Your Cry It Out Sleep Training Questions Answered

Your Cry It Out Sleep Training Questions Answered

By far, one of the most controversial topics related to baby sleep training is something called ‘Cry It Out’. Specifically, should parents do it? Is it cruel and unusual punishment, or is it a fast and effective way to teach a baby to sleep through the night?

The answer, of course, depends on who you ask.

Let me be clear right up front that we are not here today to debate the morality of cry-it-out as a sleep training method. Nicole built The Baby Sleep Site® on the foundation that all babies are unique, and therefore require unique sleep solutions. And our entire team works every day with that foundational principle in mind. So we aren’t here to sell you on the benefits of cry it out, nor are we here to make you feel guilty about using a cry it out method.

No, in today’s article, we are simply answering questions. Specifically, Nicole will be answering our readers’ most common cry it out questions, and providing us with the benefit of her expertise.

Not sure if cry it out is right for your baby? Wondering when cry-it-out is appropriate? Not sure what cry it out even MEANS? As usual, we’ve got you covered, readers! Read on, and here Nicole’s answers to your most common cry it out questions.

Your Cry It Out Sleep Training Questions Answered

1. What IS cry-it-out, exactly?

Nicole: Good question! I find it’s often helpful to start with what cry-it-out is NOT, in my opinion:

  • 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 putting 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.

So, what is cry-it-out? Cry it out is a sleep training method to correct sleep associations that are preventing your baby from getting consolidated, restful, and adequate sleep. I would also add that cry it out is setting limits on what you will and won’t allow your baby to do (at nap time, all night, etc.).

2. I’ve heard of something called ‘controlled crying’, or ‘Ferberizing’. Is that the same as cry it out?

Nicole: Well, some would say yes. But I don’t agree. In my experience, when people think of “Cry It Out”, they think of not going back in the room once they put their baby down for sleep at night and letting them cry from that point on. Controlled crying is different – with controlled crying, you go in at intervals to check on your baby and you may put a time limit on how long your baby cries in total.

I do find many people consider Controlled Crying the same as “Cry It Out” and don’t want to do either. Everyone seems to have a slightly different definition. Some people think of Cry It Out as not even going in to feed or change a diaper while others recognize that they are not looking for a 12-hour straight sleeper or baby sleeping through the night, necessarily, they just don’t want to go in there every 1-2 hours to replace a pacifier, breast-feed, bottle-feed, or rock their baby back to sleep all night.

3. Is cry it out dangerous? Will it hurt my baby?

Nicole: I completely understand why parents ask this question. Of course, no parent wants to be in a situation where they are forced to listen to their baby cry. No parent plans to cry it out! Usually, a parent ends up using cry it out as a last resort, only after they have tried other ways to help their baby sleep.

So, here’s my answer: I do not believe cry-it-out causes long-term damage to babies. I tend to agree with the author of this Slate article – it’s key to take cry it out research in context. I could talk for a LONG time about the ways that I’ve seen cry it out save parents from losing their minds due to chronic exhaustion, and save babies from enduring continued sleep deprivation.

Let me add this, too: there is not ONE thing you can do (or not do) for your child and make THAT be what makes your relationship positive or negative (apart from the purely heinous crimes like child molestation, of course!). There is not ONE thing that will violate his trust in you. If that was the case, the ONE time you didn’t catch him when he was learning to walk and bumped his head would cause him not to trust you anymore. The ONE time you were late changing his diaper and he was cold and crying and you didn’t know would cause harm to him.

It is all the love, affection, and care you give him all day, day-in and day-out, that builds the relationship between mother/father and child. THAT is what is important. Just as your child might cry and scream he can’t put a fork in an outlet or eat a cookie before dinner, he does not really know what is best for himself and he trusts you to do what’s best for him. You are not making him cry, you are letting him cry and it’s an important distinction as he grows into a toddler and young child. Just remember, sleep deprivation is no better for him as it is for you!

4. Does cry it out even work? How can crying possibly lead to a baby sleeping?

Nicole: This is an easy one for me to answer. :) Yes, cry it out can definitely work. In fact, based on our experience in working with thousands of different families, we have found that cry it out sometimes works faster than most other sleep coaching methods.

I like to use the illustration of riding a bike. As most of us know from experience, when you are learning to ride a bike, you are bound to fall once or twice, at least. Sure, your parents may have cushioned your falls as much as they could, but I think we’d all agree that you can’t really learn to ride a bike without falling at least once or twice.

When it comes to helping your baby sleep, you might use “training wheels” in the form of a pacifier or rocking your baby to sleep or feeding your baby to sleep or some other sleep crutch, but one day you will realize that it’s your fault your baby won’t sleep and it’s time to take the training wheels off. You have decided that what your baby once NEEDED to sleep, now it’s simply a crutch, hindering him from actually learning how to sleep well on his own.

There are endless sleep training or coaching strategies (are you sleep training a tortoise or a hare?), but one thing that remains the same with all of them: it is difficult to convince your baby that she can sleep on her own without some crying just like it’s difficult to learn to ride a bike without falling. Does that mean you send your child outside to ride a bike on her own or let her cry it out all alone in her crib in her room? Not necessarily. Some people abruptly “let go” of the bike without telling their child “ripping off the band-aid” and others hold on for years and know that, eventually, she will learn to ride a bike. Everybody parents differently and you should have confidence in that your way is the right way for YOUR family.

5. I think I might need to try cry it out with my baby. How do I do it?

Nicole: This is a deeply personal choice, so I can’t offer prescriptive advice. Here’s what I will say, though: 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.

I should also add that you don’t want to use a crying method if your baby is younger than 4 months. In my experience, it is best to try cry it out before your baby is 8 or 9 months old, but once she is past the 4 month sleep regression. This tends to be an ideal sleep training window.

6. If I get help from The Baby Sleep Site®, are you going to tell me that I have to let my baby cry it out?

Nicole: Absolutely not! In fact, I would estimate that 90-95% of our clients do NOT let their child cry it out and if it’s not part of your philosophy as a parent, we won’t recommend it (it won’t work anyway). Even parents who have tried cry it out and weren’t able to get it to work have come to me for non-crying solutions. If you DO NOT want to try cry-it-out, my team can help you formulate a plan that you can get on board with and, most importantly, stick with! And guess what…IF you DO want to try cry-it-out, my team can help you formulate a plan that you can get on board with and most importantly, stick with! 😉 There are many strategies out there, and we customize one just for your family and your unique situation.

Ready To Tackle Your Baby or Toddler’s Sleep Challenges? We’ll Help You Find A Sleep Solution You Feel Good About!

Whether you lean towards cry it out, or whether you need a gentle approach to sleep coaching, know that we can help you with your particular sleep challenge. We are committed to customizing our methods to match you parenting style and goals. If you are ready to work on your little one’s sleep, and to get a Personalized Sleep Plan™ that will work for your family, the first step is to browse our extensive list of package options and select the one that looks best for your situation.
Browse our list of consultation package options here.

Once you make your choice and purchase, you will immediately receive an e-mail with your Helpdesk login information. You’ll be able to login and start your Family Sleep History form right away – it’s that simple!

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.

Ask your cry-it-out questions below, and we’ll answer! Or, share your sleep coaching story and tips with us, and let’s get the conversation started!

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  1. Heather Camilli says

    This article was very helpful. So if my baby has a health issue, cry it out should not be an option for me? My LO is almost 10 months and used to get up once a night until she got sick. Now I have been dealing with sleep deprivation since the end of January. Anyone try crying it out with a sick LO?

  2. Samantha says

    This has been very reassuring to read. I have a 9 month old baby who could self soothe until 4months then after this 4month sleep regression needed me to feed and cradle him to sleep. He would sleep until 5am and come into bed with me, then sleep until 7am. This 5am wake up has gradually become closer to midnight with him refusing to go into his cot after me putting him down numerous times. I’ve been silly due to tiredness and brought him in our bed for about 8 weeks now. I’ve decided its time for sleep training as can’t face having a 2/3 yr old sleeping in our bed every night. He is very clingy so not sure if to try the gradual retreat method moving out of his room more and more each night or go straight to the Ferber method! I just know it’s for the best in the long run but can’t bare to think of how upset he will be. Any tips advice appreciated.

  3. Stefan says

    Thanks for the really informative article. My wife and I had to do CIO recently with our 23 month old toddler. We needed a quick solution to what we think was the 2 year sleep regression. It worked in 2 days and we are now back to 11+ hours of sleep each night. He still sits up and cries for a min or two when we first put him in his cot but then he lays down and goes to sleep. It has been a week now since we first let him CIO. Will he ever go back to happily lying down in his cot with no crying?

  4. Amelia says

    It is not quite true that a baby needing help to sleep through the night is a parents fault. It is developmentally normal for babies not to sleep through the night. All babies will, at some point, learn this skill – not like riding a bike, more like learning to walk or crawl or talk – it will happen naturally with time even if you do not do CIO.
    Babies are natural learners and don’t need training.

  5. Lauren Marinis says

    I loved this article. I would like to add that not only is each family going to need a different sleep plan they are comfortable with, but each child will too! I learned this with my two.
    My first baby, now almost 4, had a tough time sleeping after the 4 month sleep regression. My husband and I decided to try Controlled crying with him, going in every 10-15 minutes to help soothe him. After the first two nights we realized us going in to soothe him was actually making it worse! We regrouped and tried CIO, putting him down and seeing how long he would cry. The first night he cried for 45 minutes then fell asleep (we planned on giving up after an hour). Second night, he cried for 20. Third night was 5. By the fourth night he would cry until we left the room but once the door was shut he was out!
    Our second child was a completely different story. We tried the controlled crying, then the CIO, both being complete failures (she cried so hard the first night we did CIO she made herself throw up 30 minutes in. Granted there was no second night.) We realized she needed a gentler approach. We use to rock her to sleep, so we started rocking her till drowsy for a week, then she mastered that. We waited a few days then rocked her standing up, then over her crib, then for a timed amount (the length of her bedtime song). Now we can sing her song, put her down, and she goes to sleep! And since she learned to self soothe, her night time wakings are down from 5-6 a night to just one. Every child is different!

  6. Emily DeJeu says

    @ Heather Camilli – I would definitely say avoid CIO until your little girl is healthy again. I know it can be tough to wait, but when she’s ill, she likely needs more comfort and attention at night. And during illness, cries really can be a sign that she’s in pain and needs attention. So I would say hold off until her healthy is back to normal.

    Hope this helps! Thanks for commenting, Heather! :)

    @ Samantha – weaning from co-sleeping can be tough! Have you considered a consultation to help with this process? You can see all our consultation packages here: As far as general suggestions go, I’d say it might be best to share a room for a bit (while sleeping in separate rooms) and then gradually moving him back to his crib. You can read this article about weaning from co-sleeping: If you want some good, general sleep coaching info, you can find it in our free guide:

    Hope these resources are helpful to you, Samantha! Thanks for commenting. :)

    @ Stefan – thanks for sharing a bit about your experience! Yes, eventually the fussing will stop, I promise :) Right now, it’s likely just a little habit he’s developed, but he’ll outgrow it. At least, that’s been my experience, and I’d say the experience of the families with whom we’ve worked.

    Thanks for commenting, Stefan!

    @ Amelia – thanks for sharing your point of view! Not all our readers would agree with you, but that’s okay; we like diversity of opinions here on our site. 😉 I will say that in our experience working with families, it’s true that some babies do naturally learn to do this, but others don’t – we’ve worked with families whose four year old are still up multiple times each night and don’t know how to self-soothe. Some children just need some guidance to get to the point of sleeping through the night without help from mom and dad.

    Thanks for sharing, Amelia!

    @ Lauren Marinins – yes, indeed – every child is different! One of our core philosophies here at The Baby Sleep Site. Thank so much for sharing a bit about the difference between your son and daughter, and highlighting this fact! Much appreciated. :)

  7. Cynthia Elmore says

    I have a question regarding cry-it-out. If I decide to leave my LO crying for 20 minutes interval before going in to console her, and if she ends up sitting and dozing off during the 20 minutes cry period, do I leave her to do so? She would sit and refuse to lay down. She is so sleepy that she dozes off and then would shock herself out of the dozing off when she is about to fall to the side. I do not know if I should go in then to lay her down even if it is no 20 minutes. Do I consider this dozing period as crying or consoling interval?

  8. Laura says

    From experience, I can say that cry it out does not always work. We tried with our healthy 8 month old. She was waking up to 10-12 or more times each night either needed to be nursed (for comfort, not hunger), needed her pacifier put back in, or sometimes needing to be picked up and snuggled back to sleep. For naps and going to bed initially with her swaddle and pacifier she was able to fall asleep on her own with the little to no crying. Anyway, when we tried it, she screamed for 1.5 hours, then started dozing off for 2-5 minutes, waking and letting out a couple sobs before falling back to sleep for just 2-5 more minutes, and so on. At the four hour mark, I decided it would be unreasonable to continue, so I went in, picked her up and nursed her to sleep. Perhaps if I had been willing to leave her there to barely sleep literally all night she would have learned to put herself to sleep, but I felt that would be completely unreasonable. (By the way, we had also tried the “no cry” sleep solutions and gradual approaches with no improvement and we had tried to implement all the good sleep suggestion from day one.) Some babies just will not sleep well no matter what you do.

    The other question I never see answered is this: How long is it reasonable to let your baby cry? Most answers say something like, “Most babies will cry up to a couple hours the first night and less the following nights.” Well, what about babies who are not “most babies”?

  9. Emily DeJeu says

    @ Laura – so sorry you had such a rough experience!! :( This sounds miserable. As to your question about how long to let a baby CIO – I think there are no firm numbers out there because no one feels comfortable “prescribing” a length of time that will work. If they had that, then I think parents would tend to treat those numbers as a “magic formula”, which of course it wouldn’t be. The truth is, some babies cry for 30 or 40 minutes the first night, and then are basically done with sleep training, and don’t struggle to fall asleep independently after that. Other babies, however, do what you describe – they cry for hours and hours, many nights in a row, and never really get to the point where they can put themselves to sleep independently. ”

    I think what you did is exactly right, and is what most parents do – you allow CIO to happen until you hit your threshold (for you, 4 hours), and then you re-evaluate. Now, I do think that 4 hours is definitely on the long side, so I don’t blame you at all for quitting at that point.

    If you’re still struggling w/ your baby’s sleep, could I suggest that you check out our consulting packages? They’re perfect for parents like you, who’ve already tried everything, and who could use a fresh perspective 😉 You can see all our consulting packages here:

    Best of luck to you, Laura!