced it becomes a shaky foundation for life. You are an amazing mum – your little girl is one hell of a lucky lady – and what you’re doing is a huge service to her. She’ll thank you one day and your bond and connection will make all the middle of the night wake up calls worth it. She’ll trust you implicitly. Having said that, I do understand – our little man still sleeps with us. Some nights he sleeps right through and others he wakes and needs to nurse. I fully understand parents who are sleep deprived and just need some sleep turning to a sleep trainer and taking their advice. Unfortunately, and certainly with cry it out, babies will eventually be quiet but it’s because they know nobody is coming to help which is sad. Baby sleep cycles are only 45 minutes as well whereas adults are 90 minutes. Around age 3 kids transition to adult sleep cycles which means they have fewer night wakings. I hope that helps. Sending you a big bear hug from Canada! 🙂

  • March 01, 2016
    Andrew

    Hi Tracy, simply one of the best pieces of writing I’ve read on this subject. My wife and I are passionate about our attachment to our new daughter. Interestingly we get so many comments about being parents for the first time and that’s why we do what we do and that we’ll shut the second one in a room, etc. What rubbish. It is sad that we feel isolated with our attachment / gentle parenting approach. So much so that we find it difficult to talk to the people closest to us about it. But I accept your challenge to ruffle a few feathers! And I do like to share my opinion! Two other points. This style of parenting is bloody hard work and exhausting. It does takes a team effort and support and for some people who are alone, this is even harder. Unfortunately most health systems don’t help. We need so much change there too. Secondly, as a Dad this parenting philosophy / style gives me so many opportunities to bond and be with our daughter. While other Dads say it’s all about the Mum for the first year, I LOVE cuddling, playing and responding to our daughter’s needs, and supporting her Mum of course who is amazing (like all Mums!). And yes, the world needs more love and cuddles, so why not start with our children!?! Thanks again. Andy

    • March 02, 2016
      Tracy Gillett

      Hi Andrew, Thank you so much for your lovely message. I’m so happy you enjoyed the post and that it resonated with you. We’ve had similar comments and I agree – we’d do it the same again if we have another child. It not only makes sense but also feels right. And we’ve felt isolated too which is a big part of the motivation for me starting this site. I hope it can be a place for parents to come to for support and community. I couldn’t agree more about Dads – attachment parenting has given my husband so many extra opportunities to bond with our son. He loves doing EC with our little man and they co bathe and have a blast together. And so many cuddles in bed. I LOVE getting comments from Dads – you’re actually the first Dad to comment on the site so thank you for reading and hopefully I’ll see you around here again soon. All the best. Tracy

  • March 02, 2016
    Jennie

    I love your article, and completely agree with all the points, but have to say that even though I co sleep with both my sons, it doesn’t mean they never cry.

    I think this illusion needs challenging because there are so many reasons babies cry, they are not all obvious and they do still cry. Sometimes A LOT!!! If it was true that they don’t cry when you co sleep/baby wear/breastfeed etc…everyone would do it I think. The issue arises when despite giving the baby everything it needs, they still cry. For new parents this can be very worrying and lead to seeking help elsewhere and concluding they just need to ‘CIO’.

    • March 02, 2016
      Tracy Gillett

      Thanks Jennie and I’m happy you enjoyed the post. You’re right – co sleeping is no guarantee for no crying, but it does help. I’m sure a lot of babies cry when they’re on their own just wanting comfort in their brand new world. Even when my husband is away it takes me longer to fall asleep without the comfort of him in bed with me. But you’re right, when you try everything and baby still keeps crying it is difficult, especially in a sleep deprived state. It’s become harder I think as we move away from the support of family and friends that was once a lot more common. It really does take a village to raise a child. Hopefully this site will provide support to new parents. My little sister has just become a mum, two days ago so I’m in the thick of it again offering support and remembering the challenges of new babies. Thanks again for reading.

  • March 02, 2016
    James

    I can see your point with CIO and what you said makes sense. But I draw the line at co-sleeping I’m afraid. We’ll be having a crib at the side of our bed. Baby will still get the attention he needs but will be protected from suffocation. The risk far outweighs the, arguably, non-existent benefits. I also take offence to the idea that babies “need their mums” – they need their fathers just as much. Babies have two parents. A lot of articles and advice I come across seem to exclude the father.

    • March 02, 2016
      Tracy Gillett

      Thank you for your comment James and for reading my post. Even by having the crib next to your bed you are promoting a closer bond with your baby which is fantastic rather than being in a separate room. And your baby will learn to regulate breathing being so close to you. All families have to find what’s right for them and co sleeping isn’t for everyone. We’ll have to agree to disagree on the risk of suffocation with co sleeping though as it’s not what I’ve experienced, nor what numerous scientific studies have proven. When practiced safely less babies die when sleeping in their parents beds than in cribs. Co sleeping is protective against Sudden Infant Death Syndrome. If parents are obese, have been drinking, taking drugs or if they cannot provide a safe sleep surface then yes, it is a dangerous practice. But done safely, by educated parents it’s the safest way for a baby to sleep. It is also safest when the mother is breastfeeding. If feeding formula then I’d suggest using a sidecar arrangement like you do. And I wasn’t intentionally leaving Dad’s out – apologies for that. I will go back to the post and edit it to include Dads for sure. My husband absolutely loves co sleeping and it has added to the closeness he has with our son. You are right that a lot of advice is directed a mothers – we seem to be the ones who do the most research and I guess it feeds itself. But honestly, it is so refreshing to see Dads reading my posts. You are the second Dad on my site and I’m thrilled. Once I take my son to the park to play baseball and make it back I’ll be editing it to add Dads. Thanks again and I’d love to see you again around here.

      • March 03, 2016
        James

        Thanks for your reply. Co-sleeping is something I will definitely be reading more about and consulting our midwife, etc., on.
        What I can’t get my head around though is why it is the safest way for baby to sleep? It seems common sense that a small child in a bed with two adults is an accident waiting to happen. My wife is a children’s A&E nurse and she has personally dealt with 8 SUDICs in three years. Every time, the police are called in and the parents treat like suspects and the baby as “evidence”. It’s an absolutely horrifying experience. So you can probably understand my position in co-sleeping!
        Improving the bond with my son is something I’m really keen to do but I have yet to have the benefits of co-sleeping explained to me, especially on why it is safer. Can you point me in the right direction? The studies, for example? It’s going to take a massive amount of convincing for me to fall asleep in the same bed as my baby when I could roll onto him and kill him.

        • March 05, 2016
          Tracy Gillett

          Hi James,

          No problem at all. It’s a complex topic and one which I know you will make the right decision about for your family as you are doing your own research which I applaud. Speaking to your midwife is a great idea. It was actually our midwife who told us about co sleeping in the first place – at the time I thought she was insane! Now, I am so grateful she opened our minds to the idea.

          Ultimately, it’s the safest way for babies to sleep because that’s how humans evolved to sleep. Babies learn normal breathing patterns from their parents, for example, which has a protective effects against SIDS. Babies benefit from skin to skin contact which improves weight gain, enhances immunity and deepens parent-child connections. Babies cry less as parents are right there so they are less stressed and don’t waste precious energy crying.

          Having said that, our lives have changed dramatically from our ancestors and as a result co sleeping needs to be done safely. If it’s not done safely, it becomes a dangerous practice. Just like driving a car without brakes or without a seat belt would be dangerous. Factors that make it dangerous are smoking, alcohol, drugs (prescription or recreational), unsafe sleep surfaces (sofa beds, headboards, furniture close to the bed where a baby could get stuck) etc. The safest situation for a baby to sleep with their parents is when the mother is breastfeeding and provide a safe sleep surface. Babies naturally stay near a mother’s breast during sleep which is a safe place to be and mother’s and babies mimic each other’s sleep cycles when they sleep together, natural waking and nursing together.
          I fully appreciate your concern given your wife’s experience. I am a veterinarian and I have seen my fair share of ignorant behaviour resulting in accidents with pets so I understand.
          The BEST place to start is with Prof. James McKenna’s work. He has a PhD and has devoted his professional career to researching infant and mother sleep. He runs a sleep clinic where he observes infant-mother pairs. His book Sleeping With Your Baby is where I would start. It is rooted in science.
          I’m not here to convince you to share your bed with your baby, just to offer another perspective. You may decide it’s not right for you. Or maybe a side car arrangement may work. Or an open crib next to your bed. Whatever is right for your family is the answer. And making a conscious choice is so important rather than just following the standard.
          Please feel free to reach out any time and I wish you all the best, Tracy

  • March 02, 2016
    Sarah

    I just loved this piece. Never did and never will understand the CIO method, it just doesn’t sit right with me. As you said, so what if you have to lie a few minutes longer with them for them to doze off, once baby is happy I’m happy 🙂
    Thank you for writing such a lovely, from-the-heart article.

    • March 02, 2016
      Tracy Gillett

      Hi Sarah, thank you for your lovely comment and for reading my post. Makes my day to get comments and to know it resonated with other parents. I love those extra minutes lying with my son…and now he’s almost three I can’t believe how fast it’s going. He used to fall asleep nursing but already he’s gaining more independence and gives me a “big hug”, rolls over and goes to sleep. Thanks again.

  • March 03, 2016
    Olaya de la Iglesia

    While I appreciate the article and its intention, I feel it is a bit like the ‘breast is best’ articles that leave mothers-unable-to-breastfeed feeling like they are not good enough.

    I co-slept with my second until he was 7 months old, I have been left with severe back pain as a result. I continued to wake up 3 times a night when we moved him to his crib, and when I went back to work my life was miserable, I just could not cope. So at 13 months old I have taken the decision to let him cry so he will learn to sleep thtough the night. This is the decision I made for my circumstances, it was the best for us because otherwise both me and the father are just cranky and lack patience to deal with them during the day, which surely makes family life a lot worse.

    Yes, co-sleep with your child if that is what you want, but don’t make mothers feel inadequate if that does not work for their circumstances… there is enough mother bashing going on out there as it is. Being a working mum is full of criticism, we need them the least from fellow mums.

    • March 03, 2016
      Tracy Gillett

      Thank you for your comment Olaya and for reading my post. I appreciate your concern and often feel the same – judgements about parenting choices are ceratinly difficult to deal with. But, I do believe parents need to be empowered and have accurate information so they can make they can make the best decisions for their own families. Co sleeping and breastfeeding families are in the minority – only 12% of mothers are breastfeeding exclusively until 6 months for example which is the standard recommendation. One reason for this is a lack of accurate information – mothers are often told they have “low supply” so they’re told to “top up” with formula, but milk production is dependent on demand. Supplementing formula sabotages a mother’s ability to produce milk. That is not to say feeding formula is wrong, it certainly isn’t, but mother’s should be told about the consequences which they aren’t. Likewise with CIO if parents understand the consequences they can make an educated decision, rather than blindly assuming it has no consequences because a “sleep trainer” suggested it. I applaud you for having slept with your baby for so long and I appreciate the difficulties associated with it. Being kicked in the head, waking up cold with no covers and lack of intimacy are all side effects of co sleeping. It sounds like you’re making the best decision you can for your family and I wish you well.

  • March 16, 2016
    Melody Clugston

    What do you say to us moms who have a real health need for their own sleep? I’m a person who needs 8.5 hours of sleep a night to function well. I can get by with less than that for a day or two. But when my kids have the stomach flu or croup for 2 or 3 nights, I am a complete and other mess the next day. I am weeping and crying all day, binge eating, and suffer from bad headaches
    And worst of all, I have no patience for my boys and treat them poorly! When my twins were born, I had to be admitted for a night to the hospital when they were two weeks old, because I was so exhausted. I had to get someone to takeover the 5am feed. I understand that this is what ALL mothers go through, but there are some adults out there that desperately need their sleep to be healthy functioning adults. So to suggest that all moms put up with extremely limited sleep for three years ( which is the age you state that they seem to start taking on Adult sleep cycles and waking less) seems absurd to me. And to insinuate that I’m trying to parent “conveniently” or selfishly because I taught my children to help with their own soothing so I can sleep doesn’t seem right either.

    I feel that it is in my child’s best interest, nay safety!, that I get an adequate amount of sleep in order to care for them properly!

    • March 18, 2016
      Tracy Gillett

      Thanks for reading Melody and for your honest comments. I feel for you having had twins. I can only imagine how demanding it must be especially in the early days having two babies to care for at the same time. You’re right – becoming a parent means we get less sleep than we did before, it goes with the territory. And the fact is that young children don’t transition to adult sleep cycles until well into toddlerhood. I’m looking forward to my own son getting to that stage. Each family has to figure out what works best for them. Yours may be the rare exception where allowing children to cry is safer for everyone. But, to suggest babies need to be trained to sleep is biologically false and encouraging cry it out under normal circumstances, I believe is unacceptable because of the extreme stress and anxiety babies experience as a result of being ignored. Thank you again for reading and I wish you all the best.

    • April 15, 2017
      Lizzy

      Hi Melody,
      I have two sons, four years apart. My first child slept in his room and I would get up every time he needed me, feed him in rocking chair and pop back in his cot. This exhausted me. At six months I brought him in bed with me and got so much more sleep. With my second child he slept with me from day one. He has his cot side car to our bed and also sleeps safely snuggled into me. I find that when he wants milk I am only awake for seconds, maybe a minute and then back to sleep. I can get six, seven, eight, nine hours sleep if I go to bed early enough. I hope you might find this helpful and check out how to safely bed share and get the sleep you need Mumma 🙂 xx

      • April 15, 2017
        Tracy Gillett

        Thank you so much for sharing your experiences Lizzy! My son and I have slept in the same bed from day one and I have found the same – interrupted sleep but more sleep from only waking for a relatively short amount of time and the relaxing hormones from breastfeeding lulling me back to sleep in the dark. Thanks again, Tracy xx

  • March 18, 2016
    Mary

    Thank you for writing this. Cry it out makes me sick. I cannot imagine the kind of mental manipulation it would take to be able to hear my baby cry and convince myself it is “better for him” in any way to not respond with love and compassion. When he cries, my heart hurts and I want to protect him and comfort him, not punish him or “teach him a lesson!”

    The part about “learning to vomit at bed time due to failed sleep “training” really does make me feel sick. Those poor children! The misery they must be feeling, no child should ever know what it feels like to be so violently upset that they vomit and mommy and daddy will not help them. It is no wonder why so many people these days have violent and antisocial behaviours if our parents are teaching us from such an early age that they are so utterly alone in this world. I just want to hug and kiss them all and have them co sleep with me!!

    And on that note, I am going to get into bed with my darling baby right now and cuddle him all night! There’s nothing I love more in the world and I am not looking forward to the day that he is too big for it, I would never in a million years kick him out of my bed because it is inconvenient!

    • March 19, 2016
      Tracy Gillett

      Hi Mary, thank you so much for your comments and heartfelt honesty. I think getting this message out is so important as sleep trainers and doctors tell mothers “self-soothing” is normal. That leaving babies to cry is acceptable. Parents don’t realize the very real effects it is having on their babies and the long term consequences it has on their developing brains. All babies learn from being ignored is that they’re on their own and that’s the reason they stop crying – not because they’ve learned to “self-soothe” but because they realize there’s no point to their cries. That nobody is coming. It’s the saddest thing about cry it out and my hope is that even if this post helps one baby it’s worth it. Babies don’t need to be trained to sleep no more than they need to be trained to walk. They need to feel safe so they can fall asleep naturally and that’s our job. That’s surely why we become parents – to care for our babies, not ignore them. Thank you so much – I too am typing next to a sleeping toddler. 🙂

  • March 24, 2016

    Hello and thank you for the clear, well-researched reminder I needed!

    We have co-slept with both our little ones but my daughter never fed to sleep and was happy having a snuggle and being left in the bed during the evenings. My second is a snuggler extraordinaire, and feeds to sleep as a matter of course, even if only for moments before falling asleep again.

    He’s 7 months old and I had been starting to hear those ‘should’ voices in my head. I was starting to try to train him to sleep with cuddles not feeds, but he gets into a real state. Thank you for the simple reminder of why I, away from the ‘shoulds’ wouldn’t choose this. I’ve been reading it as I nursed him to sleep 🙂

    I’ll be reading more of your blogs!! Thanks for writing them.

    • March 24, 2016
      Tracy Gillett

      My pleasure Charlie and thank you for reading and leaving a comment – much appreciated. And yes, I agree “should” is a dangerous word. Each baby is different. My son is almost three and has only recently stopped nursing to sleep. Enjoy your snuggles and lovely to meet you 🙂

  • March 31, 2016
    Helen

    Loved your article and interested to read the comments too. We’ve done a mix of next-to-me cot and co-sleeping and I have to say, I’ve learned that you still have to be careful when admitting to co-sleeping; some people (some family members & our previous doctor included) still get shocked and can be very disapproving… and lately I’ve had a lot of comments about when we’ll be moving our baby (now 6 months old) to his own room. My feelings have always been that it’s far far too early for that, and like another commenter, it’s nice to have a reminder that I should trust my own instincts.
    One thing I find really difficult is long distance driving. We’ve unfortunately had to do quite a bit of it for family reasons, and our baby has had some of his worst crying episodes in the car seat (to the point of vomiting a couple of times, although it only takes a few minutes of crying for this to happen) before we’ve been able to stop safely and get him out & comfort him. Even sitting next to him and trying to comfort him that way hasn’t always helped. I wondered if you have any suggestions or advice on happier travelling! (We’ve tried various times of the day & there doesn’t seem to be a consistent “good time”). Otherwise, I’ll just have to hope this is a transitory stage while teething…
    Thanks again for a happy read.

    • March 31, 2016
      Tracy Gillett

      Thank you Helen and I’m happy you enjoyed it. My sister has a 4 week old baby now and she’s been asked from family when she’ll start “separating” herself so I understand. It still baffles me why other people care about parents and babies sleeping arrangements. Why does it bother them so much? It must poke at an insecurity. As long as sleeping is safe for all involved it shouldn’t matter. Nobody seems to ask where are babies placed in the car? They assume parents have it under control. That we do what’s safe for our babies. Why would it be any different when the sun goes down. Anyway I am happy it helped!
      As for the driving – I feel for you. That’s rough, we’ve been in the same situation a few times and it pulls at the heart strings. I did master breastfeeding in the back seat while hubby drives – much easier with rear facing baby. Do you still nurse? It could help. Some flexibility and acrobatics are required but I’ve spoken to a lot of mums who’ve done it. Thanks again for reading 🙂

  • August 17, 2016
    Lauren

    I know this article has been up for awhile but couldn’t help commenting.
    We never co-slept simply because our baby didn’t sleep any better in our bed than in his bassinet. He cried no matter what we did. I wouldn’t describe myself as an attachment parent but I think that is largely how I parent. And I got all sorts of lovely advice – ‘don’t rock him, you’re creating a rod for your own back’ ‘you’ll just have to let him cry’ ‘you’re spoiling him’. Our baby was a very demanding little boy and cried constantly for the first 9 weeks and then most of the time for the next 6 months. I followed what felt right, and rocked and cuddled and comforted, fed on demand, and then rocked some more. At 11 months he sleeps in his own room and only wakes once a night. I put him down, and he goes to sleep. Not once did he cry it out. He just did this all himself. I feel much of our success is due to our baby knowing if he needs us, we’re right there. It might be more work in the short term but in the long term you’re making your life much easier. Most babies I know who were sleep trained may have slept through the night while young (or blankly stared at the ceiling thinking they’ve been abandoned) but have so many sleep issues as toddlers. I think it’s because sleeping doesn’t feel safe to them.
    I went back to work when my baby was young and also study so I know how hard it feels but you can do it. Don’t give in!
    I now feel like kicking all the people who provided that ‘supportive’ advice in the teeth. As a new mum who felt she wasn’t coping, that is the worst possible advice you can give. I will honestly never forgive those people who made it that much harder, and made me second guess myself.

    • August 18, 2016
      Tracy Gillett

      Thanks so much for your comment Lauren – really appreciate hearing your story and what worked for you – so great to hear you had the courage to follow your instincts and be responsive to your son. I can’t agree more – we need to feel safe to fall asleep, it’s part of our survival mechanism. I feel so sorry for babies who feel alone and fall asleep feeling stressed. It’s amazing (and so sad) how we all hear the same thing – how can we spoil our children by holding them? I understand how you feel and thank you so much for taking the time to share your experience. And you might like this recent post I wrote about Cry It Out. Lovely to meet you xx

  • October 08, 2016
    Stephanie McCorkell

    My mama instincts speak to me loudly and I listen to them often. It’s amazing to read about how those instincts to serve your baby are backed up by science as well. We will be celebrating one year of breastfeeding in a few weeks and our 11 month old daughter is calm and happy and thriving. I think the new saber toothed tiger is the cave is this modern apathy towards babies. It hurts to hear other women, especially other moms, “talk tough” about how to treat babies. Babies! Or hear about how breastfeeding is “too hard.” Yes, it is hard, but your body was designed to do it and there is so much help and support out there for you. The cultural pendulum needs to swing back, and it starts with powerful writing like this. Many days I feel like I’m reading my own journal here, and that is incredibly affirming. Thank you for an amazing blog!

    • October 09, 2016
      Tracy Gillett

      Thank you Stephanie for such a lovely comment. You put it so eloquently – you’re right – the tiger in the cave is our modern day tough talk. It makes me sad too, not only for babies but for the parents it is robbing – parenthood should be something beautiful to be celebrated but I feel the modern approach takes so many of the good bits out of it. Congrats on your one year of breastfeeding! And wishing you all the best for your journey ahead – it just gets better and better xx

  • December 09, 2016
    Suzanne

    My mom had told me that the nurses in the hospital where I was born had “spoiled” me by holding me so much (I was cute) so that when she brought me home, I was always crying for attention. If I didn’t get it, she said I held my breathe. She told me she gave me a small smack on the leg to get me to take a breathe. To this day, I crave hugs and physical affection. My oldest had a problem with gas as a baby. People tried to tell me it was colic. My mom said I spoiled my kids by picking them up each time they cried. Even my sister-in-law had said my youngest would fuss if she was put down in her baby seat (while I was changing residences, my SIL helped watch her). She said my baby was insecure. Penelope Leach’s book was amazing to me. She helped me listen to my instincts. Babies are incapable of manipulation. To give them what they need should be first nature to us as mothers.

    • December 11, 2016
      Tracy Gillett

      Oh Suzanne, I feel for you! Wow – held your breath. Isn’t that such an obvious signal that babies don’t like their needs not being met. I don’t understand why there is such resistance to being kind to babies. Why is it so hard to allow ourselves to be vulnerable and give and receive love in the way our babies need it? I haven’t read Penelope Leach’s book but I must by the sounds of it. I have just finished writing my own first eBook about this very topic – why parenting responsively is NORMAL and NATURAL and should be respected and supported. It’s a difficult thing to do to take the path less followed but oh, it is SO worth it. Keep following your instincts mama!! xx

  • December 14, 2016
    Vic

    This is a beautiful article. We co- sleep with our 21 months old boy and all of us are happy. I feel we should follow our instincts more than any theories propounded by experts. A newborn knows he/she needs to get angry when milk is not given on time. They have all the emotions without experiencing anything in life. So if, as a parent, I feel like kissing and hugging my baby constantly, I shall certainly do it. It is an emotion I cannot escape. If I cannot sleep alone what makes us think a baby is happy sleeping alone? For all you know they may be sleeping in fear all night.

    • December 14, 2016
      Tracy Gillett

      Thank you Vic and so happy you enjoyed it. We love co sleeping with our son too and it feels like the most natural thing in the world. Sometimes I try to imagine what it would have felt like, especially when he was a baby, if he was in another room. I immediately felt anxious at the mere thought of it. Our instincts are so powerful and always right if we have the courage to listen to them. Thank you for your insightful words and lovely to connect. xx

  • April 12, 2017
    Lindsey Bridgeman

    Hi Tracy, another fab article thank you. I really enjoy reading your pieces which always seem to reinforce my instinct at a time when perhaps it has been questioned. Our little girl is 1 now, and from about 4 months wouldnt co-sleep as she had realised by this stage Daddy was in the bed and that was far too exciting. She’s now in a crib, but I’ve slept on the floor with her a fair bit recently due to ill health and we have both slept so well and she wakes with a smile. We had already decided on a floor bed when we move shortly.
    Thank you for being the grounding which I think some Mums (me included) so often need. I look forward to the next article.

    • April 15, 2017
      Tracy Gillett

      Thanks so much Lindsey and so happy you enjoyed the article. This is one of the first pieces I wrote as a new mother myself as I am so passionate about making sure parents are informed and empowered. Floor beds are so wonderful, I think we’d do that next time. We tried for a little while for naps after our son outgrew his hammock but he was so used to our bed by then 🙂 I hope you’re little girl is ok and doing better. My son had a fever yesterday and gosh, when they’re sick you just would do anything to make them better. And yes, Dads are so much fun! Can I ask you a question? If I were to create a free bonus download specifically on the topic of baby sleep is there anything you’d like? I’m think of something like a checklist of items I’ve used to help natural sleepers, but I’m not sure what would serve new mums best. LOVE any feedback. Thanks so much xx

      • May 04, 2017

        Hi Tracy, thanks for all of the insightful, well written and researched posts.

        My 14 month old wakes every hour or 2 and I nurse him to sleep ( he sleeps in my bed). Sometimes it’s even less than an hour of sleep at a time!

        Any advice on how to get him to sleep longer, without needing to nurse every time, would be helpful ! And I have to rock him to sleep the first part of the night as well. It’s quite exhausting.

        It seems like this is going to last forever unless I do something to change this routine. Can kids really learn to fall asleep by themselves and stay asleep if we nurse them and rock them etc? Do I really have to wait 2 more years for that, if it happens at all? I’m wondering how I’d cope with another baby if my first still wakes all night.

        Thanks again for all your insight!

  • June 08, 2017
    Anne

    Just wanted to agree with a few of the comments already made – not only are babies incapable of being manipulative, they also have no concept of object permanence. I can’t bear the thought of putting a baby in a room by his /herself and them lying in the dark thinking that everyone in their lovely world was gone and there is nothing but them and alone-ness! I know it sounds dramatic but so do the cries. My 4th baby is just approaching 6months so being fully responsive isn’t possible, sometimes responsibility calls and stuff has to be done, sometimes she gets a little over hungry, sometimes she has to be in the car seat even when she wants to be held etc. Sleeping in her next -to -me, and then in our bed later in the night means at least she doesn’t have to do without me in the night. I’m also pretty sure that we get far more sleep than we would in any other circumstance, I can’t imagine tripping back and forth to another room – it would be torture! No judgement though, some people (some of my friends) get virtually no sleep with their children in the room, I’m in favour of whatever gets most sleep for most people – every family is different.

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