Who the Heck First Thought Up the Cry it Out Approach?

Cry it Out Approach

What is Cry It Out? I’ll tell you, but first I have to climb into the nook under my staircase so no one knows what we’re discussing.

Cry It Out is an approach to getting babies to sleep. It was first proposed by Dr. Emmett Holt in 1895 in The Care and Feeding of Children. Holt is considered to be the father of pediatric medicine, though I suspect midwives might propose that medical care for children has been around a bit longer. In fact, with his designation as the pioneer of pediatric medicine, I suspect thousands of years of doctors, shamans, medicine men, witches, and midwives are turning in their graves, saying, “So, what about me? What am I? Chopped liver?”

As the father of the Cry It Out approach to sleep training, Holt is the most hated bulls-eye on the dartboard of the Attachment Parenting movement. Though, interestingly, much of Holt’s pamphlet is not that bad. Holistic and insightful even. He says very sensible things like, fresh air “is required to renew and purify the blood” and “is just as necessary for health and growth as proper food.” Holt recommends nursing until nine or ten months, not too shabby by current mainstream standards, and he recommends introducing a potty at three months old (he’s a regular ECer!).

But then Holt prepares himself for his place in history as the bad boy of sleep training with the following Q and A in the pamphlet:

Q: How is an infant to be managed that cries from temper or to be indulged?

A: It should simply be allowed to cry it out. A second struggle is rarely necessary.

And there you have it. Cry It Out is born. Before that people loved their babies, but thanks to Dr. Holt, father of caring for babies, we’re leaving them for dead. Well done, sir.

I hardly have the spirit to bring this up, but it does get worse. Much. In the follow-up question, the pamphlet inquires, “Is it likely that rupture wilt be caused from [this] crying?”

Do you understand what this is asking? If the baby will rupture from crying so much. I can’t believe we are even discussing this. Wouldn’t you think when rupture is a possibility, we’d move on to the next approach? Like Holt and his buddies are writing their book and brainstorming, and when Cry It Out is brought up and there’s the possibility of rupture, someone, anyone, says, “Oh, OK. Hmm, rupture. Well, we’ll have to cross that approach off the list.”

Holt popularized Cry It Out in 1895, and it is my theory that the method caused both World Wars, twenty and forty years later, when these very pissed off babies became adults.

In the Q & A above, regarding letting a baby cry it out, Holt says, “A second struggle is rarely necessary.” Jean Liedloff, author of The Continuum Concept and a founder of the Attachment Parenting movement, would say that a second struggle is unnecessary because the baby’s tiny will and heart have been broken. The baby no longer expects to be comforted after crying. She no longer expects her needs to be met.

You can write this off as touchy-feely hoo-ha, but think about it. Don’t you actually feel this way? I do. I think we all do to some extent. And what if, in fact, our feelings of distrust and unworthiness are related to this very thing, to this early abandonment when we could not care for ourselves. We were telling our care givers with all our tiny crying might that we needed them and they ignored us and we cried until we broke and stopped expecting we’d get it. Stopped feeling, perhaps, that we deserved it.

OK, now I’m crying.

Read part two of this article here.

18 thoughts on “Who the Heck First Thought Up the Cry it Out Approach?”

  1. I had concidered, pre-kiddo, that my trouble trusting my parents today came from how they treated me when I was very small – I had good parents – but, deep down, I don’t trust that they’d do anything for me – that they’ve always got / had my back. Having a child convinced me that this is the case. We are dedicated to parenting differently. My Dad looks back now and calls his approach child abuse – strong words from a loving father. We parent our son differently – because that is what felt right to us – and to change my parent’s minds about their own parenting style is pretty powerfully suggestive that their meathod of parenting never felt right to them – because believe me – if it felt right to them, they certainly wouldn’t think my different parenting technique (like sleeping with my son) was a good idea. I am sure your parents are the same … :-)

  2. Liz it is amazing that your father has the courage to call his previous parenting techniques abuse. Most won’t even admit that they were wrong, often the best you get is to agree to disagree.

  3. I am a children’s sleep consultant who doesn’t use CIO. There are so many other more hands on sleep training techniques.

  4. * tears – I know my own emotional needs were not met by my mother, father and family. and i know i have nearly committed suicide as an adult. and that i was sexually abused by a male professor at 18.

  5. I agree. The few times I even tried to slyly try cry it out I came in the room after a few minutes to find something was genuinely wrong and my kid was crying out for me to come fix it or just crying because he wasn’t quite ready to sleep yet. I think the fact that we have been so attentive to our now 8 month old is the reason why he is such a nice kid and great sleeper. I understand that some parents have strict 9 – 5s and are doing what they can to hold it all together, but my husband and I are blessed with flexible schedules such that we have been able to go at baby’s pace. I just feel like I

  6. We are still co-sleeping with our 13 months old and a lot of people are judging us in doing so. So 2 grown-ups that love each others very much (but not blood-related… Hoping so anyway) need to sleep in the same bed but a little baby should be left alone in a separate bed, to cry his lil ass off? Doesn’t make any sense.

  7. In all fairness, some of my favorite sleep techniques and ideas came from CIO books and articles–I just use them differently.

  8. When I had my second child and was in the midst of postpartum depression, and was busy with cooking, caring for my first child, etc. I often did resort to letting my secondborn baby cry it out. Neither of us liked it but I would like to assure you that he is one of my most strong-willed children today, out of four children so far.

  9. I personally don’t know how you can put a baby down to cry and walk away just listening to the first 30 seconds cause stress.

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