When we first started trying to teach Tyler how to sleep, I longed to only do no-cry methods. I was a stay at home mom with only one child, so I had plenty of time and figured I would do whatever it took to teach my child to sleep without leaving him alone to cry. But after being woken up as often as I was, the sleep deprivation was taking its toll on my mind. I could only hold myself together for so long, and there were times that I would inwardly get very angry at my sweet baby. Some of the books I read made me feel like Ty's struggles were my fault, so I would get especially upset when I'd done everything I was instructed to do and he still wouldn't sleep. I remember once yelling at him, "you are the reason you're awake right now. Not me. This is your fault!"
I immediately felt awful for getting upset at my innocent little baby. He didn't deserve my wrath, and I also didn't deserve to feel like a bad mother that spoiled my child. I had ached for this baby. I reminded myself many times that I would've rather had him with terrible nights than not have him and sleep wonderfully, but his sleep difficulties were far too draining on all of us to continue on the way they were. Although at first I was only using no-cry methods, he still cried a ton from not getting the rest he needed. Letting him have a few difficult hours of crying it out in the long run decreased his overall crying substantially, and it helped me love and appreciate my time with my precious baby that much more. I realized it was better to be sad he was crying than to have diminished mental functioning throughout the night. What kind of a mother can I be when I'm not in my right mind? I have to say now that seeing Tyler wake up happy and well rested is well worth the difficulty of closing the door on him crying (particularly when the crying only continues for a few seconds after I've left).
I used to believe that "cry it out" was cruel, but now I've changed my position. Now I believe whatever helps your child sleep most and cry the least overall is the best method. It's up to the parent to determine if their child is actually crying more from not being able to put themselves down than they would if they were sleep trained. That was certainly Ty's case. If your baby gets plenty of sleep from no-cry methods alone, go for it, but know that the vast majority of babies need more sleep than they're getting. Many of the infants I know are only getting about 10 hours of sleep total for the day. That's all Ty was getting, and I assumed that was enough, but once he was sleep trained he started getting about 16! This has come down over time, but even at 12 months he still needs about 14.
I certainly don't believe that crying is in any way necessary for infant development. When I was a kid in the 80's and early 90's, I remember hearing ideas that loud crying helps babies exercise, develop their lungs, and have healthy bowel movements. Based on what I've read, none of that is true. A baby can be healthy in all those areas without additional crying, and adding extra crying to their routine doesn't improve their health in any way. Infants were designed to have a loud piercing cry to signal their parents when they were in distress, and parents did everything to calm them in order to keep predators away from their families. It would have been counterproductive for nature to design crying to help babies develop their bodies.
That being said, if your child needs to cry in order to realize he's going to have to learn how to self soothe because mommy and daddy won't always be available to comfort him, then I believe some crying, even screaming, is not going to scar him for life. If he can already self soothe and put himself to sleep without needing to cry it out, great! He was born with that skill. Good for him. If he wasn't born with it but can learn it through no cry methods, fabulous, you don't have to listen to him scream. As for the baby that wasn't born with that skill and won't respond well to no-cry methods, a few nights of tears are going to be unpleasant for him, but he's smart and he'll adapt. Adapting to a difficult environment is certainly a skill nature designed our babies to have!
Another idea I've heard a lot of is that you have to let your baby cry it out or your baby will just manipulate you. I don't believe that babies have the mental ability to manipulate, but I do believe toddlers do. A toddler knows it's bedtime, and for whatever reason he doesn't want to go to bed yet. He'll ask to go to the bathroom, ask for a drink, ask for more stories and songs, pretend to be sick, and do everything else he can think of in order to delay bedtime as long as possible. Babies don't do this, particularly newborn babies (read "The Happiest Baby on the Block" for a good explanation of why newborns cry). However, at 4-6 months they do start observing and analyzing. Baby thinks "I want to be held. If I cry loud and long like I did yesterday, mommy will hold me instead of leaving me on the ground." There comes a point when you do need to teach your child that they can't necessarily have whatever they want simply by screaming for it. When you decide an appropriate time to do that is and how to go about doing it is up to you as a parent and the maturity of your child. You know your baby best. However, if you never teach them that concept, they may later turn into a manipulative toddler who has you wrapped around their little finger. You can't spoil a tiny baby, but you can definitely spoil a toddler, and there's no magic age that a baby instantly turns from one into the other. All you can do is observe and analyze them just like they're observing and analyzing you.
When we finally decided to try CIO, I liked the advice I found on this sleep trainer's website. She compares a baby's cries during CIO to her son's cries in his car seat. He never wanted to go in it, but she had to put him in it because it was unsafe not to do so, even if he cried for the entire drive. If your baby is crying simply because they want a sleep crutch, then they're ready for CIO. If there are other reasons for the crying, then they're not ready yet. This made me think about the last time we took Ty on a long road trip from Everett, Washington to Murray, Utah. He slept a lot, but he also cried miserably for hours. The only problem was that he was tired of being in the car seat. What kind of cries would have made me pull over and take him out of his car seat? If he were hungry, we'd pull over and feed him, if he were sick or vomiting, we'd pull over and take care of him, if he were cold, we'd pull over and bundle him up, if he had a soiled diaper, we'd pull over and change it, etc. But if the only reason for the crying was that he was tired of being in the car seat, we kept him in it. Even if we pulled over briefly to give him a little break, we'd eventually have to get back in the car and keep driving. Those are the types of cries that are fine for a child to make when you're doing CIO. Once you've determined that there are no other underlying reasons, it's no great tragedy to let them cry simply because they're not getting what they want (assuming they're at an age when they're mature enough to handle it without becoming traumatized).
Even though Ferberizing our baby eventually worked, it didn't work at 5 months, 5.5 months, 6 months, 6.5 months, and it certainly wouldn't have worked during his first 4 months. He didn't take nearly as long to learn the skill as I was expecting, which I believe is because he adjusted to it better thanks to the no cry techniques we'd already been using. There's no one magic method, and when or if they'll work will vary from baby to baby, but they all have merit. I'm in favor of trying both cry it out and no-cry methods, and if they don't work, try them again when your baby is a little older. He's already got a lot to take in during the short time he's been outside of the womb. Sleeping is a skill that needs to be learned, and like any other subject, be patient with him and give him lots of opportunities to figure out what learning style works best for him.
These days Ty is a great sleeper, but he still cries occasionally. We rarely get full out fussing. It's more of an "I'm not getting what I want whine." But baby sleep is always subject to change. Recently Ty had a stomach bug and screamed for us to come in. My husband found him vomiting his chili dinner. Because of that night he learned that if he just screams intensely enough, we'll come running, so he's started screaming just as intensely as when he was sick to get us to come to him in the middle of night. We've had to start the sleep training process over again by coming in at intervals. Fortunately he didn't fight against it nearly as much as he has in the past, and it looks like he'll be back to sleeping through the night pretty soon.
Although I'm no expert on sleep training or raising children, this experience has helped make me an expert on raising and sleep training my own child. Already those months of sleep difficulties are becoming a blur in my memory, and certainly they're even more blurred in Tyler's. I hope one day he reads this, particularly when he has a child of his own. Hopefully he'll understand that I make my choices as his mom based on what I see brings him greater, lasting happiness, even if it means denying him the temporary comforts he asks for. As much as I love how well he sleeps now, I miss holding him so close to me so often throughout the day, and it makes me sad to know there will come a time that I won't be able to pick him up and hold him whenever he's having a rough day. The frustration I felt will continue to fade, but I'll always cherish those beautiful moments of singing him off to dreamland.
This was part V of a 5 part post. To read Ty's sleep story from the beginning, click here