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"controlled crying" - any good psychology/research to be had?

(16 Posts)
fruitybread Wed 31-Aug-11 16:14:35

I have a frequently waking 13 month old DS. He's always been a frequent waker - he no longer seems to need a feed at night (he's been EBF, and is still BF on demand), but will wake anything between 3 and 5 times a night, from 8pm in the evening to around 6 - 6:30 in the morning. It tiakes anywhere from 10 minutes to over an hour to settle him again.

He doesn't really 'self settle', although I'm not entirely sure I understand what this really means.

This is part of the problem I'm posting with, really - when I talk to friends about their babies and sleep, it often takes a bit of work to find out what's really happening. When their baby 'goes to sleep' at 7, does it mean leaving them to scream in their cot for an hour? Or do they actually go straight to sleep? Or are they put down when they are already asleep?

My DS often seems to wake distressed, and screamy, not just 'grumbly' - he quite often has some farty wind to get rid of, and stops screaming and goes back to sleep after that.

Sometimes he seems to scream and be quite frantic, but without being wholly awake, and is unconsolable, for up to an hour at a time. I've read a little about 'night terrors', and it sounds very like this. Who knows, though.

He tends to cry and get upset when put down in his cot awake, and now he can roll over, push himself upright and actually stand up in his cot, wailing, holding his arms out to be picked up. Am I supposed to walk away and leave him like that? My Elizabeth Pantley book describes leaving babies lying down, awake and contented but tired in their cot, and leaving the room then. I never get the chance!

I suppose what I'm after is some decent, reputable info about the effects of controlled crying on babies. I don't in my heart of hearts really believe anything I've been told about it by friends and acquaintances, and can't really see how it applies to my DC. I certainly had no intention of doing it when DS was a very small baby (I still don't understand how a month old baby 'learns' not to cry - don't they just get tired and give up?).

But maybe I'm wrong, and now he's older it's something worth trying, in the same way we are teaching him the power of 'no', and what is and isn't allowed, in a very basic way. I would love more sleep, and so would my DP. BUT I don't want to bullshit myself - I want to be well informed. How does it really work? How can I not end up with a frantic and very upset baby?

Any pointers welcome, in either direction. TIA.

fruitybread Wed 31-Aug-11 16:21:45

PS - forgot to say - whenever he wakes, cries, and we go in to him, he's always sitting up in his cot now, or kneeling or standing. What does he do if I leave him, or don't go in? Just lie back down and go to sleep? I don't know why, but leaving him sitting up seems weirder than thinking about leaving him lying down. perhaps because he is obviously further away from any sleep.

witchwithallthetrimmings Wed 31-Aug-11 16:22:40

I think on here you will get loads of opinions based on some research or other. As a researcher I cannot see how you could possibily get the data to convince me that it was either harmless or damaging. There are just too many other variables. I think you have to rely on your gut instinct which is I guess that it is "wrong" - fwiw I agree although lots of people i respect do not. I think you need to find a strategy to make your life easier for the next few months - my guess is that when your lo acquires language, gets over separation anxiety and has some sense of time he will sleep through.

sorry not to have been much help

witchwithallthetrimmings Wed 31-Aug-11 16:24:14

how much do the wakings bother you. I mean if you knew they would get better of their own accord would you want still want to stop them

fruitybread Wed 31-Aug-11 16:30:12

Good question - if I knew WHEN they would get better, it would make things easier. My mother says I didn't sleep through the night until I was three years old, which doesn't encourage me!

I am self employed, as is my DP, so to some extent we are better able to cope with broken sleep than we would be if we both had to keep 'office hours' - but it is affecting our capacity to work, for sure. Again - we are not desperate, I can hold off taking on more work for some months while we are so disturbed -

BUT if there was a way of making DS less frequently waking, I would want to press the button now.

With CC, I find advocates a bit defensive and hardcore, and so a question about at what age a baby can be 'trained' in this way (which I'm genuinely interested in) doesn't get much more than a defensive 'my baby's fine, AND I get loads of sleep' type reaction. We have some idea of how babies learn words, and develop motor skills, and copy behaviour - I just wondered if there was anything around on how they 'learn' to sleep, is all! Or if it really is a question of everything in its own time, and waiting until it happens naturally.

notcitrus Wed 31-Aug-11 16:33:48

As far as I could find out, kids who generally get plenty of attention grow up fine and kids who are generally neglected don't. No-one seems to have done any long-term research on 'kids who get plenty of attention between 7 am and 7 pm, but who are left alone in cots between 7pm and 7am', let alone anything more subtle like controlled crying techniques so not being left for more than a few minutes at night.

My ds was a straightforward rather than an easy baby - he'd wake in the night more often than many babies, but almost invariably it was from hunger, so I'd give him milk and within 10 minutes we'd both be asleep again (well he would, I took longer). Doing that 3x a night was a lot easier than babies who might only wake once but would scream for an hour!!

I did find that ds slept through feeds for some months then at 13-14 months started waking up again and was inconsolable until he got milk - possibly a growth spurt, so that might be worth a try? Around 14 months he started the 'let's giggle madly when someone comes' so we concluded that was taking the piss and did controlled crying - worked a treat, 3 nights, going in after 1,2,5, 7 minutes, and we finally heard sounds of 'Humph!' and an annoyed child lying down and going to sleep. We've had to do it a couple times since he became able to speak, but every time within 20 minutes he's calmed down to sulky and gone to sleep. Other people might not be willing to let a child cry for up to 10 minutes but I really don't think that is child abuse!

JudysDreamHorse Wed 31-Aug-11 17:00:24

It's a couple of years old but I thought this blog was interesting. Haven't done CC myself though. We've found gradual retreat has worked pretty well with our 11mo DS but it's been slow. I think it's in the NCSS but I'm not sure she calls it that. Good luck!

fruitybread Wed 31-Aug-11 18:30:01

Helpful responses, thank you - interesting blog, and a useful reminder that there are lots of different issues surrounding sleep, not just whether or not DS is clocking up x hours of unbroken sleep each night.

Although that would be nice, obviously.

debka Wed 31-Aug-11 20:18:52

My DDs have both slept through the night (11-12hours) without a feed from about 6/7 months. When I put them in bed in the evening they go straight to sleep. I did CC at naptime for DD1, she would invariably cry for about 10 minutes then go to sleep, until she was 1yo. When she did the standing up thing I would go in and lie her down and then just leave, she would go to sleep after her 10 minutes crying.

DD2 is 6mo and I did CC with her at night a few weeks ago (when she just turned 6mo). She was waking every 2-3 hours throughout the night. It was really not that bad- an hour of crying, then 45 minutes, then that was it. Next night she had one feed, night after that she slept through. I don't know how it works but it did for us and we are all much happier as a result.

I hope you find something that works and you are happy with.

fruitybread Wed 31-Aug-11 21:13:08

It's the 'not knowing how it works' that is partly the problem for me. I would not leave my DS to cry for an hour unless I knew that he was basically fine - not in pain, not wailing with trapped wind, not needing comfort, basically (and I guess then the question is why is he crying...). I would want to know that there was no real evidence of long term damage or consequences of what must surely be very stressful, even if it's not for very long. I suppose without that reassurance, it's no go.

And leaving him to cry for an hour is not for me. If we were talking the kind of grumble that I often hear for about 5 minutes when he's in the buggy or car seat, just before he drops off, I could live with that, no problem. But that's not what I hear at night....

Actually, that's another grey area with controlled crying. Do people really not go in the room to them at any point, or do they make a judgement call depending on how distressed their baby sounds? Like I say - a couple of weary wails or a grumble, I wouldn't have a problem with. Prolonged hysterical panicky screaming, I would. What do other people do?

I suppose everyone has their cut off point - I might argue that leaving DS for 5 minutes to scream in his cot while I had a quick shower was better than having him in the bathroom with me, crying and causing havoc, for example! but someone else might not want to do that.

Moulesfrites Wed 31-Aug-11 21:27:33

Could you try weaning him off night feeds by getting your dp to settle him instead?

This is something I am currently trying with my 7.5mo ds. He had started to wake every 1-2 hours. He is established on solids and still having his 10pm dreamfeed so I knew when he woke at 11/12 that he couldn't be hungry. The phrase "just for comfort" annoys me as it implies comforting your baby is something bad or unnecessary, but I realised that the only way he knew how to go back to sleep is by being bf and for his sake I should try to teach him another way.

Last night he woke at 12 and dh settled him - he cried for about 7 mins, but not CC as dh was there the whole time. Very early days but seems like a good start. I couldn't settle him without feeding. I don't feel entirely comfortable with CC but I think when it comes to sleep deprivation never say never - if ds is still waking loads when i go back to work in 4 months time then I will probably consider it as I will just not be able to function and we will all be entirely miserable.

As far as I am aware, the risks of CC (raised cortisol) etc are higher when it is done with v young babies (below 6m??) but am prepared to be corrected on this....

vez123 Wed 31-Aug-11 21:59:12

Just found this article...

fruitybread Wed 31-Aug-11 22:21:07

moules, my DS nearly always goes without a night feed now (from about 8 til 6 am) - my DP goes in first to settle him, and offer him a beaker of water, and it's only if we get prolonged wailing or DS is impossible for DP to put down that I go in to feed him.

I couldn't assume with any degree of confidence that up to a year, DS could go overnight without needing a feed. Maybe it's different for FF babies, I don't know. So I never did anything to actively night wean him, but around 11 months, got DP to go and try and settle him as a first response, and found that around 12 months, DS was happy to have a sip of water, and didn't need boobs during the night.

So really, atm, the biggest sleep problem is experienced by DP. He can only put DS down when he's asleep - which I know goes against all sleep training, soft and hard - and then DS can wake an hour later, be settled, wake again... and on we go. He just doesn't seem to have any period of calm wakefulness - he's either sound asleep, or awake and crying.

(and me going in to feed him several times a night doesn't change this pattern, which makes me pretty sure it's not hunger waking. DS has a healthy appetite and eats a decent amount of protein and carbs for tea).

TheyCallMeKipper Wed 31-Aug-11 22:55:47

Ds1 was a difficult sleeper - struggled to settle and woke frequently (5 times a night wasn't unusual at 5 or 6 months). At 18 months we decided to do cc because we were struggling, and I had resisted it desperately until then. I still don't like the idea of it.

Anyway, we decided at 18 months he was able to understand 'it's time to go to sleep now' and he had good speech and communication. Until this point I had cuddled him to sleep. He astounded us by taking less than 20 mins (going in after 1 min then 2 then 3 then 4 then 5 min intervals but not beyond 5 mins at a time) the first night. Then maybe 5 mins the second night. Then straight off - put him down and walk out of the room) after that and the night waking stopped too. Without is doing anything in the night.

It was a real turning point. I think he was just ready and 'got it'. I wouldn't have been able to do hardcore cc if this hadn't happened but wanted to give you a positive, low stress story. I'm not saying he didn't wake but much less than before and settled better too.

He is still not a great sleeper overall though, if I'm honest. At 2 yo he'll still wake for a cuddle relatively regularly.

I was always quietly convinced it wasn't us doing anything wrong but just 'him', and, although a small part of me worried we'd made him a bad sleeper. And you can tell smug parents with good sleepers believe it's their great parenting! Used to drive me mad.

Then I had ds2 who has slept through the night from 8 weeks without me doing anything differently to what I did with ds1. It is just him, and I take no credit for it.

It's my sleep karma for the other one!

Anyway, my point is I did cc and was very low stress and didn't take long or as bad as people say because I think we did it when he could understand, and I would never have left a very distressed child. But you could give it a low stress go now or in a few months without having to be militant about it.

Good luck.

EJCH Thu 01-Sep-11 20:00:58

I am so sorry to hear of your sleeping troubles. I also have a 15 month son and sleep is still an issue with us but it is much much better than it used to be. When he was a year old, I was going back to work and realised I just couldn't handle being woken so much at night. I went to my health visitor and she turned out to be a sleep specialist and was really helpful and supportive. I ended up doing CC with him and it wasn't as bad as when I had tried on my own when DS was 10 months. A few things that were helpful for me to know then:

You have to make a decision to do it and stick to it. Don't do it because you feel you have to or someone else has done it. If you aren't 100%, then you end up not feeling confident about your approach and the baby gets mixed messages. And CC isn't the only approach.

The thing that really changed it for us was having a more rigid day nap schedule. We did CC day and night in his own cot- and with the day time naps, if he didn't have a nap before 3, that was him until bedtime (730pm). By that point he was so tired he was quite happy to go to bed. Likewise, he didn't get a nap in the day until 10am, to help distinguish night and day. That meant the daytime naps were easier to settle him too. So like TheyCallMeKipper it wasn't nearly as bad as I thought it would be - 20 mins at most each night. And from day 3 sleeping through til 5am.

I was asked by my HV to keep a diary of each night. This way I could see progress being made over the fortnight we did the CC programme - the progess wasn't linear but I could see the general trend of improvement which really helped.

So now he sleeps from 730 until 530 most nights. It's not perfect - I love the days he wakes after 6 - but it means I am not incredibly exhausted and feel I can be a better mother during the day with him. If he wakes in the night, he still takes a while to settle.

fruitybread Thu 01-Sep-11 22:55:10

many thanks for responses - kipper, that sounds a bit gentler than some other approaches! and I can't help feeling there is something in the age thing - with an older baby (older than DS currently is, really), I can see there is some understanding of cause and effect, and a little understanding of rules...

At that point, I start to see how behaviour might be influenced a bit - I still don't get it with younger babies. Hey ho, not that I need to, I suppose.

I think you are right about having to be 100 percent confident about it, and I just don't know if I can get to that point. One thing I've noticed is that a lot of hardcore CC fans tend to say things about their baby crying with 'rage' or frustration, or 'throwing a tantrum'. So not responding to screaming and crying sort of seems ok, as if their babies aren't really upset, just sort of ... bad. But I think - what if they are in pain, or just desperately scared and wanting comfort? I've never heard anyone say 'my baby was terrified and panicking and I ignored them for their own good!' IYSWIM.

I think I need to be at breaking point to do cc, in all honesty. I have enough doubts that I'd need to think 'I don't CARE if it makes them unhappy, in the short term, I need sleep that much.' I totally understand people get to that point - but I'm not there yet. Not tonight, anyway. I'll think about the very gentle version of cc, though. I don't off the top of my head feel like leaving DS to cry for a maximum of 5 minutes sounds awful, although that's easy to say now, when I'm not sitting here listening to it.

Thanks for responses.

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