Cry It Out Method Explained: Is It Cruel?

Cry It Out Method

In today’s fast-paced world, where many parents navigate the challenges of parenthood alone, securing adequate sleep for both themselves and their little ones can be a daunting task.

All babies are different, which only makes the situation more difficult if yours is a frequent waker. Is there something wrong? Have you done something wrong? What is the secret solution everyone else seems to have mastered?

Amidst this struggle, the controversial practice of “cry it out” sleep training has emerged as a potential solution, sparking heated debates and leaving many caregivers grappling with conflicting emotions and uncertainties.

Full disclosure here, I used the cry it out method with my little one, and it worked. It took 3 nights, the first with 45 minutes of solid screaming, the next with 25 minutes, and on night 3 he went to sleep after just 8 minutes.

Understanding Cry It Out

The “cry it out” method, often referred to as CIO or controlled crying, encompasses a range of techniques aimed at teaching babies to self-soothe and fall asleep independently.

While the specifics may vary, the core principle involves allowing infants to cry for predetermined intervals before responding, gradually increasing the duration between check-ins.

Proponents of CIO argue that this approach helps babies develop crucial self-regulation skills, enabling them to transition from reliance on external soothing to falling asleep on their own.

By doing so, they assert, both parents and children can enjoy longer stretches of uninterrupted sleep, fostering overall well-being and a healthier family dynamic.

Common Misconceptions: Separating Fact from Fiction

One of the most pervasive myths surrounding CIO is the assumption that it is synonymous with a harsher approach, where infants are left to cry indefinitely without any parental intervention.

However, this notion is far from accurate, as modern sleep training methods encompass a spectrum of gentler techniques, often involving gradual, responsive approaches.

Dr. Jodi Mindell, a renowned psychologist and sleep expert, emphasizes that the term “sleep training” is an umbrella term encompassing various strategies, many of which involve parental presence and comforting techniques.

These methods can range from camping out near the baby’s crib to educating parents on infant sleep patterns and cues.

Scientific Insights and Research

Baby Sleep Training CIO

As the debate surrounding CIO intensifies, it is crucial to examine the scientific evidence. Numerous studies have been conducted to evaluate the efficacy and potential impacts of sleep training methods, yielding valuable insights.

One notable study, led by Dr. Harriet Hiscock, a pediatrician at the Royal Children’s Hospital in Melbourne, Australia, investigated the long-term effects of gentle sleep training techniques. This randomized controlled trial, considered the gold standard in medical research, involved over 200 families and found no detrimental effects on children’s emotional health, behavior, or parent-child relationships five years after implementing sleep training.

However, it is important to note that the study did not specifically test the “cry it out” method but rather focused on gentler approaches, such as the camping out technique. The researchers concluded that while sleep training did not yield significant long-term benefits or drawbacks, parents should not feel pressured to adopt or avoid these methods.

When Is the Right Time to Start?

One of the most contentious aspects of CIO revolves around the appropriate age to initiate sleep training. Various experts and methods offer differing recommendations, often based on factors such as a baby’s weight, developmental milestones, or specific age thresholds.

For instance, the Weissbluth method suggests introducing predictable bedtime routines and allowing babies to cry for 10 to 20 minutes to fall asleep as early as 5 to 6 weeks of age.

In contrast, the Ferber method, one of the most well-known CIO approaches, recommends initiating graduated extinction starting when the baby is around 6 months old.

It is crucial to consult with a pediatrician before embarking on any sleep training program, as individual babies may have specific health or feeding needs that should be considered. Additionally, it is essential to respect each child’s unique temperament and developmental trajectory, as a one-size-fits-all approach may not be appropriate for every family.

The Emotional Toll on Parents

While the scientific evidence may provide reassurance regarding the potential long-term impacts of CIO, it is essential to acknowledge the emotional toll this approach can take on parents.

The sound of a baby’s cries can trigger a powerful emotional response, leaving many caregivers feeling torn between the desire for sleep and the instinct to comfort their little ones.

It is crucial for parents to carefully consider their own emotional well-being and coping mechanisms before embarking on a CIO journey. Seeking support from partners, family members, or professionals can be invaluable in navigating the challenges and maintaining a healthy emotional state throughout the process.

It has to be right for you as well as your baby.

The Ongoing Debate: Is it Safe?

Despite the wealth of research and expert opinions, the debate surrounding CIO remains polarized, with passionate advocates and critics on both sides.

While some parents (like me) swear by the effectiveness of CIO in achieving improved sleep for the entire family, others vehemently oppose the practice, citing concerns about potential emotional harm and the violation of a child’s fundamental need for comfort and security.

Psychologist Macall Gordon offers a thought-provoking perspective, challenging the assumption that sleep patterns should follow a linear progression. She suggests that factors such as brain development, individual temperament, and cultural influences may play a significant role in shaping a baby’s sleep patterns, highlighting the complexity of the issue.

Ultimately, the decision to embrace or reject CIO is a deeply personal one, influenced by individual beliefs, values, and circumstances. It is important for parents to educate themselves, weigh the available evidence, and make an informed choice that aligns with their family’s unique needs and priorities.

Step-by-Step Guide: Implementing the Cry It Out Method Safely

How to Sleep Train Baby Cry It Out

For those who choose to explore the CIO approach, it is essential to do so in a safe and responsible manner.

You should also pick a time to start sleep training which sets you up for success. So no stressful work deadlines, no illness in the house, etc.

Here is a step-by-step guide to help navigate the process:

1. Establish a Predictable Nighttime Routine

Before initiating CIO, it is recommended to establish a consistent bedtime routine to help your baby relax and recognize the cues that it’s time to sleep. This may involve activities such as dimming the lights, playing soft music or white noise, taking a bath, or reading a bedtime story. Structure is important here, so be disciplined.

2. Place Your Child in Their Crib

Once the routine is complete, gently place your baby in their crib while following safe sleep practices. Ensure that the crib is clear of any stuffed animals or pillows, and position your baby on their back. Some find it useful to rub baby’s chest and say the same phrase each night, to further teach them that it is time to sleep and you are about to leave.

3. Watch and Wait

Using a video or audio baby monitor, observe your child’s behavior. Some babies may fall asleep quickly, while others may fuss or cry. At this point, follow the specific CIO method you have chosen. I would recommend a graduated approach whereby you respond at regular to lengthening intervals.

4. Soothe, but Don’t Linger

If you are following a graduated approach, such as the Ferber method, you will need to enter the room at specific intervals (e.g., 3 minutes, 5 minutes, 10 minutes) to briefly soothe your baby without picking them up or engaging in any sleep associations (e.g., rocking, feeding). Your visit should be brief, lasting no more than 1 to 2 minutes. Perhaps repeat the chest stroking and the chosen phrase each time.

5. Consider Other Situations

It’s important to remember that crying can sometimes be a signal that your baby needs assistance. If your little one is having an exceptionally difficult time, take a step back and evaluate potential underlying causes, such as illness, teething, hunger, or discomfort.

6. Be Consistent

Consistency is key when implementing CIO. Responding at certain times and not others can be confusing for your baby. Establish a clear plan with your partner or support system, and stick to it as closely as possible, while remaining attuned to your child’s needs.

It’s important to note that while some babies may respond quickly to CIO, others may take longer to adapt. If you find that your efforts are not yielding the desired results after 3 or 4 days, it may be wise to reassess the approach or seek guidance from a healthcare professional or sleep consultant.

Finding the Right Path for Your Family

As with any aspect of parenting, there is no one-size-fits-all solution when it comes to sleep training. Each family’s journey is unique, shaped by their individual circumstances, beliefs, and the specific needs of their little one.

While the cry it out method may work for some families, others may find greater success with alternative approaches, such as gradual fading, bedtime routines, or co-sleeping. The key is to remain open-minded, adaptable, and attuned to your child’s cues and developmental stage.

Ultimately, the decision to embrace or reject CIO should be based on a careful consideration of your family’s values, priorities, and emotional well-being. By seeking guidance from trusted sources, weighing the available evidence, and remaining compassionate towards yourself and your little one, you can navigate the complexities of sleep training with confidence and clarity.

Remember, the journey of parenthood is filled with challenges and triumphs, and the ability to find balance and make informed choices is a testament to the strength and resilience of every family.