I know that crying-it-out is a hot-button topic for a lot of people. I mean, you can’t exactly go on the internet without knowing that people have some intense, passionate personal feelings about leaving your vulnerable offspring to cry themselves to sleep. So I am only going to talk about my experiences and my decisions and how that all turned out for my family. You can take it, or leave it, but I do know that being honest about our parenting decisions often helps other parents feel supported on this wild ride.
As a new mom 10 years ago, I wasn’t quite as inundated with the amount of information as new moms are today. I feel you, ladies. I think that if I were to be starting my family now, I would have a hard time leaving the house for fear of all the judgment out there. How do you freaking choose what to do? Co-sleeping, breastfeeding, vaccinating, crying-it-out, working, stay-at-home, GMOs, attachment, tiger mom, free-range, blah blah blah. It’s exhausting and annoying.
And really, no matter what you choose, someone is going to have a problem with it. If you were to research CIO today, the things you would read would make you want to swaddle your baby and rock in a corner and never let them go for fear that they would turn into a psychopath on their 21st birthday.
People are so opinionated about other people’s lives today, especially parents. So, at the risk of people having lots of opinions about my life, I’d like to just let you know about some positive crying-it-out results. My kids are 5 and 10 and great sleepers, and I would have liked to stumble upon someone else’s happy ending in those dark hours. Those hours when I was listening to my babies sob and hiccup, trying to be strong enough for the both of us.
The thought that kept me going was that I was doing it for them. I was giving them the gift of learning how to fall asleep on their own. The gift of having a mother who wasn’t so sleep-deprived that she felt like she was legitimately losing her mind.
Was it excruciating? Yes.
Did I cry? Of course.
Did it work? Hell yes.
Would I do it again? In a heartbeat, especially if I knew that a childhood filled with good sleep habits for all of us was at the end of the whole emotional ordeal.
So, just in case you’ve been living under a parenting rock, the term “cry-it-out” (CIO) refers to the desperate measures parents go to when they just really, really need their babies to start sleeping through the night. At the time my first child was born, I worked full-time at a demanding physical job, and I needed to sleep. My son was treating me like we were frat buddies and 3 a.m. was when the party started. Trying to wake up at 6 and do life was becoming a nightmare. We all needed to sleep. So I did my research and CIO seemed to be the best option for getting there.
Depending on the particular method (there are many), CIO basically involves letting your baby cry for awhile and checking in on them occasionally to let them know that you are there, but that it is time to go to sleep. They learn to self-soothe, and then ultimately, the idea is that they figure out how to fall asleep all by themselves. Yes, by themselves. In their crib. No boob bar or bottle or anything.
I think we implemented the CIO method at around 8 months with my first and a little earlier for my second. We made sure they were dry, fed, and comfortable, and we laid them down in their cribs sleepy but awake. And then they cried. We soothed every few minutes, and we didn’t pick them up, and it was horrifying for the first two nights. At least for me. My husband was a bit more resolute. I simply sobbed and felt like a complete monster. Women’s bodies are programmed to go to our children when they are in distress, and my very soul ached to hold my baby and make them feel better. I remember holding my phone like a grenade, counting the seconds until I could go in and say, “Shhh shhh, it’s okay,” and pat them for a few seconds before leaving again. Those nights felt like centuries.
But around the third or fourth night (see, I’ve already forgotten) was when the magic happened. They simply slept. They woke up eight hours after we laid them down and gurgled and smiled, and it was like we all had a new lease on life. Of course there were setbacks, and maybe my kids were just programmed to be good sleepers, but since then, they pretty much go to bed when we want them to and they sleep. In their own beds. Until morning. They sleep.
And despite what many attachment parenting/anti-CIO websites proclaim about the cruelness of CIO, my kids are perfectly functioning, compassionate, bonded, smart, funny children. Science even says that this method does not harm babies. If you are ever in the trenches of a CIO session, make this your mantra: “I am not harming my baby. I am giving them a tool for life.” And my kids haven’t even grown scales and don’t speak in tongues yet, although we have been keeping a close eye on the little one. They are well-adjusted, they didn’t lose any brain cells, and they aren’t sociopaths.
For us, CIO was amazing — and life-changing. Nobody is advocating letting a hungry newborn cry for hours on end. That’s not how this works, and I just want to throw some support out there for other moms who may be barely hanging onto their sanity and just need a few quiet hours of sleep each night to make it through this wild ride. You’re not a bad mom. You’re not ruining your baby. Everything is going to be fine.