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 15+ 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 15+ 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, we will 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.