Tag Archives: babies crying
Guest Writer: Lysa Parker, MS, CFLE, www.parentslifeline.com
I appreciate this much needed conversation about what constitutes safe infant sleep. It is one the greatest challenges for parents and us as parent educators. It’s important to put this dilemma into a larger context. I find it often necessary to explain the deeper layers of this argument that families and professionals both have.
Biologically speaking the human infant is designed to stay in close proximity with its mother or primary caregiver, with whose voice and smells it is accustomed to. The brain of the human infant is the most neurologically immature of all mammals with only 25% of the brain developed at birth. In many ways the human infant needs a fourth trimester of care similar to in utero. Yet our culture is driven by a need to force our infants to become independent, sometimes as soon as it is born!
I’ve heard countless horror stories of mothers being told to let their baby cry-it-out within two weeks of birth by their pediatricians (who have no child development background by the way). One mother called me and said she had let her baby cry for seven – that’s 7 hours trying to teach it to sleep on its own. She said she finally gave in to the baby…who was under a year old. There is also a belief that infants can manipulate, even at weeks and months old. This myth is common among parents and pediatricians. It’s the underlying theme of sleep-training books that advise parents not to pick up their infant if it cries too much that it vomits in the bed. Just clean it up and put the baby back down because otherwise it would be reinforcing negative behavior (the old behaviorism model.)
Neuroscientists will tell you that infants are incapable of manipulating. That would require higher cortical functions that have not yet developed. Babies are totally right-brained beings that initially use the right side of their brains, which means they only know what they feel: hungry, lonely, cold, hot, frightened, happy, joyful etc.
Anthropologists have found that human infants are what are considered “carry” mammals, whose mothers produce milk that is low in protein and high in carbohydrates, which means it digests quickly, within a couple of hours, thereby requiring more frequent feeds, compared to cows, deer etc. whose milk is high in protein, low in carbohydrates. Accordingly, the offspring of different mammal subspecies are born with innate instincts and expectations of feeding and care upon birth. In our book, Attached at the Heart, we talk about the 4 Ps that human infants are born to expect: Proximity, Protection, Predictability and Play.
In our care of human infants, we adults try to force them into being something they aren’t designed to be, which creates tremendous stress for them. For many parents, they too have instincts but are often suppressed by societal pressures. The cry of the infant is meant to be disturbing to adults so that we will respond. It is the only way they can communicate. If left alone and not responded to, research has shown they eventually shut down. I’m talking about infants under a year, not toddlers necessarily.
If we look strictly at the research conducted on infant co-sleeping and separate sleeping, it was found that by having the infant in the same room as the parent reduced SIDS deaths by 50% and breastfeeding reduced SIDS by 50% as well. In thousands of hours of video taken by researchers of mothers bed-sharing with their infants, never once did the researchers ever witness the mother come close to rolling over on her baby. I might add here too that in most instances infants are on their side, while breastfeeding and lay on their back more comfortably with the mother close by, encircling the baby with her arm. When an infant lays on her back any movement or sound can stimulate the startle reflex which is why, to a mother, seems like an unnatural way to put a baby to sleep.
It’s important to share that the research on infant deaths is still unclear and the research that is currently used is based on coroner’s reports, emergency room reports, death notices etc. As of now there is no standard protocol when investigating infant deaths, although there are efforts to do so in certain cities and states.
Unfortunately infants die for many reasons that we may never know. For decades it was called crib death and now that term is no longer used yet still infants die in cribs as some do in the adult bed. I and other colleagues have long been concerned about the practice of crying-it-out sleep training that is often recommended for newborns. In my opinion this is one of the most harmful practices we subject infants to. I find it interesting that like spanking, it may work but at what cost? Where is the evidence to show that it doesn’t do long-term damage to the baby’s developing brain? There is growing evidence to show that extreme stress like being left to cry can cause a cascade of stress hormones that over time, can change the architecture of the brain.
I mention this because, how do we know this isn’t a contributing factor in some infant deaths? We must look at all variables and do a death scene investigation with a protocol in place in order to closely examine the causes for infant deaths, realizing that we may never know. I think what we are learning that a young infant should probably never sleep alone because if the baby is at least in the same room as the parent, the parent will be alerted and be able to intervene.
Dr. Kathy Kendall-Tackett found in her survey of over 6,000 parents that because of their fear of sleeping with their child in the adult bed, and in an effort to comfort their babies in the middle of the night they were more likely to fall asleep on couches or recliners.
A massive education campaign for safe infant sleep needs to be mounted rather than using advertising scare tactics and “just say no” approaches. Of course I would never suggest that all parents should bed-share with their infants because not every parent should. What needs to be done is to educate all parents in safe sleep. The AAP recommends “co-sleeping” in other words, sleeping in close proximity, in the same room as the parents for the first six months of life.
Find more of Lysa’s work: www.attachmentparenting.org