Tonight Hubby and I took turns getting Eryn to bed. She’s recently discovered that playtime is super fun right at bedtime. Even when she’s faceplanting into the bed and rubbing her eyes, she still wants to play. So tonight I nursed until she pushed me away and just watched her as she tried to put herself to sleep. Eventually she started playing, so Hubby took over with some bouncing on the exercise ball. We tag teamed until just now.

But each time we put her down either in her crib or in our bed, she fussed and started crying. She wanted to play. yawn! This isn’t fair! faceplant. Stop try-i-i-i-i-iing to put me to bed! eye rub. Some of the fussing was pretty intense, but she was in the arms of a loved one, and eventually fell asleep in my arms.

According to this new study, she may remember this stress tomorrow night if she’s still in a mood to play at bedtime.

A new study shows that when babies as young as six months old are stressed, they have a biological response and can remember it for at least 24 hours.

But even more notable, infants can feel the stress all over again if they expect the same upsetting event is about to occur, University of Toronto researchers found.

While I haven’t read the actual study, from the linked article, it’s presented as research into the biological reasons to why sleeping and separation are so challenging and stressful for infants (parents too!).


When they need to be tended or responded to (and they aren’t) there is an immediate impact on the infant that shows up as quite stressful. What we didn’t know is that they remember that.

The findings shed some light on why parent-infant separation is so difficult and decisions like whether to sleep with your baby or let them “cry it out” are so fraught with anxiety.

The researchers studied 30 mothers with 6 month old babies and placed them in a playtime situation. At a certain point the mothers were asked to ignore their babies. During this period of unresponsiveness, the babies in the test group had higher levels of stress hormones in their saliva.  When the test was repeated the next day (this time without the unresponsiveness aspect), the same babies still had stress hormones, although at lower levels. As if they anticipated that they were going to be ignored again.

From this, the researchers have concluded that

…infants as young as six months of age have memories of stressful events associated with a brief disruption in the parent-infant relationship, and that such memories persist for at least 24 hours and manifest as anticipatory stress.

The article ends by saying that this study is in line with AP which stresses the need for a responsive primary caregiver, extended breastfeeding and co-sleeping. Unlike other studies that make me feel guilty for not being a supermom, it still made me wonder what happens if you ARE responsive, and the baby is still stressed out. Eryn fussed all evening (and who knows… she could be up in an hour) — but at least we were there for her.

When she was a little younger, Eryn and I used to go to the Mother Goose infant program at the local Ontario Early Years Centre. There we’d sing silly songs (You’re a little coo-coo-clock, When cows get up in the morning, Bumpy road, Smooth road to London Town, Acabaca Soda Cracker, Roly-poly, and more) and hang out afterward with the other mums over apple juice and Arrowroot cookies.

The babies ages ranged from 6 weeks to 8 months. Naturally, the topic of conversation sometimes turned toward the taboo. My Grandfather always used to tell us never to speak about religion or politics when in public — you’ll invariably get into a debate. For parents, these topic tend to be about breast/formula feeding, solids, discipline and sleep.

Many of the mothers asked for sincere advice, but a few simply bragged. Loudly.

Baby Matteo slept a lot. He’d always wake up half way through the singing session while many of the other babies were winding down and pulling out their cranky cards. Myself and one other woman would take the time during “storytime” to nurse our babies either to sleep, or just to calm them down. Everyone else walked around, rocked, used binkies, or extra bottles of formula. Matteo just hung out as happy as a clam.

After one particularly loud crank-fest, one of the mothers brought up the sleep topic.

Baby Matteo’s mom jumped right in with, “Oh I let him cry-it-out”. Everyone kind of quieted down to hear. “Since he was 4 weeks old, I let him cry.” Shocked, the facilitator asked how long she did this for. “It took 2 months, and even now he still cries for about an hour. But he sleeps through the night without a problem. I just put him down and walk away.”

I was shocked, but didn’t say anything.

The other breastfeeding mom who just happened to be going through some rough sleep patterns with her baby wanting to play between 1am-4am, looked at baby Matteo playing happily with his feet, while hers was whining and tugging on her blouse and hair, and asked for more details on how to “Ferberize” her baby. They chatted about it with baby Matteo’s mom singing praises on how well her son sleeps and then turned to me to ask how I put Eryn to sleep.

“I nurse her, bounce her on the exercise ball, or Hubby rocks her”
“Does she wake up at night?”
“Once or twice to feed, and then we pull her into bed to co-sleep. She gets a solid 11 hours with just a couple of interruptions to nurse.”

Well, none of the ladies were having any of that. In fact, I was pretty sure that Matteo’s mom had sucessfully converted the lot to the CIO method until I asked what Matteo’s personality was like during the day.

“Oh, he’s tired. A lot. Even though he sleeps fine at night, he always wakes up from his naps crying and irritable. I have to rush into his room to calm him down. If I catch him though just before he wakes up, he’ll be okay. When I miss that opportunity, he’s cranky all day long. When he sleeps in the car on the way here, he has the best naps.”
“Maybe he’s crying when he wakes up because you taught him he was alone — so when he finds comfort in the rocking of a car, he’s a happier baby.”

Needless to say that didn’t go well either.

Eryn is brilliant, calm and happy. I’d like to think that’s because she’s not living and now apparently reliving stress.