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.
About Brian Leaf
Brian Leaf is author of forthcoming parenting memoir, Misadventures of a Parenting Yogi: Cloth Diapers, Cosleeping, and My (Sometimes Successful) Quest for Conscious Parenting. You can find him online at www.misadventures-of-a-yogi.com.