Why do lactivists think it is okay for hungry breastfed babies to cry it out?


Most attachment parenting advocates are strongly opposed to the sleep training method known as “cry it out,” abbreviated CIO.

According to Darcia Narvaez, PhD:

With neuroscience, we can confirm what our ancestors took for granted—that letting babies get distressed is a practice that can damage children and their relational capacities in many ways for the long term. We know now that leaving babies to cry is a good way to make a less intelligent, less healthy but more anxious, uncooperative and alienated person who can pass the same or worse traits on to the next generation.

That’s nothing but nonsense, of course, on a variety of levels. It’s nonsense because crying it out does not cause brain damage and it’s nonsense because it is based on the myth of our “noble savage” ancestors who had nothing better to do with their time than endlessly soothe their multiple babies.

But let’s take CIO opponents at their word for the moment. If they honestly believe that CIO harms babies, why do they think it is okay for hungry breastfed babies to cry it out?

Hunger is probably the most elemental of infant drives and, as anyone who has seen an infant scream from hunger would probably agree, is experienced by the baby as suffering. For most mothers, myself included, the sound of their own infant crying is piercing in its intensity and distress. I remember being surprised by this when my first child was born. I had spent my entire professional life surrounded by crying babies and it had never bothered me, yet I found my son’s crying unbearable and always rushed to determine what was wrong and fix it in any way possible. I cannot imagine letting any of my infants cry in out in hunger for any length of time without feeding them.

So why do lactivists think it okay to let babies cry it out for hours at a time because of desperate, all consuming hunger?

Why do they advise women whose babies aren’t getting enough milk in the first few days CIO arguing that assuaging an infant’s hunger now, when he is suffering, will undermine breastfeeding? Why do they view supplementation in the first view days as an evil so great that it is preferable to force babies to CIO and thereby destroy their brain cells?

Why do lactivists think it is okay to ignore an infant who is not gaining weight because of a maternal milk supply that does not match that infants needs? Why do they denigrate women who find their baby soothed and content after a bottle of formula, and chastise them that they should have let the baby CIO?

Why do lactivists who have children who try to wean before their mothers have planned to stop breastfeeding counsel each other to starve the baby into submission? Why do they tell each other to offer no other source of nourishment and let the baby cry it out until forced to give up his or her drive for independence and bow to the mother’s will to continue breastfeeding in order to survive?

Why do lactivists consider maternal mental health/postpartum depression to be a trivial reason for letting babies CIO, but consider that establishing or preserving a breastfeeding relationship is a perfectly acceptable reason for CIO?

Feel free to correct me, but I’m not aware of a single lactivist or attachment parenting blogger who sees anything wrong with letting a hungry breastfed baby cry it out.

Why the hypocrisy?

Because lactivism and attachment parenting have little if anything to do with babies and their wellbeing and everything to do with parents and their self-image. A “good mother” supposedly sacrifices her sleep and mental health and is willing to spend every minute of every day soothing an infant in order to avoid crying it out. But a “good mother” also breastfeeds and therefore, any amount of CIO is acceptable to preserve bragging rights to exclusive breastfeeding.