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Cry It Out Sleep Training Hurts Baby Brains

By Sierra Black |

2962863996_80e5bf5b0cYou’re not the only one whose brain hurts when your baby cries. Mounting evidence suggests that not responding to a baby’s cries can damage their developing brains. Most recently, parenting expert and author Penelope Leach has come down hard against the cry-it-out method of sleep training.

Sorry, sleep trainers. More and more experts are siding against you on this one.

I’m not, though. After six years of attachment parenting, I’m starting to think a good night’s sleep might be worth a little baby brain damage. I can count on my fingers the number of nights of uninterrupted sleep I’ve had since I was pregnant with my first daughter. Who will be six next month.

We started off as blissful, idealistic co-sleepers. Those first weeks of blissed out, milky mother-baby fugue state were fabulous. Things got more complicated after that. The baby sprouted teeth and learned to crawl. Suddenly our nights became a blurry, sleepless wrestling match.

By the time I was burned out enough to try something different, the kid could walk (a trick it only took her 7 months to learn). Clearly it was too late to put her down alone to cry. She’d just get up and come after me.

We took the long, hard slow road. We taught her to sleep on her dad’s side of the bed, then on a uton mattress with me on the floor. Then, like more hippie parents than would care to admit to it, we slowly snuck her bed out the door and down the hall to her own room.

The first time she slept on her own, in her own room, she slept for five or six hours without interruption. It was the first time in her life she’d slept for more than hour at a stretch. I cried with joy.

This child had sleep problems that I don’t think were caused or helped by cosleeping. Some kids just have a rough time with the sleep thing. At five, she sleeps beautifully every night in her own bed.

Her sister has been parented exactly the same way, and has always slept well, waking once or twice a night to pee and nurse or drink some water. Now that she’s almost three, her dad and I would like to be off the hook for the night wakings, but she’s getting healthy sleep.

I still encourage my friends to co-sleep, and I’d do it again myself. I think it’s better for the babies and helps new moms develop a great bond with their nursing infants. I’m not going to judge anyone else’s methods though.

I’m acutely aware that, in our house at least, it came at a cost. Ultimately, there are health consequences for me and my husband to weigh against our ideals as parents.

Nearly everyone has chosen sides in the Baby Sleep Wars . I feel like whatever works for you as a parent is what you should do.

Proponents of sleep training have a simple, powerful message: It works. It’s more likely to work if parents are consistent about it and feel good about doing it. In other words, if articles like this one aren’t rattling around your brain plaguing you with guilt while you’re listening to your little one cry in the next room.

Opponents of the practice deride it as cruel and unhealthy. Some even consider it abusive. Instead, they tend to favor gentle methods like baby-led weaning, co-sleeping and a more gradual process of teaching the new baby to sleep at night and play during the day.

While babies do typically stop crying and learn to fall asleep on their own, mounting scientific evidence suggests that being left to cry and getting no response from a caregiver causes an influx of stress chemicals to the brain. These chemicals can create a kind of toxic soup, which Leach and others have said can cause developmental problems and brain damage.

One plus side for those taking the road less slept upon: a truly sleepless night can boost a depressed new mom’s mood.

What do you think? Did your kids cry it out or co-sleep? Is there a better way to help babies sleep? I know this is an issue you have strong opinions on. Let’s here ‘em.

Photo: Sean McGee

More by Sierra Black:

Parents Working At Home Hurts Kids

Regret Your Baby’s Name?

Gay Teen Sent To Fake Prom

The End of Play

Wives Privilege Husbands Careers Over Their Own

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About Sierra Black


Sierra Black

Sierra Black lives, writes and raises her kids in the Boston area. She loves irreverence, hates housework and wants to be a writer and mom when she grows up. Read bio and latest posts → Read Sierra's latest posts →

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71 thoughts on “Cry It Out Sleep Training Hurts Baby Brains

  1. ChiLaura says:

    I’m sorry that I don’t have time right now to read the linked article, so I don’t know if it answers this question: Are these experts studying normal, healthy babies in loving homes who cry for, let’s say, 7 night maximum, and then following up? Our kids cried it out, none of them for more than 3 nights. I have trouble believing that such a short amount of time could possibly lead to, what, brain damage? This seems pretty incredible to me. My kids show no signs of brain damage, though we do refer to the middle one as “Crazy Moo.” He’s kind of nutty.

  2. patricia says:

    ChiLaura, those were exactly the questions the linked article doesn’t answer. There are no links to the “recent scientific tests” that Leach asserts indicate that crying it out leads to brain damage. Leach claims that the studies show that 30 minutes or more of crying that isn’t responded to can lead to brain damage. I’m skeptical- we humans are so incredibly resilient as a species. I find it hard to believe that babies can’t tolerate some crying, probably more than most parents would ever want their babies to have to. Repeated, prolonged crying, I can see, but 30 minutes a day for a few days hardly meets that criteria. She, of course, has a new book to promote.

    I HATE these idiot experts and their attempts to stir up trouble to sell books. There are many ways to help an entire family get good, regular sleep, and they don’t all involve the extremes of co-sleeping until the child is 8 or letting them scream for hours on end (note: both examples are hyperbole). I’m so sick of this entire debate.

  3. motope says:

    My daughter was a miserable sleeper — She was still getting up 2 or 3 times a night to breastfeed at 15 months (this is down from 6 feedings a night when she was 6-13 months) — I was also working a full-time job and pumping. I was barely human by the end. It was like trying to be a good parent while being tortured every night/all night long– I was frazzled, angry and bone-dead tired. Finally my husband was out of town for two weeks, and I was so tired, I started sleeping through the cries. It took about a week and a half of her suffering, but now she sleeps like an angel — sleeps a solid 10 hours a night. Next child is going through sleep training at 6 months. A baby deserves a functional, happy parent — think about the damage that anything less causes.

  4. Tracey says:

    We let ours cry it out two night and all was well after that. I find it hard to believe that a baby will be harmed long term if left to cry once or twice for more than thirty minutes in their entire first year. This is coming from someone who was pretty quick to pick the baby up too.

  5. Amanda says:

    What I don’t like about this article is that it makes it sound like there is no in between, just co-sleeping or crying it out. For a gentle independent sleep guide try Secrets of the Baby Whisperer by Tracy Hogg. It’s about knowing your children and using that to guide them to healthy sleep patterns.

  6. Nikol says:

    i agree with patricia…the human species is very resilient, so it is hard to believe that 30 mins of crying can cause brain damage. my own mother was a staunch practitioner of the cry it out method, and i’m pretty sure that i have not suffered any long term effects. with my baby, i used a gentler way, following (not completely) the “no cry sleep method”, and my daughter has been sleeping through the night since she was 8 months old. I think it also may have something to do with the fact that I stopped nursing her at 7 months. fuller tummy, longer sleep. we co-slept for the first 4 months and then she slept in her crib. it was a pretty easy transition for us…but it isn’t for everyone. all in all, to each his own, i always say. you do what works and as long as you are a loving, caring parent, use whatever method works for you and your family.

  7. Emily says:

    My child is too young to even consider CIO (3 months) so we won’t address this for a while – if we even need to. But right now – if I’m in the middle of something I can’t walk away from (ie: using the bathroom) and he wakes up howling, I can’t get there fast enough. His cries are heartbreaking and I can’t imagine letting him cry.

    We co-sleep (bedshare for the most part) and next month I’m going to start putting him down for naps in his bed in the nursery and when those are successful we’ll put him down for the beginning of the night in his bed and as his sleep naturally stretches out, he’ll naturally stay in his own bed.

    I don’t rule out CIO, but it will be a last resort. Chemical reactions aside, Husband and I are the closest thing to God our child knows – leaving him to cry feels like abandonment. (I say this as someone who recognizes her own abandonment issues and is likely projecting them.)

    I am not – and do not – judge families who take this approach with respect for their children and their family as a whole.

  8. motope says:

    I’m sure the 875 times kids bonk their head in childhood — fall out of the crib, fall off the monkey bars, get hit with the kick ball, trip — causes minute amounts of brain damage too. Yet, most of us get through it with no major consequences.

  9. Leach says in the article that she’s not going after parents, just providing them with science. Meanwhile, she provides no science. It’s true, the baby’s cries can be heartbreaking. Until you’re old and wind up having a third one. And you realize sleep needs are different in a house with other kids.
    We did CIO with our third and if that damaged his brain, well, it’s hardly noticeable.
    Admittedly, I do love a good CIO/co-sleeping smackdown. So don’t let me stop the discussion!

  10. Louise says:

    My third child is almost 5 months old, and whenever I look through these discussions I feel like we won the lottery as far as our kids’ sleeping habits (eating…is another story). We never co-slept (can’t imagine either my husband or myself would be able to sleep that way), and the kids always slept in a crib in their own room. They’ve always slept very, very well, and while the older two did each go through a phase where they needed a bit more rocking/comforting/etc. before going to sleep, we never really needed to think about letting them cry it out. It absolutely was not because of anything we did or didn’t do…it was just luck.

    That being said, while I almost physically cannot let my kids cry, I can’t judge folks that try sleep-training. Brain damage? I don’t know…but we can’t pretend that there aren’t real consequences of continual sleep deprivation for mom, dad, their relationship, your ability to parent your other kids, etc.

    The best parenting advice I ever got was from my sister: “You have to do what’s best for your family…but don’t forget that your family includes *you*.”

  11. Laure68 says:

    I can’t find the link now, but I remember reading an analysis of this book that stated she is making a huge leap. She looks at data for extremely neglected children, sees the effect on them and then extrapolates to apply it to CIO.

  12. GtothemfckinP says:

    I am a firm believer in NOT letting BABIES cry it out. I am less vehement about it when the child is a bit older, definitely over one and closer to two years old. I really, really don’t think it’s a good idea to try and “train” a human to go to sleep. We sleep when we’re tired, if allowed the proper environment. We nursed on demand til around a year and a half and she just kind of naturally stopped wanting the milk in the middle of the night. It does happen, you know, children *naturally* reaching appropriate developmental levels, when they’re *ready* without being forced. We had her sleep on her own futon mattress in her own room at about 6 months, but I nursed her to sleep. I still lay down with her now as part of her bedtime ritual and don’t mind doing so. It’s a nice break for me, too. She doesn’t take naps, so after a full day of play, she’s usually out in 10-15 minutes and sleeps through the night 90% of the time at just under 3 years old. A couple times when she just wouldn’t sleep or wind down, some time after she was 2, I had to let her cry, and she did for a bit, but went to sleep. Babies are another story, though, man, and I really wish people wouldn’t leave them to cry. Even if it doesn’t make them STUPID, brain-damage-wise, it might make them more prone to rage, depression, etc. with the elevated cortisol levels and just the idea that you’re calling and calling for someone and they never come, before you can understand the whys of it. Just very sad stuff. Parents should suck it up for a while when their kids are babies and know that it’s hard work, but it will pass soon enough.

  13. Sara says:

    There’s also research that talks of the importance of sleep and how important it is for kids to sleep. I can’t imagine that a child that sleeps wonderfully because of one week of sleep training isn’t preferable to a child that doesn’t sleep and is constantly tired or a child that screams in her mothers arms for hours instead of crying for ten minutes in her crib.

    It’s not like anyone is letting their kids cry for hours or that it’s going on for more than several days. Nothing that temporary is going to hurt kids in the long term. If anything the kids are going to be better off because their parents are happier and well rested and they are getting the proper amount of sleep.

  14. tlr says:

    I coslept with my first… the kid couldn’t sleep longer than 20 minute stretches in a crib. I assumed I would cosleep with the second, but she never falls asleep nursing and WANTS to be put down (and will cry herself to sleep in less than five minutes). They all have different needs. The trick isn’t having a philosophy about sleeping. It’s about seeing what different strategies are helpful for other kids and applying it to your own when it makes sense.

  15. Mistress_Scorpio says:

    Bill Cosby is a doctor. I remember a comedy special he did back in the 80s that said all kids have brain damage. He must be an expert too so I’m just going to go on the assumption that I will do what works for my family and let the brain damage play itself out.

  16. JuniB says:

    I think that when most people think of training they think it will be textbook. A few nights of crying with the time lessening each night. What people don’t seem to be aware of is that it doesn’t always work that easily.
    I have been a part of a mom message board from my 6 wk of pregnancy to the now toddler stage. The horror stories I have read and even witnessed on Facebook. Baby less than a year old, screaming for 2-4 hours, to the point of vomiting and it would go on for weeks, not an hour or two. Even after it was obviously not working babies were subjected to months of screaming themself to sleep. One mom confessed she went in to get him the next morning and discovered the child had slept all night in a crib covered in vomit and she had no clue. And she wasn’t alone, this was not an isolated incident or just one mother. Do I think trying a CIO method for a night or two damage your child forever? Of course not. But common sense tells me that a young baby can be mentally damaged or scarred by screaming itself to sleep night after night. Wouldn’t any persons physce be stunted or damaged by that at least a little? Maybe, maybe not, but it’s something I can control. So why take that risk?

  17. ChiLaura says:

    GP: You talk about calling and calling for someone, but I just don’t think that a baby crying for 3 nights is in any way the same as neglected children. Again, I just don’t believe — and have seen no real evidence to support — the contention that a few nights of CIO’ing is comparable to the stress that neglected kids suffer. If all the times that my baby cries, except for those 3 nights, I answer him, how damaging is CIO? I don’t think that kids are made of rubber necessarily, but I’m pretty willing to bet that kids could undergo a lot of things 3 times — being yelled at, being shamed, heck, even abuse — and rebound from it just fine. Again, while there probably are moron parents who let their babies cry for weeks on end and basically refuse to consider that different kids have different needs, MOST parents are attuned enough to their kids to know whether or not CIO is a reasonable solution to a sleep problem. The research on CIO’ing being so detrimental is basically a bunch of b.s., while the research on continued sleep deprivation is conclusive. I’m gonna go with the science.

  18. ChiLaura says:

    Okay, M_S, I probably could google this, but Bill Cosby is a real doctor? As in, M.D.? Am I missing a joke? Like, he was a dr on the Cosby Show?

  19. GtothemfckinP says:

    Why are the pro-CIOs acting as though the alternative to CIO is having sleep issues? My kid has always gotten enough sleep and she was not forced to scream herself to sleep as a baby (or ever). You can rationalize all you want, and of course, do what’s best for you. I don’t see what’s so hard about gently putting your baby to sleep. It’s not like you’re missing out on sleep at 7 or 8 or whenever the child is going to sleep, anyway. You lay down with them til they sleep, then you get up and go on with your life. If they wake up in the middle of the night, this is where the coolness of co-sleeping with infants comes in, you give them the boob and you both fall asleep again within minutes. OK. OK. Not everyone wants to do this or is gonna do this, but its so tiring to hear people act like NOT letting them cry it out is some kind of recipe for sleepless nights or other disasters. Quite the contrary.

    Of course the stress of “few nights of CIO” isn’t equal to years of neglect, but why do something that’s even a little bad that could so easily be done some other way? It just kind of goes against my personal instincts to let a baby cry. That’s just me, though…

  20. BlackOrchid says:

    Mistress_Scorpio — congratulations, you have WON THIS THREAD!

  21. Laure68 says:

    Mistress_Scorpio – LOL! I totally remember him saying this. By the way, I think he is a PhD.

    GP -”Even if it doesn’t make them STUPID, brain-damage-wise, it might make them more prone to rage, depression, etc.” You are making a huge judgement based on something that “might” be, with no evidence. Believe it or not, there are some kids who don’t go to sleep all that easily. I was lucky that my son didn’t have too much trouble sleeping, but I know people who tried to do it the gentle way and they basically had to give up on sleep. I think we need to realize that kids are all different, and not make judgements based on a feeling.

  22. Louise says:

    Dr. Cosby has a PhD in Education from the University of Massachusetts.

    tir, that’s pretty much how it’s playing out with my daughter right now. She’s got a very easy temperament, but went through a fussy stretch a month or two ago where nothing seemed to comfort her starting at around 7:00…didn’t want to nurse, couldn’t be comforted by holding/bouncing/talking/walking/anything. Then, after several evenings of just holding her and waiting it out, I tried just laying her down in her crib…duh. She immediately quieted, started sucking on her thumb, and was asleep in minutes. Didn’t do much for my “mom ego,” but she apparently just wanted me to stop screwing around with her so she could sleep. It’s almost eerie how easily she goes to bed…I have no confidence that it will last, but you bet I’ll take it, and I know how lucky I am to be able to get enough sleep.

  23. GtothemfckinP says:

    “they basically had to give up on sleep”
    what does that even mean?

  24. RZPS says:

    We also used Tracy Hoggs book, and it worked great. But then again, our son has always been a great sleeper. Even so, when he started switching day for night, it gave us the confidence we needed to intervene and get him back on track.

  25. Estherar says:

    Looks like Penelope Leach is, Like Margot Sunderland and Dr. Sears before her, is conflating research done on abused and neglected children with what happens to babies undergoing sleep-training (a temporary situation) in the context of a loving, attached parent-child relationship. I have no idea out of where she pulled the crying time limit beyond which brain damage is possible, either, though I have my suspicions.

    In fact, the few studies in the literature regarding sleep training (there are 3 published ones in the medical literature) suggest that children’s emotional wellbeing stays the same, or might even be improved, after sleep training methods are used on them. There’s also a new, as yet unpublished Australian paper presented at a conference last month that followed sleep-trained children until the age of 6 and found no evidence of lasting harm: .

    If Penelope Leach has any evidence to the contrary that actually pertains to sleep-trained children in normal homes, I would be interested in her presenting it. But (like her former stance on working mothers), I suspect it’s the same junk science parents have been fed by other ‘experts’…

    Esther ( )

  26. Sara says:

    That means that the moms had to sacrifice their sleep because they had a kid that couldn’t sleep through the night.
    Louise, my daughter did the same thing. I got frustrated at her non-stop crying and put her down and went to take a shower (because that’s what the baby books say to do when you’re frustrated) and when I came out she was zonked out. She needed to cry a little (about three minutes) before she went to sleep. She’d do the same thing in the middle of the night sometimes.

  27. GtothemfckinP says:

    crying a little for 3 mins is not CIO…
    bottom line, everybody do whatchu gotta do…but I think some people are just shut down to other ideas and think they gotta bite the bullet, do CIO or their kind won’t sleep, blah blah blah…you hear alot about how that’s the ONLY way they can sleep and if you don’t train them, they’ll never sleep on their own…and it’s just not the case

  28. austinmom says:

    I think it really all comes down to the child. My son woke up crying until almost 4 year old 3-4 times a night. I don’t know how I survived those sleepless night. After having such rough time, I didn’t want to go through that again with 2nd child and let her cry it out after 18 month when she started to follow her brother’s sleeping pattern. I just could not go through it again and I am much better parent and wife now that I am able to sleep through the most of the night uninterrupted. The sleepless night of waking up several times takes toll on your body if you have to do it for couple of that both kids sleep in separate rooms, everyone gets more sleep…thanks god!

  29. JEssica says:

    I am with GP, I can’t stand a single minute of crying (let alone an hour). When my baby cries, I respond (day or night). I don’t see how I can do it any other way. Leaving him to cry by himself seems cruel and unusual. But if you want to sleep train your kid, which may include CIO; it is fine with me. You are just made of sterner stuff than me.

  30. JBoogie says:

    When my son was born I wanted to co-sleep because I had read about how you can just flop your boob out and keep sleeping, but he was having none of it. None of us got any sleep. So finally, we put him in his crib, made a pallet on the floor right beside him, and we just kept talking and patting him until he fell asleep. It took about ten minutes, and he never really cried, just kind of whimpered. Slept 6 hours, fed, then was back out for another 4. Two night later I moved the pallet to the hall outside the nursery for one night, then moved back into my bed. Now he sleeps 9-10 hours every night. But we were lucky. I agree with GP, there is a middle ground between letting them scream for nights on end and co-sleeping till college. You just gotta figure out what it is for you and your babies.

  31. LP says:

    Exactly how many minutes does it take to be CIO?

  32. Huh? says:

    Here’s to another can of worms. GP- you do realize that some women and their breasts need to work full time, and in order to do so AND keep those boobs in good working order and their owner sane, SLEEP is required, right?

  33. JEssica says:

    Huh?- I work full time, barely sleep and I am still able to pump and breast feed my son. Not all women may be as lucky as me, but it is not an impossibility.

  34. Huh? says:

    Just to clarify- multiple night wakings and spending an hour or hours trying to get a baby to sleep lead to crazy mama, household chaos and other happy funtime things. This idylic description of “oh, you just lay down with them, and then wake up when they do at night to nurse and then peacefully drift off to sleep again..what could be easier or more simple?!” is disingenuous and far outside of the realm of possibility for many working mothers. I know because I attempted this scenario for months and months.

  35. JEssica says:

    … And I consider myself quite sane.

  36. Huh? says:

    Um, I think I got a bit defensive here. And I should add that my experience with CIO involved an 11 month old and one night of 30 minutes of crying, so I am (admittedly) very, very lucky. And knocking on wood.

  37. Sierra Black says:

    “Some women and their breasts need to work full time”

    I’m sorry, Scorpio, but I think ‘Huh?’ might have just grabbed your crown. That’s the new quote of the thread.

  38. Heidi says:

    I think so much of it really is individual. If a baby cries for 3 minutes and then is asleep and happy, great. But some babies are literally more stubborn than their parents and will cry for hours and never, ever give up. Those who advocate sleep training don’t account for those children.

    Co-sleeping, too, will not work for everyone. But it DOES work for some people. My parents co-slept with all 4 of us kids, first with mattresses on the floor, later with a crib next to the bed with the crib mattress at the same height as their bed mattress and the side down. It worked great and everyone slept BETTER with the arrangement. In fact, Dr. Sears, one of the biggest proponents of co-sleeping, “discovered” it with his 4th child who simply would not sleep on her own in her crib. So it really is a way for many families to get MORE sleep, not less.

    As my husband and I look forward to starting our family later this year, I love the ideal of co-sleeping but also realize that the reality may look different. Who knows how my children will sleep? They will probably all be different and have different needs in the sleep department. I think the most important part is to listen to and care about YOUR child and their needs, and to recognize their needs as valid – even as valid as your own. The only thing that saddens me is when parents learn to ignore their children’s needs or decide that the need to be held/loved/cuddled is not valid.

  39. [...] Cry It Out Sleep Training Hurts Babies Brains [...]

  40. jenny tries too hard says:

    I don’t think it’s at all true that people, babies in particular “sleep when they’re tired”. Sleep centers actually do most of their work teaching very tired people to form good sleep habits. Some babies cry because they want to be held, but don’t sleep well in a big bed with mom. Or mom and dad. Or mom, dad and assorted siblings. Babies don’t know how to recognize that if momma puts them down for a minute, they might sleep better. The bottom line is that when a child can sleep through the night without waking for a feeding, he or she can be taught to. When they are taught well, it often results in better sleep (and thus better health) for the whole family.

  41. GtothemfckinP says:

    I would think that if you work all day, you’d WANT to cosleep for sure to get some close time w your baby. As someone who couldn’t bear to put their baby in daycare OR listen to them cry, I can’t really speak to the whole working full time mom thing. But, it’s NOT “disingenuous” to say it was easy to cosleep and pop the boob in the babies’ mouth. I did it and it was easy. I worked from home the whole time and got a lot done and I have friends who did it while working full time away from home, too. We are all different and I am done slagging on people for their choices, but I *will* continue to note that there *are* other ways to do things….

  42. Mistress_Scorpio says:

    I gladly concede to the thread to Huh? That quote was chock-full of win.

  43. Huh? says:

    Sierra, I don’t know about your young ladies, but after being tugged at all day (pump, baby, husband- ahem)the boobs need rest more than I do. Making milk and looking beautiful all the time is hard work!

  44. BlackOrchid says:

    Jenny you are spot on as usual with your comment. Bad sleeping habits can very well be learned by babies; and they can last a lifetime. Your milk (if you’re nursing) requires rest if you want to produce hind-milk. And overtired babies and children may seem to be full of energy, but are in a very bad place really, and it’s hard for them to wind down.

    Your brain needs sleep. Growing infants and children need sleep. I am really big on this. I think a lack of sleep is what’s behind the epidemic of overweight, as well. I know how it is (I work at home and often work at night, late into the night). You are tired, you need a pick-me-up, you have snacks, etc. Same with baby, and btw that is NOT good for the quality of milk a nursing mother is producing. Lots of light stuff; no hindmilk means more frequent, less nutritious feedings.

  45. Ri-chan says:

    I’d never cosleep, I’d be to afraid I’d roll over onto my baby O.o I flop around in my sleep a lot. We just let our son sleep in a bassinet beside the bed for a while so that I could feed at night without to much trouble, but it really wasn’t as easy as some people make it sound, I don’t see how anyone could sleep while breast feeding, it definatly wasn’t comfortable. When he started sleeping all night on his own, we moved him to his own room around five or six months. I’m lucky though, he’s always been a really good baby :)

  46. Sarah says:

    We used “The Sleepeasy Solution,” a CIO method when our daughter was 10 months old and it was the best thing we’ve ever done when it comes to sleep. She cried 30 minutes the first night, 10 the next, 2 the next and not at all after that. We have had to “retrain” a few times as she backslid with illness or travel, but each time was less than 15 minutes of crying. I think that the few nights of crying would do a lot less brain damage than many many many nights of poor sleep (or as they say in the SES, “junky sleep nutrition”).

  47. ChiLaura says:

    I’m going to add to those who say that all babies are different, and you have to do what’s right for your kid. I was amazed when, during a midnight service at church recently, a couple with a young (5 mos) baby was able to get her to sleep by simply putting her on her tummy and rubbing her back, making sure her paci didn’t pop out. This despite lots and lots of noise from the priest and choir. Amazing! I’ve got three kids, and #1 and #3 simply cannot get to sleep with any stimulation around them. With #1, we couldn’t even be in the same room, whether touching him or not, without him twisting around, staring at us and screaming. He needed silence and an empty room. Right now, with #3, I notice how much longer it takes him to get to sleep when I’m carrying him — sucks thumb, pops off, yells, repeat. For both of these kids, the merciful thing to do HAS been to let them cry for a few minutes each night of CIO (maybe 3 nights for each) in order for them to be able to fall asleep and stay asleep. Having us around is completely detrimental to their sleep.

  48. [...] Cry It Out Sleep Training Hurts Babies Brains [...]

  49. Seonaid says:

    Three kids, (11, 6, and 3) three different personalities, three different solutions. All I can say about co-sleeping, breastfeeding, and pumping while working full time, though, is that I’m just lucky I didn’t fall asleep at the wheel and kill somebody while my oldest was an infant. Mercifully (?) I don’t really remember most of the first year of his life, I was so sleep deprived.

    In the end, we found the second thrashed too much to be allowed to co-sleep, so she went on a mattress on the floor next to us, and the youngest only would go to sleep by being patted and left alone in another room, so we finally got a crib for number three. Once he learned to walk, after having been our best sleeper, he started coming looking for us every single night, so we replaced his crib with a queen-sized mattress and took turns taking him back to bed in the middle of the night.

    I sort of wish I had been tougher about sleep schedules with my older two, because I didn’t get a full night’s sleep without leaving home for… oh… 10 years or so. CIO makes *me* nauseous, though. I can’t even listen to other people’s kids crying at the mall without being on the brink of tears and feeling physically ill. We didn’t finally come up with an effective alternative until. Um. Well. Yeah. Bedtime still sucks sometimes, but at least the toddler wants to be with his older siblings, which is good motivation. And they usually do GREAT now. Finally.

    Anyway, truth be told, the longer I do this, the less I think I know about it.

    Getting back to the original question, though, I’m sad to say that I suspect Leach has a point. I tend to get my parenting advice from Scientific American and New Scientist (I’m that kind of geek) and what I’ve been reading about the neuroscience of emotions definitely would lead me away from allowing my children to experience long-term severe crying without a response, even if it didn’t make me feel like throwing up. However, the likely outcome isn’t ‘brain damage’; it’s the potential for having a child slightly more at the anxious/irritable end of the normal curve. That might be a reasonable tradeoff for not killing yourself in a car accident.

  50. Cordelia Newlin de Rojas says:

    Hi, Thank you for your very honest post. I have to say that I am with you on the parents need to be comfortable and firm in their decision.. consistency is key. (Not that I didn’t question mine on night two of 40 minutes of crying). That said, I’d like to see a real comparative study done on long term effects. My understanding from my research is that there is scientific support for both sides. Personally, sleep is important for me to function and with mounting issues of ADD, Autism and other behavioral issues being linked to LACK of adequate sleep… I am thinking that 3-4 nights of crying may not be as toxic as long term sleep deprivation to the development of my babies brain.
    My daughter is happy, responsive, loves people, secure and outgoing and the only time she is irritable and fussy (often sited as consequences of CIO) is when she in fact hasn’t had enough sleep because we schlepped her out to dinner at friends. Also I think it is ridiculous to make an assumption that CIO is the same as unresponsive parenting – including one recent journalist (how happens to have a book coming out on the subject) comparing it to children in orphanages in Eastern Europe. I follow my daugther’s tired cues and am extremely responsive day in day out. It wasn’t a few days of crying that led her to blissful nights of sleep that could be deemed unresponsive.
    The CIO method was recommended to me by, among others, a good friend who is a pediatrician with 3 extremely well adjusted kids. In our case, it was the best thing we did as parents both for her and for ourselves.
    I support that people chose the method that works for them, that they are comfortable with. if they are relaxed and happy about their choices, I think that will reflect well in the children but personally I know that I am a much better parent with a good night’s sleep and my daughter is a much happier little girl when she gets one too. Good luck to all with their sleeping endeavors!

  51. [...] Cry It Out Sleep Training Hurts Babies Brains [...]

  52. [...] Cry It Out Sleep Training Hurts Babies Brains [...]

  53. [...] Cry It Out Sleep Training Hurts Babies Brains [...]

  54. [...] Cry It Out Sleep Training Hurts Babies Brains [...]

  55. [...] Cry It Out Sleep Training Hurts Babies Brains [...]

  56. [...] Cry It Out Sleep Training Hurts Babies Brains [...]

  57. [...] Cry It Out Sleep Training Hurts Babies Brains [...]

  58. [...] Cry It Out Sleep Training Hurts Babies Brains [...]

  59. Sara says:

    Saw a news report on this study and it inferred this was an issue mostly in cases of true neglect (a parent that rarely answers a crying child or even leaves them home alone) not true cases of crying it out. Have done it with 3 children and it lasted no longer than 5 days. I think this article is missing some key components.

  60. [...] Cry It Out Sleep Training Hurts Babies Brains [...]

  61. [...] Cry It Out Sleep Training Hurts Babies Brains [...]

  62. [...] Cry It Out Sleep Training Hurts Babies Brains [...]

  63. Kristin says:

    The fact is that there are some babies that simply don’t respond to any other methods. I have been driving myself CRAZY for months trying to get my son to go to bed at night without being fed and rocked to sleep and to nap at all. I used the CIO method ONE time. He cried for 30 gut wrenching minutes. The next night he went to sleep without a peep. The naps are a little tougher but after trying it once he is already doing a lot better. I tried absolutely every tip or method I could find online and nothing else worked. Parents need to stop judging other parents and mind their own business. Every child is different and has different needs. I don’t care what some scientist says, my baby crying for 30 minutes caused far less damage than the severe sleep deprivation he was experiencing.

  64. bob says:

    Sorry, but Leach doesn’t have a case. There are a number of studies that suggest that excessive crying is associated with brain damage. “Excessive” is not a couple days of a few minutes of crying. “Excessive,” in these studies, refers to things like orphanages in countries where staff respond to babies so little that the babies are cross-eyed from lack of visual stimulation above their cribs. “Excessive” in these studies refers to things like babies who have some sort of medical condition or chronic problem that causes them to cry ALL THE TIME. In such cases, not surprisingly, the stress causes permanent effects on the brains.

    These are very sad cases, to be sure. But comparing such cases to sleep training for a few nights is like looking at a study on chronic binge drinking to find out whether an occasional glass of wine with dinner is healthy or unhealthy. There simply is no study on CIO (believe me, I’ve spent a LOT of time looking in academic databases because I wouldn’t want to harm my children) that suggests any permanent damage — to the contrary, children who have successfully avoided sleep problems due to some sort of sleep training regime (usually resulting in LESS crying overall, by the way) tend to show positive benefits in terms of developmental milestones, intelligence, etc.

    The message is simple — don’t neglect your children. But don’t worry about any stage in your child’s life that lasts only a few days, even if it’s stressful. You think a baby will be harmed by a couple nights of crying when it’s young — wait until the kid has tantrums and crying fits at 2 years old! Are you committed to always giving your child what he/she wants? Be prepared to serve up mountains of ice cream, toys, etc. for years to come to avoid a few minutes of crying….

  65. [...] And this finding, it would seem, is bound to add some weight to the argument against letting babies cry it out as a method of sleep [...]

  66. Shaun says:

    When our twins cry in the middle of the night, I don’t feel any sympathy for them. They’ve had playtime throughout the day, they’ve been fed, changed, and held. I just want them to shut the f up so I can get some sleep.

  67. Madeline says:

    Not everything is black and white. Sleep training is one of those things. What works for one baby, might not for another.
    I’ve tried every no-cry sleep method out there. After a month of shush-patting, walking, wearing, bouncing, and nursing my 4 month old baby to sleep (unsuccessfully) all I ended up with was a crying (yes, you heard me crying) overtired baby and a bad back. No-cry sleep methods don’t work with all babies and certainly didn’t work with mine. When I finally put my baby down in her crib, and walked away to let her cry, I knew there was nothing left for me to do. It’s been two weeks and yes, there still are a few tears, but ironically, there has been a lot less of them with the CIO method. So now I’m calling it the less-cry method! Most importantly, my baby is finally sleeping, taking naps during the day seems so much happier!

  68. Amy says:

    Technically I have never done either i guess. My kids have all slept in their own beds from day one, but I would always while they were very young (under 10 months or so) immediately respond to cries, and after that would respond after a few minutes, fix any problem like a diaper, and then put them back down. If they cried again I would wait a bit(no more than ten minutes or so) and then go back in, comfort and put them back down. All my kids slept through the night by around a year, the youngest by three months. My oldest two took the longest, but they have both been found to be autistic since then. I do not believe any child should scream and cry for long without a response from caregivers, but I also do not think they need to believe that you are required to be there to get to sleep either.

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