Heard about the Cry It Out method and wondering if it’s the right choice for you and your baby? We’ll take you through the details.
Getting your baby to sleep — and hopefully getting some shut-eye yourself — can be a monumental task in the early days of motherhood.
So if you’re on the hunt for methods to help you get into some sort of routine, you are far from alone.
The moment you start investigating sleep training methods, you may quite quickly come across the Cry It Out method — and, with it, a whole lot of divided opinion.
Don’t worry — we’re here to help.
We’ll take you through the details so that you can decide if this method is appropriate for you and your family.
In this article: 📝
- How does the Cry It Out method work?
- How long should I let a baby cry it out for?
- Is the cry out method cruel?
- The Cry It Out method — the bottom line
How does the Cry It Out method work?
Also known as extinction sleep training, the Cry it Out method (or CIO) involves putting your baby down and not responding to them until the next morning, even if they cry in the night.
It’s based on the idea that your baby will figure out how to fall asleep without assistance and learn to soothe themselves when needed.
Experts recommend waiting until your baby is at least four months old before starting any sort of sleep training.
By this stage, they may no longer need night feeds and are typically old enough to self-soothe.
According to the theory, when you put your baby down, they should be:
- Awake but drowsy — they should figure out the falling asleep part without your help
- Dry and changed
- Well fed
- Not ill or injured
So that means you’ll have to set a bedtime routine where you don’t rock or feed them to sleep.
And you’ll need to watch for cues that they might be tired.
These might include sucking their thumb, getting cranky, or pulling on their ears.
From there, your nightly ritual can kick into gear.
You can then give them a back pat or belly rub and whisper some supportive words before leaving their sleep space.
Once you’ve put them down, it’s normal for them to kick up a fuss.
(We know, this part can be super tough.)
But the idea is for them to develop the resources to calm themselves and learn how to fall asleep on their own.
If they wake up and cry in the middle of the night, the same applies — rather than going to them, let them cry it out on their own.
How long should I let a baby cry it out for?
If you’re going for the traditional Cry It Out method, it involves leaving your baby until morning. This can be a full twelve hours.
If you’re already stressed out by the thought of leaving them for this long, you’re not alone.
We probably don’t need to tell you that the idea of not responding to our babies when they sound distressed tends to go against our instincts.
Recent research in neurobiology has shown increased activity in various parts of our brain when we tend to our babies.
And the instinct for mothers worldwide is to respond to cries by picking up and holding their little ones.
So if this doesn’t feel like the right way for you to go, that’s totally fine.
There are also some gentler versions you can try. These include:
- The Ferber Method, which has some overlaps with the Cry It Out method. It involves letting your baby cry for a specific period of time before comforting them.
- The Chair Method, where you sit on a chair in your baby’s room while waiting for them to fall asleep, but without picking them up if they cry. You can comfort them in other ways — lullabies can be quite a hit.
- Pick Up, Put Down Method, where you cuddle them if they cry and place them back in their crib once they’ve calmed down.
And now for the big question: Is letting your baby cry it out bad for them?
Is the cry out method cruel?
Opinions are so mixed on whether the Cry It Out method is a good idea for babies.
Interestingly, while it’s now become known as a sleep training method, it may not have started out that way.
Way back in the late 19th century, the idea of “crying it out” appeared in pediatrician Luther Emmett Holt’s book The Care and Feeding of Children.
In the book, he responds to the question, “How is an infant to be managed that cries from temper, habit, or to be indulged?” with:
It should simply be allowed to “cry it out.” This often requires an hour, and in extreme cases, two or three hours. A second struggle will seldom last more than ten or fifteen minutes, and a third will rarely be necessary. Such discipline is not to be carried out unless one is sure as to the cause of the habitual crying.
So, back in the day, it wasn’t so much a sleep training method as it was a way of breaking a habit that may have developed.
More recent research from the American Academy of Sleep Medicine has shown that the Cry It Out method can help as a behavioral intervention in the treatment of bedtime issues and night wakings in young children and infants.
So what’s the downside here?
For some, the Cry It Out method stands in contrast to another popular trend called attachment parenting (AP), where you respond immediately to your baby.
This style is founded on what’s called attachment theory — a school of thought first developed by psychologist John Bowlby — that says the relationship between a caregiver and baby is essential for the infant’s health and survival.
According to attachment parenting, the Cry It Out method doesn’t work as intended.
If a child stops crying, it’s not because they have soothed themselves.
Rather, it’s because they no longer hold out hope that their mama (or other caregiver) is coming to bring them comfort.
And this lack of attachment when you’re a baby can have effects right into adulthood, where it can make it more of a struggle to find security in relationships.
So yep, there are many different theories here.
The Cry It Out method — the bottom line
What works for one family may not necessarily work for another. That’s mamahood.
Of course, you want to do your research to make informed decisions about what approaches to take. But then it’s up to you to decide.
And if you feel like bouncing around some ideas with your Peanut community, you’re always welcome.
All the best, mama.