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March 07, 2008

Is it cruel to let your child cry?

BabyIf you asked me that question three years ago, the answer would have been easy: Yes. When we interviewed pediatricians before my daughter was born, I quizzed them all on their sleep-solutions since I wanted a doctor who would understand and support my decision to never let my child cry. But if you read my article in this month’s American Baby magazine, you know that my husband and I wound up Ferberizing our daughter half-heartedly at 4 months and 8 months, and then again for real at 15 months. And if you read my recent blog post you’ll know that my daughter, who is now three, happily puts herself to bed but still crawls into our bed most nights and that I was recently going through sleep-training hell again, this time with my infant son. Judging from the reaction I received from both the article and the blog, most people think that yes, it’s horribly inhumane to let a child cry. Here are some of the comments:

HOW ATROCIOUS!! This article makes me sick to my stomach. You'd have to be an animal...wait...even animals take care of their babies! The CIO method is out and out CHILD ABUSE.

You don't stop being a parent at night. When your baby cries, there is something wrong! They aren't trying to manipulate you, or ruin your good night's sleep. They are trying to adjust to life, and possibilities, and pain, and discomfort, just like everyone else. If husband and wife can't sleep without each other, why expect your babies to sleep alone??? You know, they can sleep in their own space in the same room, if you are against cosleeping. But crying-it-out is child abuse.

No where, in any universe, is there anything sadder than a babe who stops crying because she realizes no one will come. Poor Ella, what a crime that she has been born to parents who are more concerned with themselves than they are in meeting her needs, making her feel comforted, loved and safe.

Ouch.

There’s very little that’s black and white when about parenting, and when it comes to sleep, no solution fits all families. Acting as an all-night buffet for my daughter left me a zombie during the day. I was convinced that co-sleeping with our baby would leave one of us with a broken nose, thanks to her constant thrashing and flailing. But most importantly, my daughter wasn’t getting the sleep she needed to thrive. Both at nap time and night she could only fall asleep on the breast and would wake the second she was removed. I wasn’t her mom, I was her human pacifier.

I’ve read all the sleep books and tried the gentler, no cry methods. They didn’t work. Letting your child cry may not be perfect and it’s certainly not easy, but it’s the best solution we’ve found so far. And it’s the one that every pediatrician that I’ve spoken with recommends. And while the comments to my article and blog may have been negative, I've seen nothing but an outpouring of support from friends and family members who have made similar difficult sleep decisions.

I’m happy to report that my son, with very little crying, is now putting himself to bed and waking only once or twice a night to nurse and then goes back to sleep in his crib. My daughter still comes into our bed most nights, but she also celebrates those mornings when she wakes up in her own room. If you talk to me next week, I may be throwing my Ferber book out the window again. But right now, it’s 8:00 at night and I have two happy children, in their own beds, sleeping peacefully. I’ll take it.

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