My Baby Cries Too

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One of the things I’ve realized recently, whether it be through comments on this site or comments in daily interactions, is that when people find out you’re anti-cry-it-out they usually have the following to say about either why they did it or why it can be good: “My baby just gets overtired and needs to cry to get all that extra energy out before she sleeps.”  Sound familiar?  Have you heard that or uttered it yourself?  Before you scoff or roll your eyes, here’s the thing—it’s kind of true.  Many babies, when overtired, will cry because it’s a natural way for them to release their frustration.  And when they do this they typically don’t respond to things like nursing as a means to comfort.  As adults we do a similar thing, typically getting frustrated or upset when overtired and we need to get that out of our systems before we can sleep properly.  But somewhere along the line people started believing that if you don’t let your child CIO you must somehow be stimulating them when they cry to get them to stop.  And that is simply not true.  The one thing these people don’t consider is that needing to cry does not equal needing to cry-it-out.

Let me start by using my daughter as an example… My daughter is known for keeping herself up whenever possible.  If we’re over at her best friend’s house, she will be awake forever out of fear of missing something, even if he falls asleep.  On those days, when we get home, I know she needs to sleep and I know that frustrated cry that comes from her as she fights it.  What do I do?  Let me first say that I don’t let her stay up and I don’t stimulate her to get her to stop crying.  I get her to bed (we bedshare), offer the boob (rejected), tell her it’s time for sleep and let her flail on the bed in her frustration.  And the most amazing thing happens—though frustrated and clearly needing sleep, every 30 seconds or so, she flails back to me for a cuddle (and sometimes nurse).  During that time, I hold her, stroke her hair, or offer whatever comfort she allows until she either starts crying again to get more out of her system or comes for the final milk and cuddles to fall asleep.  The whole process?  It’s never taken longer than 8 minutes (yes, I timed it).  I’ve spent WAAYYY more time trying to get to her to sleep when she wasn’t tired than trying to get her to sleep when overtired (and I typically fail in the former situations).  There are no hours of screaming at the door while I felt my heart break and no looks of, ‘How could you do this to me?’  Just some honest hard work on her behalf to get that energy out while simultaneously getting love and affection from me.

I don’t know why parents who use CIO and advocates of the method seem to think that those of us who don’t use it either never let our kids cry at all or constantly stimulate them or distract them in order to keep them from crying.  Although people’s experiences will inevitably differ from my own, I know from talking to other non-CIO parents that they do similar things.  So while we do let our kids cry, we don’t allow our kids to cry without responding to them.  It’s a rather critical distinction.  As I’ve talked about elsewhere, crying is a very natural thing for infants to do as it’s their primary way of communication, but the reasons they stop crying can be very diverse and have very different effects (see Educating the Experts – Lesson One for more information).  I don’t think any parent expects their child to never cry as that is how we learn from them what they need; without crying, figuring out your child would be that much harder.  But CIO isn’t about learning from your child or getting them to release their frustration—it’s about ignoring their needs.  There are a select few times when CIO for a period is necessary, such as when mom suffers from post-partum depression and can’t handle an infant’s cries and is at-risk of harming her infant.  Anytime a parent is at risk of physically harming their child because of his or her cries, putting them down and walking away is always the better scenario (although best would be to pass the baby off to someone else to hold, but that’s not always possible).  But these are rare situations that are certainly not the norm (though sadly becoming more so as we treat new mothers with indifference and a lack of support, but that’s a topic for another day).  Most of the time CIO comes down to a parent telling a child that they are not there to comfort them in order to teach a schedule or lesson, usually resulting in the child becoming even more distressed.  My 8 minutes of crying with my daughter is a fraction of what most CIO parents go through with theirs because their lack of comfort seems to increase the crying response, especially when a baby is in that over-tired state.

At this point, many parents will say something along the lines of, “But my child cried for an hour after getting shots/getting a stomach flu/having cramps!  How is CIO any different?”  And this is a very important question to ask.  After all, doesn’t it seem funny that those of us against CIO typically ignore the issue of other bouts of prolonged crying?  Well, I’m not going to ignore it so here comes your answer… there’s a huge freaking difference.  Let me elaborate.

Outside of sleep, when our children cry, it tends to be out of pain and we respond in kind.  Whether it be cramping (also sometimes known as colic), shots, or other ailments, when our babies are screaming during the day, we attribute it to a physical malady and do what we can to alleviate the pain, or at worst, simply provide comfort.  It turns out that this comfort is exactly what makes the difference between these bouts of crying and CIO methods used typically at night.

In a thorough and enlightening review of the neurological evidence surrounding crying in infancy, Megan Gunnar of the University of Minnesota discusses the research on what happens when infants are distressed (for her review, see [1]).  It turns out that it’s not as simple as simply being distressed or not, despite what many would have us believe and what we might intuitively think.  For a bit of background, let me explain the stress response.  The basis for a stress response lies in the HPA axis (hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis) which activates when a human experiences high distress and releases cortisol into the system (among other functions, such as regulating sleep/wake cycles and digestion)[2].  When infants are distressed for prolonged periods, they release cortisol into their system which has an effect on their neurological development.  Specifically, one study found that at around the 20-minute mark of crying alone, infants’ cortisol levels spike[3], indicative of a stress response (note that other researchers seem to be able to achieve a spike for distress earlier when there is pain, but it’s unclear if psychological distress elicits such a quick response as well).  If this occurs too frequently (the definition of which is still unknown, except in extreme circumstances), infants develop what has been termed a “stress-reactive” neurological profile, meaning their default response to novel situations becomes one involving what we would deem to be a physiologically stressful response[1].

But for those parents with infants who have allergies, reflux, bad reactions to shots, and any other physical ailment that causes pain and therefore crying, there is good news.  It turns out that the activation of the HPA-axis doesn’t happen when an infant is being comforted by a responsive caregiver.  This is why I said that bouts of crying in pain and CIO are so distinct—when our child is in physical pain, we are much more likely to provide comfort, thus eliminating the stress effect, even when our child continues to cry.  Gunnar’s work and that of others she cites have shown this to be the case and it explains why a child with a difficult physical condition can grow and thrive despite many periods of pain and discomfort that lead to prolonged bouts of crying, as long as someone they trust is there to provide comfort.  So when you sit with your child who is in pain (physical OR psychological), you are actually serving as a buffer against a stressful reaction, even if your child continues to cry.   In fact, the cry is assumed to be more of a signalling cry than one that mirrors the internal state of distress for securely attached infants so long as the caregiver is trusted and responds to the child’s cry.  So the release of cortisol to the brain that has been found to accompany prolonged crying refers to infants who are not being comforted at the time (the condition in which the research was initially done).  It may be due to the effects of oxytocin[4], which is released during close contact, or some other mechanism, but regardless, we know that the effects of crying can be deleterious or rather benign, depending on how we, as caregivers, respond.

All this is to say that not only do us non-CIO parents have children that cry, but because of our responsiveness their crying is going to be distinctly different than those children who are left alone while distressed with no one to offer comfort.  We don’t stimulate our children, in fact, we understand their physiological reactions to being tired quite well, thank you very much.  We just choose to respond to their distress with touch and affection, and in turn, they don’t have to respond with stress.


[1] Gunnar, M. R. (2006). Social regulation of stress in early childhood. In K. McCartney & D. Phillips (Eds.), Blackwell Handbook of Early Childhood Development (pp. 106-125). Malden: Blackwell Publishing.

[3] Anders TF, Sachar EJ, Kream J, Roffwarg HP, & Hellman L. Behavior state and plasma cortisol response in the human newborn. Pediatrics 1970; 46: 532-537.

[4] Uvnas-Moberg K. The Oxytocin Factor: Tapping the Hormone of Calm, Love, and Healing (2003). Da Capo Press: Cambridge, MA.

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  1. Sally says

    Interesting. Our worst situation isvcar journeys. It’s the one time I can’t always be present to comfort him. Reassures me for the occasions when I’m a pasenger and can sit with him whilst he cries though.

  2. Kendra says

    Love if description of the overly tired baby working herself to sleep. My dd currently 5 months does the same thing. Although I have to add she will usually growl in addition to sleepy cries. She has never cried longer than14 min with out comfort and that one was on the freeway where stopping wojld have been a hazard. Can we have you and the analytical armadillo teach all the baby trainers plz?

  3. says

    Sally – The car trips are our worst times too. Sounds like it’s so much for the comfort of driving a baby around, eh? :)

    And Kendra – Do you think the baby trainers would listen? Sadly, I think not!

  4. Andréia C. K. Mortensen says

    Great post, Tracy.

    We have always discussed the different types or crying with the mothers in my ‘Brazilian’ sleep community. That not every cry is the same, but all deserve respect, empathy, and comfort. That crying in a loving parent’s arms is a lot different than crying alone in a crib. This is so important.
    I will check Megan Gunnar’s review, thanks for this info.


  5. says

    Actually, I do think many of the sleep trainers will eventualy listen and it is our job to keep publishing pieces like this and talking to people and maybe even sending articles to sleep trainers! I hate to say this about one of my own professions but many sleep trainers are postpartum doulas, we are often the ones teaching CIO methods to parents and helping them along, holding thier hands in the process. Other sleep trainers should be challenged with evidence and fact at thier small groups and workshops. But eventually, and possibly soon, the anthropological and scientific evidence will make CIO obsolete.

  6. says

    Good article (as usual). I’m really jealous of the 8 minutes though! My little ones just take longer and longer to go to sleep the more over-tired they are. I’ve spent 2 hours doing my level best to get an overtired baby to sleep. Crying (stopping midcry to yawn of course), nursing, cuddling, in the crib, in the bed, stuffed animals, blankets, and kicking, lots of kicking. My youngest kicks her feet, banging both heels on the bed, when she is too wound up. So, yeah, I envy you.

    • says

      I should say these are not pleasant 8 minutes – there’s LOTS of kicking and flailing amongst the cuddles, but she does go down well. We struggle tons if I try to get her down before she’s ready though. No way she’d take to a set bedtime. I imagine it could get worse as she gets older, but being happy of the way it is now :) Even if she does go to bed way late (at least she sleeps in) as I wait for her to get tired enough.

  7. Cindy says

    My pediatrician diagnosed my newborn as having colic. Nothing I did could get him to stop crying. I would rock him, put him in a swing, put his carrier on top of a dryer, and nothing seemed to work. I also have a two year old so driving him around in the car was not very convenient, especially if it interfered with the toddler’s nap schedule.

    Then a friend of mine recommended the Baby Roll Asleep. At first I was skeptical because it looked very much like a low stroller to me, and putting him the stroller didn’t work. But I was desperate so I ordered one. Much to my surprise, a few minutes after putting him in the Baby Roll Asleep, he quieted down and fell asleep very quickly. It seems that by having the baby low to the ground, the vibration from the wheels creates a soothing effect.

    I highly recommend this product for all moms (and dads) who have fussy colicky babies.

  8. says

    I love your site! I am trying to find information and research about when, on average, co-sleeping and breastfed babies/ toddlers begin to self-wean from co-sleeping and breastfeeding. There’s so much information on the co-sleeping/ breastfeeding vs. CIO debate. I am just curious as someone who has from day 1 chosen co-sleeping and breastfeeding during the night…when might I expect that to happen *on average*? I only see benefits of co-sleeping and breastfeeding as needed, whether 1am or 3am (and quite frankly, I think I get more sleep as I just wake long enough to settle her on my breast and fall back asleep), and intend on continuing as long as my daughter needs, but I just sort of want to know when I might expect that to be?

    • says

      Hi Jessica,
      I’m glad you like the site! I’ll be honest I don’t know that there is information on averages as it is SO variable. I too have been co-sleeping and breastfeeding since day 1 and my daughter (19 months) still rouses to feed regularly. I use rouse as she never fully wakes up to feed, just latches, feeds, and unlatches – eyes never open. I’ve heard of kids self-weaning for night at 15 months (even while still co-sleeping) and others much much later. I think a big factor will be how much food they start taking in – my daughter is still not huge on solids so breastmilk provides her with a lot of her nutritional needs. The more they start eating, the more likely it is they’ll begin to self-wean at night! As for leaving the bed, other cultures list an average of around 4-5 years of age, but in many cases the children have their own beds before that. Hope that helps!

      • says

        Thanks, Tracy! That does help, at least to know that what we’re experiencing is common among breastfed, co-sleeping babes. Sometimes I feel like like she’s “abnormal” when I hear other parents talking about the amount of solids their baby eats, or sleeping through the night. My daughter at 14 months still prefers the breast and eats little solid food (which I have been worried about but finally have accepted that it’s ok as she’s perfectly healthy), and still “rouses” as you say 2-4 times per night to feed. We’re going to keep with the breastfeeding and co-sleeping as long as she needs and wants. My husband who is Indian has two nephews (ages 10 and 8) that just moved into their own bedroom from their parents’ beds. Sometimes when we wake up and our daughter is horizontal between us and we’re both falling off the bed we agree we probably won’t make it til age 10, though :). Thanks!

  9. says

    HI Tracy,

    I love your site and refer to it often, as I am now, for advice and ideas. I’m wondering about using a modified 8 minute routine (for lack of a better term!) for our daughter who almost 5 months? We had a great thing going, a nice bedtime routine around the same time every night with both my husband and myself (bath, mini massage and then me nursing her to bed until she fell asleep). We co-sleep. Over the past few days though, she has started this kicking and thrashing some of activity where she pulls herself off the breast, rolls around a bit, then comes back to the breast. She never used to do this and it’s getting a little tiring! It is taking her longer to fall asleep and it’s definitely exhausting for me. Tonight, she started doing it again and I sat up, got out of bed and sat on a nearby chair and watched her. I have never left her before like this, only getting out of bed when she was asleep. She never cried but did the thrashing thing again for about 15 min until she finally settled on her stomach. Of course. I moved her to her back and then she thrashed a bit more and then settled again on her stomach. I moved her again and she stayed. It’s as if she is trying to get comfortable! Any thoughts or ideas for me? I know I can’t quite reason that it is bedtime with her at this point but is there something else that I can do instead? She clearly is needing something and I have no idea what it is!

    Thanks for your thoughts.


    • says

      Hi Elizabeth,

      A few thoughts:
      1) Is she teething? She’s right at that age and lots of behaviours change when teething begins. Infants get more irritated and can act out from pain more than anything.
      2) My daughter started rolling to her stomach for sleep around the same age. It may be that it’s more comfortable for her. Unfortunately we know that back is best, but if she can roll from stomach to back easily, you may want to leave her for a bit then move her once she’s in a deeper sleep (say 10 minutes). As long as you’re awake watching her then move her, that could help. But if the back is uncomfortable for her, let her fall asleep on her stomach, then move her.
      3) I know you want a routine that works, but you have to expect that your daughter’s routine will change regularly for quite some time, including what time she’s tired at (those I know that stick to a strict bedtime *tend* to have periods where they can sit for up to 2 hours trying to get their babe to bed). I think you’ll find another routine that works and in a few months, that too will change. The reason is that she’s constantly developing – what works at 2 months shouldn’t work at 6 or 9 because her cognitive development and mental and emotional needs are changing as well. It seems like you may need to simply follow her lead for a bit and see if it gives you more insight into what she needs. If you’re forcing your own needs, then you’ll miss out on what she’s trying to tell you.

      Just keep in mind that she’s 5 months and her body and mind are changing in ways we can’t fathom. She won’t always do what works for you and your hubby and you may need to adapt to that in order to keep you all sane :)

      Good luck!

      • says

        Hi Tracy,

        Thanks so much for taking the time to write back. Yes, Elisabeth is teething so it sounds like some of her behavior makes sense. I’m so glad! I definitely didn’t make this connection.

        And-argh! I am really anti-routine with her so I hate that I came off that way in my comment. :-( Yes, I’d love her to keep what she was doing but more so I feel badly because she is so clearly tired and yet not willing to go to bed. Bedtime has been so loose that I thought I was doing a good thing by her. We really do (and are open to) whatever works for her. Definitely no forcing of our needs on her. She rules the roost for the most part!

        Any reading recommendations on any of this so I can do to make it easier for her? I really haven;t had much luck in any of the baby books that I was given or have been referred to.

        Thanks so much Tracy. I just love this site!

        • says

          Sorry for the delay in responding. I do imagine teething is part of it – it throws so much off for so many babies each time they go through it :) Something most parents are unaware of!

          I don’t actually know any books – it’s a bit of a problem. I’m not sure what’s in all of the Dr. Sears books but they might be useful – perhaps the more generic ones or the sleep ones (I have them linked in the Books area under Resources). Unfortunately though, I think most of the books don’t really address this for people – sadly :(

          Good luck!!

    • Whitney says

      If she is able to roll from back to front and front to back on her own then just let her sleep on her tummy. My little girl sometimes has to sleep on her tummy because its the only way she finds relief from gas/reflux. Belly sleeping is good for digestion. When she was younger she used turn onto her belly during the night and then wake up and cry because she couldn’t roll over, because we co-sleep it was really easy for me to help her turn over and then she’d go right back to sleep.

  10. Cherie says

    To respond to Elizabeth-my 7 1/2 month old daughter does the same thing but she seems to need it and she sleeps well so it doesnt bother me.

    • says

      Ah, interesting Cherie that your 7 month old does the same. But what did you mean by “need it”? Whats the “it”?
      The flipping to the stomach? I wasn’t sure! Thanks.

      • Cherie says

        Yeah, I meant that maybe she has to release her last bit of energy or just get comfortable by flipping and rolling. I put a pillow in the middle of the bed to keep her from going to the other side so my hubby has room to sleep, and she will nurse, flip over away from me to the pillow, then come back and nurse, roll over and repeat and finally just sleep. Im just happy that she’ll finally fall asleep turned away from me so I can stretch out a bit.

  11. Andrea says

    I have a question if someone would be so kind to respond. Keep in mind I’m not asking about during the sleeping hours, but awake time.

    I have two children. I used CIO with my first, but didn’t with my second (sort of- more on that in a second). WIth my second, we coslept from day 1, I offered the breast right away, or met whatever need he was indicating. As he’s gotten bigger (he just turned 2) he doesn’t seek me for comfort.

    He doesn’t comfort nurse. If he gets upset (usually when I tell him he can’t have something), he gets really upset and if I try and hold him/nurse him, or talk to him it actually agitates him MORE. This has been going on since about 9 months of age. Before that, distraction worked well because he didn’t understand object permanence. Now that he does, he’s just really mad he can’t have what he wants.

    Instead of scooping him up right away, I’ve learned that I have to let him walk away, and usually after awhile, he will come back to me- at which point I gladly scoop him up. But I feel bad that he doesn’t want me right away. I think this is just his personality (he has a very strong one) but sometimes worry I’ve somehow messed up our attachment. He’s also indifferent to me at times. He prefers Dad also.

    It was never like this with my oldest (once I learned about AP). My oldest will be cuddled/held, and feelings affirmed and be A-OK. My second son is just more difficult. I don’t know if this is something I should accept or somehow change my behavior in some way. Any thoughts appreciated.

    • says

      I don’t think you’ve done anything – every child is different. My daughter does enjoy cuddles sometimes but sometimes she wants to be left alone and all I can do is tell her I’m there when she’s ready. This is especially true when mad instead of sad :)

      One thing may be overstimulation – if a child is sensitive to touch or stimuli being touched when upset can be too overwhelming (and adds to the already overwhelming emotions he feels). Just try to remember that he’s still communicating with you, just in a different way :)

  12. Laura Maddison says

    My baby is 8 weeks old and has reflux. I have been seeing a peaditrician who has prescribed Losec, but after a month I have seen no improvement. After every feed, or sometimes while feeding she will start kicking her legs frantically, then crying then screaming and I can feel her belly growling and bubbling. Sometimes she will manage to pass wind or she will vomit and then will settle but moments later she will wake from peaceful sleep and start screaming again in pain and writhing around. This usually continues for 2-3 hours while I hold her in my arms to try and offer comfort/my breast. I am exhausted. I get no rest and even feeding times are difficult. I am coming close to putting her down to let her cry it out because I am losing so much sleep. My paed has referred me too Tresillian for a residential stay to correct her ‘behavioural problems” and I am really against this as I know she is not being naughty, but she is definitely in pain. I do not know where to go from here. I feel like I am going crazy!

    • Elizabeth says

      Laura, have you seen a lactation consultant? They should definitely be able to give you some ideas as to what is going on with your daughter. I think your instincts that she is in pain and upset is closer to reality than “behavioral problems”. Something is clearly wrong and I think a good lactation consultant should be able to help. I’m sorry this is so hard. It shouldn’t be! I’m sending good thoughts your way.

  13. Tasha says

    I know it’s been alluded to but really what is the deal with the car? My little guy hates his car seat and sometimes when I put him in it he gets upset unless the seat is being swung but the minute it stops he freaks out. If my husband is home we both go and I sit in the back with him to offer comfort while we drive and until he settles. Other times it’s just me driving and he will cry if he wakes up in his seat. I will talk to him and try to comfort him but can’t always pull over right away to get back to him. Not driving is not an option so what else can I do? I’m terrified I’m causing damage to his neuro development and attachment from all of the CIO fear I have. Any thoughts? Advice? Suggestions?

    • says

      Although I don’t know exactly, I would imagine for some babies it’s motion sickness. I have recommended to others the mirror that reflects to you so that he can see your face while you’re driving, but being close and offering comfort is actually still a good thing and that proximity with lots of vocal reassurances may actually be enough to reduce the cortisol spike. However, what we did (as my daughter HATED the car until over a year) was to take our time and stop for a period when she got upset – when she was at her worst we were pulling over every 10 minutes so I could nurse and comfort her. Our trips took much longer, but that was the only way we could keep her from being so incredibly upset.

      • Andrea says

        I disagree with that, personally, in some instances. To me, CIO means leaving a child to cry when there is some need you could be meeting, For example, I believe my kids cried in the car because they missed being held/nursed, which are valid needs. Denying them that when there is another way is letting them CIO. I minimize car trips because of it, Sometimes I walk places because of it, I’ve even walked to church. My husband does a lot of errands for me.

        That said, I realize there are times when its necessary. If you have to go get groceries to feed your family, that can be more important than the baby crying for a few minutes. You have to use common sense here. Another example… kids are bad teethers and sometimes nothing will console them. I hold them and offer to nurse and try and comfort them but they are just in pain. That’s different from CIO.

        But, If it were okay to let a child cry just because he/she can hear your voice, then you could let your child cry all day long ignoring his/her needs as you talked and reassured. Which isnt thatreassuring, because if it were the child would stop crying. You could not feed the child and talk to him/her, or not change their diaper because you’re “there”. Or at night when the parent is trying to “train” their child.

  14. Paula says

    I had the same problem with my dd. I found it was dairy in my diet. As soon as I stopped eating all dairy products her stomach/digestive problems stopped. Before I tried that approach I tried nux vomica & Carbo veg that my naturopath recomended. That worked, but she would suffer if I forgot a dose which is why I decided to look towards my diet. Your little one consumes everything you do. I found out that eggs & gluten affected her as well. Also, I feel so much better once the omitting these from my diet. Wish I would’ve done this much sooner. There are NO behavior problems at that age! It made me sick to my stomach to think a doctor would recommend any correctional treatment for an infant! I hope you & your baby luck! It will get better as she grows… hang in there mom. Rest will come 😉

  15. Rebekah says

    Hi Tracy,
    I’m new to this site and I just love it. I love all the fact based discussions and gentle parenting feels natural to me, just as CIO seems unnatural. My son is 7 months old and sleeps in a cot next to our bed. In your article you have said that the act of comforting should stop the cortisol release, I’m so relieved to hear that. My son is generally a great sleeper but on the few times he has trouble going to sleep I sit by his cot, either sing or reassure him and occasionally pat his head or belly. He doesn’t like to be touched and if I pick him up it usually makes him more upset. Do you think this is enough? I’ve always stressed in the back of my mind that this might be too close to CIO as I’m not more actively involved in comforting him


    • says

      Does he have other sensory issues in terms of touch? Or is it just when he’s upset he doesn’t like the touch? From my reading, just being there for him in a capacity that he’s comfortable with is key (i.e., if he wanted touch and you refused it, it wouldn’t be good, but if he doesn’t want it, then you’re following his cues) :)

  16. Pete says


    My wife and I have been looking for evidence that Cry It Out or controlled crying is harmful as we are considering it. When I read the article I notice that a jump is made which most readers will not notice.

    1. Crying babies (and adults) experience an increase in cortisol. Agreed.
    2. Adults with long term higher levels of cortisol are stressed and more likely to suffer depression, commit crimes and worse. Agreed.

    The question is “Does the amount and type of crying involved in controlled crying cause higher long term levels of cortisol?”

    It is stated near the end of paragraph 5

    “If this occurs too frequently, infants develop what has been termed a “stress-reactive” neurological profile”

    which infers that it does.

    None of the studies referenced, or any I have seen, state or even indicate that the type of crying involved in Cry It Out cause higher long term levels of cortisol. In fact the opposite is true. The thorough and excellent study done in Australia and endorsed by the NHS (google “NHS Cry It Out 225″) concludes that controlled crying DOES NOT cause higher levels of cortisol at 10 months, 1, 2 and 5 years.

    Please show me where I have gone wrong otherwise this looks like dishonest journalism. Something my depressed wife and don’t need right now.

    Thank you in advance

    • says

      The levels of crying in CIO or controlled crying will depend on the child. The Australia study was actually horribly done (it’s one of the worst studies I’ve seen) – I’ve done an entire response as have many researchers (see the journal it was published in and you can read pages of responses about how awful the study was). My own response to it was here:

      What you should know about stress long-term though is that long-term stress actually results in DECREASES in cortisol, not regular increases. The increase is a spike in response to a stressor which has not been assessed. Your point #2 is not one that I made – it’s repeated increases in cortisol that are problematic or sustained increase for a period which results in a massive decrease. But the stress-reactive profile is well-established, though not in response to CIO as we just don’t know. No study has told us one way or another, though we know it causes higher temporary stress from the Middlemiss et al. research. (Btw, suggesting dishonest journalism should go both ways – those who say there are no long-term effects of CIO have NO basis for their claims because research doesn’t inform. I am using circumstantial evidence, yes, but it does point to that, at least for a subset of babies:

      If you’re feeling tired and upset, I would recommend some gentle alternatives (CIO and CC aren’t very efficient long-term relative to even just waiting, you can check out the Infant Sleep Information Source from Durham University on that). Some of them are in the links at the end of this piece:

      Good luck and I hope you find something that works for your family.

  17. Lisa says

    Hi Tracy, my 5 month old girl has recently started having crying fits for up to an hour before naps or bedtime. I try my best to comfort her but nothing seems to help. I used to just cuddle her with her dummy if she was unsettled and she’d go straight to sleep but now she just continues to flail. I offer a feed but she refuses, i think also that she’s frustrated with my increasingly slow let down as she will take a bottle at these times. I give her granules in case its teething pain but i dont think they do anything. Is this just an energy release? An hour seems a long time just for that. I’ve struggled to get her into any sort of a routine too since she wakes at different times each day and takes different lengths of time to get to sleep for naps then only naps half an hour. Hope you can offer some advice, thanks.

    • says

      Are you starting the bedtime/naptime routine? One possibility is that she’s overtired and you’re misreading her cues for sleep. Another is that bedtime has become stressful so if you’re starting a routine and she’s picking up on it, she’s unhappy. Of course, there’s also the cognitive leaps happing around now and you’re not far from the notorious 6-month sleep regression period. Teething pain is a possibility. Have you introduced solids recently? I would check this piece out and first get to a lactation consultant to see if they can identify anything.

      • Lisa says

        Hi thanks for your reply, her bedtime routine is just bath, a feed if she’ll have it then into her crib with a dummy and white noise on. She only gets a dummy for sleep and would start settling as soon as she was given it before. For naps its just dummy and white noise unless she needs a feed as well. I dont read her books or anything as she gets quite excited about books and didnt want to overstimulate. I do think she’s overtired i struggle to read her sleepy cues and when i try too early to get her bed she chatters away for ages then ends up crying anyway. I have been worrying its becoming too stressful and her picking up that its bedtime it does seem like thats happening now but i dont know how to make it any better for her, i’ve never left her to cry i only leave the room if i can without her getting too upset otherwise id stay and stroke her face which she likes so i dont know how it became stressful in the first place. I also take her out in the buggy for a nap most days just so she gets a good sleep and lately resorted to letting her sleep in her carrier both of which she likes and falls asleep easily. She’s not started solids yet, just thinking, the only time she really refuses a feed is if she’s tired probably overtired or if ive taken her upstairs to bed. She has good and bad nights of waking but always feeds at least twice and wakes a couple times for her dummy too which isnt a problem im only concerned about it being difficult to get her to sleep in the first place. If she needs to cry and i just need to comfort her thats fine i just dont want to make this worse if thats not all it is. Thanks.

        • says

          Part of what is theoretically happening around the six month sleep regression is a mix of things: teething, cognitive leaps, and possibly separation anxiety. If she knows the routine and knows you leave (waking up without you would be one way to realize that), that would be enough to trigger it.

          • Lisa says

            Ah i see, so i should really have been getting her to sleep without me being there. Im kicking myself now cos she did actually start doing that around 3 months when i first gave her a dummy and somehow ive ended up hanging around helping her to sleep. Thanks so much for taking the time to reply :-)

          • says

            Wait – no, I didn’t say that! I think being there is great for her – that type of proximity is wonderful for most babies. I just clearly don’t want you thinking I would ever recommend forcing babe to go to sleep without you.

            What I meant is that babies who know you aren’t there in the morning will STILL have the same reaction. It isn’t recommended that a baby sleep in a separate room until after six months anyway as it increases the risk of SIDS in those younger than 6 months. What I had hoped you’d gather is that there’s enough going on that this is NORMAL. Many babies DO need help sleeping and you should never feel bad for being there for her :) And even if you had left when she was doing it, you would most likely be going through this regression.

            See that what she’s doing is communicating. I’m assuming she’s in her own room? Can you room-share? Move the cot into your room? This may help ease some very normal separation anxiety :)

  18. Lisa says

    Oh no dont worry i wasnt planning to suddenly start forcing her to sleep alone i was thinking was it something i should have maybe done earlier but i see now thats not what you meant :-) It does help knowing its just normal. She is actually still in our room though i hadnt planned to move her anytime soon with her waking quite a lot at night but she does go straight back to sleep no problems its just initially getting her to sleep thats a battle. I think i timed her first nap a bit better this morning, she went down with no tears, the rest of day was same as usual but ill keep working on my timing in case that helps. Im happy to help her get to sleep if thats what she needs i definitely dont feel bad for it :-)

  19. Elena says

    I totally agree with this article. In my home country there was a whole generation of well educated parents, who were bringing up their babies with Dr. Spok, whose method was extremely popular. The book of this author told to leave the babies in the crib to let them cry out. Well, now we joke about generation of adults, who were neglected as kids 30 years ago, and having various psychological problems, when being grown-ups. Surprisingly, history doesn’t teach people much. May be some of the ones, who’ ve experienced being left and abandoned. Can’t say that this way of upbringing left strong memories in my mind, but from what I feel at my heart, that was’t right. If sometimes people find it hard to communicate to each other, to show and solve their troubles, to ask for help. What do you expect from a baby, who can’t tell you in words? Only thing to do is to show you are there.

  20. says

    Glad to know that worked out with your daughter, but my personal experience with my daughter was that, when she was in that state, staying with her would make things worse. I tried it many, many times and all that would happen would be that, depending on how tired she was, she would either bounce around cheerfully and refuse to settle down at all, or she would cry longer and harder. If I walked out, she’d wail indignantly a couple of times, cry for about 7 – 8 minutes more at an annoyed rather than frantic pitch, and then fall asleep. If I walked back in during that stage, she would go back to wailing. She just wanted to be left alone for those few minutes of crying. In the end, I just accepted it. I’ve read about quite a few other parents having the same experience.

    That’s my problem with the ‘never leave your child to cry’ dogma. I think it’s great to support parents who find their children do do better with support falling asleep – that’s what works for them, and that’s great. But if I’d stuck to a strict idea that I should always be there to support my child, I’d effectively have increased her distress.


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