Cry It Out: You read so much about it on the internet, you’d think it’s a thing.
Cry it Out IS a Thing. Sort of.
Every day, on internet forums, there will be dozens of discussions of “CIO”, as it’s referred to. Almost without exception, CIO is help up as a sinister element that lurks out there in the world. I’m almost tempted to read CIA.
Sometimes I wish I could send a group message to the tens of thousands of mothers (and fathers): STOP IT!
Need a SLEEP CONSULTANT?
But then I have to stop myself and think: Thousands of mothers on the internet refer to CIO, so whether I like it or not, Cry It Out exists. Sort of.
Cry It Out did exist. Once upon a time. 1894, to be exact, with the publication of “The Care and Feeding of Children” by Luther Emmett Holt. Here is what Holt had to say on the subject, in its entirety:
How is an infant to be managed that cries from temper, habit, or to be indulged?
It should simply be allowed to “cry it out.” This often requires an hour, and in extreme cases, two or three hours. A second struggle will seldom last more than ten or fifteen minutes, and a third will rarely be necessary. Such discipline is not to be carried out unless one is sure as to the cause of the habitual crying.
Note that Holt places the expression in quotation marks. This suggests to me that the phrase had some currency in the late 19th century. Perhaps CIO was the preferred method? But now read closely: Holt recommended CIO only in the case of an infant who already has a sleep problem that was the result of what we’d call today a bad “sleep association“. I’m speculating as to the meaning of “temper”.
Okay, so this is now the 21st century. Does any modern sleep expert recommend Cry It Out as a sleep training method? Again the answer is ‘No. Sort of.”
Meet Gina Ford
Gina Ford, the author of over 30 parenting books, is a Scottish-born former maternity nurse. In 1999, she published “The Contented Little Baby Book“. The major distinguishing feature of “CLB”, as it became known, was Ford’s recommendation of strict scheduling, down to chunks of five minutes. Despite scathing criticism, CLB has become a best seller. The closest Ford comes to recommending Cry It Out is her reference to something called “crying down”.
It’s a Scottish Thang
Prior to reading Ford, I was unaware of the expression crying down as a troubleshooting method. Perhaps it’s a Scottish phenomenon. I can’t be sure. Here’s what Ford has to say about “crying down”:
Crying down can be particularly helpful when feeding problems have been resolved and a baby or toddler has only mild sleep association problems or has difficulty falling asleep because he is over-tired or over-stimulated… Reassurance must be kept to a maximum of one to two minutes. Parents should then wait a further 10– 15 minutes before returning. For this technique to work it is essential that the baby is not picked up and that he is allowed to settle by himself in his cot… Provided a baby has been well fed and is ready to sleep, I believe he should be allowed to settle himself. [Crying down] works not only for over-tired babies but also for babies who fight sleep…
It is my belief that, in the long-term, allowing your baby to develop the wrong sleep associations and therefore denying him the sound night’s sleep he needs in order to develop both mentally and physically is a worse option than hearing him cry for a short while. Allowing your baby to learn to go to sleep unassisted is your aim, and it is important to remember that this will prevent much greater upset and more crying if waking in the night is due to your baby not knowing how to go back to sleep after having woken in light sleep (emphasis added).
I’ve quoted Ford at some length because I wanted to highlight three things. First, Ford’s similarities to Holt’s advice (already cited) emphasizing that crying to sleep might be necessary only for a baby with a bad sleep association or who was overstimulated (I regard “over-tiredness” and overstimulation as the same thing). Second, Ford emphasizes that neither a hungry baby, nor a baby who is not tired, should be put down to sleep. Finally, Ford places herself firmly in favor of good sleep associations, over most other considerations.
So is there really such a thing as “Cry It Out”?
Gina Ford tells us, correctly in my view, that crying down should not be necessary in the first place. Ford identifies the “need” crying down as bad sleep associations and allowing a baby to become overstimulated. She believes both could be avoided if the baby were put on a schedule from the get-go. Ford truly does not want your baby to cry to sleep. I don’t believe anyone want this, including Luther Emmett Holt.
In fact, if you read closely, Gina Ford is more of a “combination scheduler” than you might think at first blush. It’s true that she advocates a fairly strict schedule. But notice also that Ford insists that you make sure the baby is well fed. Notice also that she doesn’t recommend putting down a baby that isn’t tired!
Just as virtually all 21st century sleep experts, Gina Ford joins the consensus about baby sleep, if perhaps in slightly different form. Like Baby Wise, Ford might say: Provide structure, but follow the baby’s cues. Sears and Spock might say “Follow the baby’s cues, but provide structure”.
Either way we end up with a method that recognizes a broader consensus about all of human behavior. We are not just a bunch of genes (the “Nature” part of “Nature vs. Nurture”). But neither are we blank slates, requiring inscription by good parents (the “Nurture” part). We all are born with certain biological traits that are then molded and shaped by our environments. And for virtually all babies ever born, the first and most important “environmental factor” is mom.