When my first-born son was six months old he would babble and smile all day long with his toothless grin that each time made my heart ache.
He would arch up on his hands and knees and rock back and forth wanting to crawl and he would gaze at me with his big brown eyes devoted, trusting, divine.
The day he was six months old on a sticky February night, one of those ones when the humidity refuses to lift its blanket off the Sydney skies I put him to bed, closed the door and let him cry until he vomited.
It had been six long months of effortless loving and delight and six months of exhaustion so bone achingly hard I felt I would break. Six months of a baby waking every hour or two. Six months of reading every book there was, trying every thing I could, visiting sleep clinics and rocking and patting and shussing and endless tears.
I was committed to trying something that would work and ‘cry-it-out’ it would be.
This is my son, Jasper, the day I started controlled crying him. Image: Supplied.
After six months of no sleep you become something of an expert on the pros and cons of sleep training. You’ve read the stats, you’ve analysed the studies, you’ve heard the debates, you’ve monitored the Facebook judgment and you’ve made the informed there-is-no-there-option decision that “controlled crying” is the last straw.
I hadn’t told anyone I was going to do it except my family. I’d seen the mighty hand of shame cast down upon other mothers who had dared try it.
I had picked a night my partner was away thinking I’d be stronger. I had it all planned out.
It had to work.
I closed the door and tried to breathe and as he wailed for me I watched the clock and held firm, each time it getting harder to leave him longer. The minutes I spent slumped at his door aching to go into his room I sobbed.
I’ve got this. It has to work. I can’t cope.
At 7.15pm I started hyperventilating.
At 8pm he projectile vomited across the room.
He had been crying for only 10 minutes by that time.
I lasted until 1am.
Back and forth, waiting longer, closing doors.
And then I failed.
I picked him and schussed him and held him till he slept and then held him the next night and the next. I had failed at controlled crying.
A study on babies sleep has been released today. Via IStock.
Today that perennial topic of sleep-deprived mothers has entered the news cycle again.
With researchers from Adelaide saying that babies who are left to cry themselves to sleep may develop better overall sleeping patterns – and that the method did not produce any more signs of stress in the infants than a “gentler” method.
It’s a reassuring study for parents who’ve felt that ache of guilt, that fear they were being selfish in just wanting a few hours sleep.
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That first time wasn’t the only time I tried the cry it out method. Over next few years I tried it again my son and then my other two children.
Once I even paid a sleep nurse to come into my home to teach my then 18-month old to sleep. I had a two week old as well at that stage and at 3am in near hysteria I pleaded with the woman to leave after I could bear the sounds of my son’s cries no longer.
I wish I could tell you that the cry-it out method worked for me but I can’t, as it didn’t.
I wish I could tell you that magically my children learnt to sleep through the night, not one of them did, the eldest still wakes up every night at the age of eight.
But I never really gave it a go, at the time I said to myself I was too weak but looking back I think I was just too tired and overwhelmed, too swayed by what I’d read on Facebook and heard in mother’s groups. That niggling feeling of doubt broke me each time.
Was I harming them? Was I doing something wrong? Was I a bad mother?
Well no, it turns out I wasn't.
It's time parents who use controlled crying are allowed to come in from the shadows and feel okay about what they have done. Via IStock.
The study, published in the journal Pediatrics found that babies allowed to “cry it out” have no difference in terms of stress hormone levels than babies helped back to sleep by their parents through a method called “bedtime fading.”
Dr Michael Gradisar, an associate professor at Flinders University in Australia found that babies who cried it out slept roughly 20 mins more than the other group and showed no signs of immediate stress. He also found there was no difference among the groups 12 months later in the measures of the children’s emotional and behavioural well-being.
Critics of "graduated extinction" believe that strategy disrupts parent-child attachment but Dr. Gradisar said: “We couldn’t find any differences. The more studies we get, the more confident we can feel that this is actually safe to perform.”
Three words I could have done with a few years ago.
Safe to perform.
Babies who cried it out slept roughly 20 mins more than the other group. Via IStock.
It's time parents who use controlled crying to be allowed to come out from the shadows and feel okay about what they have done.
They don’t need judgment or criticism.
What they need is the reassurance of a scientific study by a leading researcher to whisper in their ears as they try and block out the crying.
You are doing okay. This too shall pass.
It’s safe to perform.
They need support from the rest of us ..(and a home delivered take away coffee doesn’t go astray either.)
They need to know if they do persevere they and their babies will be okay. They are their babies will be safe.