Originally published March 8, 2007 at A Mama’s Blog
Last night I had Cole down sleeping, and was trying to read Ryan a story to put him in bed (Joe wasn’t home), and sure enough, Cole started crying. I was hoping it would only last for a minute or so, and he would go back to sleep, but he started getting more and more upset. After a few minutes, it was obvious he was now fully awake, and despite having an upset three-year-old who was NOT happy his story was being interrupted, I had to leave Ryan to go attend to Cole.
It has been a week since I have started nursing Cole to sleep, and then putting him in his crib next to our bed. It is working a lot better than having him sleep in the bed, but he still wakes up a lot. So he was in his crib, and after my eyes adjusted to the darkness in the room, what I saw, just about broke my heart.
I don’t believe in “crying-it-out.” I firmly believe that when a baby is crying, he needs something. He may be scared, and just need the reassurance that his mama is still in the vicinity of the house. I certainly don’t think a couple of minutes when I can’t get to Cole is making him cry-it-out. I am talking about leaving him while he is crying in a crib, obviously distressed, for a long period of time. I just don’t have the stomach for it. For me, there is nothing worse than hearing your baby scream and cry for you, while they are in a dark room alone.
Plus there has been some research from Harvard and Yale, that has shown “when babies who are routinely separated from parents in a stressful way have abnormally high levels of the stress hormone and lower growth hormone levels. These imbalances inhibit the development of nerve tissue in the brain, suppress growth, and depress the immune system.”
This subject was also brought up on a recent Dr. Phil episode that featured three of the Dr. Sears’s. Dr. Bob Sears said this about crying-it-out on the show:
When a baby screams for 10, 20 minutes, or a half-hour night after night, what actually happens to the baby’s brain? The blood pressure goes up. The pressure gets so high, new blood with oxygen can’t flow into the brain. So the brain can be deprived of oxygen, you guys. And that’s not all. It gets worse. The brain can be flooded with stress hormones, and we know that stress hormones can damage sensitive developing nerve tissue. So, night after night, weeks and weeks of crying can actually harm a baby’s brain. That’s why we encourage you both to respond to your maternal intuition. Robert, develop your fatherly intuition, so you can both really thrive as a family. Respond to your baby.
So back to Cole. In the few minutes before I could get to him, he stood up in the crib, put his hands through the slots, and was feeling / squeezing my mattress. I knew he was trying to find me. Even though he is in his crib now, he knows where I sleep, and he was looking for me–he needed me.
I picked him up, and instantly the crying stopped. I sat down with him on the bed, and even though his eyes were closed, he started cooing. I nursed him for a few minutes to calm him down. Then the most amazing thing happened. His eyes were still closed, and he took his hand and started tracing and feeling my face, the way a blind person would. It was like he was trying to memorize my face by feel.
I am in awe of the way a baby’s brain works, and I think there is so much we still don’t know about this. As he was feeling my face, I got a tear in my eye, and I felt so grateful that I have been able to follow my instincts on what feels right.
I couldn’t help but think, as my sweet baby was stroking my face, first, if I had gone against my instincts and had allowed him to cry-it-out, yes, he may have curled up and gone to sleep, after it was clear to him that his mama wasn’t going to come to him, but the way it was going, he would have just become more and more upset. He would have been very distressed, and he was looking for me! Two, I would have completely missed this tender moment with him, that I will never forget.