Dr. Darcia Narvaez over at Psychology Today has alerted parents to the goofy thinking behind a recent article in Parents magazine in which an author encouraged parents to let their babies cry themselves to sleep. The author of the Parents article said parents should rest assured that letting a baby cry herself to sleep won’t harm the baby, and that “whatever sleep training method feels best to you is just fine.”
Dr. Narvaez and her co-author explain:
Unfortunately, over 2 million Parents readers have just been told that leaving babies to cry to the point of distress and beyond—to the point of potential neurological damage (Lyons, 2000)—has been proven safe and even that it’s proper childrearing . . . It does this by ending with the prolific, misconception that has justified this practice for decades: “[Your baby] needs to learn the important lifelong skills of self-soothing and falling asleep on his own.” Nothing could be further from the truth for a baby.
As Parents magazine did in this case, media reports notoriously and misleadingly back up cry-to-sleep (CIO) advice with a single flawed study. In this case, the editor approved conclusions that crying-it-out is safe based on a study of babies who didn’t, in fact, cry-it-out—not in terms of what all the major sleep-training books recommend or the common understanding of the term.
This Parents piece exemplifies the glaring mistakes made regularly among reporters on cry-it-out as well as sleep training generally. Such failures lead parents to make decisions based on misinformation. Worse, these reporting failures lead our society at large, including non-parents, to think it’s “just fine” to leave babies in distress. This unscientific attitude is bad for us all—regularly or intensely distressed babies grow into unhappy and stress-reactive (inflexible, self-focused) adults that we all have to live with (Read: Gerhardt, 2005).
Dr. Narvaez and her co-author go on to outline very clearly the flaws in the media’s treatment of the cry-it-out method. I encourage you to check it out for yourself!
If you’re looking for gentle, sensible sleep advice, I recommend these resources:
Sleeping With Your Baby: A Parent’s Guide to Co-Sleeping by James McKenna
The No-Cry Sleep Solution by Elizabeth Pantley