Well, a columnist. She was talking about using Weissbluth for her 6-month-old son. I just couldn't take it anymore. Everywhere people talk about CIO as if it is just fine. They say "it's so heartbreaking, but it's the best thing" instead of thinking "it's so heartbreaking, why are we doing this?"
Anyway, I used this forum to get some research and it was very helpful. Here's the letter I just sent (BTW, the columnist is Julia Deardorff from Sunday Chicago Tribune):
I read your column in Sunday's paper on sleep training and can empathize with your plight; I have a 20-month-old daughter, so I know sleep deprivation. But I have to say how much I disagree with the method that you (and so many others it seems) have chosen to deal with it. I, too, read the Weissbluth (now referred to as the Sleep Nazi in my house) book. I appreciated the information on infant sleep patterns and wholeheartedly agree with his advice to watch your child's sleep cues and put them to bed before they are overtired. But he lost me when he said that you must not go into your screaming, crying hysterically, kicking, head-banging child--even if he or she cries so hard they vomit. (I no longer own the book, so can't look it up, but I recall that Weissbluth said something to the effect of "You may go in quickly to make sure the child's mouth is clear of vomit and then leave." Leave your child to sleep in his own vomit? I was also dismayed to read that his solution to his own son's headbanging behavior was to simply pad the crib.) I'm not sure why putting the child to bed before he is overtired must be linked with plopping the baby in the crib and walking straight out, and not comforting him if he cries. Weissbluth repeatedly makes it appear as though he wants you to believe that not sleep training your child is detrimental because invariably such a child will not be getting enough sleep. Yes, sleep deprivation is bad. However, I would posit that uncontrolled, hysterical crying alone in a dark room is also not so good for baby. Weissbluth cites studies about the horrors of too little sleep, but he also ignores studies that indicate that unresponded-to crying is harmful for infants as well. A researcher in the U.S. in the 1980s took infant squirrel monkeys and separated them from their mothers, prompting to them cry. After a while, their crying stopped and it seemed they were ok, but measurements of their cortisol levels were high and their immune function and brain development appeared negatively affected. In 1998, two Harvard Med School researchers (trained as psychiatrists) published a paper showing adverse effects of CIO sleep training and concluded that CIO causes negative change in children's brains and makes the nervous system overly sensitive to future trauma. But beyond any of the studies, for me, at least, it simply goes against all my instincts to not respond to my hyperventilating, sputtering, wheezing, crying, shaking baby. I truly empathize with you when you say you are stressed and at the end of your rope and that you tried gentle sleep techniques to no avail. Personally, my husband and I used some techniques in the No-Cry Sleep Solution by Elizabeth Pantley with good results. I can even understand considering CIO in dire circumstances (you are so stressed by the situation that you fear you could harm your child), but its widespread use obviously indicates it is not a last-ditch, truly desperate effort. Partly, I believe that culturally we have unrealistic expectations for infants and their sleep schedules. Nobody sleeps through the night; I sure don't. But I can go back to sleep on my own. So, really what we're asking months- (or weeks-) old children to do is self-soothe at a point when they don't even fully understand the fact that they are separate from their parents. Also, culturally, we expect our children to sleep in a crib in a separate room. If the stigma of cosleeping were removed (and alarmist views calling it unsafe--refutable, but for another discussion), a lot of people would find they could get better sleep without CIO. I don't pretend that cosleeping is a panacea or that it will work for all parents or even all babies, but it's worth considering (especially for a breastfed baby). Finally, traveling often results in having to sleep train as if from scratch when returning home and sleep trained babies sometimes get to the point where they can only sleep in their crib at home and nowhere else. CIO sleep training doesn't seem all that successful to me if you must redo it after every trip. As you say, sleep will be ongoing challenge for many parents. And not using CIO may seem harder and you may find it hard to see why it's a problem if your son greets you with a toothless smile in the morning. Unfortunately, the effects of CIO are difficult to study and drawing direct correlations between later problems and infant's sleep experiences would be extremely difficult. But instinctually, it seems all wrong. And the studies I have seen on the stress that crying creates leave me with enough doubt about the wisdom of using this method.
I don't mean to come off as though I'm attacking you personally. (If that's even possible regarding such a charged issue-) But our culture is so pro-CIO and I just don't agree with it. I see it touted everywhere, and I rarely see an alternative proposed as something other than a fringe method that (derisively called) Attachment Parenting "freaks" do. So, I just really wanted to share my opinion with you.