PhotoHere's a question for new parents: when your baby is crying in her crib, do you pick her up or let her cry herself back to sleep?

Many new parents will tell you it is very hard to listen as their infant “cries it out,” but researchers at Temple University say it might not be a bad idea, after checking to make sure there is no obvious reason for the child's discomfort.

A study, published in Developmental Psychology, supports the idea that a majority of infants are best left to self-soothe and fall back to sleep on their own when they awaken and cry in the middle of the night.

Sleeping through the night

"By six months of age, most babies sleep through the night, awakening their mothers only about once per week,” said Temple psychology professor Marsha Weinraub, who specializes in child development and parent-child relationships. “However, not all children follow this pattern of development."

In the study, Weinraub and her colleagues identified two groups of infants -- sleepers and what they call “transitional sleepers.” While some may cry when they wake up, almost all wake up during the night on a regular basis.

"If you measure them while they are sleeping, all babies -- like all adults -- move through a sleep cycle every 1 1/2 to 2 hours where they wake up and then return to sleep," said Weinraub. "Some of them do cry and call out when they awaken, and that is called 'not sleeping through the night.'"

Boys tend to be criers

The study of 1,200 infants age six months to 36 months found boys tended to wake up and cry more often than girls. These “transitional sleepers” also tended to have “difficult temperament" when they were awake.

These babies were also more likely to be breastfed. Mothers of these babies were more likely to be depressed and have greater maternal sensitivity.

The findings suggest a couple of things, said Weinraub. One is that genetic or constitutional factors such as those that might be reflected in difficult temperaments appear implicated in early sleep problems.

When to talk to your doctor

"Families who are seeing sleep problems persist past 18 months should seek advice," she said.

Another takeaway is that it is important for babies to learn how to fall asleep on their own.

"When mothers tune in to these night-time awakenings and/or if a baby is in the habit of falling asleep during breastfeeding, then he or she may not be learning to how to self-soothe, something that is critical for regular sleep," she said.

Dr. Spock

There are many theories about how parents should react to their crying babies. In 1946 Dr. Benjamin Spock wrote that mothers should use their best judgment about what their babies need and comforting them when they cry -- no matter what the time of day -- is fine.

Experts at the Mayo Clinic point out that, when an infant cries, he is usually trying to tell you something. Parents, they say, should try to figure out why their child is crying. Sometimes, they say, letting an infant cry is the right course of action.

“If you've tried everything and your baby is still upset, consider letting your baby cry it out,” write members of the Mayo Clinic staff. “Crying won't hurt your baby -- and sometimes the only way to stop a crying spell is to let it run its course.”


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Jenny Christine
I heard about this article on the radio last night and had to find it for myself. I will preface my comments with saying that I am a mother as well as a mental health professional specializing in attachment and developmental trauma issues. This article misses two very important points; at what age are they recommending “cry it out” and in what manner? A child's brain does not develop the ability to "self-soothe" until about age 2-2.5 years old, therefore, letting a small infant "cry it out" is abusive in my opinion. It is not good for their brain development and is harmful to developing a secure attachment. Prolonged crying w/ out being soothed by the primary attachment figure teaches the infant that their needs will not be met. Yes, many of them will eventually stop and go to sleep, but do not mistake this for some kind of success in teaching them to "self soothe". This is their nervous system shutting down as a result of not being tended to. With that said, as a child gets into toddlerhood, he can tolerate longer periods of crying without parents responding. At that point, it is more appropriate for the child to be left for a while to try and self soothe. However, allowing this to go on for a prolonged period of time is still not advised. The more a child’s needs are met in a timely manner and with loving attunement, the more they will feel secure in their environment and this will lead to increased self-sufficiency and ability to self-regulate. These types of articles drive me crazy as they are harmful in giving desperate parents permission to do what goes against their own instincts. These are babies that are completely dependent on us for their needs and that includes emotional needs. Our culture needs to get away from this idea of the baby needing to adjust to our schedules and lives. When you become a parent, it is important to accept the changes this brings to your life and that means nighttime parenting as well. It is not easy, nor must one do it with a smile at all times, but this culture needs to shift the way it thinks about parenting and what it is that our children need. A baby does not have the ability to manipulate an adult. If the baby is crying it needs something, even if what he needs is simply to be comforted, that is a legitimate need that should be attended to. New parents do not buy into this crap. Trust your gut, if your baby is crying, go to her and soothe her! You will never do harm to your child by meeting her needs!
Collette Carter Lemons
When the kids woke up during the night I did not pick them up but simply rubbed their back until they went back to sleep. Yes, they slept on their stomach - it was allowed back then. A little rub on the back and soft whispers and back to sleep they went. It was important for them to know I was there and equally important for them to know I was not going to pick them up with every little sound. Using this method they went to sleep a lot faster than when picked up and rocked.You don't have to hold them to make them feel secure - they just have to feel you nearby and hear your voice.
Heidi Twohig
Check this out mamas with little ones! Please read comment posted by Jenny Christine! She is right on!!
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