Article

Parental Use of “Cry Out” in a Community Sample During the First Year of Infant Life

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Abstract

Objective: The primary objective was to identify the characteristics of parents and infants and parenting practices associated with delayed responsiveness to infant crying during the first year of infant life. A secondary objective was to evaluate, in a subsample of maternal-infant pairs, the associations between delayed responsiveness to infant crying and observational measures of maternal-infant interaction and infant-maternal attachment. Method: This is a secondary analysis of the data from a community sample of pregnant women recruited to the Alberta Pregnancy Outcomes and Nutrition study. Mothers completed questionnaires during the first year of infant life (n = 1826), and a convenience subsample of maternal-infant pairs (n = 137) participated in laboratory assessments of maternal-infant interaction at 6 months of age and infant-maternal attachment at 20 months. Results: Parental use of "cry out" as a strategy to deal with a crying infant was associated with parental characteristics (being white and having a relatively higher income), infant characteristics (higher problematic behavior at 3 months and reduced problematic behavior at 12 months), sleep ecology (infants sleeping alone), and parental soothing strategies (less frequently taking the infant into the parent's bed, cuddling, or carrying the crying infant). Cry out was not associated with observational measures of maternal sensitivity or infant-maternal attachment. Conclusion: When used selectively and in response to the specific needs and characteristics of the infant, delayed responsiveness may reduce problematic behavior and does not harm the infant's socioemotional development.

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... The original study of 26 mothers and infants revealed an association between leaving infant to cry it out and insecure infant-mother attachment (Ainsworth, Blehar, Waters, & Wall, 1978). Subsequently, three replication studies have been conducted: a study of 50 mother-infant dyads in a Dutch sample by van IJzendoorn and Hubbard (2000), our study of 178 mother-infant dyads in a British sample (Bilgin & Wolke, 2020) and a Canadian study of 137 motherinfant dyads (Giesbrecht et al., 2020). All of these three replication studies found no significant association between leaving infant to cry it out and infant-mother attachment. ...
... Thus, the 'major body of evidence' referred to is based on an underpowered sample (N: 26), that is in its composition highly selective, privileged without diversity, and there was no blinding and thus bias cannot be excluded. In contrast, both our and the Giesbrecht et al. (2020) studies used diverse and large samples and attachment ratings were made by an independent group of attachment researchers blind to the exposure and research questions. ...
... We do not know the exact circumstances and whether it was practised mostly at night or not, nor did Bell and Ainsworth (1972), as they did not observe at night. However, the study by Giesbrecht et al. (2020), which used exactly the same measure as ours, investigated this in 1,668 mothers. They found that those who adopted delayed responsiveness in the first 3 months (early adopters) had babies who had more crying episodes early on, were more likely to cry at bedtime at 3 months but were crying less at bedtime and woke less at nighttime by 12 months than late adopters (by 12 months). ...
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Davis and Kramer (2021) in their commentary on our study (Bilgin & Wolke, 2020) state that we 'argue that leaving an infant to "cry it out", rather than responding to the child's cries, had no adverse effects on mother-infant attachment at 18 months' (Davis & Kramer, 2021, p. 1). Instead, we wrote that 'contemporary practice by some parents to occasionally or often "leaving infant to cry it out" during the first 6 months was not associated with adverse behavioural development and attachment at 18 months' (p. 8). Based on the empirical findings of our observation study, we suggested that 'increased use of "leaving to cry it out" with age may indicate differential responding by mothers to aid the development of infant self-regulation' (p. 8). Indeed, in an editorial of our study, the joint editor of this journal concluded that 'Bilgin and Wolke responsibly conclude that there is little reason to make definitive pronouncements to parents of young infants about how much to let them cry it out, given that both the attachment theory (responding promptly early promotes security) and learning theory (ignoring crying prevents dependency) formulations were unsupported by their findings' (Zeanah, 2020, p. 1172).
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