Before we go any further, let me define what I mean when I say Cry It Out (controlled crying, self-soothing). It is not ignoring your baby’s cry to teach them not to cry. It is not ignoring their cries because you are busy or can’t be bothered to attend to them, and it is not a way to punish or discipline them. It is a method of sleep training that is used primarily to help your child learn to put themselves to sleep without any tricks or gimmicks on your part. Now that we’ve dispelled the myth that moms who use Cry It Out are just being hateful, let’s get into it.
1) Babies need to learn to sleep on their own. Putting your baby to bed with rocking, singing or any number of other tricks is not a helpful practice to start. Remember, we always want to start out how we can hold out. If you put them to sleep with tricks during the first few “easy” months then, by the time they are 4-6 months they will stop being as sleepy and you’ll have some real sleep struggles on your hands. They won’t fall asleep everywhere all the time and you will want them to be able to sleep in their crib. However, if you haven’t trained them to do this they will fight it. The training process will be louder, harder and more involved than it needed to be. I have friends who say at 4 months, “wow, now it’s getting tough” whereas I have said at 4 months- both times – wow, all the hard work is over. Thank you, Babywise. Sleep is very important and the sooner they learn to do it on their own, the sooner you’ll all benefit from it. Eventually they will have to learn, the question is, when do you want to put the work in? You’ll still have to train them at some point, so why wait? That is the definition of Credit Card Parenting.
2) In my experience with two babies, the unhappiness is momentary and the benefits are still coming. Nobody likes to listen to their baby cry. However, the reason that crying gets to us so badly is that we perceive something is terribly wrong with our baby and that they are in horrible pain. When using cry it out for sleep training, you only do this after you know their needs are met and the issue is simply learning to sleep. If they are well fed, clean, dry and otherwise okay, then letting them cry a little to learn to sleep will not hurt them. If you can pick them up and they immediately stop crying and smile, you know they are fine, they are just fighting sleep. If you sleep train from a very young age (like, birth) then most, if not all crying to get to sleep, is over and done with by 3 months. When they are newborns they are so sleepy that much of the time they fall to sleep without a peep. However, you’ve put them in the crib awake enough times that they are well-versed in going to sleep on their own and they keep at it. This also means naps are long, as in, 1.5 to 2 hours. Since they know how to put themselves to sleep, when they wake up mid-nap they will just go back to sleep. If you just let them randomly fall asleep when they want their naps are probably erratic, ill-timed and completely at their own convenience.
3) There are a few ways to go about it. Different parenting methods use cry it out in different ways. When it is time for nap time (and not when they’ve been up for hours and over tired) then you can sit with them upright until they are calm, put them in the crib drowsy but awake, ssshhhh them, and walk away. They may or may not cry for a few minutes and then drift into sleep. Some methods encourage letting the baby cry for 15 minutes, going back in and comforting them and leaving again. Eventually, and not after very long, they’ll get the hang of it and won’t cry just for you to help them sleep. You can also use cry it out when they are waking up in the night around the exact same time. If it’s the same time each night, you know it is a habit. You can try soothe them back to sleep by sshhh-ing, patting, and then putting them back. Nursing or giving the bottle to help them get back to sleep won’t break this habit because they are will get used to being fed at night and will want it. Also, they won’t ingest enough calories in the day if they are spreading them out through the night. Cry it out can be used to help kick bad habits. If you have a 1.5 year old or a 2-year-old who still wakes up habitually when you know they do not need food, it may require a little tough love if you care to fix it. This will come in handy immensely if you like schedules because you’ll know when the baby usually goes down and when they usually come up.
4) If you’re going to do it, then mean it. I don’t let my babies cry just to prove to them a point or teach them that crying is bad. In fact, crying is not bad. Crying is the only way babies can let out steam, frustration or express their desires/needs. If they are sick, scared or over tired then I don’t bother letting them cry it out. If you are in the habit of answering your baby’s first cry and then decide to try cry it out, you need to mean it. If 99% of the time you come running to their every sound and 1% of the time you don’t, don’t expect that 1% to change anything except the volume and ferocity of the baby’s cry. If listening to your baby cry is difficult (and we know it always is) then you can problem solve and be absolutely sure nothing is wrong before you let them cry to get to sleep. That will help you stick with it while the crying is in full force. With both of my children there have been times when I knew they were waking out of habit during the night and not out of hunger (because I had stuffed them absolutely full during the day) so I decided to do cry it out. The first night they both cried off and on for 45 minutes, the next 20 minutes, the next they slept through. From 4 months both of mine have slept 12 hours a night and taken many long daytime naps. This is not because I am special (although of course I’m special, who isn’t?) but because of sleep training utilizing cry it out.
I know many moms simply won’t be able to do it or don’t agree with it. I often think some people give cry it out a bad rap because they perceive it to mean mothers who use this just let their baby cry all day long to try to teach it to be silent. This is not the case. Cry it out is a method used to facilitate good sleeping. It is used when you are as sure as you can be that their needs are met and they are simply asserting their desire to not sleep or their initial difficulty putting themselves to sleep. But, as we’ve discussed before, kids do not actually know what’s good for them. Particularly babies. When you know your child is not getting enough sleep and you know they are fighting sleep and you are exhausted to the point of losing all your hair and sleeping standing up, maybe you could consider it. I’ve heard quite a few instances where mothers were simply too exhausted one night (after night after night of wakings) to get up and attend to the baby and they fell back asleep to the baby screaming. Never to repeat the nighttime waking again.
The goal is not that the baby sleeps so you have an easier life. The goal is that the baby sleeps so that the baby is well-rested, happier and able to learn and absorb the stimulus in their surroundings. Letting your children become exhausted (symptoms of sleep deprived kids here) is not fair to them and it does not set them up for successful habits later. Don’t knock it until you’ve tried it. I recognize that many mothers won’t agree with the method, but I have to say I’ve heard many a mother tell me they disagree with cry it out while simultaneously complaining that their babies never sleep, wake super early and won’t nap unless they are sitting upright in a la-z-boy while watching the food network….it’s your choice wise mommies!