Cry It Out: the Good, the Bad and the Ugly
It’s become a phrase that mamas are scared to let pass through their lips. Oh the shame, the guilt, the fear dredged up when we speak those three horrifying words: Cry It Out.
Guess what, mama? This little corner of the internet is a safe space. No drama, just the facts. So let’s break them down.
Is Cry It Out Harmful?
Nobody likes to hear a baby cry. Our instinct is to immediately comfort any crying baby that we see. And this is amplified times ten when it’s our own baby who’s doing the crying.
But there’s also another dirty little secret about baby sleep that no one likes to admit.
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, and they vary in the soothing methods that you can use to help your baby, but they all include tears.
Sleep Training Methods
Pick Up Put Down has you pick your baby up and soothe him every time he cries. When he stops crying, lay him back down. Mama resumes this pattern until baby falls asleep. There is still crying with this method, and a lot of hands-on reassurance throughout the process.
For parents who can’t bear the thought of leaving their baby alone for even a moment, Chair in The Room has you sit in a chair right next to your baby’s crib, and help him fall asleep right there with him. Each night, you move the chair a bit further away from the crib until your baby can fall asleep on his own. This method sounds tear-free, but the first few nights usually have a fair amount of crying until the baby learns to sleep independantly. The reason this method is considered gentle is because there’s a lot of comforting from mama’s end when baby cries.
Quick Checks, which fall somewhere in the middle of the crying-spectrum, are when you give your baby a set amount of time (say, 10 minutes) to find their way to calm themselves before going in to check on them. That method also involves crying, with mama 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 (not a method I endorse). 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 her toys, take a bath and eat her vegetables if parents didn’t set limits?
Whether your baby will cry or not is not the question when it comes to sleep training. He 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 you want to be.
Many parents would never choose to let their baby Cry It Out, while 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 middle-of-the-road 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 personally advocate for this method, if you do choose to implement Cry It Out, make sure that you keep to the following guidelines:
- 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 food sensitivities must be ruled out before starting any form of sleep training.
- Never let a baby younger than 5 months cry for an extended period of time
- Approach your sleep training plan with total resolve. It’s unfair to let your baby Cry It Out and then go into his room halfway through the process because you couldn’t hold out. Make a decision and stick with it.
- 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 believe that parents get to make choices. That’s the beautiful thing about being a parent: you make your own choices in raising your child. You have the prerogative to do what you think is right in every scenario.
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.