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.
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.