Cry It Out: the Good, the Bad and the Ugly
Let’s talk about the elephant in the room. Cry It Out is the most controversial and widely discussed method of sleep training. Today, I’ll walk you through it and answer some common questions on the topic.
Is Cry It Out harmful, or even abusive? Is it safe to let a little baby cry for long periods to time alone? Does it even work?
Start with this thought. How does this picture make you feel?
Nobody likes to hear a baby cry. Our instinct is to immediately comfort any crying baby that we see, let alone our own precious child!
Having said that, the fact that nobody likes to admit is that ALL forms of sleep training, even the no-cry methods, involve some amount of crying. Every last one. Some methods are more limited in the amount of time that baby can cry, many vary between the comforting methods that you can use to help your baby, but they all include some tears.
The main differences between each method are how much crying is involved, and how much you as a parent are involved in the comforting process.
For parents who can’t handle hearing their baby cry, Chair in The Room is a sleep training method where you sit in a chair right next to your baby’s crib, and help them fall asleep right there with them. Each night, you move the chair a bit further away from the crib until baby can fall asleep on their own. This method sounds tear-free, but the first few nights usually have crying or at least a fair amount of fussing until baby learns to soothe themselves. The reason this method is considered gentle is that there is a lot of comforting from mom’s end when baby cries.
Quick Checks, which fall somewhere in the middle of the crying-spectrum, are when mom gives baby a set amount of time (say, 10 minutes) where they can fuss and find their way to soothe themselves before going in to check on them. That method also involves crying, with mom coming in to comfort baby every few minutes.
Cry It Out is at the furthest end of the spectrum, with zero comforting. Mom says good-night to baby and doesn’t return until the morning. The Ferber method is closer to this end of the spectrum, with check-ins that get spaced further and further apart as the night progresses.
The great thing about parenting is that it’s a private, individual process for each family, and you get to choose which sleep training method speaks to you.
However, it would be unwise to deceive ourselves and pretend that sleep training has no crying involved.
I see sleep training in a similar vein of teaching your child any other skill that they don’t want to do. Most toddlers dislike like brushing their teeth or saying goodbye to mommy on the first day of preschool. Crying is ok. Emotions are allowed.
Some would go so far as to say that if your children aren’t unhappy about things you are doing, you’re not doing your job! Which child would clean up their toys, take a bath and eat their vegetables if their parents didn’t set limits?
Whether your baby will cry or not is not the question when it comes to sleep training. They will cry, I assure you. The question is how much crying you feel comfortable with as a parent, and how involved in the comforting process do you want to be.
Many parents would never choose to let their baby cry it out, and some feel that they have exhausted all other efforts and don’t know what else to do. The truth is that there are plenty of gentle sleep training methods that work.
However, sometimes things come to a point where parents feel that their only option is to let their baby cry it out. While I don’t necessarily advocate letting a baby cry for extended periods of time, if you do choose to implement Cry It Out, make sure that you keep to the following guidelines:
1. Discuss your plan with your baby’s pediatrician and follow their advice. If your baby has recently started waking up at night after sleep well for a period of time, medical issues such as ear infections or reflux must be ruled out before starting any form of sleep training.
2. Never let a baby younger than 6 months cry for an extended period of time
3. Approach your sleep training plan with total resolve. It’s extremely unfair to your baby to let them Cry It Out and then go into their room halfway through the process because you couldn’t hold out. Make a decision and stick to it.
4. Have a clearly defined plan. Decide if you will leave a video monitor on or not and plan for ways to soothe yourself when you hear your baby crying (one mom I know left the house and had Daddy stay at home with her baby because she wanted to let her baby Cry It Out but couldn’t bear to hear the crying.)
Cry It out is at the extreme end of the spectrum when it comes to sleep training. Most parents who implement it have already tried other sleep training techniques that haven’t worked for them.
I am not an advocate of Cy It Out, no do I take the position that it’s never necessary. I do believe that parents who are passionately against hearing their baby cry for a long time can work around it and use a more gentle method to achieve results.
However, the beautiful thing about being a parent is that you get to make your own choices in raising your child. You have the prerogative to do what you think is right in every scenario that arises.
If you do choose to let your baby cry it out, make sure to discuss with your pediatrician beforehand and follow the guidelines mentioned above. If the idea of letting your baby cry it out makes you shudder, you’re not doomed to sleepless nights! There are plenty of sleep training methods that work which will allow you to assist your baby along the road to a good night’s sleep.
If you know any sleep-deprived and exhausted moms in your life, please share this article with them. It may be the first step they take towards better sleep for their family!