I would love to write the authoritative post on children and sleep, but there are a few problems. First, I don’t think there is any one answer on getting children and babies to sleep. Second, no two authorities seem to agree anyway! And third, well, if anyone’s going to write that post, I doubt it’s going to be me, since my daughter mostly sleeps by herself (but not always), while my son thinks he’s a small mammal that sleeps draped over a branch at night…except the branch is my arm.
However, I would like to ponder the question I was asked by friend o’ the blog Beth (::waves::), who wanted to know about this blog post, which claims that letting babies “cry it out” causes brain damage. (I saw this post mentioned a few places, so I suspect it’s been making the rounds of the blogosphere.)
Well, after doing some research, I still don’t know if crying it out is damaging to babies, but this blog post certainly didn’t do anything to convince me. I searched PubMed (which catalogs the contents of medical journals and includes the journal Biological Psychiatry) and as far as I can tell, the DeBellis article doesn’t exist. If anyone can track down an abstract for it, I’d appreciate it, because I sure couldn’t find it.
And the second article? Concerns children who suffered abuse or neglect. Y’know, the kind of thing that gets parents arrested? I’m not the biggest fan of cry it out in the universe (see: boy still sleeping on my arm at almost 2 years of age) but I wouldn’t call it abuse or neglect on the level of, say, sexual abuse. It’s an interesting fact to know that neglected children had a 15-18% smaller corpus callosum, but I suspect Dr. Teicher would hesitate before extending that result to children like my bright and talented daughter, who did, in fact, cry it out at 6 months and learn to sleep by herself.
As I read my way around the Internet (Beth, I’ll be sending you the bill for my somewhat expensive time :D), I found a lot of opinion and not a lot of data, even when I looked at sites like the American Academy of Pediatrics.
If anyone has one of these books that claims to be backed up by research into baby’s brains, could you please copy out some of the references for me so I can look them up? ‘Cause I got nothin’.
I found studies that found more disturbed sleep for babies in bed-sharing, a description of the physiology of sleep in infants, lots of articles talking about how putting babies on their back cuts the risk of SIDS and how to educate parents about it, how maternal separation anxiety can contribute to babies waking, and so on and so forth, but nothing that seemed to address the question at hand. I admit it, I’m out of my depth!
But when has that ever stopped me from giving my opinion? ::glares at everyone who knows me:: Don’t answer that. In any case, I figure if everyone else and their mother can give their opinion without backing it up with data, so can I 😀
I strongly suspect that in this, as in everything, there is a middle ground where the truth lies. I think that some kids and parents can do cry it out with no harm done and for some kids and parents it’s bad all around. And a lot of points in between. I mean, kids are different. Some are clingy from the moment they’re born (looks at son) and some act like they’re ready to drive themselves to the mall at age 1 (looks at daughter). Some kids think that time alone in a crib with some toys is the greatest gift you could give them and some kids take one look at the crib and cry like you’re throwing them to the wolves.
So it seems to me to be clear that some kids are going to quickly learn that going to sleep by themselves is nice and relaxing and only call for mommy when there’s a problem and some kids are going to think they’ve been abandoned. And some mommies will be perfectly happy to suffer for a few days along with their kids and some simply can’t do it.
And d’you know what? I’m willing to bet that all of these kids will turn out just fine, as long as parents listen to their instincts and watch their kids’ reactions. Don’t force co-sleeping or sleeping alone if it seems to be really harming your kid or you. And don’t let your doctor, your sister, or your friend make you feel guilty for your choice. So there.