not so baby wise: the dreaded CIO conversation

Since BG was conceived, we have been receiving all kinds of “advice” about how to raise a baby. One of my siblings gave the book On Becoming Baby Wise to us early on. Upon reading a few pages, I promptly threw it across the room after being told that I needed to nurse my baby on a strict schedule, avoid all forms of attachment parenting, make sure he sleeps in a room all his own, force him to play by himself, and, perhaps the worst in my eyes, let him cry it out, lest he manipulate me with his three-month-old critical thinking skills. I have never in my life thrown a book in the trash, but after reading about this method and its links to babies’ failure to thrive as well as the author’s complete lack of education or experience with child development (he leads something akin to a cult), I threw the thing in the trash and proceeded to tell nearly everyone I could about what a dangerous hack this guy is. (If you’d like to read more, the AAP article is here.)

Last week, we had the ladies from our old poker group visiting, and we had some difficulty putting BG down to sleep. He was overstimulated and needed a little extra help going down, so J and I each took turns taking him, walking him, and comforting him in our bedroom. At one point, one woman in the group said, “You know, we won’t think you’re bad parents if you just let him cry.” I found myself snapping at her. “We don’t do that,” I said. And we don’t.

Now, by discussing the sleep problem here, it seems I’ve opened us up to even more advice that if we would just let our baby cry it out, we’d have this perfect sleep-through-the-night baby, and all our problems would be solved, but that’s not going to happen. Were we to let BG cry it out, we would be left with a crying, awake baby, and two moms who are frazzled and crying themselves. As it is, our son does sometimes cry as we’re comforting him to sleep, and more often than not, this causes him to work himself into a frenzy that is quite far from sleep. I shudder to imagine what this would look like were we to leave him on his own to work it out. But then, I’m that kind of mom. We’ve taken a very hands-on, attachment-oriented approach from the beginning, and as a result, we have a happy, trusting baby who knows his communication (primarily crying at this point) is valued and understood by his caregivers. I wouldn’t ignore anyone else who was asking me for help; why would I ignore my child? How could it possibly be helpful to ignore my mothering instincts?

This is one of those very personal parenting decisions, but it’s one that seems to be pushed with evangelical zeal, and that is unsettling to me. In fact, anything that is paraded as the answer for everyone raises my hackles a bit because, frankly, we all have our own ways of parenting, and those methods (save the abusive ones) should be respected. Because J and I are academics, we tend to research everything to death, and this is one of those issues that got a fair amount of attention early in our pregnancy. And what did we learn? Child development researchers are starting to find that letting babies cry it out may even be harmful to their social, emotional, and intellectual development, but that babies whose needs are met when they communicate a need tend to thrive. ( You can read more on that  here.) Ultimately, though, we didn’t need the research as much as we needed to look at who we are, what our values are, and how we want to raise our child(ren). When it comes down to it, we want a happy, well-adjusted baby, who knows that when he cries, someone who loves him is  going to comfort him promptly. And when looking at it through that lens, I have to wonder, isn’t that what we all want–a soft landing, some warm arms, and a safe place to cry? I know that’s what I would want.



Filed under Baby Genius, parenting

13 responses to “not so baby wise: the dreaded CIO conversation

  1. Stick to your guns, then, Mamas. What works for some does not work for all. And what works for you is that in which you most heartily believe and choose.

    Like I said, I think this sleep shift has something to do with naps and waking up to the world.

    I’ve found that one of the hardest things about parenting is batting off other people’s advice with a stick.

  2. Very well put. I’m proud that you are doing what’s right for your family and for BG. Personally I’m of your philosophy and wouldn’t – couldn’t – leave my baby to CIO. I think you’ve responded to this far more PC than I could be. You are both such smart mamas.

    You certainly have done your homework and are getting more experience with this each day. But if you want more research that what you’re doing is the psychologically safest thing to do for your child, check out Daniel Siegel’s book “The Developing Mind” ( It’s not a parenting book by any means, but the overwhelming evidence presented was enough to draw me into attachment research (disorders, adult manifestations, and infant parenting) long before I was thinking of ttc.

    Frankly, the effects on an infant that is conditioned to believe he is unheard, midunderstood, and abandoned are life long and can cause lasting impacts on the way he creates relationships as an adult.

    BG is in such good hands. Hope you get some rest soon. All my love. xoxo

  3. Next in line

    Darn I think I lost the comment I typed. Here it is again 🙂

    I have had more advice since having a baby than I have had in my whole entire life. The best advice I got was to smile and nod when people give me advice. Sometimes I asked people for advice, but most of the time what works for one family and child won’t necessarily work for another.

    You three will figure out what is right for you right now. I am behind you cheering all the way.

    Thanks for doing the research and setting up the links. Since I did no research, I will take a look 🙂

  4. This is such a beautifully written articulate explanation that very accurately describes the way I feel about the whole CIO debate. It just seems so very wrong to me.

    We have never left McBean to cry. At 15 months sometimes he goes to sleep very easily, and sometimes it takes a while; he still wakes up at night, though not every night, but is usually easy to resettle when he is reassured of our presence and support. And I never left FenFox to cry either – she’s nearly 10, goes to sleep easily and independently and sleeps beautifully. And they both know that if they need something, if they cry out or ask, day or night, someone will respond. And that makes me feel like a good Mama.

    It’s nice to read about your commitment to BG and respecting his needs even when you’re getting no sleep and things are hard. He’s a lucky boy.

  5. Different things work for different people and there is no way you should do something that feels unsettling or wrong or against your judgement – there is no way it can work if you go into it that way.

    The amount of advice you’ll get will be ridiculous. I just try and filter out what I want/don’t want and go from there.

  6. It sounds like y’all are doing what is best for you and your baby, so I say just keep doing that. The advice to smile and nod sounds good to me. (I do this at work on a daily basis!)

    I’m a person who also researches everything to death, and my partner and I are planning to start TTC in the late spring, so I appreciate your info and links. I will definitely be checking them out in the future.

  7. My biggest piece of advice to ALL new Mom’s is to NEVER LISTEN TO ANYONE ELSE. Do what YOU think is right for you and YOUR baby. Just because something worked for someone else, doesn’t mean it will work for you!

    I personally was a CIO Mom when my daughter got to be about six months old. I knew she was ONLY crying because she didn’t want to lay down in her crib and after 6 months of not sleeping, I needed her to sleep in her crib. It wasn’t easy, but after two afternoons of CIO before a nap, she went down without a fuss.

    One thing that saved me when she was littler was the Mei Tai (I love Babyhawks…get one if you don’t have one yet!)She would fall asleep against my chest and I still had my hands free to do things like eat or fold laundry…and she fell asleep much deeper than when I just carried her. It made it easier to put her down and her stay asleep. Not to mention it was way easier to keep the BH in the diaper bag than to pack a stroller with me everywhere I went!

    Good Luck with everything!

    Just remember that it doesn’t last forever, so cherish even the moments that you think are going to kill you. Someday you will wish they were little again!

  8. Maybe your old poker group,who i assume are friends and care about you,were offering advice because they could see that night that what you were doing wasn’t working.And in an effort to help suggested what they thought would give you the freedom to try something that would, without you feeling like they would judge you.

    Although after that night i’m sure you won’t have to worry about that again.

  9. jodi

    I’m not sure what to make of your comment, Malea. Of course they were offering advice from a place of love. We wouldn’t think otherwise.


  10. Well said! Holly and I have agreed to not allow our baby to cry it out. I don’t think I could bare hearing my baby crying for my help and not doing anything about it.

    I really did enjoy this post. Thank you for sharing.

  11. A.

    I think that doing what makes you feel like the best parents is the most important thing. Thanks for sharing.

  12. lyn

    I also read the poker group comment as one of trying to release you from judgment rather than pass it — not that that makes it any easier when you’re trying to figure out what works and feel like everyone is trying to tell you what you’re supposed to do. I do truly believe though that most such comments are meant as offering care and love, or at least commiseration, even if they don’t feel that way.

    FWIW, some parents actually do want that advice and shared experience. We tend to seek out experiences and thoughts of our friends when we hit confusing or difficult spots. It’s possible that the unwanted advice coming your way is from people who prefer discussion. (and in that vein, I’ll now write oneofhismoms for some further input on our own sleep dilemmas…)

    (Also — I hope my “share feeding” comment didn’t hit the wrong button. It truly came from a similar place of desperation and as with all such advice, disregard at will.)

    • reproducinggenius

      Oh no, Lyn, that’s not how your comment came across at all. In fact, if bottle feeding didn’t wake BG up (he’s weird that way), I think we’d be doing a lot more shared feedings at night. I honestly thought the idea was a good one. Unfortunately, he seems to want to breastfeed only in the middle of the night.

      As for the poker group comment, I should have written more. These are a group of academics, half of whom have decided never to have children, and they also don’t have much if any experience with children. We love these women, but they’ve got some weird ideas about child-rearing because their only knowledge about it comes from their own experiences growing up and some rare contact with relatives who have children. For the most part, they don’t think about kids and have on many occasions professed their dislike for children. The woman who offered that comment is a person who makes us both bristle anyway, and I don’t need to go into our history with this friend; perhaps all I need to say is that on one occasion I was having a conversation with another friend about having babies at a poker game, this woman came into the room, said, “Oh, you’re talking about babies? Ew!” And she ran out with a look of utter digust on her face. So while her comment on the recent night might have come from a place of love, it is even more likely that it came from a place of total ignorance about what it means to help a four-month-old fall asleep in a small apartment in a room where he doesn’t normally sleep. I think the point of the anecdote may be what is missing though. I snapped at her a bit because I’m always pretty disturbed in this day and age when the solution to a baby’s sleep problems always seems to be to let them just deal with it on their own by crying it out.

      In short, it was a situation that was not ideal in the least, and J and I learned from that not to have people over at BG’s bedtime until we all have this sleep thing figured out. We’re all still learning, and because he keeps changing, we have to keep learning because, well, we’re new at this parenting thing, and he’s new at this baby thing.

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