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Cry-It-Out: “Toxic” For Babies’ Brains

Posted Apr 23 2010 12:00am

crying baby A new book puts more pressure on parents to pick up that crying baby, calling the cry-it-out method (CIO) “toxic” and “very bad for brain development,” the BBC reports .

Many of you consider yourself natural or attachment parents, so chances are, you would never consider “ Ferberizing” your baby. That’s where you lay baby down awake and occasionally soothe the child, but do not pick her up, even if she cries. This sleep training was popular in our moms’ and grandmothers’ times so as not to “spoil” the child.

But in a new book Dr. Penelope Leach (The Essential First Year – What Babies Need Parents to Know) claims that there is no scientific evidence that cry-it-out works, and is in fact detrimental to babies.

Still, we hear it a lot today: variations of excuses for employing the CIO method to get your baby to sleep. If parents sleep better, we’ll be better parents during the day. Or comments like this, from a Babycenter discussion:

Crying it out will make everyone happier!


I’m a first time parent that has begun the worrisome task of sleep training my 5 month old. I’m letting him “CIO” with minimal intervention and no it’s not easy. I would love to rock, feed, and hold him forever, but I must look at the long term health benefits of my son being able to self sooth and fall asleep without my involvement, which is more disruptive then [sic] productive.

Or this skeptical response on an IVillage board :

Define brain damage and to what extent CIO causes it. What KIND of brain damage? I dont think this article answered any of that. I am a big proponent of CIO but only when used correctly.

Ohh. I see. “Proper” daily dosage of crying for a baby. Huh. My sons’ pediatrician never mentioned that necessity.

If you’ve tried CIO and it’s made you uncomfortable, that’s because it’s supposed to. Instinctively, as a parent, you are supposed to respond to a baby’s cries. That’s why babies cry. That’s why my breasts swell when I hear an infant cry, even months after my toddler and I finished breastfeeding.

Dr. Leach said that letting a baby cry for over a half hour is very harmful,

We are talking about the release of stress chemicals. The best known of them is cortisol, which is produced under extreme stress…

The reason that a baby gives up after half an hour, three-quarters of an hour or an hour is that it has given up and that its expectations have been altered.

I’ve heard it said that babies stop crying because they have learned that mummy wants them to go back to sleep. Babies are not capable of that sort of learning.

So really, parents, what you’re witnessing is not “self-soothing,” you’re witnessing emotional defeat. Doesn’t that break your heart?

I speak as a single mom who did not let her babies cry-it-out. I for sure know it’s hard. And I know that people are quite passionate about needing their sleep. So babywear until bedtime. Cosleep . Breastfeed until your gurgler is nodding off. I found that putting an infant Baby E on a blanket under a tree, so he could watch the branches move, soothed him just before bed.

Find your trick. But don’t trick or exhaust your infant into sleeping when it’s convenient for you. Because let’s face it: As parents, not much is going to convenient to you.

Image: BBanauch on Flickr under a Creative Commons License .

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