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Is it OK to Let a Baby 'Cry it Out' as a Method of Sleep Training?

Many exhausted parents believe it is, but some say it leads to emotional issues later in life. What do you believe?

For decades the debate has raged, sometimes between generations, about whether or not to let babies “cry it out" as a way to get to sleep.

Often it is the exhausted mother who continues to believe she can’t do it, not even for a few minutes. Now, however, a recent study appears to support that maybe she can, at least for a short while at a time.

Sleep deprivation for new parents is reportedly responsible for a host of issues, including depression in new mothers and marital problems.

According to a Fox News article, a study published in Monday’s Journal of Pediatrics suggests limited returns to the room to offer some soothing appears to be acceptable. This was concluded after a study that followed children until they were 6 years old.

There are several opinions on how best to establish an acceptable sleep pattern ranging from those who believe it is better to let a baby “cry” him or herself to sleep to those who believe the baby should sleep in the bed with parents to provide for better bonding. Others believe somewhere in between these two extremes. Judith A. Owens, the director of sleep medicine at Children’s National Medical Center in Washington, D.C., reportedly said, “A well-rested parent is going to be a better parent in the daytime."

So what do you believe? Should a baby be allowed to cry, at least for a while, or do you believe that babies should not be left alone to cry at all? Tell us in comments. 

Rebecca McCarthy (Editor) September 11, 2012 at 01:51 PM
I think it depends on the child. Some like to be cuddled at night, others don't. I think parents should do what works best for them and the child--if that means co-sleeping, well, okay. If it means letting a child cry, okay. They need to find something that doesn't make them feel guilty as well as tired. Our girls started sleeping through the night when we put a nightlight in their room when they were 18 months old....
Gail Lane September 11, 2012 at 01:51 PM
Perhaps the longest 3 nights of parenting in each child's life, but so worth the final result for the parent and the child.
Leigh Hewett September 11, 2012 at 02:34 PM
I'm with Rebecca on this one. My first son was a co-sleeper who was terrified when we attempted to let him cry it out. It was traumatising for all of us. While my second son wanted nothing to do with co-sleeping and sleep training was easy for him. We used the "No cry sleep solution" which was more gentle and gradual.
Susan September 11, 2012 at 02:37 PM
After a few days after their birth you begin to recognize their cries. Pain, I'm hungry, I want you here, or just plain tired. My kids would cry then listen to see if they could here you walking down the hallway, well this was a sucker deal after a few nights. Of course the first few months I breast feed and up every 3-4 hours. Solid food was great, it mean't sleeping through the night. Yes, you let them cry, or you begin to become the slave. Humans are very intelligent an an early age.
Mara September 11, 2012 at 02:45 PM
No, it's not all right. Pick up for baby, for god's sake, and comfort it. It's crying for a reason. Jeez, this is pure common sense. And the suggestion that it's okay to let the baby cry is incredibly irresponsible. Shame on every newspaper that carries this nonsense! Don't be a lazy parent. Take care of your child!
Tani September 11, 2012 at 02:53 PM
Mara, it's not lazy, it's good parenting. Just like in many other situations, children cry...that doesn't mean what you're doing is wrong. My first son slept in my bed til 4 because I didn't sleep train him. My hubby and I vowed to not let that happen with the second. It took a grueling 2 weeks of 2 hours a night crying, but it was SO worth it! He started sleeping straight through the night after that at 4 months and hasn't had an issue since. The cry it out method is hard because we are taught by society to appease our children and not let them cry, but the simple fact is it works.
Rebecca McCarthy (Editor) September 11, 2012 at 03:42 PM
Tani, what works for you doesn't work for everyone. And what works for your child might not work for another child. Maybe your child changes his or her behavior because you threaten not to let him or her watch a favorite TV program. That won't work for mine because we don't have a TV in the h,ouse. Maybe my girls will do anything if I will play hide and seek with them, maybe your child wouldn't like that. My mother used to tell all other mothers: "You are the best mother for your child." Which means you know your child best. Parenting isn't a one-size-fits-all proposition, and what worked for your second child isn't a choice Mara would have made.
Paula September 11, 2012 at 09:50 PM
We used a book called "Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child". It provides information that helps you to better understand sleep cycles and when your child needs to go to sleep. When you can catch your child on that wave of needing to sleep, the ride to sleep is much smoother and easier and there is much, much less crying - if any at all. This book was one of the most useful books we ever used for parenting. We give it as a gift to all new parents that we know.
Susan G September 11, 2012 at 09:52 PM
I agree, Rebecca, that each parent must choose what is best for them. To Mara's point, the laziness I see in parenting is when the parents do what feels good to them and not always what is right for the child (and the rest of the family, as well!). I just asked my 15 year old son if he felt emotionally scarred because I let him cry when he was a baby and he looked at me like I was crazy. Guess what??? He doesn't even remember anything about being a baby! Hmmmmm.....I think I'll go be lazy now and finish cooking my family dinner, cleaning up the kitchen, giving baths, making lunches, helping with homework, and whatever else pops up between now and when I finally get to go to bed.
Mrs D September 11, 2012 at 09:59 PM
Babies under 2 do not have an ego if they are crying it is because they need you for comfort, food, a change, warmer clothes,, and everything else they need to survive. When you are not there for your children you teach them 1 lesson, that you are not there for them. If you are not in a place in your life where you can put someone else's needs before your own, don't become a parent until you are.
R++ One of the Famous Dacula Crew September 11, 2012 at 10:13 PM
The legitimate needs can be detected by the tone and sometimes “crying out” is not a warning of any kind, it all depends on the child involved… “If you are not in a place in your life where you can put someone else's needs before your own, don't become a parent until you are.” But this statement is dead on.
Mrs D September 11, 2012 at 10:19 PM
He wouldn't "remember" if you smoked while you were pregnant either, but it doesn't make it the kind and loving thing to do. Why not err on the side if caution, it can cause emotional problems later in life. I know it happened to me. My educated married parents read books and chose to let me cry it out. I spent my life as a young adult trying to get someone to love me and attempting suicide when love was withdrawn. I have great relationships with both parents and have no anger toward them. My mother has apologized she was doing what my pediatrician told her was ok. My brother coped with his issues of not knowing he has unconditionally loved in his own very unhealthy way. If there is a chance you can affect your child's life in a positive way by being there and losing a little sleep, isn't that a sacrifice you would be willing to make. I have overcome this and am happily married for 11 years and have a wonderful family of my own now.
Susan G September 11, 2012 at 10:26 PM
I guess we have to agree to disagree. My kids are emotionally healthy and well-rounded. They also happen to be great sleepers! I think I can safely say since I have 2 teenagers that if there were any negative effects we would have seen them by now. We are a very affectionate family with great relationships. Updates on the psyche of the 7 year old will have to wait. For me, it was a great success and I would recommend it to any parent.
Tammy Osier September 11, 2012 at 10:27 PM
Depends on the age - I was always taught that when they are very young (tiny babies) and have not learned to manipulate, they are crying to be comforted. I remember a relative said that you don't want to tend them every time they cry because they need to learn that you are not always there when they need you. I told my doctor that and he said, "Do you want your child to learn insecurity first? If you don't come when they need you, then that's exactly what they will learn- that you are not there when they need you and when it breeds insecurity, you'll pay later with a clingy kid." That made sene to me. He said that if you comfort them young, they will soon outgrow the need because they are secure that you are there. Independence should be followed by dependence. Then they can move onto other things. As they get older, and the needs turn into wants, then, and only then you should begin weaning them from your always being there. They need to learn the difference between need and want. But how can you teach them that until they can comprehend it? I raised 3 very secure kids, who now even in their 20's and 30's call me everyday and in whom I have a great relationship with. I believed I was doing the right thing. I had never heard of the Ferber method, but sounds like a good plan.
Tammy Osier September 11, 2012 at 10:33 PM
Correction: Dependence should be followed by independence. You can't be independent unless you have been dependent first. That was my doctors advice and he was a very wise man.
Dave Ballard September 11, 2012 at 10:38 PM
Babies cry because they want something different from what is and cannot yet do anything about it. That want may be as simple as not being in the boring old crib when all the excitement is back out in the den, and it may be as critical as they have fallen out of said crib and are bleeding from a split lip. Most parents who pay their children the attention they should will mostly be able to tell the difference between the two. The real question being asked, I think, is "Where is the balance point between 'I can't be bothered', and 'Every whimper must be answered!?'" Neglecting a child is criminal, but spoiling a child doesn't do it any favors either. As a few people have suggested, I think that balance point depends on the child, and it's the parents' job to figure out where it is. There is no hard and fast answer that works for every kid, so whatever routines produce the desired result are probably okay in the long-run.
Tammy Osier September 11, 2012 at 11:48 PM
I think that's it David. I never jumped immediately, but as they grew older, waitied out those wimper. And many times, they went back to sleep on their own. I nursed all my kids, and it starts out at every 3 hours, and eventually spreads out as their little bodies adjust to their needs. Each child is different, and if you're paying close attention, you'll just know.
Otis The Town Drunk September 12, 2012 at 12:14 AM
So wait a minute. Let me get this right. You tried to take yourself out later in life because your parents let you cry instead of comforting you in the middle of the Andy Griffith Show? And you blame that on your lack of self control? I don't feel so bad now. I was making my own spam sandwiches at 4 years old.
Jim S September 12, 2012 at 02:12 AM
I got this advice from my pediatrician as a 22year old single father of an infant son many years ago; Check the diaper, burp him, make sure he has nothing wrong physically, put him in his crib and close the door.
Teresa Ebel September 12, 2012 at 12:24 PM
So sorry but pediatrician's don't know everything - they PRACTICE medicine. My son's pediatrician told us that our son had collic and it would pass in time. Guess what, he was hungry and not getting enough to eat because I didn't have enough breast milk. It took a nurse to tell us to give him a bottle. Once we solved that problem, we tried the cry it out method and it didn't work for us. I still have guilt for even trying. It's a cold and harsh way to try and break a baby's bond with it's mother. Every child is different and every child deserves what works best for THE CHILD not the parent. We used a side sleeper and it worked like a charm. A child is blessing from God and should be treated as such.
Rebecca McCarthy (Editor) September 12, 2012 at 12:29 PM
Teresa, I couldn't agree more about the pediatrician. The first pediatrician we took our twins to....well, I wouldn't spit on that guy if he were on fire. One daughter was losing weight, screaming after eating, etc. If I hadn't been so exhausted, I would have dumped him earlier. It took two months for me to wake up and stop giving my so-called "fussy, colicky" baby Reglan and other drugs and to wash my hands of that incompetent boob. One visit to our now wonderful pediatrician and she was diagnosed with lactose intolerance. A change in my diet to soy products and hypo-allergenic foods and in three days, the "fussy, colicky" baby was fine, no more screaming and crying. I still feel badly it took so long to figure out her problem. But, like you, I do consider my children as gifts, and try to treat them as such.
Darcey Bailey September 12, 2012 at 01:07 PM
I just feel like babies need their parents. Letting them cry teaches them that you won't be there for them when they need you. I agree with letting them try to soothe themselves if they are a little fussy, or just mildly crying. But screaming, etc, I just don't feel parents should leave them alone. Going in and out and soothing is great, but there are parents who believe in shutting the door and going into another room and not listening. That's horrible to me, what if something happened? I just don't understand. I never let my kids cry it out. It did take them a few more months to sleep through the night but they sleep fine now. I feel like I'd rather be sleep deprived than have my baby scream his head off every night.
Darcey Bailey September 12, 2012 at 01:08 PM
Slave? It's not a slave, its being a parent. Being a parent is about sacrifices and sleep is one of those.
Darcey Bailey September 12, 2012 at 01:09 PM
AGREED!
Darcey Bailey September 12, 2012 at 01:11 PM
Love the side sleeper method!
Jennifer September 12, 2012 at 01:15 PM
I never let my babies cry....they need something, even if it's just to be cuddled. I would never lay there with a broken heart hearing my baby scream knowing I'm the one that can comfort them.
Otis The Town Drunk September 12, 2012 at 01:32 PM
Just dying to know Jim. Did you follow his advise?
Jim S December 16, 2012 at 01:57 PM
Yes, I did follow the advise. I held him, give him a bottle, burped him and changed his diaper, then but him in his crib. If he started to dry, I would hold him again for a few minutes and lay him down. When I was sure that I had done everything I could, I would leave the door ajar and let him cry. If he didn't settle down to sleep after 10 minutes, I would check on him again.
Jim S December 16, 2012 at 01:58 PM
then put him in his crib.
Andrew January 18, 2013 at 07:15 PM
Anything to do with parenting is always emotive and CIO is about as emotive as there can be. The key thing is what the parents think is best for their child. With my son we had 6-7 months of terrible nights sleep, which is fine as that is what we signed up for as parents. What wasn't fine is that our boy was tired all day due to his bad sleeps, he had bags under his eyes, not eating properly and was generally in a bad mood. We resolved to try CIO and after two hours on the first night and one hour on the second night of us sat in the other room in tears he then slept through and has done ever since (he's 18 months now). My point? CIO isn't lazy parenting, its the hardest thing I've had to do for my child but for my boy it was definately the best thing. A couple of good nights sleep and he started eating properly and became the cheery boy we knew he really was. There are parents who neglect their children but that is a totally seperate issue. As for the poster who said that children under 2 don't have an ego I can only assume that with your child you kept picking up items they threw on the floor over and over and over because they can't have been doing that just for attention either.

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