This post may contain affiliate links. Read more on my disclaimers that is listed at the bottom of this page.
Deciding if you want to let your baby cry it out when it comes to sleep training is a big decision for many mamas. After all, our entire day (and night!) centers around NOT having crying babies, right? So, why would we opt to let them cry at nap or bedtime?
No Wrong Choice
In all honesty, there isn’t a wrong choice here. In fact, you’ll meet moms who have gone to all sorts of lengths to get their baby to sleep. Some you would consider trying, others you would not. I, for example, did not like my baby to sleep in her car seat very often. On the road it was obviously sometimes inevitable. However, once we were home, I preferred to move my baby to her bed because I was nervous about her suffocating (you can read about one mom’s tragic story here). Other moms may feel this is totally fine and have little to no fear of it happening.
The reality of it is this: we live in an age of constant information. You will always find something that supports both sides. So, you have to really focus on how you feel about it and if it makes sense for your family. You can ask yourself a few questions as you make this decision about letting your baby cry:
- Which causes more stress: letting my baby cry or my baby needing my assistance every time she needs to fall asleep or get back to sleep?
- Can I follow through on my decision? (Can you follow through with letting baby cry? Or, can you follow through with being a human pacifier or rocking baby for hours? This is an important question to consider because inconsistency will make everything much more difficult.)
- Is my partner on board with my decision?
- Are you doing what you feel is absolutely best for your child?
Just to give you some insight, I’ll answer the above questions for you from my own perspective as it pertained to decisions I made with my fourth child. I have made different choices with each child, by the way. That is totally ok to do! Just make the best decision you can with the child in front of you.
- My fourth baby, much like my third, needed to be able to get to sleep on her own because I already had the demands of other young children. So, while I was willing to do some of the rocking and holding, it had to be done in a less than quiet environment so I could keep an eye on the others, who ranged in age from 2-5. With that said, at a certain point (usually when the other kids needed more from me than I could do with an infant in my arms) baby girl had to be able to be laid down in her bed. I had to be ok with that and recognize that I had to take care of all my children, not just my baby.
- I always came up with ‘rules’ around my baby’s sleep. For example, once a baby is put down into bed, I do everything possible to not pick them up again. Also, I set a cap on how long I was willing to let baby fuss or cry. Finally, all my rules went out the window if a baby was sick. So, I always set up some guidelines for myself in order to make the decision something I could follow through on.
- Because my husband works outside the home and I stay at home, he always defaulted to whatever I wanted to do with our babies’ sleep. He did not get up in the middle of the night and was not home for naps. I also did a lot of reading and research to help make my decisions. So, mama’s way was the only way…this was our mutual agreement.
- Through all the reading I had done, I truly believe that sleep is so vital to the growth and development of my children that it was a top priority. It was as high on my list as what to feed them. So, I made my decisions with conviction and held to them, knowing I was doing what I believed to be best for my baby.
If you want to read more about how I got my kids to nap easily and well during the day, which led to them sleeping through the night very early, you can check out my new ebook: Every Mom’s Guide To Nap Time–The Ultimate Handbook To Getting GREAT Naps Everyday. You’ll find gentle nap training options included! Click here to check it out!
All Families Are Different
Something to keep in mind, even after answering these questions, is that all families are different. What works for one family may not work for another. An example of this is an early bedtime. My babies have had a 6pm bedtime until around two years of age, with the exception of my fourth who preferred a 7pm bedtime from about one year of age. I stay at home and because this is something that is important to me, I have always made it happen.
When I suggest a 6pm bedtime to mothers who work, they are never very big fans. Often, they literally can’t get their child to bed by 6pm because of the time it takes to pick the child up from daycare, make dinner and then be ready for bed. It’s not possible. Or, they don’t want that early of a bedtime because after working all day they want to spend time with baby. Both scenarios mean an early bedtime is not ideal for those families and that is totally ok.
Other families who feel an early bedtime doesn’t suit them usually include families who have a wide age range of children. So, the older kids may have school and sport activities that cause the family to be on the go often. These families often don’t get home till the later evening and unless one parent were to stay home to let baby sleep while the older kids participate, an early bedtime just won’t work.
You have to take your family’s priorities into consideration. In reality, only you can make sure that your baby getting all the sleep she needs is at the top of the list! Then it is up to you as to how you will make that happen.
5 Myths To Letting Baby Cry
As you make this choice, let’s dispel some of the untruths about letting baby cry. This needs to be done so that if you make this choice, you can do so knowing that your choice is not a bad one.
Something to point out here is that in this article, the only crying being discussed is protest crying. This does not include crying when baby is trying to communicate she doesn’t feel well, she is hungry or something is wrong. So, please keep that in mind as you read.
1. Letting my baby cry can cause her harm and stop us from bonding.
The brain functions differently when it is in biological awake mode versus when it is in biological sleep mode. The important bonding you will do with your baby will be when she is in biological awake mode. Amazingly, there is a difference between an awake brain and a sleeping brain. They even need different things! So, when baby is entering biological sleep mode, she needs sleep. She does not need parental interaction or any extra stimulation. Thus, the bond you may feel while holding your sleeping baby is likely much more about you than her. Not to say that is bad, but, you also don’t have to feel guilty about having baby laying baby down even when she protests with some fussing or crying.
2. All crying must be attended to, regardless of the time of day or night
Crying is the only way babies can communicate. So, when they are put in a bassinet or crib alone, they will let you know that they prefer the comfort of being with you, instead. This is called protest crying. It is not the same as when they are expressing a more urgent or distressing need. Rather, it is them communicating their displeasure with you putting them down. Sometimes learning new things is uncomfortable. This is no different for a baby. The difference between them and (maybe) your other children or an adult is that they use crying to express it.
An important note here is that things get more challenging when children develop a stronger sense of self agency. Self agency is the expression of likes and dislikes with greater energy and persistence. This causes children to become much more determined to stay awake when they should sleep. This will become stronger over time.
You can see how this plays out with a toddler. During this stage a child thinks they can do whatever they want, whenever they want. In our home, we commonly joke that our toddler runs the house. She has a very real sense of freedom and gets quite upset when we have to limit that freedom on a regular, daily basis. You will notice it at an even younger age when you realize that baby needs to have a diaper change. Often baby gets upset when you disrupt what she is doing to change the diaper. You have probably found yourself trying to distract baby, offer toys/books during changing time, etc to cut down on the resistance and protesting.
It is worth pointing out that if baby has not already learned how to fall asleep unassisted, as she develops a stronger sense of self agency, helping her fall asleep or return to sleep unassisted will be a challenge. And remember, you don’t leave your baby in a dirty diaper just because she does some protest crying. In the same way, you should not avoid helping baby learn to fall asleep unassisted because of the same behavior. In both cases, you are doing what is best for her and should feel proud of yourself, not guilty.
3. A pediatrician knows best when it comes to baby sleep
While I am not interested in making a blanket statement regarding all pediatricians, I just want to point out something I found interesting. According to Dr. Weissbluth, a pediatrician who researches and studies sleep in children, only about 4-5 hours of teaching regarding sleep is done in a three year pediatric residency program. I understand there is probably a lot to cover, but that seems insufficient to me. I think sleep is an integral part of both baby’s and mom’s health that must be given a lot more attention. So, while they may be an obvious and huge resource in raising baby, keep in mind that there are other resources available that may be even more useful when it comes to your child’s sleep needs!
4. Allowing my baby to cry makes me a bad mom
By who’s definition, I would ask!? You have only two things to consider when answering that question…are you healthy and happy and is your family healthy and happy. That’s it, mama. And when in doubt, refer to the points made above regarding changing your baby’s diaper. She may not like it, but you do it even if she cries about it. It’s just her way of talking to you and saying she isn’t the biggest fan. That’s ok. You are older and wiser and out of love, you are doing what’s best for her. Keep doing it!
One other thing to consider about letting baby cry is this: you do not have to let baby cry any longer than you are comfortable with. In fact, you may choose to go in and console baby after 5 minutes. Another mom may decide that 15 minutes is needed. It’s all ok because, as mentioned earlier, you are not harming your baby by letting her cry in protest about learning the new skill of sleep unassisted.
Another point of consideration is that many a mistake has been made by parents who respond too quickly to baby. Babies, particularly newborns, make a lot of grunts and fusses and little cries. This just happens as their immature brains are doing all sorts of funny things to them in these early months. It is also their response to moving between sleep cycles. It’s all ok and just give her some time to try it all out. She wants to sleep and she’s trying to do it.
Consider the child trying to learn a new skill, like adding numbers. We don’t swoop in and do the problem for them and then expect them to have learned it. They have to experience the struggle and find their way through in order to gain the new skill of being able to add numbers. Your newest little bundle learning to sleep is no different. Just give her some time to get through the struggle and she’ll come out an A+ sleeper!
5. ‘Cry it out’ means A LOT of crying
This is not the case, my dear mama friend! There really are a few options when it comes to choosing to let baby cry. Weisblutth lays out three sleep solutions, as he calls them.
- “No cry” sleep solution: this is actually what I used with both my third and fourth babies. It is more focused on: using baby’s natural sleep cycle, allowing baby lots of naps at the right times, using bedtime routines, emphasizes motionless sleep, encourages a good sleep environment (cool, dark room with a sound machine-this one is my FAV!) and controls the wake up times.
- “Maybe cry” sleep solution: this approach has some elements I used because I didn’t find it reasonable to expect that my baby would never cry when learning something new, like sleep unassisted. The elements of this solution include: regularly, early and parent-set bedtimes; using the motion of swings to help baby sleep; using rules regarding baby sleep, which can include silently returning baby to sleep by not talking or making eye contact; and correcting daytime nap and bedtime sleep problems.
- “Let cry” sleep solution (which is what you probably think of when people discuss ‘cry it out’ sleep training): this option uses extinction, which is when you allow baby to cry until the crying stops. This extinction may be practiced with or without a cap (set time you are willing to let baby cry) and with or without parent presence. You can also use graduated extinction as well as check and console for this option.
As you can see, the last option is much more brief in description. This is because there is much less to it given the fact that there is less parental involvement in baby learning to sleep unassisted. I used this third option with my first baby when she was two months old and my second baby when she was three months old. And it all went exactly as Weissbluth suggested it would for both babies.
According to Dr. Weissbluth, you can expect babies younger than four months to respond like this:
- Night 1: Crying lasts 3-45 minutes
- Night 2: Crying lasts 1-30 minutes
- Night 3: Crying lasts 0-10 minutes
- Night 4: No crying
With my first, her crying fell within these ranges and she was going to sleep unassisted without crying within a few days. In all honesty, I can’t exactly remember the times with my second, but I can confidently say they weren’t out of the above listed range either. After four, it’s all a blur! Ha!
Babies older than four months respond to extinction like this:
- Night 1: Crying lasts 45-55 minutes
- Night 2: A little more or less crying than night 1
- Night 3: Crying lasts 20-40 minutes
- Night 4: No crying
As you can see, both methods lead to the same ends: baby is no longer crying to go to sleep by the fourth night. In the big scheme of things, this is a very short process. So, if you plan to use this method, you can feel assured that the process is quick.
No cry solution
As I had more babies and continued learning about child sleep, I decided to try to get my third baby on a daytime nap schedule that would align with my 6pm bedtime goal very early on. This put me in the camp of using the ‘no cry’ sleep solution with a side of ‘maybe cry’. This is because I did all the things listed in the ‘no cry’ section, but was willing to let baby cry if needed while attending to my other kids.
Wonderfully, at 5 weeks my baby boy began sleeping through the night. This was because I worked to get his daytime naps happening at the right time. It was awesome! You can exactly how I did this in my new ebook, where I share all my nap secrets! Click here to check it out.
Fun fact about all of this: night time sleep is a by-product of day time sleep and day time sleep is a by-product of night time sleep. It’s a cycle. But that is also a good thing! When you work hard to help baby take great day time naps, you’ll see night time improvements! And vice versa.
This method ends up taking a lot of work on the front end. However, I enjoyed using this method with both my third and fourth babies. I figured that since I had learned a way to help my babies sleep without having them cry for even the small amount of time listed above, I wanted to try it. A benefit I also found in this method is that it gets baby on a great day time sleep schedule very early. That lays the foundation for many months to come, even years. It also makes mama’s job so much easier to have a baby who sleeps well both at night and during the day.
Tips To Start
Regardless of the sleep solution you choose, sometimes the hard part is just getting started! Here are some ideas and tips to get started in whatever way suits you, your baby and your family.
- Consider working on your sleep solution when you and your partner can work together on it. So, start on a Saturday when both will be home and when you can get a headstart on the new plan.
- Also, make sure your plan is something you are both in agreement with so that there is mutual support.
- There are times when a mama is totally overwhelmed because they have a baby who is not sleeping, which means mama isn’t sleeping. If you have a super supportive partner, consider letting them handle the first night of sleep training. If baby is crying, take a shower to help you relax and drown out some of the crying. Dad can handle it and you do not need to feel guilty about needing this help with your baby. There are two of your for a reason!
- If sleep training seems overwhelming, you can start small. Make one or two small changes that have a big impact. This could be moving bedtime up by 15 minutes. Or letting dad put baby down for one nap a day on the weekends when he is home during the day.
- Once you see these small things working, you will be encouraged to continue. You could choose to go all the way and choose one of the sleep solutions mentioned above. Or, you could choose just a few more changes to put into effect that will have a positive outcome on baby’s sleep.
Keep it slow or pick up the pace?
- As mentioned, you may decide to keep making a few changes at once. This could be because you are concerned that making big changes quickly could be too harsh. There are many mamas who feel this way. As they make small, positive changes though, they often start to pick up the pace with various elements of a sleep solution.
- Inconsistency is the killer, here. When you are sleep training your child using one of the three solutions mentioned, you must make somewhat of an overall plan. Then, come up with some guidelines for yourself and stick to them. If bedtime is going to be between 6:30-7pm each evening, do not be lax on this and offer baby an 8pm bedtime one or two nights a week. One or two nights a month, yes. But not per week. You have to stick to what you have decided as baby will quickly figure out that things are unpredictable or that you are willing to give in. In both cases, you will find no solution to your sleep problem.
- A time when it is appropriate to do something gradually is when baby is dropping a nap. For example, when my babies have dropped their third nap, I sometimes had to bump bedtime up by 15-20 minutes and move it back over the course of the week.
- A time when it is appropriate to make a more dramatic change is when you are not capping the morning nap and need to. It is ok to decide that from this day forward you will only allow baby a one hour morning nap so she can more easily take her long, midday nap.
You Got This!
I know it can feel overwhelming, but you really are going to be able to do this! You will be so happy with it and so will your baby. This means you will both enjoy your days (and nights!) together so much more!
Other articles you may enjoy: