As a new parent, you will do almost anything to shush your baby’s tears. You feed and rock and bounce and pat and change your baby in an effort to comfort and ensure that all of their needs are met. This is natural and normal for the day-to-day parenting of a newborn. But sometimes, in our rush to stop the crying, we might miss the opportunity to learn our baby’s cries, understand their different tones, and learn how and when to respond accordingly. When your baby cries now, you probably jump and go through a number of things to shush your baby, but is that what your baby needs? What if your baby is crying because they’re overtired and don’t know how to sleep without being rocked, fed, or patted to sleep? That’s all they know until they learn to self-soothe, and lull themselves to sleep.
Is it OK to Let Baby Cry Until They Fall Asleep?
So you’re here wondering, is it OK to let a baby cry it out? When it comes to sleep training, there’s a lot of controversy about whether or not you should let your baby “cry it out”. These words “cry it out” are frankly outdated and confusing because everyone has a different understanding of what it means. For example, most people think “cry it out” means closing the door, letting the baby cry all night, then seeing them in the morning. Or, they think “cry it out” means something like Richard Ferber’s method of intermittent checks (eg let your baby cry for 3 minutes, then 5 minutes, then 7 minutes, with check-ins at each interval). Or, there’s the Pick Up and Put down method with timed checks, or the Chair method where you gradually sneak out of the room. There’s a lot of crying involved in all of these methods so it’s no wonder sleep training is still called “cry it out”. The idea most parents object to is leaving the baby to cry and cry until they simply give up hope, but that’s not what sleep training is all about! Sleep training is about teaching your baby a new skill – the skill of self-soothing and learning to drift off to sleep without assistance. Will there be crying? Yes. No matter what method of sleep training you choose (even the so-called “gentle” brand), there will always be some crying. But it will be limited and easier or longer and harder depending on which method you choose to sleep train your baby. If you work with Mommywise, we will minimize the tears and confusion and get you sleeping through the night in as little as 2-3 nights.
Is Letting a Baby “Cry It Out” Damaging?
No! Sleep training (aka “Cry It Out”) is not damaging. There’s a plethora of research that shows the benefits of uninterrupted sleep for babies far outweigh the temporary discomfort from sleep training. Also, your bond is not so fragile. You’ve spent weeks or months investing in your baby’s bond, I promise they’re secure enough to know that even if they can’t see you for 12 minutes or 12-hours, they know you’re coming back! Now, your baby will cry when you change up their bedtime routine from rocking and patting to putting them down wide awake, but that’s normal and temporary. In the morning, even though there may have been some tears overnight, your baby will still smile when they see you in the morning!
Now I’m not saying that you should ignore your baby’s cries. I’m just saying that crying is a normal and healthy behavior, and though it’s excruciating to hear your baby cry, it’s not damaging. I ugly cried the other day because I was tired and hormonal and frankly, I just needed to get it out! Our cultural-adult tendencies are to squelch tears, but sometimes we just need to cry, and so do our kids, despite our attempts to stop them. Older kids cry when they’re hungry or tired, or need to pee but don’t want to stop playing, or simply because they can’t have candy for dinner. Eventually, as our babies grow into kids, we become accustomed to crying and realize that it’s just part of parenting, and sometimes, our kids just need to get it out, just like we do!
Judgment About Sleep Training
One of the main obstacles we see around sleep training (aka “Cry it Out”) is the judgment involved. So as best as you can, try to ignore all the theories and opinions that don’t work for you and your family. If you want to co-sleep and you’re all sleeping well, who cares what your co-worker thinks?!? But if your 4-month-old is waking every hour, and you’re feeling drunk with exhaustion, you shouldn’t rule out sleep training because you read an article critiquing it or that your mother-in-law objects.
How Long Can I Let My Baby Cry?
The question isn’t so much a matter of time, but the sound of your baby’s voice coupled with their body language. If you’re sleep training and your baby’s cry sounds abnormal or like they’re in pain, you don’t need to wait for 3-5 minutes to check on them. They might have a burp or other genuine need. But if they’re just fussing and whining, can you give your baby more time and wait until they actually need something before you intervene? I write a lot more about how we at Mommywise sleep train babies in this piece, Is Cry it Out the Best Method?
Does Age Play a Role in Crying it Out?
Yes, age plays a role in Cry it Out (aka sleep training). We would never sleep train a newborn. In fact, we would never sleep train a baby under 12 weeks or 12 pounds unless we have the OK from your pediatrician and you and your baby are ready for independent sleep. Note that Tribeca Pediatrics (the largest practice in NYC) recommends Cry it Out sleep training starting at 8 weeks. In fact, though most families object to it, Tribeca Pediatrics recommends that babies be sleep trained between 8-12 weeks before they hit developmental leaps of the 4-month sleep regression, teething, etc. It’s a little controversial, as you can imagine!
We at Mommywise would also not recommend Cry it Out sleep training a toddler in a Big Kid bed. They’re too old for that and besides, they can climb out of their beds! For toddlers, we use more of a child psychology and positive behavior modification approach. Though most of the babies we sleep train are between 12 weeks and 5 months, we sleep train babies up to about 18 months, and toddlers after about 2.5 years old.
Ready for help sleep training your baby?