I refuse to let my children cry it out. And, honestly, I think everyone should. My first child slept through the night all on her own at just three or four months old. She nursed, she fell asleep, and she stayed asleep. This led to a fairly strong (and very wrong) ego regarding my abilities to get a baby to sleep. At around six months old, she began fighting bedtime and we started to let her cry. But if felt horrible, so we didn't keep it up. If she cried in the night we would go get her and bring her to our room. Then baby number two came along and she begged to be held. She pleaded to be cuddled, and I couldn’t bear to leave her to cry on her own, alone in a crib. It seemed cruel and as though it went against motherly instinct. And research shows that it can be severely damaging to babies.

Motherlode, a parenting blog associated with The New York Times, recently published an article on why parents should start sleep training their infants with the cry it out method at just eight weeks old. Eight weeks! Dr. Michel Cohen of Tribeca Pediatrics told writer and mom Aimee Molloy that a lot of parents won’t have the “guts” to do it, but letting your infant cry for hours on end will allow him to eventually sleep through the night, which will mean parents get to sleep through the night too. But is this just a selfish move? Are we damaging our children for life based on our own desire to sleep?

According to Psychology Today, infants from birth to four months are “not really capable of being manipulative, and their crying is the main way in which they express their needs.” Therefore, ignoring your crying infant could have implications on his or her development.

Your baby isn't crying because he's spoiled or just wants to be held and is trying to get you to do what he wants. He's crying because he's brand new to this crazy world and is in need of something. Babies cry because they are either hungry or in pain, uncomfortable from a dirty diaper, or scared. Not addressing those needs could leave them with scars that last a lifetime.

Evolutionary Parenting sites strong research that found that mothers and babies who are separated during the night lose their synchrony with each other. One's cortisol levels affects the other's, so when one goes up or down, so does the other's. However, separation hurt this ability to be in tune with each other. Evolutionary Parenting writes:

This lowered synchrony may result in worse attachment, particularly from the infant’s point-of-view as the manner in which infants affect mom’s cortisol is by signaling (or crying) and if they have stopped because they feel mom won’t respond, it should come as no surprise that attachment should be affected.

Dr. Sears tells us research has proven that babies under four months old who are left alone and crying, experience panic and anxiety. He says their bodies and brains are flooded with adrenaline and cortisol stress hormones. Research shows that when developing brain tissue is exposed to such hormones for long periods of time, nerves won’t form proper connections to other nerves and will even degenerate.   

So what does all of this mean? Well, it’s pretty serious stuff. According to this research, letting your young infant cry it out can lead to:

  • Unstable body temperatures
  • Heart arrhythmias
  • Decreased REM sleep
  • Abnormally high levels of stress
  • Brain changes which mirror those of depressed adults
  • Higher chance of ADHD
  • Poor school performance
  • Antisocial behavior
  • Increased aggression
  • Impulsivity
  • Inability to form bonds with people
  • Lower average IQ
  • Poor fine motor skills

The list goes on. What’s important to note is that these detrimental effects happen when parents don’t respond to their child’s cries and needs. And there’s no going back. Your child may give up reaching out to you. You may be able to sleep through the night, but at what cost?

My older two children are now ages six and four and go to sleep just fine after a quick story and cuddle. They fall asleep on their own and have little to no trouble going back to sleep in the middle of the night. Our youngest just turned two and while she still wakes up once or twice at night and cries for me, I alternate between bringing her to my bed or settling her back down without removing her from her crib. It all depends on the time and just how upset she is. Last night she slept in her "big girl bed" for the first time, and she slept silently and soundly all night long. This might be a bit old to sleep train for some parents’ taste, but it works for me and my children. They adjust fine to the slow changes, especially since they are at an age where they can understand what is happening. Their needs are met, and they feel safe. And most importantly, they know they can trust me. I may not get as much sleep as I would like, but I'm okay with that. After all, that's why God invented coffee.