As soon as you announce that you are expecting a baby, the first thing you’re bound to be warned about is your lack of sleep in the first year. Your baby, apparently, just won’t seem to keep quiet. An endless deluge of crying is obviously overwhelming, but considering that the baby does not have any other means of communication, it should come as no surprise.
There are a lot of pieces of folk wisdom which preach the technique of “crying it out.” It is a way of getting a baby to stop crying by allowing it to tire itself out. While it might seem cruel, to let a baby cry (even watching a baby cry without doing anything seems harsh!), but generations of parents have attested to this method.
However, new studies show that there is no decrease in cortisol levels (cortisol is a stress hormone) in babies who cry themselves to sleep. Hence, they are likely to be just as stressed when left alone than if they’re comforted. Looking at babies who have intervening parents, there seems to be a difference in cortisol levels in specific cases. In fact, some scientists are of the opinion that it is downright dangerous to leave a crying baby alone.
Crying-it-out is supposed to cause so much stress that parts of the brain can rearrange themselves. Chronic or toxic stress is bad for the brain and can lead to long-term consequences. It is important to note the keyword chronic here – a couple of nights of weeping in an otherwise happy and regular sleep pattern doesn’t lead to a chronic condition. A baby that is stressed, or is exposed to the stress hormone in their mother’s womb, can grow up to develop depression. Letting a baby cry it out is a form of abuse, much akin to physical or sexual abuse. Studies also show that babies who cry for a longer duration of time tend to have lower IQs than their counterparts.
There is something that is called “attachment” in child-rearing and paediatric circles. This term can be easily misunderstood, leading to the confusion of whether to sleep train your baby or not. It is the relationship that the child shares with each of his parents as they develop in the first year. A baby who shares a strong attachment with a parent, say, his mother, can be confident of her coming to his aid when needed, as she has been predictably there in the past. A mother who doesn’t have a regularity of response isn’t likely to have a child with a great attachment to her. The former kind of children grow up to have strong bonds and secure relationships while the latter tend to suffer socially, struggle with confidence, might be emotionally unstable, and a whole host of other issues.
Despite the evidence presented here, several studies also show that sleep training causes no harm and is, hence, recommended for all parents. The line is drawn at six months, as until this age, babies do not have object permanence. They are not sure if their parents are still around when they are not visible. There’s evidence against this process taking months on end, with many scientists saying that a mere three days is sufficient to get a baby sleep trained.
At the end of the day, it comes down to parents on knowing what is best for their children. While some may choose to comfort their little ones when they hear them crying, some may choose to let them cry it out, and others might find a middle ground. Tell us what works for you, and to the older parents out there, anecdotes are definitely welcome.