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 the Cry-It-Out Sleep Training Method.

Nicole Johnson, our founder, 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 she’s gained over the last 10 years.

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 hear Nicole’s answers to your most common cry it out questions.

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 a replacement for feeding when baby cannot comfortably sleep all night without food.
  • Cry it 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 a replacement to parenting when baby needs it.

So, what is cry-it-out? Cry it out is a sleep training method to change sleep associations which are likely 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 10 years of 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.

There are a lot of definitions of what “sleep success” looks like and you’re in the driver’s seat. Always remember that!

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. 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 because 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 than 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 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 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 and at what age is it okay?

Nicole: This is a deeply personal choice, so I can’t offer prescriptive advice. We do not give one-size-fits-all advice. Rather, we prefer to get to know you and your situation and personalize the journey for families.

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 should 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 probably don’t want to use a crying method if your baby is younger than 4 months. The age you do cry it out can matter a lot to how difficult it is and how effective.

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 if you can’t follow-through!).

Even parents who have tried cry it out and weren’t able to get it to work have come to us 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! 😉 There are many strategies out there, and we personalize the experience for your family and your unique situation.

What cry-it-out questions do you have? Did you use Cry It Out? What do you wish you knew ahead of time? Or, share your sleep coaching story and tips with us, and let’s get the conversation started!

Need help knowing where to start? Visit our Help Me Choose page for helping choosing the Baby Sleep Site® resources that are right for you.

51 thoughts on “Your Cry It Out Sleep Training Questions Answered”

  1. Hi, I’m 8th month pregnant and I’m trying to prepare my home and myself for a baby. I’m sure that I want to sleep train him, but I’m not sure what method to choose. Cry-it-out sounds like painfull but quick solution, but I havn’t found a straight answer if it’s ok to do it with a newborn. Have you heard about the fourth trimester theory, I read about it and it’s a first steep and preparation for an actual training. I don’t know is it worth of trying and should I bother… but I like the HWL method which is based on this theory soooo…. maybe you can help me and advice what to do?

    • Hi @Karen –
      Thank you for writing to us and congratulations on your upcoming arrival! When helping your newborn sleep better, we recommend using much gentler methods, since most infants won’t have the skills needed to self soothe quite yet. If you haven’t yet, you can sign up to receive our free guide written just for families with young infants, “15 Baby Sleep Facts New Parents Need to Know” here:
      https://www.babysleepsite.com/15-free-baby-sleep-facts-new-parents-must-know
      This should be really helpful for planning for your new baby and starting off on the right foot!!
      You may also want to take a look at this article on our blog, 7 Gentle, Natural Ways To Help Your Newborn Baby Sleep Better:
      https://www.babysleepsite.com/newborns/better-newborn-sleep-7-tips
      We also offer a few more in-depth solutions for parents who would like to know more! If you would ever like more help just let us know! We’re here to help! Thanks and congrats again Karen!

  2. How would you know if cry it out method is not for your baby? I tried it, day 1, she cried for 30mins and fell asleep on her own. Day 2, cried for an hr and fell asleep. Day 3 cried for 1.5 hrs and fell asleep. There are still night waking like around 3am, so everytime it happens I just feed her and shes back to sleep. Im just wondering if cio method is a success or failure for me, bec why is her sleep takes longer as the day passes. Im on day 4 tonight so fingers crossed. I dont know if there is something wrong in what i do.

  3. Hi. I’ve been nap training my 5-month old for almost 5 weeks. He’s been taking short naps (15 to 35 minutes) and I’ve tried so many methods to help him nap longer, but with no success. The last week, I’ve been consistent with letting him cry it out when he wakes up. I put him down for naps completely awake and he falls asleep within 5 minutes. He wakes up at 7am and gets put down for a nap around 9am. He then wakes up in about 30 minutes but I leave him in his crib for another hour plus (let’s say 11am). I then put him down for his next nap 2 hours after that “nap” should have ended, which would be around 1pm (even though he’s been awake since 9:30). Once he wakes up, he cries until I get him and sometimes falls asleep for a very short time (like 5 to 10 minutes). Wondering if this method will work for lengthening his naps? And if so, how long does it usually take to see improvements? It’s almost been a week and I’ve noticed no changes with his napping. I feel bad that he’s crying so much, but I don’t know what else to do. Thanks!

    • Hi @Kristina –
      Thank you so much for writing, and sorry to hear that naps are not going well yet. Hang in there and don’t give up!:) Short naps are common at this age, so you might just need a bit more time!
      Here is a link to our recommended schedule for a 5 month old. As you can see all but the morning nap are usually short at this age!:
      https://www.babysleepsite.com/schedules/5-month-old-baby-schedule/
      You might find this helpful to see where you might be able to adjust your current schedule to help ensure naps and bedtime are at good times for him.
      I hope that this helps, but if you find that you’d like more help at any time, please consider our VIP Member’s Area.
      Our VIP Members Area subscription gives you access to all of our ebooks as well as all teleseminar recordings, case studies, and do-it-yourself tutorials, including a workbook to create your own sleep plan! My favorite feature is the access to a “members only” weekly live “chat” where an expert sleep consultant will answer your specific questions, live via chat room.
      You can read more about the Member’s Area here:
      https://www.babysleepsite.com/diy/
      Good luck Kristina and please contact us if you need any assistance at any time!

  4. Hi,

    My son is 4 months + 1 week and we’ve been trying the true Cry It Out method for exactly a week now and it has not been consistent whatsoever. Our doctor recommended it and lots of other moms I’ve spoken to have said their child took 3 nights and with each night the crying was less and less and by the fourth night they were done. For us it went like this:
    1st night: 1hr 35min,
    2nd night: 20min
    3rd night: 1hr
    4th night: 1hr 20min
    5th night: 20 min
    6th night: 45hr
    7th night: 1hr 20 min

    Also he wakes up around 4am evrey night and cries for at least an hour then too. I do a dream feed at 12am.

    During the day he naps on me.

    I can’t take much more of his crying, please help.

    • Hi @Justina –
      Thank you for writing to us! I am sorry that sleep training and cry it out with your 4 month old has not been going smoothly! You’re not alone! If the road to better sleep were always a smooth and easy one, The Baby Sleep Site wouldn’t even be here, so we get it! Every baby is different, and will adjust/react to changes differently! We know how tough this can be, and for the best help, I’d recommend that you work closely with one of our sleep consultants who can help you through this and any other issues you might face! YOu can connect with a sleep consultant via chat room or written comments in our VIP Members Area – The VIP Members Area is affordable, and available in sizes to fit every budget. Members also receive 20% off of all personalized sleep consultation services, should you find that you would like more personalized assistance.
      You can read more about our VIP Members Area here:
      https://www.babysleepsite.com/diy
      Hang in there Justina!!

  5. We’ve been trying the Ferber/Cry It Out method for almost three weeks now, and though we’ve seen small signs of progress, our son still screams and screams before naps and bedtime. Sometimes taking up to 40 mins to get to sleep. We have established a bedtime routine, and are consistent in our method. I don’t know what we’re doing wrong. We are very early risers for work so bedtime is around 5:30PM. I’ve also noticed that my son’s demeanor and mood have changed. He is not as cheerful as he used to be and he’s more emotional. I hate to think that we’re turning him into a sad baby.

    • Hi @Emily – Thanks for writing, and I’m so sorry that you and your family have been struggling with sleep training for the last few weeks! This is so tough, especially when you are now worried about his demeanor and mood changes in the day. : (
      Now might be a good time to take a little break, and re-group! Take a good look at his schedule, to try and ensure that he is going to sleep at good times for him, and consider talking or emailing one of our consultants for one on one help and troubleshooting, and support all the way through! Please contact us if you’d like more help! Hang in there Emily!

  6. My 17.5 month old typically sleeps in his crib in his own room. In February, he had the flu, and he would wake up multiple times all night long. We ended up putting him in the bed with us. He became used to it, and once he was better, he wouldn’t sleep in his crib. Finally, we “retrained” him to sleep in his bed. He is currently sick again and wakes up continuously. Should i let him cry all night with occasional reassurance or just put him in my bed?

    • Hi Brittany,
      Thank you for visiting The Baby Sleep Site! I’m sorry to hear your son has been sick. In general, we recommend doing as little “extra” as you can when your child is sick. So help him, definitely, but don’t do more than you actually need to do. Maybe instead of bringing him into your bed, you can camp out in his room for a couple of days, or find another solution to avoid bringing him into your bed.

      We do have an article all about illness and sleep coaching, which may be helpful here: https://www.babysleepsite.com/baby-sleep-needs/how-illness-affects-baby-toddler-sleep/

      Good luck with everything! I hope he is feeling better very soon!

  7. So, my 20 month old will now go to sleep without a fuss on his own. However starting at 11pm, he still wakes up crying. And then he’s up every two hours going til 7 am. I used to nurse him to bed. I am beginning to wean him and now nurse him a half hour before bed and that was pretty smooth transition. But, he still wakes every two hours after 11pm and gets into such a tizzy, that he vomits. How can we get these 11pm-4am wake ups to end?

    • Hi @Jennifer – Thank you for writing, and I am sorry that your little guy is struggling with night wakings! it is actually quite common that a baby or toddler learn to fall asleep initially at bedtime on their own, but then need more help for those night wakings. You may want to continue those same techniques you used to transition him to falling sleep on his own at bed (without feeding to sleep), and begin to teach him that he can do this in the night too!
      I hope that things go smoothly! Please contact us if you need more assistance!

  8. I have a 6 month old and I began sleep training a week ago. Before he I started he was cluster feeding at night from two in the morning till six in the morning. That’s when I decided to start the CIO method. The first three nights of sleep training he woke up twice for feedings. (Which was amazing!)

    Although Every time I put him to bed he would cry for up to an hour sometimes more. Everything I’ve read said the baby should start crying less and less every time you put them to bed (awakesbd drousy but not alseep) He is better with his naps and is actually finally starting to self sooth and fall asleep on his own under 40 min some times only takes less than 20.

    The problem is now that he is starting to wake up more frequently. How do I stop him from waking up so often again? Do I only feed him twice still? And do I not go in the room when he wakes up to feed him and if so do I not pick him up st all either. He is very persistent at staying awake if I don’t pick him up to feed him? I just don’t want him to start waking up even more often again

    • @Briana – Thank you for reading our blog and for sharing with us! Sleep training can be a bit more of a marathon than a sprint and each baby responds differently from the other. This is one reason we generally don’t lump all babies in together when discussing how they’ll respond to sleep training as there’s so much more that determines this besides the method you’re using. We do know that sleep coaching using CIO with persistent babies can be quite challenging. Please consider connecting with one of our sleep consultants who are better trained to help with the specific questions you have – she’ll be able to help identify any issues/problems and get you all on track to better sleep. You may even want to consider one of our 15-min free evaluations to get a better idea. You can read more about our team here:https://www.babysleepsite.com/about Hope this helps, Briana – hang in there!

  9. Hi,
    I know this is a bit of an older post but hopefully you get this question.

    My boy is 12 months. We did CIO at 4 months and he has slept like a champion for the past 8 months. I’ve almost been smug. He would chat to himself and then sleep. No issues. He would sleep from 7pm to 6am.

    At 11 months he now won’t settle. Cries for over an hour. Then I give in and pay him to sleep. Then wakes 2-3 times a night. He has started to refuse food, tonight he refused dinner and bottle, is worse after daycare as we get home late so he is tired already.

    Then to top it off, recently my husband started a fly in / fly out job where he goes away for a week, back for a week so on.

    This new unsettled behaviour has almost fallen in line with his dads new departure. Then he seems to be much more settled when dad is home so I’m thinking it has something to do with it.

    It makes me anxious to think I’ll have to deal with this every time I am single mothering for the week. And in my midnight hours of weakness I start questioning whether I should quit work or if my husband should come home, which I don’t want.

    I am hoping you could offer your perspective on whether retrying CIO will be too rough amongst these changes…

    He has cried for an hour and half and if I go in he just gets worse. 🙁

    • Hi @Alia – Thanks for writing! We DID get your comment! : ) I am sorry that your son has started to struggle with sleep recently! You are not alone in having a good sleeper that has regressed, and hang in there! have you already worked on getting him on the right schedule to combat that overtiredness? Hopefully some schedule tweaks will help, and hopefully a little more time to adjust to Dad being away for the week will help things settle too. Twelve months can be a tough time with sleep, where these sweet little ones start fighting sleep too. If you are concerned about trying Cry It Out again, then you would likely do better to work on sleep more gently. This will help you be able to follow through! It might be best to have an expert sleep consultant take a look at everything sleep, and help you come up with a Plan to get things back on track. If you’re interested in more help, please check out our consultation packages here: https://www.babysleepsite.com/baby-toddler-sleep-consulting-services
      Hang in there Alia, and let us know if you need any assistance at any time!

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