Some families resort to the Cry it Out Method, but how do you know if it’s right for you and your baby?
This is a topic that we get lots of questions about in our Sleep Helpdesk. Specifically, lots of parents ask us when they should/shouldn’t try cry it out, and how cry it out is going to work with their babies’ personalities and temperaments.
Keep reading for 11 vital dos and don’ts of cry it out sleep training, as well as tips to help you decide whether or not cry it out will work with your child’s temperament.
11 Cry It Out Sleep Training Method Dos and Don’ts
A quick note – please don’t take this article to mean that we are recommending you try cry it out over gentler sleep training methods. We’re not!
We know that most families really prefer to try gentler methods, and can’t stand the idea of hearing their babies cry. But we also know that some families end up needing to use cry it out, for a variety of reasons. That’s why we share information about cry it out sleep training – because we know that some of you will need it.
And that transitions us nicely into point #1…
1. DO explore other methods, because cry it out is many parents’ last resort. There are a number of other, gentle sleep training methods that can work well.
2. DO establish a strong foundation first. Make sure your child’s environment is sleep-friendly, and that you’ve made any necessary changes to your child’s sleep and feeding schedule at least 1 week before you start sleep training.
You’ll also want to rule out any other cases of your child’s night waking or short naps before you try cry it out.
We are 100% committed to using this kind of holistic approach to sleep, which is why we NEVER jump straight to cry it out sleep training.
3. DO make sure you are prepared to follow through. Cry it out requires a lot of resolve. You have to be ready to go down that road!
4. DO find a support system to help you through. Make sure your spouse or partner is on board. (This is key to cry it out success, as you both have to respond to your baby in the same way in order for sleep training to work.)
If your spouse isn’t supportive, make sure you have a friend or other family member to which you can turn to for help and/or to vent. And, of course, you can always turn to us for compassionate support and a sympathetic ear. You’ll also receive expert advice on how to make sure cry it out goes as smoothly (and as quickly) as possible.
5. DO make a plan ahead of time. A plan is critical to any kind of sleep training success, but it is especially key to cry it out success. You need to decide ahead of time how you’re going to handle your baby’s crying, and what your overall timeline for sleep training looks like.
6. DON’T try cry it out sleep training too young. You should always use gentle methods to help your baby learn to sleep well during the newborn stage. Even at 4 months – 6 months, you will likely want to go for gentler approaches.
7. DON’T night-wean at the same time you are using cry it out. Why? Because doubt about whether or not your baby is crying out of hunger or crying because he wants help falling asleep, will eat away at even the best of plans. Similarly, don’t wean from breastfeeding altogether at the same time.
8. DON’T send mixed messages or be inconsistent in your approach. Stick to your sleep coaching plan for at least a week or two before you make changes. Be sure that while you are using cry it out, you are as consistent as possible in how you respond to your baby. If you’re inconsistent, it’s unfair to your child – not to mention confusing.
9. DON’T wait until you’re at your wit’s end and do it. Parents who resort to cry it out because they’re practically cross-eyed with exhaustion tend to do it without a plan. This can ultimately end up sending mixed messages and inconsistencies. (See the previous point.)
10. DON’T do naps and nights at the same time. This just ends up being too much crying for your baby AND for you, and that can make it nearly impossible to follow through.
11. DON’T have high expectations that you will be “done” in 3 days. While that’s true for some, it’s not true for all. Instead, plan for a realistic timeline before you start.
Sleep Training And Your Baby’s Temperament
It’s important to remember that trying cry it out sleep training with your baby isn’t just about whether or not you’re ready to try it.
It’s about how your baby will handle the process, too!
The truth is, certain temperaments respond much better to cry it out than others. Knowing ahead of time how your baby’s personality will mesh with cry it out is important.
You can read our entire baby sleep and temperament series for specific details on how each temperament trait will work with cry it out. Here’s a quick summary to get you started:
- Slow to adapt, persistent, and intense children may have a harder time with CIO and cry too intensely, because cry it out can be such an abrupt change from what they’re used to.
- An adaptable, easy-going baby will likely cry very little, if at all.
- With consistent babies, it may be easier to time up bedtime and nap times. This can give you more confidence that your baby is ready for sleep at bedtime and at nap time. That, in turn, will make it easier to stay consistent with cry it out. You won’t be left wondering if your baby is crying because she’s not tired enough for sleep.
- High-energy babies may need longer wind-down times before sleep. They may also have more energy to cry longer, which will obviously make cry it out tough.
Now, this isn’t to say that you CAN’T do cry it out with a baby who is slow to adapt, persistent, intense, or high-energy. It simply means that you will need to proceed with caution and have appropriate expectations.
All this said, if you’re struggling with sleep training your baby – whether you’re considering cry it out or not – you may need help from an expert. We’re here and ready to offer you compassionate, caring support that is 100% personalized to your unique situation. Whether you want to start with gentle methods, or you want personalized recommendations about how to proceed with cry it out, we can help. We’ll always use approaches that mesh with your goals, your parenting philosophy, and your child’s personality and temperament. Let us start working on your Personalized Sleep Plan® today!
Browse our sleep support packages here.
32 thoughts on “11 Cry It Out Dos and Don’ts (Plus How Your Baby’s Temperament Affects Cry It Out Sleep Training)”
I have a 10month old baby who will put himself to sleep if I let him sleep in my bed. If I put him in his crib he will wake up with in ten minutes and just scream until I come get him. Does the cry it out method work for a baby who thinks he needs his mom and his moms bed all the time.
My son is very persistent he will just cry and cry. I don’t know how long is to long or how often I should check on him.
I’m not sure if my first issue is he is not familiar with his crib so maybe he is scared when I put him in there alone to cry it out?
I’m not sure what my expectations should be going into this because I’m not one for letting my son cry.
@Britany – Thank you for sharing with us. We know how frustrating and confusing working with a crying method can be for families – especially if you’re dealing with a persistent little boy! The question is can you outpersist him? Many families choose to work on sleep before transitioning to a crib, which you can definitely do as well. Setting expectations and helping you prioritize and manage these transitions is what our sleep consultants are experts in – you should consider connecting with one of our ladies who can help you through this. You can read more about them here:https://www.babysleepsite.com/about Hang in there, Britany!
I sleep trained my daughter right around 4 months and she was sleeping well and through the night. Recently she has started to wake around 2 am and then again at 5 am. She will cry off and on and go back to sleep it’s just puzzling to me why this started.
Bedtime 630/7 depending on how good naps were during the day.
She’s a little over 5 months now….please help
@Amanda Livanos – I am sorry you have been struggling with your daughter’s nighttime wake up’s recently! We have a free ebook available for download that goes through tips to help your child sleep through the night. It may be helpful to look through and see if there are any tweaks that could be made to help find the cause. Here is a link to download the guide: https://www.babysleepsite.com/baby-sleep-through-night-free-ebook/
I hope this helps! Hang in there!
Hi everyone! I managed to put him to sleep in his own crib using the CIO but he still wake up for night feeds.Should I just feed him and put him back in the crib?
Congratulations! Yes, you would usually feed, check diaper if needed, and put baby right back down, using the same sleep coaching method you did at bedtime. Hope this helps!
I see that most people have attempted the CIO method around 6 months. My guy is a little over 4 months and is up ALL night… we have tried many methods and are ready for
CIO. So you think he is too young and if so why? Thanks!
@Erin Thank you for your comment. I’m sorry your little guy is having such trouble sleeping. You know your son best, and only you can really determine when is the best time to try a CIO method. I recommend reading this article that specifically addresses your question: https://www.babysleepsite.com/sleep-training/cry-it-out-age/ Good luck!
We are using CIO for naptime with my 6 month old . He will fall asleep after a little crying but will wake up every time after about 30 min crying again. That is not a full nap. I’ve let him CIO again to go back to sleep but if he does go back to sleep it is only for 15 more minutes. Should I keep using CIO? Why won’t he nap more than 30 min? (I will mention at night he sleeps well and only wakes up once-around 5:30am-to eat and then goes right back to sleep.)
@ Ila – Hmmm…..great question! Short naps aren’t that uncommon at 6 months; sleep is just starting to organize itself at that point. As for how to handle the short naps – it’s okay to work on having your son go BACK to sleep after a too-early waking on his own, using CIO, but if the lost sleep is snowballing to make him cranky and overtired, then I’d suggest that you take a break for a day or two, so that he can catch up on sleep. Nothing is worth than trying to work on sleep training with an overtired little one!
Hope this helps; thanks for commenting!
@ Emily Thank you so much for your reply. It goes a long way in comforting me during this phase. One more quick question… Maybe you can point me to some good resources if this is already somewhere else on the website… I have been pretty good at keeping from nurse/rock/holding to sleep most of the time as I don’t want any new sleep issues to start, BUT sometimes that seems to be the only thing that will work for her. Any suggestions for how to offer comfort without doing this? It is not every night, but happens and I’m worried it will be tough for her without greater consistency in what I’m doing? Sometimes she seems to get more worked up when I keep coming in to check on her as someone else mentioned in another reply.
@ Elisa – no problem! We usually recommend that parents offer comfort in the ways you suggested (nursing, rocking, holding, etc.), but just stop short of putting her to sleep in those ways. Does that make sense? Or, to start, you could nurse/rock/hold to sleep, but then gradually decrease the amount of time you spend doing those things before sleep.
Hope this helps!
I have an almost 5 month old that knows how to fall asleep AND stay asleep on her own. She has done this For awhile now. However, lately we’ve been going through a phase (i.e. 4 month sleep regression I believe) where she will not fall asleep on her own at bedtime… But, this is the only time. I breastfeed before naps as well as bedtime, but shoot for the “drowsy yet awake” and haven’t had problems. I know she associates me/breast with sleeping, but has never been a problem. Once she finally gets to sleep (sometimes not for two hours after bedtime routine) she will sleep the rest of the night. If she does wake up during the night it is only once and she has no problem going right back to sleep…Even after fully waking up with a diaper change and being awake enough to talk to her crib for a few minutes before actually going back to sleep. We have been having some teething pain during this past month… Maybe she is just extra sensitive to the pain during that time of night?? I’m starting to think CIO might be the only thing that will keep her from being less confused at bedtime. I don’t come back in at naps if she talks, but at bedtime it is crying, not talking, so I go in to comfort her. I’m a little bit at a loss.
@ Elisa – sounds like this is definitely a stage, and since that’s the case, you’ll want to offer comfort WITHOUT creating any new sleep issues. Sounds like you are doing well with that. There is no problem with checking in and offering comfort at bedtime; that reassurance can go a long way. However, just be sure that you don’t nurse/hold/rock your baby to sleep during those fussy spells.
As for CIO – totally your call 🙂 That can definitely be effective, but YOU have to be ready for that, and committed to it.
Hope this helps, Elisa! Best of luck to you and to your family.
My son, too, did much better when I switched all the way to CIO. I started with a “controlled crying” type thing, and it worked okay, but CIO worked so much better. I remember reading about some of the other “gentle” methods (like pick-up-put-down), and knew they would just piss him off and make everything worse. Yep, we’ll likely go straight to CIO with baby #2 right around 6 months or so – it just makes so much more sense.
@ Ashely – so glad you found the method that worked for you! Thanks for sharing a bit about your experience; other moms find that so useful. 🙂
Any advice on doing cry it out either when you are room sharing or when your baby is sharing a room with an older sibling?
@ Desiree – GREAT question! It may be necessarily to temporarily move your younger one out of the room, or to have your older one bunk with you for a period of time. We actually have an article on sibling room sharing here (https://www.babysleepsite.com/siblings/sibling-room-sharing-tips/) that offers a few tips you might find helpful. In general, though, if you’re opting for CIO, you will likely need to move one kiddo out of the room temporarily.
Hope this helps, Desiree! Thanks so much for commenting. 🙂
I was definitely the mom who tried CIO as a last resort (see #1). In hindsight, I feel like every other “gentle” sleep training method just sent inconsistent messages to my son which resulted in countless hours of crying with me right by his side. Sure, I was holding him, or rocking him, or “shhh-ing” him, but he was still not getting whatever it was that he wanted (typically, nursing to sleep), so it was just agony the whole time. The “gentle” methods resulted in so much more crying for my son then the CIO method.
I know I am speaking mom blasphemy here, but I really felt like the gentler methods were about making ME feel better (i.e. less guilty about needing to sleep train) as a mom, and not really about helping my baby learn to sleep. In hindsight, I feel like I was selfish to try to force him through the gentler methods for MONTHS before switching to CIO.
When we finally switched to CIO, and DIDN’T go back in until he fell asleep on his own, he figured it out pretty quickly (days, not weeks). Now we didn’t leave him in there all night or anything, but we did leave him in there until he fell asleep and wouldn’t go back in until he woke up again. It was consistent and he understood what we expected within a few days.
In my opinion, the reason that every other gentle method failed was because they inherently send inconsistent messages to the baby. (See #8 above) “I’m here baby, with my milk filled boobs, but you can’t have any.” Or, “here baby, cry by yourself for 3 minutes, then I’ll come in, say “there, there” and give you hope that I might pick you up or whatever, then leave you again, getting you all ramped up again. Then at 5 minutes, 10 minutes, 15 minute intervals, etc… I will keep torturing you by coming in to check on you (even though we have a video monitor and know he was perfectly safe) and then leaving again. It was only when we just stopped going in that my son “got it.” It was like, oh, I’m supposed to go to sleep now and no one is going to interrupt me from doing that.
Sleep training never worked for night weaning for our son (despite several efforts), but he always went right back to sleep and did give up the night waking naturally on his own. Now, at 2, he is in a toddler bed and even though he doesn’t always go to sleep immediately, he stays in his bed at bedtime even though he is fully capable of climbing out of bed and coming to see us. Periodically he will cry if he doesn’t want to go to bed or take a nap (which is rare), but he knows that he needs to stay in bed and that we aren’t going to respond to his crying, and he gives it up pretty quickly and either plays in his bed until he can fall asleep. He did the “jack in the box” thing exactly one time, and we put him right back to bed and told him that we were going to lock his door if he got out of his bed. He tested the door, found it locked, and went straight back to his bed. It only took one time for him to realize we meant business and we haven’t had to lock his door since. The lock is on the door, but he hasn’t tested the limits beyond the one time. I fully believe that this is a result of us FINALLY getting to CIO and being CONSISTENT. He understands consistency, and there was so much less crying with CIO than the “gentle methods” I feel that I selfishly imposed on my son in trying to get him to learn to sleep on his own.
Now that I am pregnant with baby #2, I will go straight to CIO between 4-6 months. No torturing baby #2 with the gentle methods so I feel less guilty as a mom. I have learned that I need to do what is best for my baby, teaching them to learn to sleep on their own, and the quicker I can send a consistent message about what is expected, the quicker my baby will be able to fall asleep on their own.
@ Christi – thanks SO much for sharing your thoughts! We love it when moms share honestly, from the heart, about their own experiences, and about what’s worked for them (and what hasn’t). Thanks so much for doing just that. (Oh – and best wishes for a speedy and safe delivery with #2!) 😉
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