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ThinkGeek Advocate Letting Your Baby Cry

 |  Interwebs, Parenting

ThinkGeek — “stuff for smart masses” — are selling a baby ‘sleep trainer’ in their Newborn/Infant category. The promise is to get your baby “sleeping through the night in two weeks”. Now, personally, when I signed up (metaphorically) to being a parent, I knew I would be parenting at night as well through the day. I figured sleepless nights and all that malarkey were part of the deal. I certainly didn’t sign up for leaving my infant to cry themselves to sleep night after night.

I feel very strongly about ‘cry it out’ methods, and it’s counterpart ‘controlled crying’.

For starters, it encourages social pressure to have your baby sleeping through the night from a young age, and this is not normal behaviour. It’s not normal for an infant to sleep through, and those that do are an exception, not the rule. Many adults do not sleep through the night (waking to urinate, get a drink, whatever) so why do we expect the same of a baby fresh from the comfort of the womb?

Secondly, there is sound research into the harmful effects of prolonged crying in infants, due to increased cortisol levels. Cortisol is released by the body as a reaction to stress (e.g. when an infant is left alone in his/her cot with nobody there for comfort, not knowing when a caregiver will return); it suppresses the immune system, and destroys nerve connections in critical portions of an infant’s developing brain1.

Controlled crying/cry-it-out causes the baby to shut down. In fact, this is how it ‘works’: baby gives up, and sleeps deeper/for longer. A promising thought if you’re sleep-deprived, but deep sleep — much like when baby sleeps on his/her tummy — prevents the baby from waking as easily if there is a ‘problem’, e.g. if breathing is interrupted. This is so serious, that the Back to Sleep campaign was created2. If preventing deep sleep from sleeping on the tummy caused a big drop in SIDS deaths, surely other causes of deep sleep could be connected to infant death too? I’m not a scientist but it’s a logical connection to me.

Anyway, back to ThinkGeek. One of the most worrying things about this is the categorisation and subsequent description of the product. It’s in the Newborn/Infant category for starters (who in their right mind would leave a newborn to cry themselves to sleep?). Secondly, this line:

NOT sleeping through the night? You might be teaching your baby that behavior

A claim made with no obvious scientific backing to scare parents into buying this pointless product, and ultimately into leaving their baby to cry. Furthermore, a study on infant sleep behaviour from 1994 shows a wide range in normal infant sleeping behaviour, which is at odds with this claim3.

Lastly, under the product spec, we have:

For ages 4 months and older

This disturbs me on many levels. Dr Ferber, one of the biggest advocates of controlled crying, does not recommend using his methods on children under 18 months. He puts a lower limit at 6 months, but notes that the younger the infant is, the less successful the ‘training’ will be. Ferber acknowledges that his method doesn’t teach kids HOW to fall asleep on their own, infants are simply denied access to a caregiver, and left to work it out for themselves.4

In light of this, I contacted ThinkGeek. I explained that not only had I purchased quite a lot from them, but had referred customers who had spent hundreds of dollars. I then outlined my findings, expressing discomfort at their willingness to back this product. Their response?

Please let me know if you have any other questions. Have a great day!

…and that’s it. They blew me off. Not even so much as an acknowledgement that they had read my e-mail. I can only take from this that ThinkGeek advocate leaving babies to cry against the advice of multiple experts. Not a company I can support, and as such have removed all product links to ThinkGeek from my previous posts and pages. I will no longer be making purchases from ThinkGeek, and encourage any of you who feel similar that you make it known.

References

1Schore, A.N. (1996), “The Experience-Dependent Maturation of a Regulatory System in the Orbital Prefrontal Cortex and the Origen of Developmental Psychopathology,” Development and Psychopathology 8: 59 – 87.
2Helping Baby “Back to Sleep” [pdf]
3Armstrong KL, Quinn RA, Dadds MR. (1994), “The sleep patterns of normal children.”
4Dr Richard Ferber (2006), “Solve Your Child’s Sleep Problems”

For more information, please see my delicious bookmarks tagged ‘controlled crying’

Update @ 18:55

ThinkGeek have added the following comment to the product page:

This doctor-designed system is for healthy babies 4 months and older. Please consult your pediatrician to see whether this system is right for your geekling. ThinkGeek doesn’t advocate letting babies cry (especially when the world is full of hugs & bacon), but the system has helped lots of parents and babies sleep better. Moral of the story: Consult your doc before buying and keep on being the best geek parent you can be.

What a cop out.

Jem Turner jem@jemjabella.co.uk +44(0)7521056376

30 comments so far

  1. Mumblies said:

    I was brought up to think that if a parent wanted to bring a child into this world, then they should be prepared to place that child first, and sacrifice whatever it took to ensure that child grew up safe and happy at ALL times. No child asks to be born, so a parent that brings a child into this world should be prepared to put at least 20 years of their lives on hold, if they don’t then in my eyes they are not fit to be parents.

    Not one of my 6 were ever left to scream themselves to sleep, you yourself still woke at least once a night for a drink and cuddles until you reached almost 5 years of age.

    I willingly got up and comforted you, as I did with your siblings that woke, until such time as you slept through all night. It was tiring I admit, and there were times when I would dearly have given anything to go back to sleep, but I did it without prejudice because my babies’ needs were FAR more important than mine, any parent that happily leaves a baby or child of their own to cry without comfort or support is selfish and in my opinion does not deserve the precious gift that a baby is.

    The SIDS figures agree that babies that are brought up in extended families, where babies are never left alone to cry and are surrounded by willing carers to step in, feed, comfort, support have far LESS cot deaths. Whereas the figures that relate to cot deaths tend to be higher in babies that were alone in their cots sleeping while parents slept in their own rooms, or were somewhere else in the house while baby was left alone – it doesn’t take a brain surgeon to figure out there must be a connection there. I will never understand how any mother could leave her baby alone and unattended, my babies meant so much to me (and still do) that I never left them alone.

  2. Karen said:

    Thank you for blogging about this. I’m not even a parent, and I was horrified when I saw it (from your Twitter). Just… what??!

    I, too, have written to tell them what I think of their decision to include this item in their catalogue. I also find the description of the item terribly inhumane.

    Disgusting, ThinkGeek.

  3. Jen said:

    Some parents are so selfish. They think they can train their baby to slot nicely into their lives. When was the last time a couple said they were trying for a baby and NOBODY said to them, "Ohh, prepare yourselves for some sleepless nights!" Did they think they were joking?

    Anyway, all of this is besides the point if you actually raise your child with the grain instead of against it. Babies evolved to fit in nicely with how they were raised (not the other way round), therefore they are wonderfully tailored to certain "alternative parenting methods" which actually are the proper ways to raise a young baby. The babies are born to expect these things. Breastfeeding, co-sleeping and baby wearing are the big three, and doing all of these (in my experience) makes child rearing nothing but a joy. We have always had zero problems with bed time and sleep in general because our son is allowed to do what comes naturally.
    Any parent that decides to embrace the more recent styles such as using the Victorian invention of the pram should prepare themselves for the rocky road of a "bad baby" that constantly needs training and teaching and telling, and a baby that ends up disrupting life to the point where parents (and especially mothers) are having to ignore their maternal instincts just to try and function. Do these mothers never question that something must be seriously wrong with the way they are doing things if the only way they can survive is by suffering instinctive pangs of guilt as their baby has to cry?

    And if a parent is not willing to embrace these lifestyles for whatever reason, they should at least have the grace to admit that the problems are with them and not with their baby.

    Oh, and the worst part? These parents actually think their baby learned something! They learned night time was sleep time, or that mummy means business at bed time, or on an even more basic level that when it’s dark outside they shouldn’t contact mummy or daddy unless they need to go to hospital.

    Hilarious…… they won’t learn not to piss themselves for another 3 years but they have learnt the subtitles of bed time. Oh well, kidding themselves probably helps the parents sleep at night, and that’s the most important thing isn’t it? Happy mummy; happy baby? What baby needs a sleep deprived mummy?
    I say happy baby; happy mummy, and what baby deserves a mother who is not willing to try everything they can before putting themselves first.

  4. Allie said:

    I always feel like I have to include this disclaimer: I’m not a parent yet. BUT I will never ever understand CIO. Talking or even thinking about it drives me mad. All of the points you’ve made against it just make sense: the baby feeling stressed and abandoned, even adults wake up during the night, and the plain fact that it isn’t NORMAL for babies to sleep through the night.

    I am so sick and tired of hearing people talk about their children like they’re burdens or chores or inconveniences. And the attitude that it’s important for baby to sleep so that the parent’s can sleep? I don’t understand how people who wanted to be parents can do that. I have some family that do CIO and it broke my heart to hear my 1 yr old niece crying alone for roughly half an hour when they put her down for a nap. The idea that helping them sleep will spoil them and that learning to self soothe (read: cry) themselves to sleep is good for their development.

    I don’t know how to say which of these is worse but I think they’re at least tied: a while back I came across Enfamil Restfull. It is a formula designed to be thicker so that babies will "feel" fuller longer and will sleep through night feedings. The reviews had people saying they had tried it on babes as young as THREE WEEKS. They wanted their 3 week old to sleep through the night but instead of letting the baby cry they basically stuff it full. Some people say it’s just like putting cereal in a bottle so that the baby fills fuller. (This isn’t a formula vs breast debate; I just find this as bizarre and unnatural as CIO.)

    The lengths people will go to to try to get their newborn babies to sleep through the night so mommy and daddy can get some rest or catch a break… I don’t understand. How can they let a child cry itself to sleep without at least attempting to comfort it? Do they have no compassion? But then there are all of these sites and experts and companies selling products that tell them that their babies should sleep through the night so here, buy our product so that can happen! It’s a shame that marketing is playing such a huge role in how parents choose how to parent.

    The response you got from ThinkGeek is appalling. Either it’s an automated response or they don’t give a rat’s ass.

  5. Cristina said:

    I wonder is this sold anywhere else on a site that has customer reviews? This is seriously disturbing, not to mention even more disturbing if there are parents out there using this thinking it really works. I hope this is a joke, ya know?

  6. JB said:

    "This doctor-designed system is for healthy babies 4 months and older. Please consult your pediatrician to see whether this system is right for your geekling. ThinkGeek doesn’t advocate letting babies cry (especially when the world is full of hugs ?

    This comment has appeared on the page. I wonder if it’s a result of your comment.

  7. Kristi said:

    Someone asked about customer reviews?
    http://www.amazon.com/4moms-Goodnight-Sleep-Trainer-Gray/product-reviews/B001LK73GC/ref=dp_top_cm_cr_acr_txt?ie=UTF8?

    also: http://www.toysrus.com/product/index.jsp?productId=3393884#showReviews

    I think this device just depends on your method of parenting. If you believe in the "cry it out" method, then this device might help you.. it keeps track of information for you.. that’s about it.

    I noticed you were also upset by it’s category.. in the Infant ?

    I am not a parent, let me stress that, but I also don’t see anything wrong with it. Now, if your instincts are telling you there is something wrong then you obviously need to go care for your child and you would need to check on them.. but letting them cry sometimes, in my opinion, is best. Then again, I’m not a parent.

    I’m not really defending you or the product, I’m just giving my opinion.

  8. Rebecca said:

    My parent’s told me themselves that they raised me by letting me ‘cry it out’, and getting angry with me when I felt sick/needed to stay home. My mother would tell me I "ruined her day". I am 21 now, and I still feel like I can’t talk to my parents about feeling sick. I still feel like I shouldn’t go to the hospital unless I am literally dying. I feel like I never had a relationship with my parents, and that they are just the two people who let me survive long enough to reach an age where I could fend for myself.

    It does have an effect on you as you grow older, imo. Being neglected throughout my childhood caused me to probably be as socially awkward/shy and avoid human contact now. I was never cuddled much or comforted at night if I had a bad dream — I was told to be quiet. Even if I screamed at night for help they wouldn’t come, and I would be reprimanded the next morning for being so loud.

    I’m sure I did learn how to ‘deep sleep’ after mother/father never came when I was an infant. My mum to this day will say I was a quiet baby after I only cried a few times in the beginning.

  9. Jem said:

    @JB: well spotted – that wasn’t there before! At least it means they are paying attention.

    @Kristi: "letting them cry sometimes, in my opinion, is best" – really, why would that be? As a Christian (according to your site), surely you believe in "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you". Do you actively enjoy lying in a dark room crying yourself to sleep at night…?

  10. Meggan said:

    Yep, I’m seeing the new disclaimer. And actually, I feel like that’s a good compromise on their part. I don’t love that it still says 4 months (and not 6) and I don’t love that they are still selling it, but I think it is an improvement.

    Re: CIO – some babies are tension increasers and some are tension decreasers when they cry. I am fine with the "tension decreasers" being allowed to fuss for a bit so they can calm themselves down. I am not okay with any baby being left to fend for themselves in the middle of the night, wailing because they can’t find their parents. That is just so SAD to me. Sad sad sad.

  11. Ashley said:

    This is ridiculous, and I’m glad you said something regardless of the fact that they were obvious twats about it.

    I don’t know how anyone can possibly support CIO methods when I know very few people who can sleep through the night themselves; I barely ever sleep through the night (hell, sometimes I wake up from a bad dream and want cuddles, but seeing as I’m 19, kinda have to just put up with that myself), like you said, because sometimes I want a drink or need the bathroom. Adults should never expect babies to do what they themselves wouldn’t want to do.

    Also, even if CIO was an even slightly acceptable method, what a load of rubbish this is. You don’t need a $30 device with a few dumb buttons to help you ignore your child.

  12. Jem said:

    I take issue with Moxie’s article. She starts by talking about babies potentially fussing for a couple of mins, and then increases that to 10 mins for a couple of weeks – and that is just controlled crying under a different name from where I’m sitting. 10 mins is a looong time to leave a bubba crying :S

  13. Emsz said:

    I’m sort of divided on the topic, because I babysit a little boy (1 year 3 months old) occasionally and on Monday I had to put him to bed. I was told that he would cry for a few minutes, but that I could ignore it. Somehow it feels wrong, but it’s someone else’s kid, and I, as the babysitter, shouldn’t interfere with the way they raise him, right?

  14. Meggan said:

    Oh hai, me again. Just got this email back from ThinkGeek:

    "I will let the manufacturers and buyers know of this issue.
    Please let me know if you have any other questions. Have a great day!"

    THHBBLLLBBPPPPTT. Way to take things seriously, guys.

    Also, I think Moxie’s saying "feel free to try it if you want, but I don’t agree with it" and threw out the 10-minute thing as an example for parents who are still interested in doing it. I agree, 10 minutes is a long time but I wouldn’t discount the whole increaser/decreaser message either.

  15. Julie said:

    Me thinks your comment was read by a lower-ranked person who’s supposed to answer regular complaints like "omgz dat shirts aint black like i ordad" and was completely dumbfounded by your message.

  16. Mimi said:

    I don’t know how I feel about others and how they treat this issue, but I didn’t have to deal with it much. Mason started sleeping through the night (on his own!) when he was about 2 WEEKS old!! Now, sleeping through the night for us was about 5-6 hours but for 2 weeks old, that was impressive I thought.

    The first two weeks were nightmare-ish of course, every hour or 30 minutes hungry, poopy, gassy, just fussy. But like you said, that’s kind of part of being a baby. O_o

    I co-slept from about the time he was 2 weeks old too (or maybe sooner, can’t remember precisely), so I wonder if that had anything to do with it. I couldn’t stand putting him in that crib so far away from me. It was like I was missing part of me!

    However, if he had NOT slept through the night, there is absolutely no way in hell that I could stand to hear him cry all alone. I am a very protective mommy and I can’t stand the thought of him having one second of fear in his life (which, as he gets older, is going to take some working on because he will inevitably have to go through normal human emotions.. boo!).

    So my personal stance is very much against letting little baby cry. I guess I think it’s kind of cruel. Why are they trying to "train" their babies anyway? Are they little puppy dogs or humans? O_o

  17. Aisling said:

    I think a few minutes of crying would be okay, but like Ashley said, I wake up in the middle of the night at 22 and want a cuddle. Or sometimes I’m just uncomfortable or a little ill feeling or overheated, and I would TOTALLY cry if I couldn’t just walk downstairs and get some fresh air, or some medicine or a glass of water. I’ve actually woken up feeling so frustrated that I felt like crying, but have instead settled for standing in the kitchen, drinking water and whimpering quietly to myself. And if I peed myself, I DEFINITELY would not just go back to sleep, it’d be so uncomfortable that I’d probably sob for an hour. So. :P

  18. Jenny said:

    A review company actually sent me a book on somewhat of the same thing. I just tossed it aside mainly because I personally 1.) couldn’t let my son do that and 2.) i’m to lazy to read it xD

    But it’s horrible of them to sell that. And what a bullshit thing for them to do and say. I’ve never heard of them before but I definitely don’t care to visit them now.

  19. Katy said:

    other people’s crying babies are also reaaaaaaaaaaaally annoying if they live next door, or are wailing in shops/restaurants/within hearing distance/etc.

    so nevermind the baby, why would you want inflict that annoyance on other people? :P

  20. Britney said:

    Before I start, I want to say that I respect your opinions and for the most part agree with you. And I might be all over the place and at times completely unrelated be we’ll see . . .
    But, aside from all of these new studies about everything that’s good and bad for your baby, I think that it’s (nearly) always a mother’s instinct that is best for the baby.
    My mom left me to cry for a bit (not saying hours or anything) but a good 15-20 minutes and I’m not any worse for wear; my body and my neurological system works just fine.
    My niece and nephew both cry themselves to sleep because if we stayed up cooing to them til they fell asleep, we would be up all night and even if they did fall asleep in our arms, we would go and put them in their crib and they’d wake up, cry and we’d be back at our starting point.
    I think routines are 100% effective and healthy for babies. So, if babies know that yes they may cry a bit before they fall asleep, but in the morning (if they sleep through the night — which there is no ‘normal’ time for a baby to sleep through the night. My cousin was right out of the hospital, so, at days old) they know their parents (or just mom or dad) will be there for them. That said, I don’t think it’s unhealthy for a baby to cry themselves to sleep. BUT: I also would never let a baby cry for more than 20 minutes.
    I’m sure you recognize this, but just because it’s not YOUR way, doesn’t mean it’s no the right way. People shouldn’t be looked down upon for their decisions and opinions on parenting. I don’t mean just you, but anyone! Like you use cloth diapers. That doesn’t mean that anyone who uses disposables is wrong, you know?
    But yeah, I do like hearing other opinions, like yours — it helps me keep an open mind. Even though I’m only 16 . . .

  21. Jem said:

    @Britney: the problem with your "my mum did it and I’m just fine" logic is that you wouldn’t know if it had an effect on you. Unless you have magical goggles that let you see what’s going on physically with your brain, you have no idea.

    Babies don’t *know* that they’ll cry a bit and then fall asleep, and that’s the point. Babies can’t tell the time. Babies don’t know that 5 minutes is less than 10 minutes is less than 20 minutes… they have few very specific needs and cry until they’re met. If they’re not met, they cry until their body gives up. Personally, I’d rather meet the needs of my baby than let it cry itself into a comatose state.

    It’s not about cloth vs. disposable, where the difference is negligible for the baby, but about healthy brain development and the role of a parent. If you (generic you, not you specifically) cannot be arsed to meet the needs of the child: don’t have one! It is that simple.

  22. Donna said:

    My personal favorite is the one where people say responding to your infant when they cry ~spoils them. Cue my brain exploding a little.

    I was one of those babies who first slept through the night at about two weeks old–which scared my mom so much she was up the entire night making sure I wasn’t dead. So she ended up getting even less sleep than she would have if I’d just been normal and woken up several times throughout the night.

    Also, I get annoyed just listening to my dog bark for more than 15 seconds (because she must go bark at that possum outside RIGHT NOW–even at 3 AM), so I don’t understand how anyone can stand letting a baby cry for 10, 15, even 20 minutes. I’d be ready to slaughter kittens by that time!

  23. Dewey Darsow said:

    I have two issues with this post – the first being:

    1) Babies who cry themselves to sleep (like 4 of my 7 kids) grow up to be: normal, wonderful people.

    2) I DO agree that babies shouldn’t be left to cry to themselves when needing milk, affection, etc. – but putting your child (from 2 weeks on) on a schedule – although "experts" disagree – really has no adverse effects. None.

    We’re not running a Russian orphanage, but we are a family that takes parenting seriously. We have a large family, and having an actual full night of sleep for me, the mother of the bunch, makes me a better mom throughout the day.

    And the training period, for our kids anyway, only lasts a couple of weeks. So when I read your, "Who in their right mind lets a baby cry themselves to sleep?" I have an answer for ya – we do.

    And our kids? They’re the most amazing kids you’ll ever meet (except your own, of course!).

    Not to disrespect you on your own blog – love the design, by the way – but I have to strongly disagree with the "experts." They’re constantly changing their mind (Dr. Spock, anyone? What happened to his kids again? Oh, right…).

    I put little stock in "expert" advice when it comes to behavior of my kids – common sense goes a long way, and believe me, if my child has a dirty diaper, I’m getting them.

    Hope to see you around again, I think your opinion is understandable, but it’s an opinion. No matter who the experts agree with.

    Cheers!

  24. Jem said:

    You put a 2 week old down to cry themselves to sleep?

    It took them WEEKS to get used to it?

    I don’t care whether you agree with the experts or not, you’re a sick cunt who doesn’t deserve children.

  25. Dewey's Husband said:

    Jem –

    Seriously – you’ve got no class. Calling my wife a cunt? Really? Were you raised by parents?

    Grow up. Seriously. Get over your spoiled rotten, "The world revolves around my opinion" ego for a second – and have class for two seconds. I’d ask that you take the comment down.

    Or: don’t. I’d love to show the kids what the living definition of a sleaze ball is.

  26. Jem said:

    Funny as fuck – I have to grow up but the supposedly superior adult has to (apparently) run to her husband for support ’cause she’s not grown up enough to handle being called a cunt.

    PS. using hidemyass to post your comment? Bit pointless when your ‘wife’ didn’t…

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