The Pediatrics Cry it Out Study
In an ideal world babies would never cry. We would all have tons of pre- and post-natal support and education. Nursing would be easy to figure out and nursing Moms would get free muffins at Starbucks. Our fabulous in-laws/parents would live next door and would be helping us with our children and making fresh apple pies. We would all have happy easy babies who nodded off to sleep in their cribs for 2 hour naps. And like the tooth fairy, baby fat fairies would come to our rooms while we slept and take it all far far away.
Alas this is not our world. In our world, some babies are really challenging. Their parents love them desperately and read every baby book in publication trying to figure out how to keep their fussy baby from crying, how to help their non-sleeper get some restorative sleep, and shuffling bleary-eyed through the first months or years of parenthood.
Sometimes these exhausted families turn to cry it out after all other options have been exhausted. They may even look on the Internet for advice or support about their situation. Which is a huge mistake because the Internet is filled with articles suggesting that anybody who uses sleep training is a terrible parent who is permanently damaging their children. That as miserable as the whole exhausted family is, chronic sleep deprivation for years would be far preferable to a few nights of crying. And that failing to agree with that perspective makes you a (insert: bad parent, anti-attachment parent, unloving, selfish, etc.)
Well the American Academy of Pediatrics has just published a study that I hope will go a long way towards dampening the yelling/judging about CIO and hopefully enable parents, under appropriate circumstances, to consider sleep training as a potential alternative to long-term severe sleep deprivation.
Pediatrics 5-Year Study on CIO
This study is the first long term study on sleep training. Parents of 8 month old babies who were struggling with sleep were split into two groups. The first group was told, “Good luck!” and sent on their merry way (OK I’m paraphrasing). The second group was given an individual sleep plan from a trained nurse that included either check-and-console/Ferberizing or what they call “camping out” (baby cries but parent hangs out in the room for increasingly shorter periods of time while this is going on). Then they compared the two groups (detailed parental surveys and cortisol stress tests) at 10 months, 12 months, 2 years, and 6 years.
Numerous studies have shown short-term benefits from sleep training a la improved sleep, greater parental health/well being, lower maternal depression, improved parent-child relationship, etc. This study focused on long-term outcomes, lasting 5 years, and came to this conclusion:
Behavioral sleep techniques did not cause long-lasting harms or beneﬁts to child, child-parent, or maternal outcomes.
What they found was that by age 6, kids who did vs. didn’t do CIO were both doing just fine. Will this study help quiet the “you are an awful parent!” anti-CIO judgment on the internet? Judging from the early comments on articles, probably not.
In fact people are already up in arms about the “did not cause lasting benefit” statement from the quote above. Why let your child cry when, by age 6, it won’t make any difference?
I’ll tell you why. Because yes – by 6 years of age most kids HAVE figured out how to sleep without their Mom’s boob in their mouth all night. Because they’re SIX. So if the idea that your child will have sorted out these sleep issues by the time they are entering 2nd grade is evidence that you shouldn’t let your non-sleeping 1 YO cry then you are made of sterner stuff than I am. Because there are a lot of sleepless nights to be had between now and 2nd grade.