Big ol’ list of links about CIO, part I

Egrrrl in the comments pointed me towards this list of anti-CIO links posted at MotheringDotCommune. While the overwhelming majority of the links are to opinion pieces, including the notorious “Harvard study” I’d referred to in the thread the comment was on – par for the course for AP/NP “evidence”, and many have references that do not relate to cosleeping but to routine abuse and neglect, there was one link to a position paper on controlled crying (.pdf document). I’m linking to the original position paper and not the transcribed HTML link, as it looks clearer to read and has some intresting points. It’s written by one Pam Linke, a parenting book author and the national president of the Australian Association for Infant Mental Health, Inc. (AAIMHI). I can’t tell if she has any other relevant credentials (such as a degree in child psychology), but she comes out very supportive of cosleeping and against CIO. The sources she uses to bolster her position paper with, however, are…shall we say, interesting. The policy statement was first written in 2002, and revised Novmeber 2004.

Linke asserts that “Crying is a signal of distress or discomfort from an infant or young child. Although controlled crying can stop children from crying, it may teach children not to seek or expect support when distressed.” Unfortunately for her, there is no proof of this, and in fact, there is even no direct evidence that babies who undergo controlled crying suffer undue or lasting stress, as she states later on:”There have been no studies such as sleep laboratory studies, to our knowledge, that assess the physiological stress levels of infants who undergo controlled crying, or its emotional or psychological impact on the developing child.”

Actually, there have been studies which assessed the “emotional or psychological impact on the developing child” of controlled crying; one was written back in 1992, and the other was published in January 2004 ( a full 10 months before Linke revised her policy statement); Needless to say, they do not support Linke’s baseless assertions…quite the contrary. There is no evidence that infants who are left to cry for short periods of time are traumatized in the manner of neglected children in Romanian orphanages are, no matter how much some parenting experts may wish it or hypothesize about it. In fact, when the babies learned how to sleep for long stretches, it did them (and their families) only good.

Linke also claims that “If controlled crying is to be used it would be most appropriate after the child has an understanding of the meaning of the parent’s words, to know that the
parent will be coming back and to be able to feel safe without the parent’s presence. Developmentally this takes about three years. ”

Three years?! I think Linke needs a refresher course in child development. Children develop a sense of object permanence as young as 8 months old, some say even earlier. That’s how a baby knows Mommy doesn’t disappear into thin air when she’s out of sight, and is the source of the infant developing stranger anxiety. As for understanding what is said to them, even if they haven’t developed the linguistic capacity by age 3 to understand the meaning of the words “I’ll be back soon” (and I know precious few children that age who haven’t), the nonverbal concept of Mommy coming back can, and is, learned much earlier…by Mommy coming back night after night, morning after morning. Even tiny babies can learn to anticipate regular events.

Linke’s bibliography is, per her own admission, not particularly supportive of her statements:

“The list below is not specifically for studies on the impact of controlled crying on infants because there are no records of such studies. The list has sources of general background information related to sleep and to understanding children and stress.”

So we’ve got a mishmash of basic attachment theory research by Bowlby, Ainsworth and Bell (yes, children whose cries are constantly ignored for a long time go on to develop attachment sidorders); yet again, the Commons and Miller claptrap; and James McKenna’s factoids about cosleeping dyads which prove nothing aboust its safety. She also exhorts you to look into the works of Michel Odent, and further adds that “A wide range of articles for parents can be found on: or”. I’ve already touched upon the subject of the quality of Dr. Sears’ “evidence” about cosleeping; his “evidence” regarding CIO is of similar…er, scientific rigor. And yeah, let’s send ususpecting mothers over to The Natural Child website, so they can learn how women who use formula, cribs and C-sections are fake mothers, among other things. Eek.

Next post, we’ll be looking at a big ol’ list of links to actual studies about CIO and its effects. Maybe it’ll be of help to those wishing to confront that other “big ol’ list of links” that pretends to be convincing proof that CIO will permanently damage your baby and turn him into a quivering, depressed lump of obedience and fear…and I promise it won’t contain any opinion pieces :-).

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11 Responses

  1. Have I told you lately that I love you?

    We used the Ferber method to break my daughter’s sleep association with her pacifier – she was waking up every hour looking for it, and we were zombies. I started with her morning nap one day, and had minimal crying. For the second nap, even less crying. That night, she went to sleep without a tear and slept for TEN HOURS. And that was it – that was all the controlled crying she did.

    Getting more sleep pulled me out of a PPD spiral and let me actually enjoy being a mom. My daughter seemed happier, too. So far, at almost 20 months old, I don’t see any negatives from the experience.

    Anyway, thanks. I’m sending all the new moms I know to your blog, by the way.

    – Tricia

    PS – That Natural Child “fake mother” link is horrifying. I can’t believe I haven’t seen that before!

  2. Yep, we used Ferber to break our daughter’s sleep association to being held and rocked when she was 7 months old. Now, we rather enjoyed holding and rocking her to sleep.

    But when we had to do it every 45 minutes, for a half an hour, all night long? Not so much. And I swear, if anyone had suggested co-sleeping as a solution I would have decked them, because we WERE cosleeping! Turns out when you have sleep problems and are already co-sleeping, the AP answer is ‘well, it’ll get better eventually, your baby just isn’t ready to sleep through the night.’ Which is bullpocky, considering my baby HAD been sleeping through the night, for several months, prior to the deterioration in sleep habits.

    Anyway, first night, she cried for about 50 minutes, off and on, with frequent checks for soothing and comfort (and I picked her up and held her for a minute or two each time I went in, so she was hardly being abandoned). Then she fell asleep and slept 6 hours before waking up, nursing, and going back to sleep for another 4. I thought I’d died and gone to heaven! And then the next night she cried about 10 minutes, and slept 10 hours straight. And by the third night she whimpered for a couple of minutes…and slept 11 hours straight.

    She’s now almost 3, and absolutely no negatives to report. She’s happy, she’s slept fantastically well ever since, she seems pretty well attached to me.

    I think what a lot of the anti-CIO people miss is that sleep deprivation can cause significant problems – it’s anecdotal, but during that miserable time between 6 and 7 months when the sleep situation was really, really bad not only was the sleep deprivation have a major effect on me, it was also pretty clearly affecting her. She was grumpy and miserable and had the hugest bags under her eyes. After Ferber? It was like a miracle, suddenly she was almost constantly happy, not fussy, she just looked better. The complete failure to consider that part of the equation – that maybe the baby NEEDS more sleep, that it’s not ‘just natural’ for babies not to sleep well – irritates me.

    Maybe someday someone will prove some sort of negative effect of CIO (I doubt it, but it’s possible). Even if there is a negative effect, however, that has to be balanced against the negative effects of the kid not getting enough sleep!

    Thanks for the blog, I’m really enjoying it. And I’m sure I could come up with lots more topics for you whenever you want them.

  3. “I think what a lot of the anti-CIO people miss is that sleep deprivation can cause significant problems – it’s anecdotal, but during that miserable time between 6 and 7 months when the sleep situation was really, really bad not only was the sleep deprivation have a major effect on me, it was also pretty clearly affecting her. She was grumpy and miserable and had the hugest bags under her eyes. After Ferber? It was like a miracle, suddenly she was almost constantly happy, not fussy, she just looked better. The complete failure to consider that part of the equation – that maybe the baby NEEDS more sleep, that it’s not ‘just natural’ for babies not to sleep well – irritates me.”

    If you’ve ever read the Nighttime Parenting forum at*, you’ll see so many posts from moms who are frazzled, stressed-out, in some cases even physically ill, from sleep deprivation. Not to mention all the supposedly “high-needs babies.” (Not denying that some babies are legitimately high needs – but how many just need some SLEEP?) I just don’t get how enduring that for years on end does anyone any good, or is somehow better than the minimal crying we experienced.

    *yeah, it’s not good for my blood pressure either, but I can’t look away. It’s like a train wreck.

  4. Egrrrl, feel absolutely free to suggest post ideas.

    And I want to know – how do you CIO in a cosleeping situation? Is Mommy there in the bed anyway?

    BTW, I don’t want to pre-empt my next post, but there is a plethora of studies which deal with the association between babies’ sleep problems and maternal depression…and how sleep training improves those depressive symptoms. This is no trivial matter.

    Also, there’s a lot of quoting Bowlby in the anti-CIO links. I suggest you take a look for yourself who the subjects of those studies which showed the typical “protest-despair-detachment” response consisted of. His book that deals with this issue is searchable on Go to pages 27-8. I’m not quoting it here because it’s too long for a comment and I don’t want to run into copyright issues.

    I’ve alsways said that Doc Sears has a gift that keeps on giving…after you’ve waited on your baby hand and foot and never let her get a night’s sleep (not to mention yourself) as per the Baby Book, don’t be surprised you then need books like The Fussy Baby Book and The Discipline book…LOL!

  5. Oh, we were part-time co-sleeping – kid started the night in the crib, and at some point around the 3rd wake up we’d give up and haul her into bed with us because it was easier (it worked well at first, but eventually she wasn’t sleeping any better in bed, it just meant we had a fighting chance of maybe dozing a little bit). Once we did the sleep training it was crib full time (oh the horrors of the baby cage!).

    BTW, I’m pretty familiar with the ‘real’ attachment literature, because I’m a psychologist. 🙂 One of the main reasons I suspected the ‘evidence’ for AP was lousy was that I couldn’t reconcile what I knew of the academic attachment literature to the kind of stuff APers were saying. We did a lot of AP things out of sheer laziness rather than any sort of commitment to a parenting philosophy.

    Tricia, I have often wondered how many allegedly high-needs babies simply aren’t getting enough sleep. I have a friend who is very into attachment parenting, co-sleeping, don’t make the kid do anything they don’t want to. Her 2 year old son is a total behaviour nightmare, and personally I think a big part of it is that they don’t make him go to bed, and he regularly stays up until midnight. And he doesn’t nap or sleep late in the morning, either. He just looks tired to me, poor kid.

  6. Hi, I’m new. I don’t have children yet, hopefully soon.

    I want to say that I am really drawn to AP philosophy and the bonding with children, respecting them, etc. (Not saying that you or anyone doesn’t bond or respect their children, just that AP method seems to really encourage those things, in a way that is appealing to me). It seems this blog is anti- AP, but isn’t AP like anything else: some people apply the tenets well, some don’t? I mean, letting your child stay up until midnight and not nap during the day is not a good thing. Not making sure your child gets enough sleep is not a good thing. But couldn’t co-sleeping also have benefits – like the baby feeling secure and content? Similarly, CIO could be done well and poorly too. If you let your child cry for hours, obviously that is not a good thing. If the child doesn’t feel his needs are being met, he could be insecure or have low self-esteem.

    I don’t know that much about this – I’m just speculating. Like I said, I don’t have kids yet. I’m just looking for information. I happen to like a lot too. But I’ve noticed some mainstream sites totally bash it. Do you have to be totally one or the other? Can’t you do a little of both?

  7. Welcome Heather :-).

    Most mainstream parents don’t have a problem with the idea of bonding and respecting one’s children, or in general, with individual AP practices. The problem arises when APers (and this is more common than you’d think) claim their way is a superior method to bond, or in fact, the only way to do so, or that what mainstream parents do is “detached” and not conducive to this. All on the basis of the flimsy non-evidence and misinformation this blog is devoted to uncovering and critiquing. For example, if somebody tells me cosleeping gives them the warm fuzzies, that’s all fine and good. When a website claims, however, that it’s been ‘proven’ that cosleeping reduces the incidence of SIDS and CIO causes children to become depressed, these are lies that need correcting with reliable information, the better for a parent to make informed decisions about their sleeping practices.

    BTW, I try to define very carefully what I mean by terms like CIO or cosleeping, so that we’re all sure we’re talking about the same thing and not some artificial debate construct (e.g, CIO does not = dumping a 2-week-old in a cold room at the other end of the house all night long). is one of the worst sources of parenting on the Web, I’m sorry to say. With its HIV-denialism, support for high-risk homebirth and UC, and vaccine…utter stupidity, they’ve been responsible for actual deaths of children. You might find that dissenting opinion on certain topics isn’t welcome even from “crunchy” members…there’s a lot of “moderation” going on over there. The bashing (and not only by mainstream sites) is thoroughly deserved.

  8. I’m interested in the fact that CIO seems to be the only solution to making your child sleep lengthy periods. But, it’s not. I have co-slept with all 4 of my children. The youngest is 2 months old, and sleeps with me. She sleeps throughout the night. Her longest stretch of sleep is about 4 hours. And, we’re all well rested. She can comfort herself, but I always pick her up when she’s crying. When you cry, do you not want to be held, and loved?

  9. Sraddha,

    If cosleeping is working for you and you’re doing it safely – see my 2 posts on the subject – that’s just fine. Unlike certain APers, I don’t subscribe to “one-size-fits all” parenting. You must realize, however, that cosleeping doesn’t work, or stops working fter a while, for many parents and their babies. On average, cosleeping babies wake more times during the night than non-cosleepers, and this can be a problem if a parent is a light sleeper. Some mothers also don’t view the common cosleeper practice of banishing one’s hubby to the couch so they can cosleep with Baby as a viable option, either.

    What’s not OK is your insinuation that parents who use CIO do not love their children or are failing to respond to their needs. I may want to be held when I cry, but if what I actually need is to get back to sleep because I’m overtired and cranky, Mom and Dad are responding to my needs – and their own – if they Ferberize me. (Mind you, this doesn’t refer to your 2 month old, but you knew that already. Right?)

  10. I just found this link/website though one of the momy boards that I am on…
    I just have to say that I just sighed the hugest sigh of relief! Thank you so much for your blog. I have honestly had the hardest time on one of my boards trying to convince folks that CIO is not detrimental to children. I am so glad I found this, not that I am going to try to convince them that another way is OK, that ship has sailed. I can not thank you enough to find that there are parents who parent like I do!!! Jenn

  11. Jenn – welcome! I’m glad you found us 🙂 .

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