Author Topic: Research on why 'cry it out' and 'controlled crying' is NOT recommended!  (Read 26557 times)

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First, let me explain some of the research which is available NOW to people that was not available many years ago. Neuroscientists now know that what children experience is far more important that we ever dreamed possible. Given that when a baby is born only 15% of their brains are connected. The very basic brain stem connections are there that allow survival but the remaining 85% are largely formed in the first three years and they're triggered by the child's experience. Very basically, neuroscience has proved that a parent's role is absolutely crucial in determining their child's future. A child that receives constant love and nuturing and is exposed to positive experiences will have a brain wired for positive outcomes. When a mother/father cradles their baby, sings to it and cuddles it, they are building those vital connections in their baby's brain that wil later enable it to form healthy relationships. Show your child warmth and affection and exposing it to positive sensations so it wil grow into a happy, healthy, contributing adult. It's the same as people believing that you can spoil a baby if you pick it up when it cries. Neuroscientists now understand that you cannot spoil a baby. Their brains simply aren't geared to manipulate in that way. If you think about it... if people spend this time nurturing your child (particularly between the very important years of 0-3 when the rest of their brain connections are forming) and produce a happy, well-adjusted adult... imagine the type of societies everyone could live in if people adopt this fundamental approach.

Further to this... to give you some information as to why the the approaches of 'cry it out' and 'controlled crying' are not appropriate or even wise to use on babies of any ages... I have gathered some research to give you some rationale behind this.

The intention of this information is to allow people to gain knowledge from all perspectives and areas of practice so they can be further informed and make choices according to what they feel they need to do, based on knowledge and their philosophies rather than ‘shoulds’.  The information does not take away each and every mothers maternal instincts (fathers included) and if for example a mum or dad are having huge difficulty with getting their baby to sleep then they need to do whatever it takes for them rather than risk expressing their frustrations on themselves and the baby where everyone are left the 'losers'. However, having said that, there are certain ‘principles’, which can give infants positive outcomes and allow trust and security to be established. These principles, when put into practice, are essentially common sense, however the information as to the ‘why’ it is best for baby is not readily available and therefore I will endeavor to explain in the following essay.

When we are talking about specific infant disorders, there is a large a large spectrum of disorders associated with attachment and they don't all fall into the category regarding the children/babies in orphanages. What I am wanting to highlight is the need to respond to a baby’s cry rather than apply practices such as leaving a baby to ‘cry it out’ (CIO) or ‘controlled crying’ (CC).
Firstly, cultural perceptions of how infants should sleep determine how sleep is studied. The results of these studies serve as the model and the foundation for issues involving infant sleep. Therefore, when scientists begin with a model that is convenient for parents in our culture, sleep research is based on a false model that is not true to an infant's needs. People commonly associate picking up a baby when he/she is crying as ‘spoiling’ or teaching a baby to cry to be picked up.  Their brains are simply not wired for them to behave in this way. Some people even discuss and align this practice with examples of baby lab rat's and their response to positive reinforcement, but human infants are different from other mammals. They only have 25% of their brain volume at birth (the closest primate, the chimpanzee, has 45%). This demonstrates the immaturity of the infant's central nervous system and the fact that over the next three years, their brain is being wired.

Infants learn about the world through how their environment (caregivers, parents, siblings etc) respond to them. This includes sleep. According to a clinical psychologist in this area, they learn how to 'self-soothe', through being soothed! Not through exhaustion. Some people think that only orphanage children shut down through the lack of contact etc. This is not so. This clinical psychologist has just recently put a 6 month old into a foster home as the baby could no longer cry at all. The baby was fed, clothed, given warmth, but basically everyone ignored her cries! The baby shut down. At nine months, the baby had to be re taught to lift her arms when she wanted to be picked up!

So often mum's and dad's are told CIO, or CC really works. It works because the baby stop's crying! But what has worked? Has the baby really learned to comfort himself; or has he only learned that he might as well give up, that he will not be responded to. Is this a good thing?

Dr Jay Gordon believes that the earlier a baby gets a "non-response" from parents, the more likely he is to close down at least a little! She also believes that (to take an extreme example) babies who are cuddled or nursed all night long WILL learn to self-soothe and become independent. To say otherwise she believes is simply NOT true but serves to sell books and perpetuate the myths within our culture.

In the 1970's Dr. T. Berry Brazelton studied newborns to see whether they could feel hopeless or depressed. In a heartrending series of videotaped sessions, each baby can be seen crying to elicit a response from it's mother and, failing to do so, working even harder. After a number of minutes of making all kinds of faces and trying to make eye contact, each baby finally reaches its level of tolerance and begins to look away from the mother, finding it too difficult to continue making an effort with no response. The baby eventually turns its face away from its mother's face. Then it turns toward the mother again and tries to rouse a response. Each time it turns away for longer and longer periods. Finally, each baby slumps down, drops its head and shows all the signs of hopelessness.

According to Linda Palmer in "The Chemistry of Attachment", the ingrained neural and hormonal interactions provided for parent and child to assist them in this process are among the most powerful in nature. Once born, baby's hormonal control systems and brain synapses begin to permanently organize according to the human interactions she experiences. Unneeded brain receptors and neural pathways are disposed of, while those appropriate to the given environment are enhanced (part of the development of the brain in the first 3 years).

Persistent regular body contact and other nurturing acts by parents produce a constant, elevated level of oxytocin in the infant, which in turn provides a valuable reduction in the infant's stress-hormone responses. Multiple psychology studies have demonstrated that, depending on the practices of the parents, the resulting high or low level of oxytocin will control the permanent organisation of the stress-handling portion of the baby's brain-promoting lasting "securely attached" or "insecure" characteristics in the adolescent and adult. Such "insecure" characteristics include anti-social behaviour, aggression, difficulty forming lasting bonds with a mate, mental illness and poor handling of stress.

Newborns are much more sensitive to pheromones than adults. Unable to respond to verbal or many other cues, they apparently depend on this primitive sense that controls much of the behaviour of lower animals. Baby's earliest, most primitive experiences are then linked to higher abilities such as facial and emotional recognition. Through these, a baby most likely learns how to perceive the level of stress in the caretakers around her, such as when the mother is experiencing fear or joy. Part of an infant's distress over separation may be caused by the lost parental cues about the safety of her environment. The other basic sensation an infant responds to well is touch, and coincidentally, body odours and pheromones can only be sensed when people are physically near each other!

It is also not helpful to say, well this person did CIO at 3 months and they are OK. To look at an overview of sociological events, crime rates are rising, drug addictions are rising etc. This cannot obviously be associated solely to infant sleep, but the basics start at home. According to Dr. Servan-Schreiber's, he sees the consequences of such parent'centred advice on the children who have become adults and seek treatment for a variety of psychiatric conditions, most commonly depression, anxiety or difficulty in establishing intimate relationships. According to Dr. Servan-Schreiber, sensitive children who are not responded to learn that their need for warmth and reassurance is a character flaw; that parents are cold, distant figures; that fear and loneliness are the expected currency of existence. They learn that the important figures in one's emotional world cannot be trusted to understand and respond with a caring attitude. Since their need is in-born and cannot be controlled, they often adjust by either withdrawing and removing themselves from their emotions (depressive tendencies as adults) or by learning later to soothe loneliness and pain, not with people, but with means that, to them, seem more reliable, such as alcohol or drugs. With regard to using a ‘response’ method such as picking a baby up to calm the baby, as discussed above, people associate it with spoiling. The 'spoiling' theory seems scientific and was popularized, beginning in the early part of the 20th century. They thought that if you rewarded crying by picking the baby up, he would cry more. It turns out that human behaviour is a little more complicated than this. Dr's Bell and Ainsworth studied two sets of parents and their children. Group A were attachment-parented babies. These babies were securely attached, the products of responsive parenting. Group B babies were parented in a more restrained way, with a set schedule and given a less intuitive and nurturing response to their cues. All these babies were tracked for at least a year. Group A turned out to be most independent.

Further to this, "shutdown syndrome" can occur without referring to the extreme of orphanage babies. Only a baby can truly know it's level of need. Babies who are left to 'cry it out' or not carried as much for fear of spoiling can essentially become the highest-need adults. Babies who are 'trained' not to express their needs may appear to be docile, compliant, or "good" babies. Yet these babies may be just shutting down the expression of their needs, or they may become children who don't ever speak up to get their needs heard.

As discussed, research on early childhood experiences consistently shows that children who have enjoyed the most loving care in infancy become the most secure and loving adults, while those babies who have been forced into submissive behaviour (i.e. left to cry etc) build up feelings of resentment and anger that may well be expressed later in harmful ways.

So, a question, which is commonly, asked, what is an alternative? As mentioned above, given the research, physiological and psychological needs of a baby, there needs to be certain principles, which need to be followed. So you could try the pat/shhh method, if that does not work, you could pull up a chair and sit beside your baby with a hand on the baby, to maintain constant reassurance, particularly before object permanence (6-8 months) has occurred. I think to under estimate object permanence and developmental issues is a huge mistake as like I said before, evidence and research indicates that babies learn about the world through how we respond to them. They learn to self-soothe by being shown how to soothe, not by just leaving them to it (then they are just becoming compliant). If your baby get's over stimulated with pat/shhing etc, then sit there with a hand only and quietly sing or just be quiet with your physical presence. If you find it too hard then get a friend to take turns with you and sit with the baby. The basic priniciple is to NOT leave the baby alone as psychologically the baby learns the response. Obviously if you are lucky and you have a baby who is happy to go off to sleep without needing you there the whole time... great, but babies are simply wanting their needs to be met and they are communicating with us the only way they know how. At least with using a ‘response’ method or the pat/shhh method, the baby knows you are there responding to their needs.

Just for reassurance, there has been significant research on the number of awakenings per night as being a function of age. Following a decline in the number of interruptions from 3 to 6 mths, an increase in night wakings at age 9 months was recorded. The increase in night wakings towards the end of the first year coincides with significant socio-emotional advances, which characterize this developmental stage. At 12 months of age 55% if babies were night waking!

As you all probably know I am personally against any form of sleep training where they suggest to leave your baby to cry alone! It does not fit with my personal philosophy from what I would feel... but also because some of the research I have read. My main point in giving you this research is so that you can make some of your own decisions in an informed way. You can also go and research further for your own personal reassurance.

The research I have described is what I would suggest as being the optimum position and if you are physically able to to do this then fantastic! It is obviously also Tracy's philosophy to not leave a baby crying alone (different to fussing) as it breaks trust! BUT... for those of you who have done CIO (which is NOT advised before 6-8 mths.... or object permanence has begun... and I don't advise it anyway) or CC then I DON'T want you to feel bad about this as if you provide a loving, nurturing and responsive environment then you are doing a great job (no doubt there are people out there who were left to cry and are well-adjusted adults)!!! Most damage is done if things happen over a sustained period of time... day after day etc. However... what I am suggesting is that it might be 'best practice' to not leave a baby to cry alone so you don't break trust etc.

I will try and post some information on th baby's brain in the first three years (in this forum) for those who are interested. Some of you may have already read it... but for those who haven't and are interested then it is interesting and informative reading.
« Last Edit: July 05, 2012, 04:13:49 am by Canwi »


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Additional print references:

1. Bonding Matters, The Chemistry of Attachment, by Linda F. Palmer, DC
Baby Matters: What Your Doctor May Not Tell You About Caring for Your Baby.

2. The Attachment Cycle, by Barbara Nicholson

3. Susan Johnson, Ed.D, writes on this subject in the March/April 1994 issue of Psychology Today

4. Sadler S.  Sleep: what is normal at six months?
Prof Care Mother Child 1994 Aug-Sep;4(6):166-7.

5. Scher A.  A longitudinal study of night waking in the first year.
Child Care Health Dev 1991 Sep-Oct;17(5):295-302.

6. David Servan-Schreiber, M.D., Ph.D
Chief of Psychiatry, Shadyside Hospital, Clinical Assistant Professor of
Psychiatry, School of Medicine, University of Pittsburgh

7. Katherine Dettwyler, PhD, Department of Anthropology, Texas A and M University, Sleeping Through the Night

8. Good Nights : The Happy Parents' Guide to the Family Bed (and a Peaceful Night's Sleep!) by Maria Goodavage, Jay Gordon

9. Dr Sears The Baby Book: Everything You Need to Know About Your Baby from Birth to Age Two (Revised and Updated Edition) by James Sears, et al

10. Suzanne Arms' book Immaculate Deception II, page 186,

11. A Baby Cries: How Should Parents Respond?
by Jan Hunt, M.Sc.
« Last Edit: March 28, 2015, 15:14:13 pm by Erin M »

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Video on CIO/CC and its effect on brain development
« Reply #2 on: January 11, 2010, 18:58:22 pm »

Thank you to Fiver (Amanda) who originally posted the link!

Please note that this site may contain content that is from a different perspective than BW. We are not endorsing the site, but only want to provide access to the information presented in this video.
« Last Edit: January 14, 2010, 19:02:35 pm by Colin Mac's Mom »
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NPR Report - taken from here:

Children's Health:  New Advice for Sleep-Deprived Parents
All Things Considered, June 5, 2006

Research published Monday offers some of the first strong evidence-based advice on what approach is best at getting a baby to sleep through the night.

What some baby experts offer up in opinion and theory, psychologist Ian St. James-Roberts has put to the test. In his latest research, published Monday in the journal Pediatrics, he recruited three groups of moms-to-be.

The first group was made up of women in Europe and the United States who were aligned with a natural-mothering network: They held their newborns 15 to 16 hours per day, breast-fed on demand, and co-slept with their babies.

The second group, in London, was much more structured in its approach to baby care, setting up schedules for feeding and naps. Overall, the London parents had about 50 percent less contact with the babies than the "natural-network" moms.

The third group, made up of moms in Copenhagen, Denmark, split the difference between the two more extreme approaches. They carried their babies a lot during the day, but typically did not sleep with them.

The researchers compared the habits of all the babies throughout the first 12 weeks of life, and then again at 10 months.

St. James-Roberts says that neither of the extreme methods proved better than the other, although they produced different outcomes with different costs and benefits.

The advantage of the "natural-mothering" technique was that the babies fussed much less in the early weeks of life. They cried half as much as the London babies who had less physical contact. But the drawback is that the "natural-mothering" babies did not sleep well at night. And by 10 months, they were waking and crying much more than the London babies.

The Copenhagen babies, whose parents were taking the moderate approach, fared very well. As a group, they cried little after the first six weeks of life. By three months, their results were similar to the London babies -- they were settled well at night.

St James-Roberts says that some infants -- ones evenly distributed through all three groups -- suffered bouts of colicky crying. He says that this suggests there is a biological nature to colic that parents can't control.

"That's an important message for parents," St. James-Roberts says. "It's not their fault. Within the normal range of baby care, it doesn't make very much difference to these colicky crying bouts."

But when it comes to establishing solid sleep habits, St James-Roberts says that parents can make their mark. Six weeks seems to be the age at which there's a real advantage to putting a baby down and taking a middle ground between the "natural moms" and the "London moms."

"Move over to something that is setting more limits and introducing more routines and that will then help babies learn to sleep through the night from about 12 weeks onward," he advises.

If you would like to read the actual experiment, you can find it as published in Pediatrics magazine, here:
« Last Edit: March 28, 2015, 15:15:12 pm by Erin M »
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Re: Research on why 'cry it out' and 'controlled crying' is NOT recommended!
« Reply #4 on: February 04, 2015, 02:49:31 am »
Additional articles found online:
Psychology Today: "Parents Misled By Cry It Out Sleep Training Reports"

Australian Association for Infant Mental Health: Position Paper on Controlled Crying

Psychology Today: "Dangers of Crying it Out"

Medical News Today: "Comforting Babies Better Than Letting Them Cry"
« Last Edit: March 28, 2015, 15:21:55 pm by Erin M »

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