Is it okay to let a baby “cry it out?”

CHICOPEE, Mass. (Mass Appeal) – The cry of a baby has a powerful effect on its parents, which is why allowing a baby to “cry it out” at night can be incredibly difficult. Beth Grams Haxby is a Sleep & Parenting Consultant and she joined us to shed some light on the topic.

What this phrase means to most parents today is the following scenario:

Closing a bedroom door, leaving a baby in a dark room to cry themselves to sleep.  Perhaps even to cry all night.

Understandably this feels wrong to most parents. The cry of a baby has a powerful, physiological effect on its parents –
and rightly so, that cry is evolutionarily important for a baby’s survival.

Why? New babies need continual care from their parents.

Why do babies cry?
For a new baby, hunger or some physical discomfort are the primary reasons.
Babies, born with immature nervous systems, need to be held closely to be soothed –
basically recreating the environment they had in the womb.

So parents of new babies survive a world of sleep deprivation to care for their infants – but there inevitably comes a time when this scenario is no longer feasible.
Parents may need to return to work or they simply can no longer healthily manage on next to no sleep.
They need their baby to extend her sleep periods at night – to waken less frequently.

Waking during the night is natural – what all of us need to learn to sustain sleep all night is to go back to sleep at those arousals.
Most babies need help learning this.  And there may be some crying as they learn this new skill.

This crying is expressive of their struggle to learn.
Just like a baby needed to learn to suck at her mother’s breast or drink from a bottle.
Just like she had to learn to have food put in her mouth with a spoon.
Babies cry when their diapers are changed, when having a bath, or going into a car seat.

Babies cry when they are learning something new or being encouraged by their parents to learn something.
Learning to go to sleep on one’s own or stay asleep for longer periods at night may not be easy.
They may need their parents’ help and encouragement.

I ask parents to imagine their child learning to ride a bike.
They inevitably will fall and get some scrapes or bruises.
And when that happens, parents don’t usually say:
“Oh, honey, I don’t want you to be frustrated or feel bad, so let’s not have you learn to ride a bike.”

Asking children and babies to learn to sleep is something parents for some reason resist.
It is one of the first tasks that parents need to ask them to learn.  Parents need this; children need this; families need this!

In my practice, I have parents stay with their little ones, encouraging them – telling them:
“I know, I know this is hard.  I’m here.  You can do this.”

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