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Attachment Parenting

CIO? No! The case for not using "cry-it-out" with your children
by Gaye E. McKinnon
What is CIO?

CIO stands for "cry-it-out". I am not quite sure what the "it" is referring to, but CIO involves leaving a baby or young child to cry himself to sleep, in an effort to teach the child to sleep through the night. Some refer to CIO as Ferberizing, others "controlled crying" or "controlled comforting", and others call it "teaching to sleep".

There are many variations on the same theme. Some advocate leaving the child to literally cry himself to sleep whilst other methods involve returning to the crying child at pre-determined intervals, often increasing in duration (eg. returning after 5 minutes, then after 10, then 15 and so on).

Why do people implement CIO on their children?

There are many reasons. We live in a society where independence is prized at a very young age. There is a great deal of pressure on new parents to have their child sleeping through (considered a major milestone for the child and quite an accomplishment for the parents) as soon as possible. Many doctors and other health care professionals frown upon parents whom they see as being too accommodating to their children, "spoiling" them, "robbing them of their chance to be independent". Some also highlight the alleged dangers of co-sleeping.

Grandparents, other relatives and friends who have all done CIO rave about how great it is. Almost every parenting book and many parenting magazines feature some version or other of the CIO theme. Where I live, the child health leaflets distributed by the state government even speak of CIO as if it is THE way to deal with infant sleep past the age of six months, as if there is simply no choice involved. It is no wonder that new parents, who are surrounded by CIO advice and experience, are drawn into the "game".

In addition to this, we are bombarded with the notion that somehow it is NECESSARY to teach our children to sleep through and that if we don't take charge of the situation then our children will never reach this skill on their own, and will be tired and grumpy babies and toddlers and even perhaps developmentally disadvantaged. No one wants to think that they are harming their child! The old, "You have to be cruel to be kind," "It is heart breaking, but you HAVE to do it for your child's sake" - this is POWERFUL talk!

Parents who are tired are also led to believe that they have a right to and in fact MUST get eight hours of totally uninterrupted sleep in order to function normally and be a good parent. Again, it is put back to an issue involving the needs of the child. "A happy, well-rested mother is a good mother" or words to that effect, is often quoted as justification for CIO. We MUST do it or we will simply won't get enough rest and will be bad parents because of it.

The Case for NOT CIO

Babies are not MEANT to be independent! They cannot talk, walk, get their own food, use the toilet, function alone. Yet they are expected to somehow last for 8 to 10 hours without any adult contact! Independence is something which comes gradually to all children when they are given the love and security in order to do so. You cannot MAKE a child independent before his time. It is possible that you can force a child to "do without," but that child is not truly independent.

Children are perfectly capable of learning to sleep well without any intervention from parents. It is natural for infants and young children to need comfort and nursing during the night, but ever so gradually, as they grow, they do learn to put themselves back to sleep when they stir, do without nursing and so on. My own child is a prime example: for the first few months, he was incredibly needy at night! He would only sleep with a breast in mouth. Gradually he needed to nurse less to the point where he woke to nurse every few hours and slept peacefully in between; then he reached a point where he only stirred once to nurse and then not at all. He now falls asleep without any intervention from me at all and sleeps well for about 10 hours or so. He does stir during the night but simply turns over and goes straight back to sleep. He even quite happily lies down on his little bed at pre-school and takes a nap all by himself. I have heard from approximately 70 parents from all over the world who have NOT done CIO with their children and in NO case have their children experienced troubles in achieving what our society would describe as "good" sleep patterns as they get older.

It is also a myth that children need uninterrupted sleep in order to function well and develop normally. I believe that infants and young children are DESIGNED to nurse often, day and night, and to have greater periods of light sleep than we adults. Dr. James McKenna has done extensive research into mother-infant co-sleeping (together with studies of what happens when they sleep apart). He has found some AMAZING facts about sleep cycles, and nocturnal breastfeeding. When a child sleeps next to his mother, he is able to barely wake from his light sleep, get attached and then drift straight back to sleep. Yes, his sleep is not uninterrupted, but he is still getting plenty of sleep, AND is also experiencing the wonders of frequent nursing and being close to his mother.

Most advocates of CIO do acknowledge that it is cruel, but somehow nullify this by insisting that it is really in the child's best interests. It is NOT in the child's best interests! Even Australia's biggest teacher of "controlled crying", Dr. Christopher Green, admits in his book, Babies, that it would be ideal if children could have the comfort of their parents around the clock! When you look at it from the parents' perspective, where they could conceivably have an uninterrupted evening together and could sleep without having to attend to their babies (that is if the CIO "works"), you might understand some motivation for doing it, but does the end truly justify the means? I think not!

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Just as children do not need their sleep to be uninterrupted, neither do adults. Let's face it: how many adults literally "sleep through"? I know that I don't, even though I now am no longer needing to attend to my child during the night. I get up at least once to go to the toilet, maybe have a glass of water, pat the cats, and then get back into bed and go back to sleep. Even when I was nursing Thomas 4 or so times during the night, I found myself able to function very well. As Dr. McKenna has found, when mothers sleep next to their babies, wonderful things happen! Sleep cycles are in sync, and mothers arouse from light sleep just as her child is starting to root for the breast. Both can drift right back off to sleep together. I found personally that I could nurse Thomas four or more times during the night and barely remember in the morning how many times I nursed him, what times and so on. I was able to get up in the morning reasonably refreshed too. It is not the same as not having to attend to anyone during the night, mind you, but it IS possible to meet a child's nighttime needs and still get sufficient rest yourself.

What are the alternatives?

The best alternative is to respond to your child's need to be with you at night, just as he needs you during the day! A child doesn't suddenly stop being hungry or lonely or in need of a hug just because the clock says it is 10pm or because you are tired. Co-sleeping still occurs today in many parts of the world and in fact occurred in Western society up until about 100 years ago. With co-sleeping, you have an excellent solution to the dilemma of both meeting your child's needs and yet getting the rest you need as well. It can take some time for sleep cycles to get in sync, there are safety considerations you must consider (just as you would when sleeping your baby in a crib), and yes, there will still be sleepless nights if your baby is very ill or having a rough time teething. It is not always easy - but it IS amazing!

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