Monday, August 30, 2010

No kid ever died from crying

Just when I thought I had nothing to write about during the doldrums of late August, a friend and mother of two emailed me a gem from Britain's Daily Mail. The gist of the piece was that a couple of researchers in Toronto and the UK determined that babies get stressed when their mothers ignore them for even two minutes.

Basically the scientists had a bunch of moms play with their six month olds (who were strapped into car seats) and then stop and stare above their heads for two minutes. They noted that the babies' cortisol (a stress hormone) levels rose when ignored. But the part that made my friend send the article was the conclusion that such "neglect" would cause lifelong damage, and you guessed it, Mommy Issues. Both researchers where male. It hurts my head that a couple of reputable universities saw fit to underwrite such absurdity.

Here's the thing: everyone knows that no parent can devote all her attention to her baby at all times. Sometimes life gets in the way. Siblings need love, too. Meals must be cooked. Homes cleaned. Bills paid. And, since the study controlled the experiment by placing the babies in car seats, roads should be watched. No matter how much Junior wails in his back seat baby bucket.

I'm going to go out on a limb and hypothesize that perhaps the wee ones in the study experienced cortisol surges because they felt stressed about imminent automobile transport. Not too many kids I know really enjoyed the car as rear-facing infants. The Grape would scream like a banshee whenever we hit the road.

But I'm digressing. What makes me crazy about this study, besides the fact that two men basically set out to condemn moms for not doing enough, is that, in my humble opinion, babies need down time too. We spent the first month of the Grape's life in Rhode Island, where we saw a fantastic, and probably locally legendary, pediatrician. One of the main points in his new-baby spiel was that the baby is NOT the CEO of the family. "He gets excellent care, but he doesn't decide everything." This struck me as so brilliant that I briefly (I was still on some heavy post op drugs) contemplated moving to the burbs so the Grape could keep seeing Dr. Dave.

He said that the baby should have 45 minutes of alone time every day. "Put him in the infant seat in the next room and let him hang out." I'm not sure we succeeded in heeding his advice on a daily basis because of the sheer number of relatives vying to hold him, but the Grape did get used to a little Grape Time.

I'm certain Dr. Dave would call this latest study something unprintable in a family blog.

I've said it before in this space, but it bears repeating: Happy, healthy parents are good for babies. Period.

And you cannot be happy or healthy in the long term without rest and downtime.

That's why I'm an unapologetic fan of sleep training. No baby ever died from crying (it's a wives' tale perpetuated by the attachment set), and the reality is, most babies will have to cry out their protests for a few nights before getting the idea that the overnight hours are for snoozing. Obviously, this goes for healthy kids only; I'm not suggesting that a child who is sick or in pain be ignored. But most parents get pretty adept at telling the difference between a protest scream and a discomfort scream. If he stirs during the night, we let him soothe himself back to sleep. It usually works, and fast, because he has no expectation that we'll fish him out of the crib to pace the apartment at 3 a.m. He's a happier child during waking hours because he doesn't chop up his nights with several wake ups and parental interventions. You'd think this would be common sense.

Once we got the Grape sleeping through, we discovered that if we let him decide where to place the night, he'd choose 7 p.m to 5 a.m. It took about a week of letting him cry in the mornings to push his bedtime later and his wake up closer to 7 a.m. Now everyone is happier AND LESS STRESSED.

Both friends and complete strangers people often remark at how happy and agreeable the Grape seems. Part of that is just luck. Of course it's nice to have a good natured kid. But to me, it's also anecdotal evidence that cry it out isn't doing any damage. It's impossible to provide a stress-free life for any child. The Grape, like most kids I know, lives in the moment. Later today, he'll flip out when I leave him at the gym nursery to go work out and shower. He'll carry on like the sky is falling. But when I collect him, all will be forgiven by the time we make it down one floor and out to the sidewalk.

Mean? Not at all. Good for everyone. I get to exercise and wash like a civilized human being, and the Grape gets a small dose of the Grape time Dr. Dave ordered, in a safe and supervised environment.

(Here's the link to the article:


  1. I'm reading this at 3am while my little one is crying it out. It's tough! Thanks for the reassurance

    1. Everything always seems awful at 3 am. Hang in there. It gets better. I promise!

      It took three or four wretched nights for our little guy to get it, but (knock wood) he sleeps through the night like a champ for over fours years now.

      Good luck!