Sleep training is an important part of every child’s upbringing and development. Some parents begin experimenting with sleeping techniques once their baby is over 6 months old. Choosing a sleep training method is a personal choice and varies from one parent to the next based on a variety of factors. Cry it out (CIO) is a common sleep training method that is widely recognized all over the world.
Deciding to implement this technique can be really tough as it takes a toll on parents’ emotional and mental well-being as well. Any parent’s immediate instinct to their baby crying is to console them. And this technique leads to passionate debates between parents and experts. While some people regard the practice as unacceptable, others disagree and believe that a baby should learn to self soothe and Cry it out (CIO) leads to no harm as long as the baby is safe and secure.
The cry it out (CIO) method is pretty self explanatory. The technique involves letting your baby cry without responding to or consoling them. The idea behind this method is that a baby will eventually learn to self-soothe and lull themselves to sleep. And self soothing may lead to solid and more independent sleep skills over time.
Healthline experts define the cry it out method as an umbrella term used to describe several different methods that involve letting a baby cry as they learn to fall asleep on their own.
There is the “Ferber Method” which encourages parents to only check on the baby in specific time increments when they are crying. Other sleep training methods that involve varying degrees of crying it out, including Weissbluth’s Method, Murkoff’s Method, Hogg and Blau’s Method.
The CIO method may seem harsh at first. However, some experts share that if a parent constantly picks up their child when they wake up at night, their child is less likely to learn how to fall asleep on their own. Differing opinions on the topic exist and no conclusive evidence exists at the time.
In this article you will read everything you need to know about letting your baby cry it out.
Table of Contents Hide
- How does the Cry It Out method work?
- Tips for using Cry It Out for sleep training
- Should you let your baby cry it out for naps?
- Can you let a newborn cry it out?
- What is self-soothing?
- When should I let my baby self soothe?
- How long is too long to cry it out?
- Does cry it out cause attachment issues?
- What are the pros and cons of cry it out?
How does the Cry It Out method work?
The theory of the cry it out method is that if you allow your baby to cry for set periods of time before offering some reassurance and comfort, they will eventually learn to self soothe and go to sleep (or back to sleep) on their own.
If this sounds like something you can be comfortable with, then there are a couple of things you need to know.
Contrary to popular belief, cry it out doesn’t mean leaving your baby to cry all night long without giving them any attention or comfort. That it simply not possible.
The Ferber Method, which is one of the most popular cry it out techniques, tells you to wait until your baby is ready to sleep through the night both emotionally and physically. This means you should wait until your baby is 6 months old, at least, before starting use of this method.
We all know that every baby is different as is every parent and family. What works for one baby may not work for the other.
So if you feel that your baby’s needs, your vision of life, expectations and so on, don’t fit with the cry it out method, then don’t opt for it. But if you are inclined to try out the CIO method, you can read on to learn how it works.
First, sit with yourself and figure out if you are ready and comfortable attempting CIO. As previously mentioned, this technique can take a toll on your emotional and mental well-being as well as comfort levels. If you feel like you are ready then…
- When your baby is sleepy but still awake, put your baby in the crib.
- Kiss your baby, say goodnight, and leave the room. If the crying starts when you have left, wait for a set time.
- If the crying continues for the set time, go back into your baby’s room for a minute or two, no longer. Gently reassure your baby in a soothing, quiet voice but do not pick them up. Leave the room again while your baby is still awake, even if they’re still crying.
- Stay out of the room, this time for a little longer. Follow the same routine of comforting and leaving, extending the periods outside the room until you reach a maximum. Continue with this until your baby falls asleep when you aren’t in the room.
- When your baby wakes again, follow the same steps, starting with the minimum interval and increasing them as you did before.
- Each night, you can increase the amount of time you set between visits to the nursery if you are ready and comfortable. Try to carry on for up to a week, but if your baby is not adjusting to the method, wait for a week or so before trying again.
- Be consistent. The key to cry it out and other sleep training methods is following the same routine, night after night.
You can refer to the following table which highlights the recommended time intervals for the Ferber method:
These times are not set in stone, and you can choose how long you wait before comforting your child. You can start with a lesser amount of time as well. The important thing to remember is to be consistent and keeping the duration of the intervals and that between the intervals regular.
Tips for using Cry It Out for sleep training
While we know and agree that every baby is different, there are some things you can try to help make this method work.
Create a safe sleep environment
Your baby’s safety will always come above all and before anything.
First and foremost, regardless of the technique you choose for sleep training, you should create a safe sleep environment for your baby.
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends the following tips to ensure safe sleep:
- Place infants on their backs for sleep in their own sleep space with no other people.
- Use a crib, bassinet or portable play yard with a firm, flat mattress and a fitted sheet. Avoid sleep on a couch or armchair or in a seating device, like a swing or car safety seat (except while riding in the car).
- Keep loose blankets, pillows, stuffed toys, bumpers and other soft items out of the sleep space as it increases chances of suffocation.
- Avoid smoking in or around your baby’s sleep environment.
Establish a bedtime routine
An appropriate bedtime routine will let your baby realize that it is time to go to sleep.
A soothing bath, feeding, reading a book, or singing might all be part of your bedtime routines. Whatever it is you choose to include as part of your bedtime routine, you should ensure consistency with those activities i.e. carrying them out at the same time, every night.
With an appropriate bedtime routine, your baby will:
- fall asleep faster
- stay asleep for longer
- have better sleep quality
- sleep through the night over time
- experience elevated moods
A bedtime routine is very important since it allows your baby to expect what is coming next.
Agree on a plan with your partner for when you want to start sleep training.
Set the times for your intervals out of the nursery and try to stick to them. Make sure you both fully understand how it works and what roles you’re going to play.
Being in a cooperation as parents plays great importance, especially supporting each other when the going gets tough.
Be gentle with yourself
It is likely that you will loose some sleep when you begin trying out CIO.
- Try to start on a night when you won’t be affected so much by sleep deprivation.
- Start this when you have a reduced work schedule or some time off.
It might be difficult to properly carry out CIO until you organize things at your end. You might end up in tears when you hear your baby crying. You might abandon this method altogether. These are all perfectly normal responses.
It is very important for you to be aware of your own needs and feelings and ask for help during this period.
Try to find some methods to soothe yourself as well as it will help you better administer this method to your little one. You can choose to listen to music, take a shower or refresh yourself to better prepare yourself.
The first night of sleep training is always the hardest – for you and your baby. But you will most probably notice an improvement with each following night. If this method is one that suits you and your baby, you will notice great results over time. The important thing is to be consistent and not to lose hope.
And if that’s not the case? It may be time to move on to a new method.
Even after you’ve finished sleep training, you can expect your baby to regress occasionally when they’re sick, when you’re travelling, or when some form of change occurs in your or their life. This is referred to as sleep regression and is also a normal part of the process (which is to be expected).
Consider trying something else
The cry it out method might work for some babies and might completely fail with others.
If you feel like you need to do things differently, don’t be afraid to explore other options. The main goal of sleep training methods is to ensure your baby rests well and adjusts their routine and patterns.
Should you let your baby cry it out for naps?
According to some experts, if you’re trying the CIO method at nighttime, you should also let your baby cry it out for naps. It is all about consistency.
Some babies have short nap times for about 30 minutes. If your baby is one of them, you might have difficulties in setting the time limit for letting your baby cry it out. Experts recommend spending around 10 minutes before trying another sleep training method or even giving up on the nap for that day.
After about a week of nighttime sleep training, nap times might get easier. At that point your baby will have gotten used to the idea that being put in the crib means that it’s time to sleep.
Dr. Harvey Karp, author of the Happiest Baby on the Block, proposes more “gentler” alternatives for sleep training and shares: “Even if you’ve opted for cry it out at night, I’d avoid this method during the day.” You can get more information about Dr. Harvey Karp’s point of view on cry it out method from here.
Can you let a newborn cry it out?
Truth be told, the answer is no. Any form of sleep training is not appropriate for a newborn. A newborn needs to be fed every 2 to 3 hours including during the night.
Responding to their cries signals to your newborn that their needs are being met and they are safe and secure. This helps them form healthy attachments and lays the foundation for learning how to regulate their emotions.
What is self-soothing?
Self-soothing means developing emotional self-regulation. Some babies start to develop self soothing from around the age of 6 months. Some are excellent self soothers right from the beginning but this is really very rare.
Babies who self-soothe are able to fall back asleep on their own with little to no crying at all. They may wake up, briefly make some noise, and then fall back to sleep.
Some babies learn to self-soothe naturally as they get older. However, in other cases, parents or caregivers try to encourage the behavior through various techniques.
Methods for self-soothing can be controversial. Some people believe that babies cannot or should not have to self-soothe, while others believe it to be vital for their well-being.
However, there is no conclusive evidence that babies who can self-soothe are more healthy than those who cannot yet self-soothe. There is also no consensus on whether the techniques people use to encourage it are beneficial or harmful as stated in the article of Medical News Today.
When should I let my baby self soothe?
The age at which babies are able to self-soothe can vary depending on the baby and their sleep environment.
Typically, newborns are incapable of self-soothing, and encouraging them to do so can cause more harm than good. A newborn’s sleep pattern is generally irregular and they need to feed frequently to grow in a healthy manner and gain weight.
Babies don’t have regular sleep cycles until they’re about 3 to 6 months old, when they transition from shorter to longer sleep cycles and more non-REM sleep. But as your baby shifts between REM and non-REM sleep stages, they may wake up and find themselves unable to go back to sleep. It is important to note that adults and older children also wake up during the night, but fall back asleep immediately.
By the time your baby is 3 to 6 months old, or about 12 to 13 pounds, they’re capable of sleeping for longer stretches. But they might need your help with learning how to self-soothe and fall asleep without you.
It is possible for some babies to self-soothe at around 3 or 4 months of age as some studies share. As your baby gets older and their sleep patterns become more regular, self soothing becomes easier.
How long is too long to cry it out?
Unfortunately, there’s really no single answer to this question.
The possible goal of CIO is to have your baby fall asleep without sleep associations such as being rocked, fed, sung to etc.
According to CIO, if your baby wakes up in the middle of the night you should give them a chance to self soothe and go back to sleep on their own. You should only pick your baby up at a set time in the morning for their first feeding of the day.
However, you know your baby best. So, if you are worried that your baby is crying because they are sick or hurt or something else is going on with your little one, check on them to be sure everything is alright. Try to keep the check-in as brief as possible avoiding interaction with your baby unless there is a problem.
Always keep in mind that the cry it out method is not right for every baby and every parent. And you can be able to tell within a few days whether it’s right for you or not.
Some experts recommend that if your baby is still crying hard after 3 nights or a week at longest, you should pause and try another sleep training method.
Does cry it out cause attachment issues?
Attachment theory suggests that prompt parental responses to an infant’s needs are essential to forming a good quality relationship between the infant and the parent.
Infant crying is considered a social behavior that hardwires parents to respond to their infant and is thus seen as a precursor of secure attachment between the baby and the parents.
From an attachment theory point of view, if parents ignore their baby’s crying, this could harm the development of a secure relationship between them and their baby.
What are the pros and cons of cry it out?
Getting to know the pros and cons of CIO method might help you decide whether this method is right for you and your baby.
Pros of crying it out
- Some parents find that cry it out works relatively quickly, often within 3 days.
- Some babies whose parents undertook sleep training of any kind around 6 months show better self-soothing at a year old.
- Some research shows that babies with a settled bedtime routine had fewer behaviorial problems as babies and toddlers.
Cons of crying it out
- Some people believe that not responding to a baby’s cries at bedtime has become a part of a rigid Western cultural approach to child-rearing, which is not appropriate for every parent or baby.
- Some research suggests that not attending to your baby if they’re upset, affects secure attachment and the ability to regulate feelings as an adult.
- Carrying out cry it out can be stressful. Some parents find that it goes against all their instincts to repeatedly not pick their baby up if their little one appears to be upset.
- Cry it out can create a lot of noise, and worrying about other family members, noise levels, or neighbors can add to stress levels.
You can work on your own sleep habits with your baby without sticking to any specific sleep training method. Below are some tips that might help you:
- Keep a consistent bedtime routine each night and place your baby in their crib drowsy but awake.
- Let your baby fuss a bit.
- Try to understand what is developmentally appropriate and what to expect from your baby when it comes to night wakings and/or feedings.
- Don’t fret if the methods you’re trying aren’t working. Some babies are born good sleepers. But for others, it is a process that can take some time.
If you have concerns about your baby’s sleep habits, don’t hesitate to make an appointment with your doctor.
References: michiganmedicine.org, happiestbaby.com, health.harvard.edu, thebump.com, psychologytoday.com, webmd.com, healthline.com, whattoexpect.com, nct.org.uk, babycenter.com, health.clevelandclinic.org,