To Cry It Out or Not To Cry It Out: That Is the Sleep Question

One of the tradeoffs of taking home a bundle of joy is losing sleep. No one gets less shut-eye than a parent of a newborn, especially a colicky one. The demand for care is constant: feed, burp, change, swaddle, rock, repeat. This nightly routine easily burdens both new and veteran parents. The plea for help is evident in the endless supply of books, techniques, and tips for getting babies to fall and stay sleep.

The majority of parents promote some form of crying it out, also known as sleep training. For how long and to what intensity you should allow your baby to cry depends on the program. These solutions can spark feelings of guilt or doubt in new parents, leaving them clueless as to what else to do for everyone to get enough rest.

Unfortunately, there are only two sides to choose from: you either think crying it out is okay or you don’t. There doesn’t seem to be much of a middle ground. It’s one of the most charged and debated subjects in the mommy wars. So what’s a parent to do when sleep deprivation starts making you crazy?

a cute newborn baby crying in front of her mother

a cute newborn baby crying in front of her mother

Let Baby Cry It Out (CIO)

Common Methods

The advice you will receive the most from others is to let your baby cry to sleep. It’s the fastest way to end the routine of waking up every couple of hours. The most popular programs are:

  • The Ferber method: This originated from a 1985 book entitled Solve Your Child’s Sleep Problems by Richard Ferber, a pediatrician.
  • The Baby Wise approach: This comes from the book On Becoming Baby Wise by Robert Bucknam, also a pediatrician, and another author, Gary Ezzo.
  • Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child: This book written by pediatrician Mark Weissbluth discusses sleep habits all the way to adolescence.

There are many more available that fall all over the CIO spectrum, from gentler techniques to the strictest ones. The basic idea is that babies learn to fall asleep on their own and soothe themselves back to sleep when they wake up so that you don’t have to. Programs usually follow a set schedule because consistency helps babies adapt better and at a healthy pace, as it would be very difficult to ignore all-night screaming from trying to start cold turkey.

One technique is staying next to the crib until the baby falls asleep and gradually moving farther away until you no longer need to be in the room at all for your baby to go to sleep. Another is going in to comfort your baby at gradually increased time intervals until your baby falls back asleep without your help.

Benefits of CIO

There’s no doubt that CIO gets babies to sleep or it wouldn’t be so popular. The biggest benefit is that everyone gets more sleep, and with more sleep comes less stress and more energy for you, and a better immune system, happier mood, and growth for your baby. It can also positively influence your relationship with your partner.

Its quickness makes it the most convenient approach for parents who work or have a strict daytime schedule for other reasons. Not everyone has the time or patience to put a baby to sleep over and over. Sleep training gives parents more control and predictability.

Many parents like the idea of CIO but worry about its effects on their babies. An Australian study researched the long-lasting consequences of using sleep training and not using it and found no difference in the different children’s emotional development, sleep problems, and behavior.

Related: Why Do Babies Cry?

Don’t Let Baby Cry It Out

Common Methods

The opposite of CIO doesn’t mean you have to cater to your baby’s every cry and give up sleep altogether. It simply means you don’t use CIO to help your baby fall asleep. The most effective alternative is Elizabeth Pantley’s No-Cry method.

Her first book was The No-Cry Sleep Solution, and her library now extends to no-cry solutions specifically for infants, toddlers, nap time, discipline, picky eating, separation anxiety, and potty training. She shows how it’s possible to solve common parenting problems, including babies who won’t sleep, without resorting to letting your baby cry it out. Her approach works whether you use cribs or co-sleep.

It’s important to know that being anti-CIO doesn’t mean you never let your baby cry. When you’re having your own meltdown, it’s in your baby’s best interest for you to put him or her down to cry while you calm down. Anger and frustration can lead to you taking it out on your child, causing shaken baby syndrome, which is exceedingly more harmful to babies than crying. It’s also important to be aware that this approach isn’t a quick fix, so it takes more time than CIO programs.

Benefits of No-Cry Solutions

The biggest benefit of not using CIO is having a better parent-baby relationship. Responding to your baby’s cries leads to:

  • More trust in you
  • Increased bonding between you
  • Emotional security for your baby
  • Refined maternal instincts for you
  • Higher success with breastfeeding

It’s no secret that parenting isn’t easy, but convenience can rob you of the opportunity to get to know your child at a deeper level. No-cry methods allow you to practice learning and responding correctly to your baby’s needs. And needs they are. Babies don’t know how to be manipulative, and they can’t talk to communicate how they’re feeling. Crying is their way of asking for what they need, including comfort and safety. Meeting their emotional needs is critical during the first two years of life in establishing secure attachments and appropriate independence. The results are happy, healthy children, both now and in the future.

Because no-cry sleep techniques also lead to more sleep, you and your baby will experience the same physical benefits that come with traditional sleep training.

Harms of CIO

Advocates of not letting babies soothe themselves to sleep tend to focus on the harms of CIO methods. These negative consequences include:

  • The presence of stress. Just because a baby stops crying doesn’t necessarily mean he or she isn’t in distress. It may mean that he or she knows crying won’t provide needs, so the baby suffers in silence instead.
  • Brain damage. The stress from crying or feeling ignored leads to higher levels of cortisol, which damages neurons in the brain.
  • Emotional problems later in life. CIO can lead to distrust toward adults and society in general.
  • No modeling of self-regulation. Babies learn how to self-soothe from how their caregivers soothe them.
  • Growth problems. Infants who sleep through the night too early don’t get the nutrition they need from night feedings. This may lead to weight loss and growth inhibition.

Many studies, analyses, pediatricians, and other health professionals have confirmed the physical, mental, and emotional harms that come from sleep training.

Related: How Do I Stop My Baby from Crying?

Good or Bad?

Now that you have both sides of the debate, do you think CIO is good or bad or just a personal preference? Would you try it? Which specific method do you use? Were you successful in getting your baby to sleep without CIO? Please share your beliefs and stories with the KAMO family in the comments below, or join the discussion on this and other parenting debates by following us on Facebook (kamofamily), Twitter (@kamo_family), and Instagram (@kamofamily).

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