Recently, a book about infant sleep was released telling parents that allowing their babies to cry it out was the right way to encourage healthy sleep patterns. This isn't a new occurrence. Books advocating cry it out are published often. This particular book though caught my attention because it included a tip about parents needing to be ready to change the sheets because children left to cry it out often get so upset they vomit all over themselves. When I read that excerpt I literally felt sick to my stomach. Who would leave their baby to cry so long and so hard that they vomited?
Oh, wait. I did that.
My sweet baby didn't deserve that.
But, once upon a time, I did it anyways.
Because I didn't know better. Because I was exhausted.
Because I didn't realize that I was causing her harm.
There is a reason our babies cry. Always. Sometimes it's a need for food or a clean bottom. Often it's a need for touch. A need for security. A need for warmth from another human being. We all need these things. As adults we have the skills to find ways to meet these needs. Babies don't. So they communicate with the people they trust to meet those needs, by crying. Sleep training "works." It will train a child not to communicate their needs. It will teach them not to trust. But it doesn't get rid of those needs. Studies have shown that babies remain in distress during times of unmet needs even if they aren't communicating them because they've been trained not to. The brain goes through enormous growth in the first year of life. Ignoring our babies needs changes that growth. We seem to want our babies to fit seamlessly into our lives. Nothing has to change because we are in charge of when they eat, sleep and play. When did we become too busy for babies?
We live in a society that pushes independence. One that tells us that if our children aren't independent by some arbitrary age they never will be. Science though, tells us this isn't so.
Writing for Psychology Today, Darcia Narvaez says,
"The fact is that caregivers who habitually respond to the needs of the baby before the baby gets distressed, preventing crying, are more likely to have children who are independent than the opposite (e.g., Stein & Newcomb, 1994) Soothing care is best from the outset. Once patterns of distress get established, it's much harder to change them."
I didn't do that with my sweet Cianna. I was so tired at the beginning of my pregnancy with Rowen that for about two months right after she turned a year I let her cry herself to sleep. I'd get her in the morning and see sheets still stained with tears. I hadn't done this with Jameson. It went completely against my instincts. Everything in my being was telling me to get get her. But I was afraid she'd always need me. And I was so dang tired. She learned during that time that I couldn't be trusted to meet her needs. She became very defiant and withdrawn. I work everyday to undo the damage that I caused her. Parenting doesn't end when I get tired. Her needs didn't stop because I was tired. She is/was biologically wired to need to be close to me at night. I wish I knew then what I knew now. Some of the issues she deals with now might not exist. The great thing about parenting though is that every moment is a chance to make a new decision. I know better now. And I'm so grateful for the mama tribe I have that reminds me when things get tough.
I'm so grateful I have this opportunity to do hard things. To love my babies. To follow my instincts.
Stein, J. A., & Newcomb, M. D. (1994). Children's internalizing and externalizing behaviors and maternal health problems. Journal of Pediatric Psychology, 19(5), 571-593.