Sleep is a big deal in my house. Rumor has it that my last name roughly translates from Polish to "not enough sleep." Even though I don't speak a lick of Polish, the heart of the phrase is certainly applicable to our family: sleep is valued and important. This is why I'm adamant that my toddler get as much of it as he can, even if that means letting him cry a little.
Telling people I sleep-trained my then 6-month-old using cry it out (CIO) is often met with a look of shock and consternation. "I could never do that, it breaks my heart to hear them cry," they exclaim with a worried look as their exhausted child droops near by.
We used CIO, specifically the Weissbluth method, which amounted to putting him in the crib and saying goodnight. And he cried. The first night was the hardest, with his tears lasting about an hour. But by the third night, we were able to put him in his crib, shut the door, and not hear a peep until the morning. It's been that way, except for nightmares and sicknesses, ever since.
Yes, every child is different and has different needs. Every parent has different wants. But, all children need enough sleep. Certainly the crying is difficult to listen to, but eventually they do fall asleep, and they learn how to fall asleep on their own.
This should come as no surprise, but sleep is incredibly important to a child's development. Sleep is when they grow, heal, process important information, and rest from their extremely difficult day of learning new skills.
When children are faced with consistent interrupted sleep, it can be detrimental to their bodies. Besides making for some impressive crankiness, interrupted sleep can cause a depressed immune system and lethargy when being asked to play and grow. Allowing your child to sleep through the night is worth a few days of having to listen to their screams.
Children cry, it's kind of what they're born to do. While it's hard on the parents to listen to their little one scream, it's not going to cause any lasting damage. Personally, I found that my son was just as happy to see me the next morning after CIO as he had been when I was getting up throughout the night to check on him. The difference was, he was better rested — and so was I.
There are some studies that back this up. Recently it was determined that there weren't any long-term adverse affects of using CIO. A different study supported a different method of CIO, what's known as graduated extension, where the parents incrementally check on the baby to provide comfort. When done around the right age, usually near six months, it is a safe and effective way to get babies to sleep.
Contrary to popular belief, mothers who use CIO are not terrible humans who don't care for their children. If anything, using CIO helped me know my child better.
Before sleep training, all my son's cries blended into this mess of noise. I couldn't hear the difference between them. Now, I know when he's legitimately afraid, just whining, and when he's whimpering in his sleep. Because I can now tell the difference between his vocal cues, I know how to respond to him better and know when he needs actual comfort.
A lot of parents are unwilling to try CIO because it's hard on them to hear their little one's cries, and I'm not going to lie, that first night sucks. However, there's really no other aspect of parenting in which we don't do something that our kids need just because it's emotionally hard on us.
Parenting is about making hard choices.
Parenting is about making hard choices. Considering how important sleep is to everyone involved, parents should be willing to sacrifice their emotional comfort to ensure that their babies are getting what they so desperately need.
Yes, using CIO is not what a mother pictures for herself. It's not the image of a nurturing parent, snuggling with their child while they sleep. It may not be the perfect picture, but it is still an act of compassion: a parent who is willing to put their own discomfort behind the needs of the child.