06/08/2013 09:22 BST | Updated 22/05/2015 06:12 BST

Why Controlled Crying Made Me A Better Mother

Why controlled crying made me a better mother Alamy

I am, according to some women, a child abuser and a 'cold' mother. My children, I am told, will probably grow up to be psychopaths. My crime? I use controlled crying. And I'm not in the least ashamed of it.

So you can imagine how pleased I was to finally see a decent, well-constructed study which concluded that controlled crying does not actually damage children. Not a bit. Not in the slightest.

The study is a randomised controlled trial (considered the 'gold standard' method of research) of 225 children and their families, carried out over a five-year period. It showed that controlled crying can have important short-term benefits to both mother and baby. And it concluded: 'Parents and health professionals can confidently use these techniques to reduce the short-to medium-term burden of infant sleep problems and maternal depression.'


In other words, controlled crying can help everyone sleep better while your baby is small. It will not turn him into a genius. But neither will it turn him into a serial killer.


Why do so many parents hate and fear controlled crying? Media reports of studies don't help, (and by this I'm not just talking about the mainstream media but also the thousands of blogs out there). They don't talk about 'controlled crying'. They talk about babies 'left to cry'.

This is emotive language. It implies that controlled crying means leaving your helpless baby to scream all night, alone, terrified, while the wolves howl around the house in the dark.... Meanwhile, the uncaring parent sprawls across the sofa watching EastEnders with the volume up to drown out the shrieks, swigging Pinot and updating her Facebook status with 'Kid screaming for 2 hrs now!!! LOLZ!!'

So for those who are still worried about wolves and suchlike, this is how controlled crying actually works. Your child starts to cry. You go in and settle him. You check that he is not hungry or ill. Then you leave him to see if he can settle himself for a short period of time. (The length depends on the child. In my early days, I used to leave my oldest for one minute precisely and rush in as soon as my phone timer went.)

After that short period, you go in and settle him again. Then you leave him for slightly longer. Repeat until he goes to sleep. Eventually he will learn to settle himself. Then, and only then, is the time for EastEnders, Facebook and wine.

Aha, you say, so it's true that controlled crying does indeed involve leaving your baby to cry? Yes, of course it does. And if you are a parent, I guarantee that at some point that you too will have 'left your baby to cry' in the real-life, uncontrolled sense. I'm thinking of the time my youngest started wailing at the precise moment that my oldest announced that he had done a runny poo on the playroom floor. My precious baby was 'left to cry' for at least 15 minutes while I ran around with the disinfectant. And it harmed him not one bit, although the rug was a write-off. I fail to see how letting him cry for a few minutes in the night is any different.

So we are hated because of this misconception that we are cruel to our children. That hurts a bit, because we are not. Luckily, we also tend to be sensible people who do what works for ourselves and our families, which brings me to the second reason controlled crying is vilified: it also benefits mothers.


Parents need to sleep, or they will go mad. This is not me being flippant, it is a fact.


We know that lack of sleep can have horrible effects on new mothers. It can cause depression, it affects your mood, it can make PND much worse. I am sure a child finds the weeping of a sleep-deprived mother far more upsetting than a few minutes of controlled crying. But heaven forbid that a new mother should think about anyone's wellbeing apart from her child's. That makes you 'selfish', the cardinal sin of motherhood.

When I was staggering around in sleep-deprived hell, my mother gave me some good advice. Why do you think, she asked, that on aeroplanes, they tell you to put the oxygen mask over your face first in an emergency, not your child's? It's because if you're not functioning, you can't help your child. So your misguided concern, your desire not to be 'selfish', to give that mask to your child first while you're struggling for breath, could end up harming both of you.

And that's why I did controlled crying – because in the end, it actually made me a better mother. I know it's not for everyone and I appreciate that. But please, now that we have Proper Scientific Proof, do leave us controlled cryers alone.

Our kids are normal. We are normal. And we also are on the sofa, with the wine, in blessed silence.