Why It’s OK to Let Babies 'Cry It Out’
It can be difficult to listen to a baby wail in his or her crib at nighttime, but a new study finds that leaving a little one to “cry it out” does not raise the baby’s stress level, and may actually lead him or her to get more shut-eye over time. The findings may give sleep-deprived parents more insight into which parenting strategies could work best for their babies, the researchers said.
However, they cautioned that the study was small and included mostly higher-income, well-educated families. Therefore, more research is needed to see whether the findings apply to other groups, they said.
In the study, the researchers randomly placed 43 infants, ages 6 to 16 months old, who had trouble falling and staying asleep at night, into one of three groups. In one group, parents tried “graduated extinction,” in which they didn’t respond to the babies’ cries immediately but would eventually comfort the child briefly without picking him or her up or turning on the lights. If the baby cried again, the parents would wait a little longer before they went to comfort the baby, and so on until the baby fell asleep.
In the second group, the parents tried “bedtime fading,” which meant that if the babies had trouble falling asleep the night before, parents would put them to bed later the next night. But the parents still comforted the child as they normally would at night. In the third group, which acted as the control group, parents simply received for babies, and no specific instructions.
The first two methods are controversial, largely because of the belief that letting a baby cry can be stressful for both infants and parents, and may increase their levels of the stress hormone cortisol, the researchers said. To measure the stress levels of the babies in the study, the researchers analyzed the babies’ cortisol levels from cotton swabs of their saliva that the parents collected in the mornings and afternoons.
The study found that, within three months, the 14 babies in the graduated-extinction group (the ones who were left to cry) and the 15 babies in the bedtime-fading group (the ones who were put to bed later the following night) started falling asleep faster at night compared with the 14 babies in the control group. Moreover, those in the graduated-extinction group woke up fewer times during the night than the babies in the control group did at the three-month mark, the researchers found.
The results also showed that the afternoon cortisol levels in the babies in the two sleeping intervention groups dropped more over time than those of the babies in the control group, indicating less stress, the researchers said.
It’s possible that these methods work because the babies learn to soothe themselves, stop crying and go to sleep, the researchers said.One year after the intervention started, the mothers assessed their children, looking for any emotional or behavioral problems, and underwent a test evaluating parent-child attachment. There were no differences among the groups in terms of the children’s behavioral and emotional temperaments, the researchers said.
I never heard of cry it out but we started doing it when we realized Matt was training us. He would cry, stop for a minute (while we, ah, discussed whose turn it was), then cry louder. We realized the gap in the crying was him listening to see if anyone was coming.
Once we stopped responding to the second cry they got louder for awhile then shorter then stopped.
One thing, I have to say, 43 seems like a small sample.