Moms and dads, if you are unfortunate enough to consider letting your 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 at what age 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, simply DON’T DO IT (it won’t work anyway without your commitment and we can find another way).
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 cannot 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.
That last one some would say is always true, but I disagree, but we’ll get to that.
What Cry It Out IS
- Cry it out is a sleep training method to break unwanted sleep associations.
- Cry it out is setting limits on what you will and won’t allow your baby to do (at nap time, all night, etc.).
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 the 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 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 wit’s 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 babies 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.
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