Some researchers in Australia conducted a study in which 43 infants ranging from six months to 16 months were either allowed to cry for longer periods of time, had graduated extinction, or had their bedtimes moved back to help the infants fall asleep quicker claim that the infants who were allowed to cry-it-out had no negative effects.
There are a number of problems with this study from a scholarly standpoint.
1. The study was extremely small and did not specify what ages were in the different groups. Allowing a toddler or older infant to fuss for a few minutes with our support as they fall asleep is much different than a young infant being left to cry for ten or more minutes. This leads me to my second issue with this study.
2. We are not told how long the infants in the cry-it-out group were allowed to cry. Were they totally alone when they were allowed to cry-it-out or was the parent nearby? Sometimes when weaning or adjusting bedtime routines, infants cry and if you hold them or rub their backs as they cry, their stress levels are much lower than just being put down in a crib alone with no support.
3. The researchers claim to have “measured the stress hormone cortisol in the babies’ saliva in the afternoon and the morning during the treatment. They also used ankle monitors to track how often the babies in each group were waking throughout the night” (Bowerman, 2016, http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation-now/2016/05/24/study-infant-baby-sleep-method-cry-it-out-wont-damage-child/84838958/). The morning and afternoon but not at night when the stress is happening? This makes no sense. Especially when many, many other studies measure the infants’ heart rates, blood pressure, and stress hormones have shown that being left alone to cry-it-out does, in fact, stress infants out. Just swabbing the infants’ mouths twice a day and using a bracelet to count how long the infants stay asleep is not enough to conclude that cry-it-out isn’t harmful.
4. They allowed the parents to change groups and the control group was the one that just continued with their bedtime routines. So, we are not told what the bedtime routines of the control group were. We are not told what the other groups routines were either. We don’t know if the infants were teething, sick, co-sleeping, or what happened when the infants woke up in the night. We are not told about the family life of these infants. We are not told about their development. So many things can affect an infant’s sleep pattern.
5. So the study claims that infants allowed to cry-it-out slept longer. This is not necessarily a good thing! Being exhausted from crying does not lead to healthy sleep. Any adult who has cried themselves to sleep knows that you don’t wake up very rested. Actually, you’re exhausted. Also, for infants their brain actually shuts down from crying because of all the stress of nobody answering. This is NOT healthy nor is it good! In fact, reliable and valid research shows that:
”Sleep techniques that employ prolonged crying to ‘teach’ an infant to sleep simply teach the infant that the mother will not respond as he or she expects. As a consequence, the infant cannot rely on the mother’s care and for survival, and he or she must conserve energy, since the mother as a food source is now unpredictable. The infant therefore ceases to cry when crying fails to produce a response, and presents the appearance of sleep (shuts down activity). This leads parents to think they have successfully sleep trained their baby, while the baby is responding to the possibility it has been abandoned, and attempting to conserve energy to stay alive“ (Ball, 2015, http://www.bellybelly.com.au/baby-sleep/cry-it-out/).
6. There are years and years of research by credible doctors and early childhood professionals that prove that cry-it-out is emotionally and physically harmful to infants. And what about the studies by Rene Spitz, Harry Harlow, Mary Ainsworth, Emmi Pikler, John Bowlby backing up and proving how detrimental it is for infants if they don’t receive sensitive, respectful care 24/7? Are we supposed discount all thes valid and reliable studies by top researchers in the field for this one very flawed study? Gosh, children are people too!
Dr. Bruce Perry is another person that shows neglecting babies’ need for touch and sensitive care has detrimental effects on their brain development. The first 5 years are crucial. So many people don’t understand just how vulnerable the young brain is. Yes, most survive harsh parenting practices such as cry-it-out andspanking/hitting but the damage IS there!!
7. The researchers do not define what secure attachment is. The children can seem attached on the surface but there are a number of attachment issues that can occur in children who are not sensitively cared for. Please read this post I wrote for more info about different attachment issues.
In sum, this was a very flawed study. It is not credible nor reliable. Infants need sensitive, respectful care 24/7. There are resources to gently help infants and parents sleep such as Elizabeth Pantley’s book, The No Cry Sleep Solution.
Ball, H. (2015). Cry It Out – 6 Educated Professionals Who Advise Against It.
Bowerman, M. (2016). Study: Letting baby ‘cry it out’ won’t cause damage.
Child Trauma Academy. (2016). http://childtrauma.org
Cox, S. (2011). Attachment Theory- Why NOT to Train a Baby. http://whynottrainachild.com/articles/attachment-theory/.
Epstein, V. (2015). Should You Let Baby Cry It Out? http://www.kars4kids.org/blog/cry-it-out/.
Kim, M. (2005). Cry It Out: The Potential Dangers of Leaving Your Baby to Cry. http://drbenkim.com/articles-attachment-parenting.html.
Narvaez, D. (2011). Dangers of “Crying It Out.” https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/moral-landscapes/201112/dangers-crying-it-out.
Sears, W. (2016). Let Baby Cry It Out: Yes or No? http://www.askdrsears.com/topics/health-concerns/fussy-baby/letting-baby-cry-it-out-yes-no.
Word of Mom Blogs. (2016). BLOG: Letting Your Baby Cry It Out – Really Bad Idea. http://www.whattoexpect.com/blogs/parenting-three-when-can-i-pee/letting-your-baby-cry-it-out-really-bad-idea.
New Cry-It-Out Study Misses the Mark
The Boy Who Was Raised as a Dog by Dr. Bruce Perry
Gentle Sleep Resources