Right now, thanks to an article doing the rounds in local media, baby sleep experts are up in arms because Crying it Out (CIO) has been supposedly given the big tick. The study is quite limited, and hasn’t really shown that crying it out is better long term. It has simply proven that it works quicker than other methods studied. That’s not my beef though. I have an issue with the black and white thinking that you are either loving your child by not doing CIO or you aren’t be a loving parent if you leave them to cry.
I don’t think that the CIO method in its extreme form is the answer for any baby. Before babies can talk their only form of communication is crying. Ignoring those cries for the long term, to teach them to sleep would be like ignoring your partner as they spoke to you. Would you do it to an adult?
However I also don’t like the language around the dismissal of CIO. Someone who uses this method doesn’t love their child less than someone who doesn’t. Maybe they don’t know that there are other methods? Or maybe their mother/sister/friend told them that it was best, and they didn’t know any different? I don’t think it’s productive to imply a lack of love behind a decision that we might not know the motivation behind.
A lot of the language around the negative aspects of CIO also seems to imply that you should never, ever let your baby cry. I think that this message is the one that can do the most damage, especially to a vulnerable first time Mum.
I remember when Mr 6 was a few weeks old and he was having a fussy day. He wouldn’t let me out of his sight without screaming the house down. Who knew a little boy could make so much noise!? I didn’t think that I could leave him. I had irrationally told myself that leaving him meant that I was a bad mother. I can recognise that now, but in the moment I believed with every ounce of my being that I couldn’t leave him for a second.
By the end of the day I was exhausted, both physically and mentally. I had attempted to have a shower while he lay in his baby swing but he was having none of that. My arms ached from holding him. My brain ached from having to be alert, and trying to work out what was ‘wrong’ with my baby and me.
If I had read an article that day which told me that if I left my baby to cry, I was doing it wrong then I would have believed every word. I would have used those words to beat myself with, while the heavy burden of guilt hung over me. What kind of mother was I if I couldn’t even work out what my baby wanted? Why wasn’t I enough?
At the end of that day a friend, a Mum with a few more years of experience under her belt than me, assured me that it was OK to let him cry for a few minutes while I gathered myself. It was like a light bulb going off. How irrational I had been! Of course I could take a few moments to gather myself. I had told others that it’s important to take time out for their mental health and forgotten that advice for myself.
There is actually a grey area between CIO and attachment parenting. It’s called doing what works for you, in that moment. There are going to be times when your baby is screaming and you just have to walk out of the room and take a few deep breaths. Those deep breaths aren’t going to damage your baby forever but they will mean that you’re in a better place mentally to deal with a screaming baby at 3am.