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What's the cry-it-out method?

Parenting Styles   |   Age: 6 months 2 weeks


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What is the cry-it-out method?

A popular school of thought says that, at some point, instead of soothing her to sleep, you’ll have to let your baby cry herself to sleep at night, even if this takes a long time. The governing idea here is that leaving a baby alone at bedtime will help her become more self-reliant and capable of dozing off on her own. Parents often refer to this as the “cry it out” method. What works for one baby could be useless or unnecessarily stressful for others, so what could be right for your baby?

Meet the method man

The conceptual “author” of the cry it out method is Dr. Richard Ferber, a pediatrician and best-selling childcare author. Since the release of his 1985 book "Solve Your Child’s Sleep Problems," Dr. Ferber has maintained that crying can be a common step on any baby’s pathway to perfecting their sleeping skills (though he has never actually referred to this as “crying it out”).

Read the fine print

Above all, Dr. Ferber stresses that crying is a means to an end and that the long-term focus here shouldn’t be tears, but a healthy night’s sleep for the baby. He also suggests leaving babies in a safe and comfortable crib after a bedtime routine for short periods of time as opposed to an indefinite stretch to allow them time to fall asleep on their own. This allows babies to gradually adjust to being left to their own devices at bedtime. Too much solitude too soon may be difficult to handle, and ultimately ineffective. Plus, hearing those wails echoing from the crib is enough to tug at any parent’s heartstrings.

Start with baby steps

If you feel like giving Dr. Ferber’s method might be right for your family, you can get started by setting up a nighttime routine which can include a warm bath, nighttime book, and long and filling feed. You can then lay your baby in her crib when she seems to be getting sleepy. Then, leave the room for 3 minutes. If your baby cries through this first interval, come back in and comfort her by gently patting and shushing her for no more than a few minutes. Leave the room again, but this time, set the clock for 5 minutes. If the crying continues, repeat the pacification process and then exit the room for 10 minutes. Until your baby falls asleep, make each necessary interval 10 minutes in length.

Is cry-it-out alright? And is it right for you?

While some studies have historically suggested negative long-term affects of this method, recent studies, including a 2016 study in Pediatrics, find no long-term stress-effects or effects on parent-child bonding linked to this sleep strategy. But it may come as no surprise that there are a lot of strong feelings from supporters of the method who swear it's helped their babies sleep and those who really dislike the idea of letting their children cry and not trying to soothing them more. Truly, all babies are different and you know your baby best, so you have to do what makes the most sense for your little one. And remember, when it comes to different parenting methods, there’s no rule that says you have to take an absolute black and white approach to how to care for your baby, or how you handle bedtime crying fits. Bedtime can be stressful, especially if your child is having a hard time getting to sleep, so if you have any questions about bedtime and your baby, be sure to speak with your baby's healthcare provider for guidance.

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