News Article: Crying-it-out ‘harms baby brains’

April 22, 2010 at 4:39 pm | Posted in Controlled crying | Leave a comment
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Reported by the BBC today

Leaving young babies to cry themselves to sleep can harm their developing brains, a parenting expert claims.

Dr Penelope Leach says recent scientific tests show high levels of the stress hormone cortisol develop in babies when no one answers their cries. If this happens over long periods and repeatedly, it can be “toxic” to their brains, she says in a new book.

Dr Leach suggested unattended extreme crying bouts of 30 minutes or more could be damaging to babies. The claims come in a new book called The Essential First Year – What Babies Need Parents to Know.

Dr Leach told the BBC News Website: “We are talking about the release of stress chemicals. The best known of them is cortisol, which is produced under extreme stress.”

“One is not talking about a wakeful baby lying there gurgling, one is talking about a baby that is crying hard and nobody is responding. When that happens, and particularly if it happens over a long period, the brain chemical system releases cortisol and that is very bad for brain development. Some neuroscientists describe it as toxic.”

The psychologist and parenting expert, who first found fame in the 1970s with her book, Your Baby and Child, said the important thing was for a parent to respond. The mother-of-two said it was not necessary for the parent to discover why the baby was crying. “If you do not respond and if you refuse to respond, the baby knows no response is coming,” she added.

“The reason that a baby gives up after half an hour, three-quarters of an hour or an hour is that it has given up and that its expectations have been altered. I’ve heard it said that babies stop crying because they have learned that mummy wants them to go back to sleep. Babies are not capable of that sort of learning.”

‘Harder work’

There was no scientific evidence that suggested allowing a baby to “cry-it-out” taught them how to go sleep, she added. It was possible for a parent to make it clear to a baby that they always come, but that they would not always do what the baby wanted, she added. “You can show you are quite different at night – that you don’t pick him up and play with him, try to stimulate him or get his Lego out. We are trying to teach the baby to become diurnal – to know the difference between day and night.”

She said it was much harder work than closing a door on a shrieking baby but made for a better loving relationship. She said she was not “getting at parents” in her new book, just trying to provide them with good advice grounded in science.

Article: Family under the microscope

April 18, 2010 at 9:26 am | Posted in breastfeeding, co-sleeping, Controlled crying, Routine | Leave a comment
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Interesting article today in the Guardian from Oliver James:

To follow a routine or not – that is the question when it comes to your baby’s care. Several studies find that if parents do controlled crying (leaving the child to cry for gradually increasing periods), babies and toddlers will sleep for longer uninterrupted periods than ones whose mothers pick them up and cuddle or feed them. There is similar evidence for feeding: if you gradually increase the gap between night-time feeds, the child will eventually demand them less often, with larger gaps.

This suits parents, especially working ones. However, it’s not necessarily so good for the child. There is persuasive evidence that babies are more secure and less difficult (irritable, fussy, standoffish) if they are responded to quickly, sensitively and lovingly when they indicate they want attention (mostly by crying). Unresponsiveness has been proven to have long-term adverse consequences. To take an extreme example, a key indicator of personality disorder (called dissociation) is predicted 30 years later by unresponsiveness of care, aged 0-2.

Early unresponsiveness from carers makes us emotionally insecure in later relationships. In one study, maternal negativity towards their four-week-old baby predicted insecurity 30-40 years later. This is a bad sign: the insecure are much more prone to mental illness.

On its own, this evidence is strong grounds for concern about the modern vogue for taming the beast in the nursery with routines that suit the parents. The defence is that when a baby is left to cry it learns to “self-soothe” or “self-regulate”. However, this may be “too much, too young”.

Severely neglected orphanage children are prone to indiscriminate friendliness, a people-pleasing false self. One-year-olds who are not picked up and soothed sensitively when crying at night are significantly more likely to be insecure. Mothers who respond rapidly to crying in the night have babies at three months who are less fussy and irritable. Breastfed on demand, babies are more secure. It looks likely that, while it suits parents to get a baby to fit in with them, it may not be good for their state of mind and long-term mental health.

A comprehensive review of the evidence on co-sleeping bears this out. It demonstrates that having babies or toddlers sleeping in a separate room is completely at variance with human history. In 127 cultures surveyed around the contemporary world, 79% of the societies normally have their infants in the same room, 44% in the same bed. Despite social and medical pressures against co-sleeping in developed nations, as much as half of babies do so sometimes in the first months. Some developed nations still do co-sleeping normatively: 59% of Japanese under-fours are in the bed.

The review challenges medical advice on the danger of cot death, showing that co-sleeping may be safer. It promotes more and easier breastfeeding, and although both partners wake more frequently, when carefully observed they get more hours overall than if sleeping alone.

Babies do need routines, but originating in their needs, not the mother’s. If a parent-led routine is the only way a parent is going to stay sane, then that is ultimately best for the child – a depressed parent is even worse. But for those who can tolerate being led by the infant in the early months, that is best.

Co-sleeping review: McKenna, JJ et al, American Journal of Physical Anthropology 134, 133-161. Oliver James’ How Not To F*** Them Up is out in June, selfishcapitalist.com

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