Ask a mother of a sleep trained baby how they did it and they explain the technique used. It generally goes something like this: put baby down in bed awake, give a few pats, leave room, baby cries, determine what kind of cry it is, wait for a certain time, go in to baby, pat and shush baby, if baby is really upset pick up and hold briefly, put down, leave. Repeat this process until the baby goes to sleep. The mother then continues, "We didn't do controlled crying. We did controlled comforting." Oh, I see.
Controlled comforting, it's the new (or not so new) catch phrase and to some sleep deprived parents it must sounds far more palatable than controlled crying. Certainly it sounds better than its big, ugly step-sister, cry it out. Why is this? Is it because the name has changed from crying to comforting, thus giving the impression that there is an emphasis on comfort? It leaves me baffled when considering the technique outlined above. No matter what you call it a baby is still being left to cry in an effort to "teach" him or her how to sleep.
The Raising Children Network provides a step-by-step guide to controlled comforting on its website. Reading through this guide I felt my own anxiety rising (and that was just while reading it!). I can't imagine what I would be like were I to attempt to implement it. My mind is filled of images of BabyB-B crying in her cot, looking around, wide-eyed, calling for me or for DaddyB-B to come to her, wondering why we are ignoring her or, if we do go in, wondering why we are so quick to leave. I can only imagine her confusion. It reminds me of something I read on The Natural Child Project's Facebook page today:
"Never leave a baby alone to cry. This is an absolute rule. He may be crying because he is hungry, cold, too hot, wet, etc; if so, these things may be attended to. But he may be none of these things; he may be crying because he is frightened, and if not reassured early this is a dangerous condition. If an infant in the early weeks and months of life is allowed to remain frightened and alone, his first impression of the world into which he has come is that it is inhospitable, dangerous and lonely, and there is no use seeking help. He must try to fend for himself and not expect help; but he cannot fend for himself; he is helpless. It is not a matter for surprise that such impressions may color his view of the world and the people in it permanently. Much of his subsequent conduct will be devoted to the object of making himself as secure as he can in an insecure world."It caused me to ask myself how I, as an adult with experience of the world, would like to be left crying, frightened and alone. I would feel helpless and hopeless. I imagined BabyB-B, with no experience of the world, being left crying, frightened and alone. Her loneliness only interspersed by a brief comforting cuddle before being left alone again. I can only imagine that the helplessness and hopelessness that I would feel would be amplified by her inexperience of the world. What would she learn from this? That my comforting is fleeting and not to be trusted? That is not something I wish to teach her. I want her to know that my arms will always be her sanctuary and that I will always answer her cries no matter how sleep deprived I am.
M. Bevan-Brown, M.D.The Sources of Love and Fear (1950)
Call it what you will, and to each their own, but it is not for me.