While I agree with the midwife when she says that it is kinder to the baby to address their sleep issues rather than not, I do not find anything kind for the child in controlled crying, also called passive settling.
Babies work on ‘feelings’ and expectations. The baby knows what they usually feel like when they go to sleep, all of their senses are engaged in the process of going to sleep. This will differ from baby to baby, as each child is unique, therefore, no single approach will suit every baby. If you choose to apply controlled crying, you are effectively ignoring your baby’s feelings and expectations for a parent led extinction method.
If we look at a baby who breast feeds to sleep, the baby will have a list of feelings that are associated with falling asleep, such as :
- Presence of Mum
- Smell of Mum
- Hearing mother’s heartbeat or gurgling stomach
- Feeling of nipple in mouth
- Taste of milk
- Sucking motion
- Feeling of fullness of milk in tummy
- Deep touch while being held while feeding
As you can see a lot of ‘sensations’ are involved with a baby settling to sleep like this.
So then imagine how foreign this same baby would feel being put into his cot, wide awake and with none of the feelings he is used to when falling asleep. The baby will only know how to fall asleep with his mother present and a lot of help to fall asleep. Even by going back into the baby's room on a regular basis to reassure the baby, it is still not teaching him how to independently settle.
This sudden change in settling is very likely to cause distress and uncertainty, reduced confidence around sleep and for some, a worsening of sleep. For some babies, leaving them alone in their cot at bedtime even for a short time may cause them to be so upset that they vomit. At the very least, they will develop negative feelings around their cot or sleep space that makes it very difficult to proceed and improve things from that point.
So while I agree that the way the baby goes to sleep has to change, as this is causing the baby to be wakeful and feed all night, there are kinder ways to do so than controlled crying. For example, you might allow your baby to adjust to the change in the way they go to sleep slowly, by offering a feed, keeping your baby awake, then rocking them to sleep. This way, they have gone to sleep without anything in their mouth, the taste of milk and no sucking, still be supported with deep touch, presence of Mum around and not such a big adjustment.
Then each 3-4 days or as you feel you can, add in another change and allow some time for your baby to adapt to this and so on until you can place your baby in the cot wide awake and allow them to settle themselves, which is the same goal as controlled crying, just a slower and less stressful way to achieve better sleep for your baby.
You will also need to address the timing of your baby’s sleeps, add in a pre-bed wind down period in your baby’s room, to ensure your baby is ready to go to sleep when you offer a sleep opportunity.