My son's pediatrician told me that I had to either sleep train my 6-month-old baby or make a "mental health appointment" for myself. I hadn't really slept longer than a two-hour stretch since Ashaz's birth and I was at my breaking point. To be a good mom I needed some rest too, but I didn't have the heart to train Ashaz through the doctor recommended "cry it out" method. The method required putting my sleepy, but awake, baby in his crib for the night, and then turning a deaf ear to his hours of crying, so that he would eventually give up and fall asleep. The method seemed selfish and unnatural.
I dropped everything that I had read and heard about sleep training and went with my maternal instincts instead; I brought Ashaz into our bed. I had slept in my parents' bed as a child so why deprive my infant of the same affection and coziness? That night for the first time Ashaz, well, he slept like a baby.
It was clear to me that co-sleeping was the best alternative to the "cry it out" method. I chose it because it was convenient and felt right. Since then I have discovered more benefits of co-sleeping, as well as studies showing that "cry it out" may be harmful.
Co-sleeping is a common practice in several cultures, including my Pakistani culture. Some of its benefits are self-evident, like better sleep and more bonding time for the family and easier to breastfeed for the mother; while more long term benefits have been reported by Dr. Darcia Narvaez, Professor of Psychology at the University of Notre Dame. She focuses on the impact of early life experiences on moral functioning and moral character and makes a correlation between responsive parenting and infants who grow up to be empathetic, resilient and with more impulse control.
Adding to the merits of co-sleeping, even Dr. Richard Ferber, who introduced the "cry it out" method, is now more open to co-sleeping. He made changes to his book, "Solve Your Child's Sleep Problems" in the 2006 edition.
On the other hand, a study by the University of North Texas, published in The Early Human Development Journal in 2012, found that infants who "cried it out" showed high levels of the stress hormone, cortisol, in their saliva even after they had fallen asleep. So even though the babies appeared to have calmed down, they were still stressed.
For Crying Out Loud
Advocates of the "cry it out" method reassure us that it takes only two to three nights of training and the child will not remember it. They may not remember it, but should we also forget that the training severely stresses babies and may affect their moral cognition in the future?
Advocates of "cry it out" have their own reasons for criticizing co-sleeping. They link co-sleeping with increased risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) but well-known pediatrician Dr. William Sears rejected that claim based on clinical and cultural studies. On www.askdrsears.com, he states how co-sleeping, in fact, reduces the risk of SIDS. Critics also complain of cramped space; I suggest adjoining the crib to the bed with one railing panel removed — problem solved. Co-sleeping hindering intimacy is another popular complain; I think if there is a will, there is a way.
Being a parent is a tough job but it doesn't have to be a mean one. If you are still thinking of stressing your baby out and letting him cry helplessly for hours for the next few nights, I say pick on someone your own size, for crying out loud.