Wednesday, July 12, 2017

My Baby Needs to Cry

Ever since I've been a mother, I've had a difficult time accepting the idea that some babies need to cry themselves to sleep. Couldn't you rock them? Nurse them? Hold them? Sleep with them? Swaddle them? So many options! Surely there must be something the parents are missing.

Then I had a baby to needs to cry himself to sleep. For nearly every nap and bedtime.
When my son was first born, he was a great sleeper. He slept in the bed with us, which his sister would never do. Sometimes he preferred the pack and play, but usually, he wanted to snuggle, and I was okay with that as long as we were both getting adequate sleep.

Then he was a little older and the stresses of sleep began. He started crying whenever he went down. Nothing we did made any difference. I would nurse him to sleep, rock him to sleep, swaddle... nothing was preventing or stopping the crying. Instead, it would just get worse and worse until he would fall asleep out of pure exhaustion only to wake up an hour later and start the process over. Both of us were exhausted and frustrated.

Then it occurred to me - maybe he needed to cry himself to sleep.

I had heard of this phenomenon from other parents of highly social and sensitive children - children who needed to cry to relieve stress. This is a well documented and researched idea in adults, but you rarely hear of it in babies and children. This is likely because it feels wrong - especially to attachment parenters - to let a baby cry. We are frequently told the consequences of letting a baby cry - everything from creating distrust to causing a deaf ear in parents to decreasing attempts from the child to get attention for his or her needs.

Aware of these potential outcomes, I went with my usual standby in parenting - trying to understand what my baby was telling me and letting my instincts go from there.

What followed was both a relief and is still a daily agony. I discovered that my baby truly needs to cry himself to sleep.

So far, he has treated us with the same trust and love we had seen before. We certainly haven't gotten used to the crying and are incapable of tuning it out - though sometimes we'll find a distracting activity to do while his wind-down is going on. We have also noticed that his crying when he needs something sounds completely different than his crying before sleep. We always respond to him, and he knows we will come. Although some might call this a "cry-it-out" method, I have often thought if it truly were that way, he would have stopped his pre-sleep crying a long time ago.

I don't think the cry-it-out method is a healthy practice, and I don't advocate it. I didn't do it with my first, who needed lots of snuggles to sleep when she was a baby, and I don't do it with my son, even though it might sound like I am. I let my son tell me what he needed, and I let him have that, even though it feels wrong on some levels. I know by how cheerful he is the rest of the time that he isn't being warped by this experience any more than my daughter was by the hours of snuggling she let me know she needed at that age. If my son had wanted that, we would have given him that; however, he isn't crying because he needs us. He's needs us to let him cry.

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