For years I've heard about the night time child training method of Cry It Out. The method was first named in Richard Ferber's 1985 book Solve Your Child's Sleep Problems. This method is often referred to as “Ferberizing”.
This is the idea that falling asleep is just another skill like any other and that babies can master this skill with a little help from parents.
The idea is that if your child gets used to having you rock him to sleep, or he always falls asleep while nursing, he won't learn to fall asleep on his own. When he wakes up during the night, as all children and adults do as part of the natural sleep cycle, he'll become alarmed and cry for you instead of being able to go back to sleep.
By contrast, if your baby learns to soothe himself to sleep at bedtime, he can use the same skill when he wakes up at night or during a nap. Crying isn't the goal of this sleep training method, but advocates say it's often an inevitable side effect as your baby adjusts to sleeping on his own. They say the short-term pain of a few tears is far outweighed by the long-term advantages: a child who goes to sleep easily and happily on his own, and parents who can count on a good night's rest.
I never thought anything of it until I became pregnant and after becoming bored with researching pregnancy symptoms and 'what to expect', I moved on to parenting tips. I was overwhelmed with the many different parenting styles out there. One thing that caught my eye was the great debate over this Cry It Out method, often called CIO. I began reading about a human's natural sleep cycle. I learned that it is normal to wake often during the night even into adult hood. I know I often wake several times in the night. Then I started thinking about what I was reading. What is CIO doing to children? Research has shown that infants who are routinely separated from parents in a stressful way have abnormally high levels of the stress hormone cortisol, as well as lower growth hormone levels. These imbalances inhibit the development of nerve tissue in the brain, suppress growth, and depress the immune system.
But why were they stressed? Imagine being brand new to the world, only having been alive for a few months. You wake to total darkness that is not warm and comforting like your mother's womb. How would you feel? Scared. Hungry. Confused. Take your pick.
The logical thing to do for such a young mind is to cry, your only known means of communication. --- And then no one comes. Or mom comes in and rubs your back for a minute or two, and then walks away, leaving you alone in the dark again.
I could assume that infants understand that crying during the day will get mom, dad or someone they trust to come scoop them up, cuddle them and feed them. I could also assume that they understand that when they cry at night they are being ignored. They don't understand why they are not getting what they need, especially when they are alone in the dark, arguably a scary place for anyone.
Why do I assume they understand this? Because they cry. Crying is their only means of communication and they use it! They don't cry to manipulate and get what they want. They cry to tell you they need something. They don't understand time. They aren't thinking “Oh it's 3:00 am! Time to bother my parents!” As Dr. William Sears, a leading pediatrician says, “an infant who cries is saying, 'I need something; something is not right here. Please make it right."
I was overwhelmed with sadness whenever I read in pregnancy and parenting forums and from friends and family that they were using CIO, and the “progress” they have made. I knew I could never ignore my crying baby and made a promise to respond to every cry my son makes, no matter how exhausted I am, because after all, I am not his mother when it's convenient for me.
My feelings about this was proven during my ninth month of pregnancy. I was 36 weeks along and slipped on a puddle of water in the kitchen, fell and dislocated my left knee cap (for the third time in my life). Instantly I knew this time was different. My knee cap did not pop back into place immediately on it's own like the last two times. It stayed out to the side and I laid on the floor screaming in a pain I've never experienced before. I halfheartedly tried pushing it back into place between waves of hot flashes, nausea and pain while my husband called for an ambulance. Once paramedics arrived, they started an I.V., giving me a very small amount of pain medication due to my pregnancy and wiggled me onto the back board. In the E.R., my knee was put back in place and wrapped in an ace bandage. After 4 hours of fetal monitoring to make sure my son was not injured in my fall, I was discharged.
Immediately I noticed that I was unable to put any weight on my left leg. With my previous knee injuries, I was able to walk with the help of an immobilizing brace. This time, I was not. During my ambulance ride, my husband had called my mom and told her what had happened. She came all the way from Texas to Colorado the next day to help out.
I live in a tri-level home. The only bathrooms and bedrooms are on the third level so that's where I was confined. I was unable to go up and down stairs without help. I could not walk. I was given a walker and a wheelchair to use at home.
I spent my days laying in bed chatting with my mom and watching tv. Whenever I had to use the restroom, her or my husband would lift my left leg and slowly turn it and lower it to the ground. Then they would place the walker in front of me so I could lean on it while maneuvering my right foot towards my wheelchair while dragging my left foot. I was wheeled down the hall to the bathroom where I used the walker in the same manner to get to the toilet. After lowering myself down, they lifted my foot and propped it up on a box. Then I was given my privacy to do my business. I was then taken back to my bed. Bathroom breaks were the only times I left the bed except for the weekly OB appointments which took both of them to get me down stairs and into the car.
In the middle of the nights when I had to use the restroom, I would wake up my husband, or call to my mom from the other room on my husbands nights to work to come help me. I relied on them for everything. They brought me my food and water, they both helped me onto the shower stool, undressed me and helped me shower. They brought me ice packs for my swollen knee. They asked friends and family to pray for me to get better before I gave birth. Everything seemed so much more difficult since I was so big.
One night I was sitting up in bed, in the dark while my husband slept next to me. I was angry with what had happened. Why did it have to happen now? Weeks before my first baby was due. I felt sorry for myself and began to cry. I thought about how helpless I was and that I was so grateful for my husband and mom because I had no idea what I would do if I didn't have their help. I couldn't do anything on my own. Then it hit me. This is what babies feel like. They are completely helpless. They need someone to change them, feed them and take them places. They need to know that they are important.
I didn't just get attention and love during the day. If I needed to go to the bathroom or have my water bottle filled in the middle of the night, all I had to do was ask for help and I got it. They did not leave me to cry it out and wait until morning. They were both physically tired every day from lifting my leg, pushing me around in the wheelchair and going up and down stairs bringing me things I need but they did not hesitate to help me whenever I needed it.
I know now, more that ever, that I will never leave my son alone when he needs me because I know what it's like to be as helpless as an infant alone in the dark.