Monday, January 31, 2011

Use of Sleep Methods - An Intensely Personal Choice

Over the last few weeks I have been posting my research on controlled crying.  Unsurprisingly, having posted on a topic that is so controversial in a public forum, I have had a number of mums have a chat to me about what I have written.  These have all been mums who have used some method of crying to assist their baby to sleep, and have found it has helped them and in some cases saved their sanity.

It was not my intention to hurt anyone, but I can see why reading the posts would have been hurtful if you have already done cc, and I apologise for stressing or upsetting anyone who read them.  The whole point of this blog is to promote factual information and also to help new parents feel ok, instead of relentlessly guilty and worried, and I realise that for a whole lot of mums, I just contributed to that guilt and/or worry.

Please know that the sleep research posts were not written to preach, or to make mums who have done cc feel guilty, but for the benefit of mums who are trying to make the decision about whether to do cc.  I was personally frustrated that I could not find a free, in-depth summary of the current state of research on the topic, and I thought there might be others feeling the same way.  I would ask for the same information if I was giving my child any kind of treatment or procedure.  I would want to know the success rate and risks.  Even if there were risks I might make the decision to proceed (as I did when I got an epidural, for example), but the important thing for me is that it is an informed decision that I am confident is best for me and my family in all the circumstances.

But if I hurt or offended you, then I feel I owe it to you to say something more about how the risks of controlled crying must be viewed in perspective.

No one makes the decision to let their baby cry to sleep in a vacuum, and reading my posts so far I think it would be easy to conclude that I think of it that way.  But that is not the case.  I know that there are a whole lot of competing factors, particularly the effect the sleep deprivation has on mum and her ability to function, and the time active settling takes away from doing other activities - particularly true, I think, for mums with more than one child.

I have not really fairly presented this aspect of the argument.

While I have done my best to summarise scientific studies fairly, I have looked solely at the effect crying methods have on a baby - I have not looked into studies on the effect that sleep deprivation and endless time settling has on mothers, their families, or their relationships.   I think gauging the state of my own relationship is more relevant than researching statistics on that topic, but the fact I haven't written about it suggests that it is unimportant.  Obviously, in real life, it is very, very important.

I didn't write the posts to preach at you and tell you what you should do.  I wrote them because for 3 months now my baby has slept very badly and for that time I have been trying to make a decision about what to do.  She has woken to feed 3-5 times a night for 3 months.  She has slept a 10 hour stretch once in her life.  I have not slept a 7 hour stretch (let alone a 10 hour stretch!) since some time early in my pregnancy.  I think once or twice since she's been born I've got 6 hours.  She has also been a catnapper up until very recently, so I haven't had much luck catching up on sleep during the day.

The decision is made additionally difficult for me because my husband is frustrated by the situation.  He is in favour of using crying methods, and finds it upsetting and frustrating that I continue to refuse to try them.  I am sure that at times I have been a right bitch because I get less sleep, and because endlessly putting the baby's needs before my own means that I have very little patience left to meet anyone else's needs, including his.  I know you might expect a man in this day and age to suck it up, but he is a human, not a robot, and strong relationships are not built on one person sucking it up all the time. He has agreed the decision is my call because I am the one who gets up to her at night, and I am the one who'd have to sit there in the house by myself and listen to her cry, but that doesn't mean he likes it.

Personally, I find listening to my baby cry extremely distressful.  When I said this to another mother who had used self-settling today, she was hurt that I would assume she did not find listening to her baby cry distressing.  I did not assume that, and I wasn't meaning to pass judgment on others with that statement, but rather to explain one of the reasons I make a choice to persist with non-crying methods.  What I was trying to say is that I am not trying to be a hero.  For me, the discomfort I feel from getting up to her at night is less than the discomfort I would have with letting her cry.  I find it excruciating to listen to her cry and do nothing.

I am not saying that leaving your baby to cry is an easy experience for anyone, but surely the main purpose of self-settling is to improve things.  I think many parents embark on self-settling at the desperate point where the distress of doing self-settling no longer seems as bad as the interrupted sleep.  I am not (yet) at that point.

Some might find that it is distressing for them but decide it is better for their family overall.   Once the distress of it is over, it's over - and they may then find everyone is happier and well-rested.  A number of mums have said to me it's the only way they have the energy to be a good parent in other respects, as well as a good partner to their significant other.  If that's the case for you, then that's clearly very important.  That's a good reason to choose to do crying.  

But for me, personally, I sincerely believe that relations with my husband would not be improved by doing controlled crying, even if it worked.  I would be doing it for him.  Not for me.  I would feel like I had betrayed something at the heart of my sense of self and the reason I become a parent.  I would be angry and resentful, guilty and adrift.  It would not bring us closer together.  It would drive a wedge between us.  

Instead, now that I have a better handle on this parenting business, have adjusted to less sleep and am getting enough to cope via co-sleeping, I am making an effort to go that extra mile to improve our relationship.  It helps that Bethany and I have settled into a comfortable relationship with each other.  Perhaps now because she's reaching an age where she gives back to me by interacting and giggling, I feel I have the energy to start thinking about other people again.

If you have let your baby cry or grizzle to sleep, or if you have let them cry it out, or done controlled crying, or self-settling, or whatever method by whatever name, then that is your business.  If you feel as close or closer to your baby as a result, that is wonderful.  If it was the best thing for your family, then you made a sensible choice.  You don't have to defend it to me.

I cannot say how I will feel about this in the future.  Perhaps my circumstances will change and I will have to reconsider my decision.  If there's one thing I've learned so far from being a parent, it's that it is foolish to pretend to know how you are going to parent in advance.  All you can do is equip yourself with the knowledge to make the right decision for you when you get there.

ADDED 7/2/11: We have ended up trying cc.  This is the third day.  How and why we got to this point you can read about here, and my discussion of how I have evaluated the risks and what I am doing to try and minimise them you can read about here.


  1. It's so hard to say until you're in the situation with the particular. With my oldest, I accidentally let her cry it out. She had been crying for hours and I had tried to soothe her every way I knew how. When I felt myself start to get angry, I put in her crib so I could calm down. When I came back she was asleep. It was that easy. But with my second child, that didn't work. Nothing worked but time and a consistent bedtime routine. Though to this day he's still my worst sleeper. With the 3rd, he just learned to sleep - probably because he had no other choice.

  2. Excellent post. I have the exact same dilemmas. It is distressing to hear the baby cry for anyone. I don't work and my husband is fairly supportive usually so I decided its easier to keep feeding baby to sleep and hope she grows out of it when she is older. It is hard getting up to her but I personally don't have the energy to deal with control crying at the moment because I'm so tired I need all the sleep I can get. My husband does feel left out and wants to try CC every now and then. The problem is it will take weeks of no sleep to establish it.A few weeks ago we tried self settling (going back in to check on her but not feed to sleep) because learning to put herself to sleep is a life skill but bub was getting herself all worked up and would not calm down after even for a feed. So we've given up til the peak of separation anxiety passes and she can walk properly so isn't sore from bumps and bruises she has at the moment from frequent falling.

  3. Any change in environment is likely to have a distressing effect – this is true for adults and children alike. As you know we needed to get Izzy out of the swaddle (this seems to be a common one, as it moving to a cot). Teaching her to self settle at this time seemed like a logical tool. It was...for us.

    I absolutely know that you didn’t intended to judge. Don’t feel guilty (new parent :))

    None of us can judge each other, or our decisions, parenting style or intimate relationships for that matter. We all do what we feel is right at the time and live with our mistakes or congratulate ourselves on our insight. I very much enjoy your blog and find the research you do and the way you write excellent.

  4. Controlled crying/teaching to sleep is certainly a parent's personal choice, as is breadsfeeding, formula feeding co- sleeping etc etc. As a new mummy myself, there is so much information out there for and against many methods/strategies for raising our nearest and dearest...let alone sleeping strategies! Trusting your instincts, knowing your own child and what may/may not work for them,researching ideas, and listening to advice is all important. But I agree with Alice and yourself when you say it is the parents choice. I think as women we can be very hard on each other and other's parenting decisions. We talk behind each others backs and say 'oh I wouldn't do that... I can't beleive they did that.. (myself included at times!) but we really should be supporting each other and rallying around patting each other on the back saying "good work mummy, starting with the BIRTH"!! lol . As a social worker I have seen the effects of neglect, abuse, drugs, dis-interest, and lack of love and care of children. These are the parents/kids we should worry about and support. At the end of the day we know we all love our babies to death, we would do ANYTHING for them. We do not want to do anything that might jeopodise their development or our relationship with them. They are our lives. So lets give each other a break. I love your blog and I think you have made your point very clear. Good on you, and congratulations on mummyhood and for being such a caring loving mum!

  5. please when you find a super mum with all the answers let me no LOL, your post was based on facts not opinions i was not offended at all =) believe me when i say i have used/tried everything,cc, patting,singing, feed to sleep, rocking them in the cradle/pram/pouch/car/rocker chair/baby swing anything that moved, laying in the cot laying in the bed , had different baby sleep nurses come and show me how to put my baby to sleep, wrapped un wrapped, boob in and out, dummy in and out, bottle in and out...arghhh the painful memories, and it seemed with whatever i tried they would cry anyways and each child was different eldest co slept until he was 2 1/2 my ( easy when there is only one) middle one preferred to fall asleep on the floor instead of the cot, num 3 fell asleep on the boob until he was 9 months , than we did cc, than moved and he got used to co sleeping so done cc again then he learnt to climb out of the cot so know we do mummy will sit at the and of the bed and if you talk i say SHHH go to sleep lol ..but it just shows you that there are certainly no right or wrong answers, do whatever works for the induvidual, you are the ones that have to get up to them so if it works for your family do it,
    i now have very well adjusted 2,5 and 6 yo's that all go and jump into bed as soon i say bed time!!!
    the only trick that works is consistency, whatever method you pick stick to it,and it should work it self out,no body wants to listen to there baby cry and it does make most mums unsettled, but you cant have your cake and eat it too, so this is when you weigh up the pro's and con's there is no point putting yourself through it if you feel u will back out of it a coupe of days into it as they will just go back to i will cry mummy will come get me, i never did CC until my babies were a bit older so i always thought of the crying ( becuase i knew there was nothing physically wrong with them they had been fed bathed etc) as more of a protest ( i demand to be held to go to sleep) so it didnt really tug the heart strings as much but anywho i personally thought you did a great blog on CC

  6. I started using the routines in Save our Sleep when my son was 5 weeks old, and now at 8 months he is a perfect Tizzie baby who sleeps 2 hours in the morning, two hours in the afternoon and at least 12 hours at night. So I wouldn't be offended :) LOL I will say that overall I found the advice in SOS to be very helpful, but there were some aspects that I wasn't comfortable with, and so I modified them to suit my own beliefs. I did several things on her "Do not do" list and I still have a good sleeper. (NOW- please be assured it wasn't always that way LOL) But interestingly, putting him on a routine made him cry LESS and it was far easier to get out and about with him without worrying about having a screaming baby. Having a "strict" routine doesn't necessarily mean being stuck at home all the time. By the way, it is common belief that Tizzie Hall has no qualifications and no children of her own, but she actually has both :) Every mother and every baby is different so the best approach is the one that works.

  7. By the way, I would love it if you would research and do a blog about keeping babies in rear facing car seats until at least one year of age :)

  8. TripleZMum & Aussiebummummy - I think it's interesting that you did such different approaches with each child, and shows how difficult and personal the decision is.

    Alice - thanks. I think Tiny Tigers does a pretty good job of hanging together and being supportive even though we come from such different backgrounds and have a range of parenting styles! It's not easy. These topics are so emotional!

    Karissa - I have been wondering about car seats myself. It's on my list to look into.

  9. I'm not going to enter the debate, but just wanted to say that my 21 month old still wakes 3-6 times (next to me) a night for a feed; I have slept 8 hours straight only once since her birth and that was the one night I ever let her "cry it out". She was less than 2 months old. I woke up in a panic wondering if she had died and she woke up a in panic wondering if she had died. Not to mention my poor breasts which were hard as rocks with milk. I never did it again. I function just fine on max 4 hours sleep at a time - just a little slower at times but I'm alive and I'm healthy. If mothers weren't expected to act as though they didn't have babies making demands of them, the whole world would be a better place. There is nothing intrinsically wrong with a woman who is in a slightly altered state due to less sleep or shorter sleep periods from having a baby in her life.

    Good on you for listening to your heart. :)