Cry It Out Defined and Age to Do It

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Cry It Out Defined & Age To Do It

If you are unfortunate enough to consider letting baby cry it out (because let’s face it, none of us PLAN to let their baby cry it out when they are still in the womb or anything! It’s typically the last resort for most of us.), many people want to know when it is okay to do it. Some people would answer “never” and that is their right.

Here at The Baby Sleep Site®, I understand that all situations are unique and what works for you might not work for others and what works for others might not work for YOU! I am here to help you develop the plan that will be most likely to succeed based on your baby’s temperament and personality and your parenting style and philosophy. If your philosophy goes against cry it out, simple DON’T DO IT (it won’t work anyway).

First, let me define what I mean by “cry it out” because it means different things to different people.

What Cry It Out Isn’t

  • Cry it out is not replacement for feeding when baby can not comfortably sleep all night without food.
  • Cry is out is not meant to be used when baby is hungry, wet, very sick, in pain, etc.
  • Cry it out does not mean throwing your baby into a room, closing the door and ignoring baby forever and ever.
  • Cry it out is not replacement to parenting when baby needs it.

That last one some would say is always true, but I disagree, but we’ll get to that.

What Cry It Out IS

That’s it! Sometimes it’s just about setting limits that you will not nurse all night or replace a pacifier 10 times per night or rock your baby in the rocking chair for 3 hours and then every 2 hours after that (like my son wanted me to do). Those are all sleep associations that sometimes need to be broken (and not replaced with a new one).

The act of crying does nothing to teach baby to sleep and it won’t change his personality. Cry “it” out is simply letting baby find his own way to fall asleep and allowing him to cry out his frustration about not being able to get that pacifier replaced for the 10th time. None of us get better at something without practice.

OF COURSE, some parents can nurse all night and it works great for them. Others can rock their baby for 10 minutes and he sleeps all night. But, many of us are simply not that lucky. If baby cried being in the car seat, would you take him out while driving because he was crying?

It is hard for many of us to break habits, but the longer you do it, the harder the habit is to break, right?

Cry It Out – What age?

So, what’s the right age to allow baby to cry it out? Once again, this answer will vary. I try to empower parents here on this site. You know your baby best! At some point you know that your baby is very capable of putting herself to sleep, but prefers you to rock, bounce, nurse, etc. her to sleep. There is not going to be a magic age, but one day you will realize what baby once NEEDED to fall asleep, now she simply WANTS it. That is the key to finding the “right” time. You are simply at your wits end and just can’t do “it” anymore.

Having said all that, if your baby’s temperament is “easy”, sometimes all it takes is for you to just get out of the way a little bit and allow baby to fuss for 5 minutes or less. In addition to this fussing for newborns, there are a few other gentle ways you can help your baby build healthy sleep habits. We outline newborn-friendly sleep coaching strategies, including sample sleep-inducing routines, in our e-book, Essential Keys To Your Newborn’s Sleep. In addition, we offer special newborn-focused Personalized Sleep Plans™ that are tailored to guide your newborn to better sleep in a gentle, safe way. The ideal age for formal sleep training is usually before your baby can sit up and stand, since that tends to complicate things, but we work with babies and toddlers at a variety of ages up through 3-4 years old and it’s never too late to establish healthy sleep habits.

How to Cry It Out

There are NUMEROUS variations to the cry it out method and it’s important to be responsible about it. It is unfair to just “snap” one day, let him cry and then go to him the next day, on/off, on/off. You need to make A PLAN. I also never recommend to allow baby to cry it out when she is still swaddled, because they need to find a way to self-soothe by finding their fingers/thumb. Also, you should ensure your baby does not have any health problems by visiting her pediatrician before starting any formal sleep training method such as cry-it-out. If your baby changes sleep patterns abruptly, it can be an ear infection or reflux or another issue, so those should be ruled out, first. Generally, if your baby has had “sleep problems” for several weeks / months and there have not been health issues, that is when you may want to consider the cry-it-out method.

Cry It Out? Or Not? Either Way, The Baby Sleep Site Can Help!

Regardless of which kind of sleep training method is best for you and your family – from very gentle to cry it out – you can teach your baby to sleep soundly at night. And we can help you do it. We have helped thousands of families around the world with their babies’ sleep challenges, and we can help you, too! Take a look at our consultation packages, and see which one looks like a good fit for you.

Click here to see all our personalized consultation packages.

Once you purchase, you will immediately receive access to the Helpdesk, and you can set up your account, fill out your Family Sleep History form, submit it to a consultant, and get started on the journey to better sleep!

Want more information about how personalized help works? Check out our FAQ page here, and get answers. You can also take a tour of the Helpdesk.

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A better night’s sleep could be just a few clicks away. So don’t wait – download now, and start your journey to better sleep tonight!

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What does Cry It Out mean to you?

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111 Responses to Cry It Out Defined and Age to Do It

  1. Alisa says:


    I’m confused about if standing next to the crib while your baby fusses because you put her down drowsy but awake is considered CIO. My 10 week old baby is breastfed and I nurse her before going to sleep. I try to follow the advice about putting her down drowsy but awake but she cries. The last two nights I have stood next to her crib and soothed her without picking her up while she fussed and cried b/c she wasn’t completely asleep when I put her down. All day I am always reactive to her cries and tend to her whenever she needs something. I am just having a hard time striking a balance between making sure that she is drowsy but awake and not putting her to bed while she is completely awake. I thought that if I know she is fed, changed, and needs to sleep then it is okay if I put her down while standing next to her crib. Do you consider this CIO and would you wait to do this? If so, what is the alternative to having her fully asleep before I put her down? She won’t do drowsy but awake without the crying. Both nights she did go to sleep after I calmed her down and walked out of the room for about 5 mins while she fussed.

  2. Jess says:

    I have 2 little DS’s (2 years and 6 mos.). My first son has been sleeping through the night since he was about 4 months. We did the CIO method and it was a success. Unfortunately now with the 6 month old, we have avoided it because we’re afraid he will wake up the 2 year old. Their rooms are right next to each other and our house has pretty thin walls. The only other option is to put one kid in the basement, but I really am not comfortable with that.
    Any advice would REALLY be appreciated. I’m not going to start the CIO method until I have a plan. On a side note, my 6 month old is typically going to sleep at 9-ish, waking at 2 for 45 minutes to eat, and then waking at 5-6 for the day. He’ll usually take a longer nap in the a.m. for about an hour or so around 10.
    Thank you so much for any help!

  3. Jenn says:

    I am so glad I have found this site! I have been struggling with my now 6 month baby girl since she was just under 3 months old. She is our first baby. For the first month of this struggle, bedtime was dreadful. We would start her routine around 7 or 8 at night, depending on her sleepy cues, then I would nurse her. She would fall asleep nursing and then I would place her in her crib asleep. Sometimes she would wake immediately, sometimes after 15-30 minutes, but she would always wake up and then would refuse to go back to sleep until 11pm or later. We would try to get her back to sleep during those few hours, knowing she was extremely tired because she was fussy and rubbing her eyes and crying sporadically throughout. But no matter what method of soothing we tried, she would not go to sleep. I nursed, rocked, bounced, even pushed her around the living room in her stroller. Nothing worked until sometime between 11pm and 12am I would again try to nurse her and she would fall asleep for the night and usually sleep straight until 7 or 8 with maybe one waking. Naps were barely existant except for one morning nap maybe and other naps only in my lap or her swing.

    By her 4 month wellness visit, we were beyond exhaustion and frustration being up with her crying so late every night. We asked her pediatrician what to do and he told us she needed to learn to soothe herself and to let her CIO at night. He said put her to bed awake. He assured us it was not colic or any thing else physical, and merely a self-soothing issue, something I completely agree with. He also said to gradually bring her bedtime earlier, starting at 9 and eventually getting it where we wanted it. So that very night we did her routine like usual, I nursed her, and we put her in her crib awake. It was very hard for both of us to let her cry, but we knew it was for her good and our sanity. For that first week she cried each night for almost an hour, until falling asleep for the night. The second week she shortened her crying to about 30 minutes. Since then she still cries anywhere from 5 minutes to almost an hour, and I cannot see what makes the difference. We now start her routine at 7-7:30 and she is in bed around 8-8:30. We have tried moving it earlier but it seems to make it worse. She sometimes gets up once during night but usually sleeps straight through until 6 or 7. We have considered giving up on CIO since it has been 2 months and she is still crying every night, but when we think of the hours of her crying in our arms before we just can’t go back to that. I constantly read articles and books and blogs about people using CIO and their babies sleep training after a week or less, and I can’t understand where we are going wrong.

    Oh, and there is her naps during the day. I tried letting her CIO for those too, but she would cry for a whole hour and then I would nurse her and she would fall asleep nursing. So I would put her in her crib and she sleep. Out of frustration, I started nursing her to sleep for her naps and have been doing this for about a month and she naps fairly well, 1.5 -2 hours in morning and 45min-1 hour in afternoon. But then I read somewhere that in order for CIO to work you need to be consistent, so I decided last week to try CIO again for her naps. I gave in last week and went back to nursing, but started this week with new determination to see it through. This morning she cried for a full hour, then I nursed her and she fell asleep but awoke when nursing was over. She seemed wide awake so I played with her for about an hour when she seemed tired again so I started her nap again. I tried soothing her for a few minutes to get her drowsy then I put her in her crib but she again cried and screamed so I gave in after 10 minutes and nursed her to sleep. She is now napping and has been for almost 2 hours.

    Thank you so much for bearing with me through this. Now for my questions. What should I do? Should I continue letting her CIO at night and nurse her to nap during day? Or should I be firmer and consistent and do CIO for her naps as well as bedtime? I am worried that by nursing her during day and CIO at night that she is getting confused by the inconsistencies and that is why she still cries at night. Or should I abandon it altogether and accept that the only way to get her to fall asleep without tears is to nurse her? I am desperate to figure this out. I can’t stand her crying every night after so long of CIO and I just don’t know what to do. Please help!

  4. Mama Jo says:

    My son is now nearly 6 months and I had been thinking about the CIO method for a while. I would always hold my son almost all day everyday, co-sleep and nurse him to sleep. He would wake up nearly every 2-3 hours, and I was becoming so exhausted, to a point I literally broke down one night because I was just so tired. I felt I was no longer able to give my baby the best and everyday was literally all about meeting his basic need. I couldn’t concentrate on the fun side of parenting anf spending quality time with my son. I felt snappy and often unable to cope with the littlest things. Although it broke my heart to hear my baby cry, I decided to try it for the sake of my relationship with my son and my own sanity.

    On the first night I let him cry it out for 3 minutes before I went in, and he cried even more when he saw me. Then I waited 5 minutes, then 10 , then 20, then after 30 minutes he fell asleep. This surprised me because I thought it would last hours. But I assume it is because earlier that day I had let him cry it out in the car seat until he fell alseep. (He had come to a point of not even wanting to be in his car seat for 2 minutes).

    The next night was the same but he dropped off to sleep after 20 minutes. In total its taken a whole week, and it is NOT easy to hear your child cry, but now I feel I can be a better mum,. I put him to sleep for 8.30 now. He has a bath, story, cuddles, kisses and his milk and then I put him in his cot awake. Sometimes he complains but drops off after 10 minutes….

    Its amazing how having those few hours to myself in the evening gives me the energy to actually have fun with my son. I read a book, clean, tidy, do random things online (lol), it just gives me some ‘me’ time and I love it!!

    Day naps are a different story, he sleeps in a wrap on me but that is ok with me, its his dose of attachment parenting.

    I do not know whether it will harm him in the future or not because I am not a doctor, all I know is right now it has served me and my son well because he is getting more sleep and sleeping through the night at times.

    Bare in mind when he is sick, you will have to re-train, which is what I have had to do as he was a little sick.

  5. Debbye says:

    @ Alisa: It has been almost 2 months, sorry about the delay in a response! I am sure your baby is sleeping differently by now! But just in case… No, standing by her crib and soothing her while not picking her up is not considered CIO. You are there for her and she knows you are there, and putting her down awake and staying with her till she is calm, or even staying until she is all the way to sleep is a good way to help her learn to fall asleep in the early months. I hope you are both doing well!

    @ Jess: I am sure your son’s sleeping habits have changed a bit by now, and I understand that you do not want your older son woken up while the younger son learns to sleep better. If he is still not sleeping through the night, keep in mind that many 6 month babes do need to eat 1-2 in the night. Or if you are ready for some sleep training, perhaps you can start on a weekend, or a night where your older son can sleep over at a relatives or friends house for a night or two? This may get you through the first and possibly hardest nights. Hope all is well!

    @ Jenn: I am sorry that it has been so long with no reply. I am sure that things have changed since your post, and really do hope that things have smoothed out by now! You can try to sleep train at night and not at naptime. Different parts of the brain handle each type of sleep, and usually you can work on one area at a time with success. It may make it feel less overwhelming to work on one at a time too. It is also common for babies to cry for 5-10 minutes before falling asleep at night, and this can continue for quite a while. If you are still struggling, since it would have been for a few months, I would recommend That you consider a sleep consultation package. Here is a link to services, and I do hope that you are sleeping well and do not need it!

    @ Mama Jo: Thank you for sharing your successes! I can not stress enough that every baby and every family is different, and you have to do what works for you, and baby!

  6. Shawna says:

    My spunky lil 6 month old baby is the happiest baby on the block. She is very socialable, hasn’t made strange once, and can play in another room or on the floor without complaining for an hour or so with me popping in an out.

    She has been having issues sleeping since we got back from a trip a couple months ago. She’s been up on average every 2 hours and hasn’t been able to put herself to sleep anymore. I used to put her in her swing and she would fall asleep on her own. Everything I read so far tells me I’ve not been a great helper in that I was feeding her to sleep at night, rocking her, letting her fall asleep in the chair, not having a strict routine etc.

    We tried a gentler sleep training method in where we let her cry while we are in the room. She goes balistic, crying, sweating profusely from working herself up. She then wont stop completely crying when we try to console her. During the day she became much less happy and much more tired from not sleeping. She also has gotten a little anxious when I leave the room, but not too bad.

    We realized after we started the training that she was cutting 2 teeth, so we eased up a bit, but still kept our bedtime routine, but breast feed her to sleep. Now she is now more fussy and has more anxiety about going to sleep and seems to always need to be breastfeed to sleep. She usually doesn’t seem concerned about it until she was wants to go to sleep.

    We want to start some kind of training again, but don’t know where to start..??

  7. Jennifer says:

    I have two girls, ages 10 and 11, and one boy who is 7 months old. We used the Ferber (check and console) method on both girls as infants. We were very consistent from the beginning (at 4 months with the oldest girl and at 3 months with the youngest girl). Both girls have been great sleepers since they were infants (after the sleep training). They are very affectionate, smart, HAPPY, and well-behaved. Giving them (and myself) the gift of sleep was one of the best decisions I made as a parent. In my opinion, my girls are more confident and independent because of it.

  8. Stephanie says:

    My husband and I planned on using CIO before our daughter was even born. It was important to us that she develop the confidence and security to fall asleep on her own by self soothing. She coslept in our room in a bassinet until 3 months, at which point she started taking naps in her crib in her room. Her 1st full night in her crib in her room was at 4 months. She cried for about 18 minutes, then gradually less each night. By the end of the week she squealed and rolled over. We made sure that she was awake when we laid her in the crib by gently burping and kissing her goodnight. It’s definitely hard to hear your baby cry, but I knew she had a full belly, dry bottom, and comfy bed. And I knew that teaching her the art of sleep would be priceless to her health. My healthy and happy thriving 15 month old (who is still nursing) has been sleeping through the night since 6 months old, ode to 100% commitment to Sleep Training and CIO. Best advice I ever received and give!

  9. Misty says:

    Help!! I have a beautiful 8.5 month old baby girl who does not sleep well at all! She wakes anywhere from 3-6 times a night. We have a good bedtime routine and she will generally go down ok at night. I am an exclusive pumper so she is breastfed and she also does really well with eating solids (she does baby-led-weaning) and has lots of fresh fruits, veggies and meats. She will usually only last 2 hours between waking up, when she wakes up the only thing that will put her back to sleep is a bottle. I know it’s probably teaching her that if she cries, she gets a bottle so we are reinforcing a bad habit but I have a very very very hard time letting her cry! She also has a terrible temper on her and will throw a HUGE fit if she doesn’t get her bottle! Any advice on weaning her from the bottle or other tips?

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