Should You Let Your Baby Cry It Out?

ChoicesWhen parents contact the Baby Sleep Site for the first time, they often say the same thing: “Are you going to tell me I have to let my baby cry? Because I can’t handle that!”

No parent enjoys the sound of their baby wailing in distress.

That’s why the cry-it-out methods advocated by Ferber, Weissbluth, and Ezzo are so controversial. Some parents feel like cry-it-out is a form of cruel and unusual punishment, but others are quick to point out that cry-it-out methods are fast and effective ways to teach a baby to sleep.

It remains debatable whether or not cry-it-out methods actually damage a child. After all, people often mean very different things when they use the phrase “cry it out” and what affects one child will not affect another the same way (just like Nicole’s life experiences affected her a certain way in the above article). And let’s remember that the side-effects of sleeplessness for children (obesity, depression, behavior problems, and even drug and alcohol problems, as well as a number of others can be pretty serious. But even if using a cry-it-out method doesn’t damage your little one, should you do it?

What Does Cry-It-Out Mean, Exactly?

In any discussion of cry-it-out, it’s important to make sure everyone’s operating with the same definition. There are a lot of things that we believe cry-it-out is NOT; there are two things we believe that it IS. At The Baby Sleep Site, we use cry-it-out to mean a sleep training method that is used to change sleep associations and to help parents set limits as to what they will and will not “do” in the name of sleep.

Does Cry-It-Out Actually Work?

It might seem counterintuitive to think that crying can lead to a baby sleeping peacefully for hours on end. The thing is, though, it can, for some babies. Remember that falling asleep is a skill that a baby has to learn, and anytime a person (young or old) has to learn a new skill, there are bound to be some mistakes made. Some falling down. Some crying. As Nicole says,

“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.”

Some Parents Reject Cry-It-Out Due To Fear or Misconceptions

Some parents understand all the ins and outs of cry-it-out methods and still reject them. And that’s fine, of course. To each her own! However, other parents have fears or misconceptions that cause them to avoid any cry-it-out methods:

  • Some parents fear cry-it-out means that they have to let their child scream for 8 straight hours and turn 12 shades of purple before offering them any comfort. Not so! Remember, there are lots of steps in between rocking your baby all night long and letting her wail for hours.
  • Other parents worry that cry-it-out might change their child’s personality, turning their sweet, smiling baby into a screaming, shrieking one. But remember that your child’s temperament is as unique as he is, and it’s highly unlikely that any sleep training method is going to change that. That said, if you have a cranky, fussy, inconsolable baby on your hands, and that fussiness is due to chronic sleep deprivation, then cry-it-out may just change your baby’s personality — for the better! Once he starts getting the sleep he needs, don’t be surprised if that constant fussiness disappears.
  • Some parents are concerned that using a cry-it-out method will destroy their child’s trust in them. This is an understandable fear; when you’re listening to your child cry, it’s easy worry that she feels neglected. But this kind of thinking puts a LOT of pressure on you! After all, you can make yourself crazy if you operate with the mindset that any one thing you do (or don’t do, for that matter) could potentially damage your child FOREVER.

There’s No Formula for Parenting

When you’re sleep training (whether you’re using a cry-it-out method or not), it’s easy to lose perspective. It’s easy to feel like letting your baby cry for a few minutes will cause serious damage.

That’s why it’s so important to remember that the parent-child relationship is a complex one, made up of many elements. There’s no ONE thing that can destroy that entire relationship. As Nicole says,

“There is not ONE thing (except possibly the purely heinous such as sexual abuse) that will violate his trust in you. If that were 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.”

Some Parents Still Feel Cry-It-Out Isn’t For Them — And That’s Fine

The purpose of this article isn’t to persuade you to use a cry-it-out approach to sleep training. We don’t push cry-it-out methods over other approaches to sleep training, and we certainly won’t try to persuade you to use a method you’re not comfortable with. Whatever sleep training method you choose, remember that it has to work for everyone involved — for your child, and for YOU.

The Baby Sleep Site strives to remain judgment-free and to respect every parent’s unique philosophy, so if you just aren’t comfortable with any of the cry-it-out methods, that’s okay! There are plenty of other ways to teach your little one to sleep well, including some no-cry sleep training options. They might just require a little more patience on your part.

We always start our sleep consultations with a no-cry approach (unless a parent requests that we begin with a cry-it-out method). What’s more, we’ve had great success working with parents who have an attachment parenting philosophy, parents who are co-sleepers, and parents who simply want to minimize crying as much as possible. Be sure to check our testimonials page to learn more about the variety of families we’ve helped in their journeys to better sleep.

Nicole’s Note
“I just saw a Facebook update from this mom, Najmi, whose now 6 1/2 year old looks forward to the weekend, so she can sleep in! If only we were all so lucky. Najmi was so petrified of CIO, but it was a life-changing decision she made. Cry it out is definitely not for every situation, but the pressure parents put on themselves to not allow ANY crying can sometimes do more harm. It’s about finding the right solution for your specific situation.”

What about you? Cry-It-Out? No-Cry? Share your opinions!

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80 thoughts on “Should You Let Your Baby Cry It Out?”

  1. @ Stephany — our readers are great, aren’t they? 🙂 Thanks again for commenting, ladies, and for helping Stephany out!

  2. Thanks everyone for the advice! This site is a great resource. We’re going to try to cut her down to eating every three or four hours at night and see how she does. She’s starting to get the hang of solids more (mixed with lots of breastmilk) during the day, so hopefully that will help.
    I keep reminding myself that this will pass, and sooner than I know it I will look back longingly on nights when I nursed my babe to sleep in the wee hours of the morning.

  3. @ Angela — interesting! Thanks so much for sharing these names and titles; I know some of our readers are going to want to check these out.

  4. @ Emily,

    Thanks for asking – Sue Gerhardt is a psychologist specializing in mother/infant relationships. She wrote, “Why Love Matters” that really helps understand how responsiveness to cries influence brain development in the first year. Dr. Pranksepp has done ground-breaking research on the stress response system and the activation of the cry response to separation anxiety. His books are more acedemic, but Dr. Margot Sunderland wrote, “The Science of Parenting”, which really helps understand neuro-psychologically why our babies cry to keep us close, and so much more . . . Jay Gordan has a great night weaning plan on his web site- he’s a west coast pediatrician and author who’s advice I’ve found spot on (as well as Nichole’s here at BSS). One major take away from all is the type of cry and the age of the baby really do matter in what if any crying can/should be ignored. It also makes it clear that at some point, with an older baby, it becomes a protest cry and not a fear cry. This is key.

    I’m currently researching and writing a book on the subject and would love to talk with you offline about the possibility of some type of collaboration with The Baby Sleep Site.

    @Rasha. Some things that will help you get more sleep out of her in the meantime ; ) you’ll get longer stretches:
    get really good at swaddling! Avoid overtired. try letting her sleep in a fully reclined swing, if she freaks when she’s put down.
    Feed her a lot during the day – get as much of the portion of calories in the day as you can, so there is less need at night.
    A loud box fan for white noise at sleep times!
    Good luck!

    Great advise for Stephanie. That baby is hungry at night! (as it stands) so it has to be done gradually to turn it around and the day time feedings have to be addressed as well as night. Let us know how it’s going Stephanie!

  5. @ Stephany, I’d not only mix breast milk with cereal but with any and all foods you feed your daughter. You don’t even need to use water in the cereal or foods to thin it just use breast milk. Keep at the sippy cup, my kids did not take to them right away – it takes time to get used to them and experiment with different types. My son loved the straw sippies – we tried a lot of different ones starting around 5 months and the straw around seven months which he immediately began using regularly. I assume you are putting breast milk in the sippy? You might try water or diluted juice just to see if that would get her into to drinking it. I’d also try to nurse immediately when you pick her up – at the daycare if you can to start feeding her as soon as possible and again at the daycare right before you drop her off. I’d also skip solids in the morning and just let her nurse. At least you could try to space out the feedings so that there are not so many at night.

    Agreed about not wanting to let a hungry baby cry it out. I feel for you – hope you find something that works for you! Perhaps using lunch to go nurse at daycare? Could be one less feeding at night? Good luck!

    @ Meagan, my daughter nursed 10 times a day until she was 10 months old. Just last month at 14 months she was still nursing twice a day not including first thing in the morning and right before bed. I thought she’d never slow down! My son was the complete opposite by 10 months he was only nursing 4 times a day and he self weaned at 14 months. Every kid is different I think in that regard no matter their size ;.)

  6. Got cut off. The up side of night feedings is that they can be more efficient at that age… A 6 month old is less distracted when half asleep. At least mine was.

    Can the day care push rice cereal heavily mixed with breast milk? Maybe she accepts a spoon more readily than a bottle? Good luck. I hope that helps some.

  7. @Stephany Obviously every baby is different, but I think even reverse cycling a 6 month old doesn’t need to eat that frequently. My son is a big guy too, and I don’t believe he was eating quite that frequently during the DAY at 6 months, though I may be remembering wrong.

    I’d suggest restricting night feedings to… 3 times a night? For a start? The other wakings rock and sing (you or your husband if you’re married, whichever is less upsetting) Then do CIO until she falls back asleep, if you’re up for it. You don’t have to cut out all feedings to cut out some feedings. And the upside of night feedings

  8. I have a CIO dilemma. My 6 mo old completely refuses a bottle, so routinely goes 10-11 hours at daycare without milk (she gets solids but is still a new-eater and doesn’t get in many calories this way). We’re trying to get her to use a sippy cup but this hasn’t been successful thus far. She consequently is reverse cycling and is up 3-5 times eating all night long.
    Our pediatrician suggested some sleep training/CIO during the night to see if we can get her flipped back around. Thinking that maybe she will eat more solids during the day if she is eating less at night. She is a big baby (95%ile ) and not failing to thrive in any way.
    My problem is that I have a hard time letting her CIO when I know she is hungry. But her eating 5x a night isn’t sustainable for any of us. I work full time and am absolutely exhausted.
    Would love any advice.

  9. @ rasha — we don’t recommend any kind of sleep training (including cry it out methods) until babies are 4 months or older. So you’ll want to wait until your daughter is at least 4 months before beginning sleep training.

    You can click through some of the links in this article to learn more about what cry it out methods are, and how they work. Hope that helps!

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