"Crying It Out": Acceptable -- or Abuse?

One of the most primitive, innate reactions any mom has is to comfort her crying child. But as we've talked about here before, many babies can tolerate -- and thrive -- with some crying, when their parents thoughtfully decide why and when that might be necessary.

That's why articles like this leave me mystified -- especially when they come from one of my shrink colleagues.  Her bottom line is that CIO is dangerous. She trots out all the old arguments, hailing the Dr. Sears "science" behind her claims, and providing one of the most common misinterpretations of infant research. She makes the mistake that clinical research findings about abused and maltreated babies -- babies who were pervasively denied their needs over the long-term -- should be applied to NORMAL babies in NORMAL families.

The fact is, there is no evidence whatsoever that occasional CIO in typically developing babies causes any damage. PERIOD.

More importantly, there IS evidence that severely sleep-deprived mothers are at much higher risk of developing an already common --and dangerous -- condition: postpartum depression. And PPD certainly CAN lead to long-term damage to both baby -- and the entire family. CIO is a method that, when implemented thoughtfully, can often lead to improved sleep (and health and happiness) for everyone.

Firebombs like those thrown in the Psychology Today article only make the burden heavier on moms. What a shame.

Aloha as always,

Dr. Heather The BabyShrink Mom of Four, Parenting Expert

PS: Wow, what a response! After commenting here, please also see the comments developing over at the Fussy Baby Site.

BabyGeek: Chronic Stress In Children

I recently wrote about amazing findings showing that stress in early life actually causes DNA damage. Researchers at Duke have taken the next step, finding the exact receptor that is disabled by chronic stress, resulting in genetic damage.

This adds strength to what I believe about making sure our kids are brought up in Good Enough environments: We already know that a LITTLE bit of stress is a good thing. It toughens us up and helps us learn new lessons. But too much stress, over a long period of time, is a bad thing.  That's why children brought up in chronically abusive or deprived environments fare so poorly. And these folks at Duke have found a glimpse into exactly how that works, on a molecular level. Cool stuff.

Their research is connected to how our cells are damaged in a variety of ways -- including by the aging process -- and I know I'm not the only 40-something parent out there hoping science will help us push the envelope of healthy life way out into the future, giving us more time with our children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren.

Do you think science will offer us a cure for stress and aging -- in our lifetimes? I hope so!

 

Aloha,

Dr. Heather The BabyShrink

BabyGeek: Infant Sleep "Rules" Don't Work

I've been sleep deprived since April 2001, when our oldest was born. Since then, I've tried every "trick" in the parenting book. And nothing seems effective at "making" my

kids sleep better. They've all evolved into being better sleepers over time.

That's why I'm so interested in the line of research discussed in this study. Penn State scientists found -- despite common parenting advice -- that parents' EMOTIONAL response to their children at bedtime was much more successful than any specific behavioral "trick" in getting children to sleep.

As a shrink, I tell parents that babies absorb their emotional messages. Parents are often surprised when I tell them that even the youngest babies sense their emotions -- but it's true.

In the shrinking world, we've been struggling internally for years over the predominant theoretical orientation -- Behaviorism, and its spin-offs -- and the power it holds over the way we do our work. Those of us who work with very young children understand that simple behavioral and operant conditioning simply doesn't apply with the little ones. That's why "Ferberizing" and related approaches are often ineffective.  FIRST, babies need to feel emotionally (and physically) safe. Other learning can proceed from there. But sleep is an inherently scary proposition, and often triggers resistance and regression in children. It's a weird and scary thing to transition into a sleep state.

So the fundamental message of this research at Penn State is both obvious to me -- and very reassuring -- as an Early Childhood specialist. I'm eager to see what else they discover in this line of inquiry, and I'll be sure to share it with you.

Here's a link to some of my "getting to sleep" advice. What's yours?

 

Aloha,

Dr. Heather The BabyShrink

BabyGeek: Early Trauma Damages Babies' DNA

It took me over a year, but I finally started to understand the fabulousness that is Twitter. And no, it's not because I want you to know what I had for lunch (although I had some amazing Indian food today). It's because I meet a lot of interesting people on Twitter, and am directed to some fascinating info. The geek in me LOVES the immediate access I get via Twitter to all sorts of interesting infant research. But I do realize that most of you don't share my fascination with primary-source research -- you just want to get through your parenting day with your wits reasonably intact. And that's why I'm here -- to help sort through all the clutter, and show you what I think is TRULY interesting, relevant, and important to parents. So I'm starting a new category on BabyShrink -- BabyGeek. It will give me the opportunity to use more than 140 characters to help interpret the most current findings from the world of infant and child development, and the mind-boggling findings from brain and neuroscience. I hope I can make it all interesting for you, too.

And now, for my first moment of BabyGeek:

Early Trauma Damages Babies' DNA

This heartbreaking study confirms what shrinks like me have long suspected: The mind and body are closely linked, even from the first months of life. This study shows how deeply linked: Traumatic emotional experiences such as institutional care actually damage the child's DNA. Scientists have been investigating how the length of the telomere (the cap that protects the ends of the DNA strand) is related to health and longevity -- and the orphans in the study had significantly shorter telomeres. Here's the study report.

In college, we used to argue about "nature vs. nurture". Now, we know it's nature AND nurture -- down to our DNA.

I'm waiting for the research that shows longer telomeres in babies from "good enough" homes.  I wonder what other aspects of parental care will show impacts -- positive or negative -- on DNA?

What are your thoughts?

Aloha,

Dr. Heather The BabyShrink

And I hope to see you on Twitter! Follow me here.