I am a social worker and parent in Australia concerned about the western practice of a method called 'controlled crying' that is used on infants to get them to sleep. This blog talks about the use of this method and other parenting methods. Search all the information on this site to be better informed about the practice of controlled crying. For any comments or questions, my email is

Sunday, August 27, 2006

Controlled Crying in the Media

A Current Affair
Author Pinky McKay was recently on A Current Affair in a segment called Sweet Dreams for you and your baby. In it she describes that Controlled Crying can be harmful.

Meet the Fockers
In this movie, the tough CIA agent Dad, Jack Burns (played by Robert DeNiro) says to his soon to be son in law, Greg Focker (played by Ben Stiller), that he is "Ferberizing" the boy (little Jack), so by no means are they to go into him when he cries.
"Now, remember, Greg,we're Ferberizing him. So unless it's an emergency, under no circumstances should you pick him up or cuddle him in any way when he cries". "He's learning to self-soothe, that means no television, no unapproved toys, and most of all, no monkey businessof any kind. Is that clear?"
Greg Focker is unable to sit and listen to the boys cries, and goes in to comfort him.

Controlled Crying
A play written by Ron Ellisha, playing in October. See the below link for more info;
Controlled Crying dissects the anxieties and trials of Oscar (Paul English) and Libby (Margot Knight) as they raise their daughter Millie. The opening scene gives the play its title, as Oscar and Libby lie awake at night desperately following the technique called "controlled crying", which stipulates that parents must obey a strict protocol of not comforting their baby unless it cries for more than 10 minutes at a time.
According to crude behavioural theory, this should ensure the child learns a sense of independence - but it plays hell with the parents' instinctive desire to comfort their baby.

Read the rest of the review for this play here;

Mad About You
Did a show involving the Ferber method, and attempted an uninterrupted half hour of leaving their baby crying. Jamie & Paul sat outside the bedroom door, with their baby crying on the other side, clutching Dr Ferbers book and agonizing for a while, then he said something like, "What do you really want to do?" and she said, "Go to her!" and so they rescued the baby and apologized and hugged and cried.

Can you think of other examples in the media? Email me and I will post them here

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

More Articles

Here are some more articles I have recently found.

Don't let baby "cry it out"

Crying is a baby's only way to "talk" to his caregivers. Some people will tell mom that baby has to be on a schedule and he will have to cry it out until it's feeding time again. Our mothers and grandmothers were given this advice based on formula feeding and mistaken beliefs that babies need to be scheduled. Today experts believe that we should view the breast as an external placenta providing nourishment whenever it is needed. Newborns aren't on the same time clock that adults are. In fact, most newborns seem to have their days and nights mixed up (see The first 4 weeks: baby ). A newborn responds to his natural internal clock.
Letting a baby "cry it out" is bad if not dangerous advice. Prolonged crying is physiologically detrimental to the infant. The effects of crying are like the Valsalva Maneuver in the adult. [The Valsalva Maneuver is where you try to push air out of your lungs without opening your throat, it can also occur when an adult strains to have a bowel movement or during the pushing stage of labor.] The Valsalva Maneuver affects the way the body functions: large changes in blood flow occur, oxygen levels in the blood decrease, blood pressure rises, the heart rate slows, intracranial pressure (inside the head) rises, pressure on the ear drums increases, and blood flow from the inferior vena cava (a large vein in the abdomen and chest) to the heart decreases, which keeps the heart from pumping as much blood as it should. (Marasco and Barger)
This article can be found here;

A Baby's Cries
by, Jeri

"'As a mother comforts her child, so will I comfort you...'" ~Isaiah 66:13a (English-NIV)
"Crying is as good for the lungs as bleeding is for the veins." ~ Dr. William Sears, The Fussy Baby, page 63
". . . crying has been found to be physiologically detrimental to the new infant. Large fluctuations in blood flow occur during extended crying periods, decreasing cerebral oxygenation and causing an increase in cerebral blood volume. As a result, rising blood pressure increases intracranial pressure, putting baby at risk for an intracranial hemorrhage. Meanwhile, oxygen-depleted blood flows back into the systemic circulation rather than into the lungs (Anderson, GC)." ~ excerpted from Examining the Evidence for Cue feeding of Breastfed Infants by Lisa Marasco, BA, IBCLC and Jan Barger, MA, RN, IBCLC

"A mother is ridiculed for wanting to pick up her crying baby. Yet, this response to a call, the concern for her offspring, is an action that comes from the very depth of her motherhood." ~ excerpted from An Oversight of Our Culture By Tine Thevenin

My Thoughts
Have you ever heard the old sayings that "babies need to cry to exercise their lungs" or "your're going to spoil him by picking him up every time he cries--he's just trying to manipulate you"? They are myths, and contrary to what these statements try to make us believe, babies cry to communicate their needs. If they hurt, they cry. If they miss the closeness they were so used to for nine months (and why shouldn't they miss it??), they will cry. Babies need closeness and warmth, love and nurturing.
If a mom holds herself back from comforting her child because she fears she might spoil him, his crying will most likely escalate. His blood pressure will rise. He may become hysterical... and very hard to comfort. This type of crying causes extreme frustration in those who hear it, not to mention being frightening, exhausting, and potentially dangerous to a baby.
Whereas if a mom follows her heart and immediately tries to comfort her crying baby and meet his needs, her baby will be more responsive to her care. Responding quickly to a baby's cries has been shown to reduce the amount of crying a baby does. A quick response helps your baby learn to trust you, and teaches you to be sensitive to your baby's needs.
If you respond quickly to your baby's cries, and he still cries a lot, you may start to worry that you are spoiling your baby or that there is something wrong with you or your baby. If you know that your baby does not have a medical problem that makes him cry a lot, then worry no more. . . . You probably have been blessed with a high-need baby. Striving to meet his needs will forge a strong attachment between you and your baby and will help him feel as contented as possible. This will encourage your baby to meet his full potential.
Since a crying baby is trying to communicate his needs to you, perhaps your goal should not be to stop the crying, but to meet your baby's needs. Sometimes that need is a shoulder to cry on. Be there for your baby!! Maybe some of my hints for Calming a Fussy Baby will help you!
Unanswered Cries Can Lead to Hopelessness
In Suzanne Arms' book Immaculate Deception II, she explains how in the 1970s Dr. T. Berry Brazelton studied newborns to see whether they could feel hopeless or depressed. In the following quote from page 186, Arms tells of a study that Dr. Brazelton did in which he videotaped babies crying in order to get the attention of their moms, and, eventually, when this failed, their descent into hopelessness:
In a heartrending series of videotaped sessions, each baby can be seen crying to elicit a response from its mother and, failing to do so, working even harder. After a number a minutes of making all kinds of faces and trying to make eye contact, each baby finally reaches its level of tolerance and begins to look away from the mother, finding it too difficult to continue making an effort with no response. The baby eventually turns it sic face away from its mother's face. Then it turns toward the mother again and tries to rouse a response. Each time it turns away for longer and longer periods. Finally, each baby slumps down, drops its head, and shows all the signs hopelessness.
This article can be found here;

Monday, August 14, 2006

Perinatal Neuroscience

This is an excerpt out of a talk delivered by Dr Neil Bergman (his website is and shared with me by a Lactation consultant.

Skin-to-Skin Contact and Perinatal Neuroscience
Bergman N. J. MB ChB, MPH, MD, Capers Breastfeeding Seminar 2006.

Breastfeeding: A Lifelong Investment

Basic mechanisms for brain growth
Schore presents a new slant with the same message in two recent in depth reviews from developmental psychology, infant psychiatry and developmental neuroscience(3;4;4). The development, growth and function of the human brain has been studied extensively in the last decade, and in the following section some 40 pages are summarised in a few quotes (verbatim):
“Maturation of … adaptive right brain regulatory capacities is experience dependent, and this experience is embedded in the attachment relationship between infant and primary caregiver, …“ … the environment affects the structure and function of the brain.
“ …an early postnatal period represents a “critical period” of limbic –autonomic circuit development, during which time experience or environmental events might participate in shaping ongoing synapse formation.” (Bowlby)
The capacity to cope with change and stress is a right brain function, which is built up over time. After birth, the critical neural pathway that develops is the amygdala-orbitofrontal tract, and the salient stimulation or experience required is tactile:
State organisation refers to the organism’s level of alertness, and ranges from deep sleep through several stages to awake and at the extreme “hard crying”. Critical for the well-being of a newborn is the requirement of “cycling” appropriately between levels of sleep that is not too deep, and being awake for feeding, and avoiding crying and stress. Optimal synaptogenesis and wiring is related to normal sleep cycling. Electroencephalographic recordings have shown that the normal sleep cycling of a newborn is 60 to 90 minutes, and disruption of this cycling leads to stress and pathology. This kind of optimal state cycling is only observed in infants that are together with their mothers, and optimally so where there is maximal skin-to-skin contact.(14;15;15-17)
The pattern of breastfeeding that results when an infant is never separated from the mother is very different from that we believe to be “normal” in our western culture. Firstly – the pattern is entirely determined by the infant and not the mother, and each infant is unique. An infant allowed to decide its own feeding pattern from initiation will settle in to “maintenance” feeding, and will feed every hour or two at most, will ingest the full ejection load of a single let down reflex, which just happens to be the comfortable maximum capacity of its stomach, and which happens to contain enough food and calories for one or two hours at most, and it will cycle its state organisation effectively. This is the pattern observed from almost all non-western cultures.(18)
Consequences of adverse environment on brain growth
Removed from the correct habitat, all mammals exhibit an identical pre-programmed response, referred to in biology as the "protest - despair response"(6). This is the defence programme, and has its own set of hormones, autonomic controls and somatic expressions. The “protest” response is one of intense activity seeking reuniting with the habitat/mother, the “despair” response is a withdrawal and survival response of decreased temperature and heart rate, mediated by a massive rise in stress hormones. Reunited with the correct habitat (mother), there is a rapid rise in heart rate and temperature.
The "protest-despair response" was first described in humans, in orphans after WWII(3;4) , it was subsequently studied in monkeys and then in many other mammals. Separation has been shown to cause maladaptive changes in brain structure and subsequent behaviour, and changes in the fundamental efficiency of all the body systems(8). Early separation produces major shifts in susceptibility to stress-induced pathology(2). The origins of many human behavioural deviations are unknown, it has been suggested that most of these can be traced back to “violations of an innate agenda?"(10) The primary violation, the worst case scenario, to any newborn is separation from its habitat/mother.
In current neurobehaviour studies in human beings, protest-despair is referred to as “hyperarousal and dissociation”. This work is summarised in the long but illuminating psychoneurobiological review by Allan Schore(4).
“…the human infant’s psychobiological response to trauma is composed of two separate response patterns – hyperarousal and dissociation. (Perry et al)
“…(In hyperarousal) the sympathetic autonomic nervous system is suddenly and significantly activated, increasing heart rate, blood pressure, tone and vigilance, distress is expressed in crying then screaming…this state of “frantic distress”, or what Perry terms fear-terror, is known as ergotropic arousal…with excessive levels of major stress hormone releasing factor…resulting in a hypermetabolic state in the brain.
“(Dissociation) is a second later-forming reaction in response to terror, and involves numbing and avoidance…a state of conservation-withdrawal, a parasympathetic regulatory strategy that occurs in helpless and hopeless situations … a hypometabolic process used throughout the lifespan, in which the individual passively disengages “to conserve energies” … to foster survival by the risky posture of feigning death.
“In this passive state of profound detachment, pain numbing and blunting endogenous opiates are elevated, instantly triggering analgesia and immobility and inhibition of cries for help … vagal tone increases dramatically, decreasing blood pressure and heart rate … in this state both the sympathetic energy-expending and parasympathetic energy-conserving components of the infant’s developing brain are hyperactivated … (creating) chaotic biochemical alterations, a toxic neurochemistry in the developing brain
“ … the psychotoxic contexts of early relational trauma … intense relational stress alters calcium metabolism, a critical mechanism of cell death … result in permanent alterations in receptors … (causing ) high risk for developing severe psychopathologies at later stages of life.”
Neurobehavioural evidence of environmental deprivation
Prematures and newborns have a nervous system which lacks the ability to dampen down sensory signals. Over-stimulation of any of the senses will be experienced as PAIN by the newborn. Stress hormones increases the perception of pain. When the entire environment provides noxious stimuli to the developing brain, the effects or early abuse and neglect have catastrophic impact(4).
“Severe levels of stress associated with infant abuse and neglect are pathogenic to all immature human brains, and neglect may be even more detrimental than abuse.
“Caregiver induced trauma is qualitatively and quantitatively more potentially psychopathogenic than any other stressor …
“In human infancy, relational trauma, like exposure to inadequate nutrition during brain growth spurt, biological pathogens or chemical agents, and to physical trauma to the baby’s brain interferes with the experience dependent maturation of the brain’s coping systems, and have a long-enduring negative impact on the trajectory of developmental processes.
Birth complications … affect personality, relationships, self esteem … and behaviour patterns later on in life”(13). "The origins of many behavioural deviations are unknown ... can some be traced back to violations of an innate agenda?" Maternal rejection and lack of bonding combined gives a strong correlation to violent criminal behaviour. Advent of hospital nurseries and early separations correlates with attachment disorders, maternal abandonment of baby, increased addictive behaviours (unmet oral needs).
In short, separation of mother from infant is psychotoxic for the infant’s brain.

Please email me if you would like the references for this article

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Sleeping through the Night

by Katherine A. Dettwyler, Ph.D. Department of Anthropology, Texas A & M University
(from her website)

[This essay was originally directed to one person. It has been edited slightly to make it less specific.]

I am an Adjunct (semi-retired) Associate Professor of Anthropology and Nutrition at Texas A&M University, and I do research on infant/child feeding beliefs/practices both cross-culturally and from an evolutionary perspective, as well as research on children's health and growth. I know from first-hand experience that being a new parent is a difficult time of adjustment, especially when expectations don't match reality, especially when our culture has taught us that children should have certain needs/wants/behaviors and then our children don't seem to fit that mold. This problem of a mismatch between expectations and reality can be very difficult for new parents to accept and adjust to. Sometimes, some children can be encouraged/convinced/forced to fit the mold of cultural expectations, and they do fine. Othertimes, though they do eventually fit the mold, it is at the expense of their sense of who they are, their self-confidence, their view of the world as a safe and trusting place, sometimes, even, at the expense of their health or life. Probably nowhere do cultural expectations and the reality of children's needs conflict more than in the two areas of breastfeeding frequency and sleeping behaviors.
Human children are designed (whether you believe by millions of years of evolution, or by God, it doesn't matter) -- to nurse *very* frequently, based on the composition of the milk of the species, the fact that all higher primates (Primates are the zoological Order to which humans belong, higher primates include monkeys and apes) keep their offspring in the mother's arms or on her back for several years, the size of the young child's stomach, the rapidity with which breast milk is digested, the need for an almost constant source of nutrients to grow that huge brain (in humans, especially), and so on. By very frequently, I mean 3-4 times per hour, for a few minutes each time. The way in which some young infants are fed in our culture -- trying to get them to shift to a 3-4 hour schedule, with feedings of 15-20 minutes at a time, goes against our basic physiology. But humans are very adaptable, and some mothers will be able to make sufficient milk with this very infrequent stimulation and draining of the breasts, and some children will be able to adapt to large meals spaced far apart. Unfortunately, some mothers don't make enough milk with this little nursing, and some babies can't adjust, and so are fussy, cry a lot, seem to want to nurse "before it is time" and fail to grow and thrive. Of course, usually the mother's body is blamed -- "You can't make enough milk" -- rather than the culturally-imposed expectation that feeding every 3-4 hours should be sufficient, and the mother begins supplementing with formula, which leads to a steady spiral downward to complete weaning from the breast. Human children are also designed to have breast milk be a part of their diet for a minimum of 2.5 years, with many indicators pointing to 6-7 years as the true physiological duration of breastfeeding -- regardless of what your cultural beliefs may be. I can provide you with references to my research on this topic if you wish to read more.
The same is true of sleeping. Human children are designed to be sleeping with their parents. The sense of touch is the most important sense to primates, along with sight. Young primates are carried on their mother's body and sleep with her for years after birth, often until well after weaning. The expected pattern is for mother and child to sleep together, and for child to be able to nurse whenever they want during the night. Normal, healthy, breastfed and co-sleeping children do not sleep "through the night" (say 7-9 hours at a stretch) until they are 3-4 years old, and no longer need night nursing. I repeat -- this is NORMAL and HEALTHY. Dr. James McKenna's research on co-sleeping clearly shows the dangers of solitary sleeping in young infants, who slip into abnormal patterns of very deep sleep from which it is very difficult for them to rouse themselves when they experience an episode of apnea (stop breathing). When co-sleeping, the mother is monitoring the baby's sleep and breathing patterns, even though she herself is asleep. When the baby has an episode of apnea, she rouses the baby by her movements and touch. This is thought to be the primary mechanism by which co-sleeping protects children from Sudden Infant Death Syndrome. In other words, many cases of SIDS in solitary sleeping children are thought to be due to them having learned to sleep for long stretches at a time at a very early age, so they find themselves in these deep troughs of sleep, then they may experience an episode of apnea, and no one is there to notice or rouse them from it, so they just never start breathing again. Co-sleeping also allows a mother to monitor the baby's temperature during the night, to be there if they spit up and start to choke, and just to provide the normal, safe environment that the baby/child has been designed to expect.
Is this convenient for parents? No!

Is this difficult for some new parents to adjust to? Yes!
No doubt about it, the gap between what our culture teaches us to expect of the sleep patterns of a young child (read them a story, tuck them in, turn out the light, and not see them again for 8 hours) and the reality of how children actually sleep if healthy and normal, yawns widely.
But the first steps to dealing with the fact that your young child doesn't sleep through the night, or doesn't want to sleep without you is to realize that:
(1) Not sleeping through the night until they are 3 or 4 years of age is normal and healthy behavior for human infants.
(2) Your children are not being difficult or manipulative, they are being normal and healthy, and behaving in ways that are appropriate for our species.
Once you understand these simple truths, it becomes much easier to deal with parenting your child at night. Once you give up the idea that you must have 8 hours of uninterrupted sleep at night, and view these nighttime interactions with your child as precious and fleeting, you get used to them very quickly.
I highly recommend Dr. Sears' book on Nighttime Parenting [available from the La Leche League International Catalogue]. Our children's early years represent the most important and influential time of their lives. It passes all too quickly. But meeting your child's needs during these first few years will pay off in many ways in the years to come.
Prepared August 25, 1997.

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