Now The Studies Say We Should Let Our Infants ‘Cry It Out.’ Make Up Your Minds, Researchers

shutterstock_75120478Make up your minds, researchers. I’d like to know how badly I’m screwing up my child. Is that too much to ask?

Wasn’t it just a few months ago that we were reassured that infant sleep training was kind of a bust? At that time, studies showed that infants who were able to self-soothe to sleep didn’t necessarily become children who were able to do the same. There were obvious benefits for parents, but for kids – not so much.

There were even studies that went as far as to say if you were sleep training using the ever-popular Ferber or “cry it out method,” you were probably raising a nervous, stressed-out kid:

With neuroscience, we can confirm what our ancestors took for granted—that letting babies get distressed is a practice that can damage children and their relational capacities in many ways for the long term. We know now that leaving babies to cry is a good way to make a less intelligent, less healthy but more anxious, uncooperative and alienated person who can pass the same or worse traits on to the next generation.

Whoa. Harsh. But it doesn’t really matter anyway, because now researchers are saying exactly the opposite. In yet another new study, we’re now being told that infants who aren’t sleep trained become more irritable than those who are, and we should seek help if our children are still having trouble sleeping through the night at 18 months.

I give up.

Personally, I couldn’t bear sleep training. Not because I thought it was a horrible idea, just because I am a total wimp that couldn’t handle hearing my child cry to the point of choking and gagging. I gave up early. He’s two now, and sleeps fine – but I have to admit it took a while. My husband and I probably would have benefited from trying harder to sleep train. But my child is a happy, healthy, friendly, well-adjusted toddler. I don’t know if that has anything to do with not sleep training.

Now number two is on the way. I think I am going to approach it in the same way. I’m going to see what I can bear. If he or she responds the same way my son did – it probably won’t be happening. I’m pretty comfortable with our own trial-and-error approach to it. And since the researchers will probably be saying a totally different thing next week – we’re probably just better off ignoring them.

(photo: Giuseppe R/

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  • Harriet Meadow

    My husband and I will not be Ferberizing our child for quite a while. You know why? Because a) I agree with the first study you cited (and child rearing practices in many other cultures agree with it, too) and b) WE HAVE (AND NEED TO KEEP) A ROOMMATE in order to pay the bills while I’m finishing up school!

    • Tinyfaeri

      And I’m sure your roomie thanks you ;-)

  • Paul White

    We may sleep train in a few months, but he’s 2 months old for god’s sakes. Right now we’re going to comfort him if he’s really upset.

    • Véronique Houde

      Oops I meant to up not down your comment sorry! I feel the same win my 2 month old – when she’s 6 months old and I see that the crying doesn’t have to do with a bsic need I will let her cry a bit but not now

    • Justme

      Two months old is different than a one year old. As children grow, parents must adjust the parenting strategies.

  • Tinyfaeri

    It should be whatever works for you and your baby, not what the latest and greatest study says. Some babies need to chatter or fuss a little before going to sleep, mine does sometimes. Other times she’ll cry when put down for a nap and sleep is just for suckers – at that point there is no way she will go to sleep, even if she cries for an hour or more (I tried, once, with frequent trips in to comfort, and never, ever will again – both of us sobbing helps no one). It’s just the way she is – if she doesn’t want to go to sleep, she will not sleep, so it’s time to break out a book or some blocks or something fuzzy and play quietly for a while and try again later. You as a parent know your child best, and you know what will or won’t work. Ignore the studies and trust your instincts.

  • Justme

    Isn’t there some sort of gray area? I would venture to guess that most parents are right in the middle….that area where they try to maintain a balance of comforting their child and keeping hold of their own sanity. If you’ve been rocking for 45 minutes and place the child in the crib and they start crying, it is perfectly acceptable to walk out of the room and regain your composure while they cry for a bit. Closing the door and saying “see ya in the morning!” would probably be a bad idea.

    At almost two years old, my daughter now “cries it out” after our bedtime routine of jammies, books and ten minutes of rocking. Within five minutes of us leaving the room and her crying, she is conked out in her crib.

  • Melissa

    Wait a tic…where are you getting ‘sleep training’ from that study? I read through it and did not come to the same conclusion.

  • Leslie

    Studies do nothing but make neurotic people more neurotic and defensive. I think there is definitely some sort of balance the majority of us live by. I was reading something about alcohol in breast-milk and a doctor(jack newman) says the amounts of alcohol/prescriptions that show up in breastmilk after maternal consumption are so negligible they won’t affect a baby(with some exceptions). On the contrast I read an article by someone who, based on the same studies(just a blogger, not a doctor), said there is no safe amount so you’re risking your baby’s well-being by using a prescription, or having a glass of wine. We are a society that is obsessed with doing the “right thing”, which seems to mean we don’t want to do the “wrong thing” for fear of persecution and perceived failure. As much as I like to read comment sections for entertainment, what you do is what’s good for your family, what I do is good for mine, and that’s the reality of the situation, study or no study(again, with exception).

  • lea

    “we’re now being told that infants who aren’t sleep trained become more irritable than those who are”I’m going to assume you got that from the full text article and not the abstract? Because from what I see, they are not making any claims at all that the wakefulness of the kids causes the irritability. It is equally conceivable that the reverse is true and that the irritability is actually causing the wakefulness.

    I also think it is grossly unfair for you to dismiss research so offhand.

    Of course studies will from time to time be conflicting. Our knowledge grows all the time. Studies differ in the way they are set up, the populations their participants come from, the way in which measures are defined and taken. Some will be well conducted, some less so. Some will have 1000 participants, some 50. All of this, plus the fact that two researchers can make slightly different conclusions from the same data set, mean that

    I really think you are expecting too much if you expect researchers to have a one-size-fits-all answer for this kind of question. There are too many variables.

    I know your piece is written tongue in cheek- but it irritates me to no end how often lay people dismiss science and the scientific process because they don’t understand it and because they aren’t getting the answers they want.

  • Vikky

    Ummm…these studies don’t actually contradict each other:

    Study 1: infant sleep training can damage children

    Study 2: seek help if your child can’t sleep through the night at 18 months

    So, don’t sleep train your infant…sleep train your toddler!!! i.e. pick up the crying infant out of his/her crib, but tell the child who can walk to get back into bed.

    HOW are these studies contradictory????

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