When you’re a new parent, even the faintest hint of tears floating through the monitor can send you running down the hallway to the crib. I understand! It’s a natural instinct. Eventually, we all figure out the difference between an emergency and a little rustling, but when your little one is crying through every bedtime routine, it can send the whole family into a cycle of sleeplessness.

Are they hurting? Cold? Sick? Something else? It can be a huge source of stress and anxiety for everyone in the house, and one thing’s for sure: nobody’s getting any downtime while this is going on.

These situations inevitably lead to lots of googling or possibly even a trip to the doctor for answers, and if that’s you, you’ve probably heard this advice:

“They’re fine. They just need to cry it out.”

It might sound like some next-level parenting, and depending on the circumstances, along with your tolerance for crying, it can be worth a try. But is the cry-it-out method actually good for your child? That’s a complicated question—and not one that should be easily dismissed. 

Why They Cry

Crying is what babies do to get your attention when they need it. It might mean they’re hungry, uncomfortable, overstimulated, understimulated, or experiencing a range of age-related discomforts like growth spurts or teething. However, there’s a bit of truth to what every parent suspects:

Sometimes babies just cry.

This “unexplained crying” can add up to 1-2 hours every day, and is likely why some parents use cry-it-out and why it sometimes gets the job done. But what works for some, doesn’t work for everyone! 

Ignoring your crying baby until they wear themselves out definitely shouldn’t be the go-to advice for families. It usually means that there are fundamental pieces of the sleep puzzle that are missing, and those are the things that should be addressed and ruled out before putting on headphones and settling in for the long haul. 

When to Use the Cry-It-Out Method 

The short answer is “rarely.” At the end of the day (in every sense), it’s an extreme measure that means you’ve exhausted all your other options and it’s the only thing left to try. This means you’ve ruled out underlying medical issues as well. It’s usually advice—or just permission—from a well-meaning pediatrician to give yourself some grace, do nothing, and trust that the problem will resolve itself in its own good time.

That’s also why the cry-it-out method is most commonly used by parents who haven’t started working with a sleep consultant. Unexplained crying is just that—unexplained. But what’s unexplainable to a frazzled mom and a professional sleep expert may be very different!

That being said, there are a few instances where a certified sleep consultant may recommend the cry-it-out method under very particular circumstances. To ensure it’s safe and productive, your baby should:

  • Be over six months old
  • Be an easy sleeper (easy temperament)
  • Be at a healthy weight for his age
  • Have proper sleep fundamentals in place for at least two weeks

If any of the above aren’t the case, the cry-it-out method will likely be highly stressful, make matters worse, and potentially complicate the sleep issues instead of make them better. 

The Work-It-Out Method 

This method can be done with varying amounts of parental support and as long as the sleep fundamentals are in place and wake windows are appropriate, it can be a good way to give baby the space they need to learn and begin to figure out how to put themselves to sleep. As your baby gets better at sleep initiation and things begin to get easier, you can slowly wean off your support as your baby shows tolerance. Here are a few examples of some common causes of resistance around bedtime and strategies for solving them.

Time Sleeping and Waking Windows

Depending on how old your child is, they will probably have a natural rhythm for how long they sleep and stay awake. These windows fluctuate with age, and if your daily schedule doesn’t mesh with their needs, or if you’re misunderstanding your baby’s cues, they’ll likely end up being either overtired or undertired—this usually creates a baby who has difficulty sleeping and a mama who is feeling frustrated.

Take some time to review common sleep and wake windows, and reach out to me to find out what makes the most sense for your family. A little adjustment here or there might be all it takes for your baby to consistently drift off to dreamland. And remember, babies that are overtired usually have very long wake windows. They typically don’t show reliable sleepy signs and therefore they are kept awake way too long before being put down to sleep. Then they resist sleep because their sleep window has been missed and they are overtired. 

Environmental Factors

Sometimes the only moments parents get to unwind are after their child has gone to bed. Unfortunately, that can also result in sights and sounds that make it tough for a sensitive sleeper to go to sleep and stay asleep.

Winding your house down at least an hour before your baby is down for the night can also have a big impact on how easy or difficult the bedtime putdown is. Turning off lights and shutting off screens reduces the stimulation and creates a calmer atmosphere before bed (psst: screens are not helping you sleep either!). 

But really, noises that disrupt sleep can be anything. Cooking, cleaning, talking, a snoring spouse, or temperature issues can all play a role, so you’ll want to thoroughly explore all the possibilities before you consider using the cry-it-out method.

Teething

Your kiddo’s first pearly whites will start to appear between 4-7 months, and that’s also about the time doctors may advise letting your baby cry their way to sleep. While it’s an uncomfortable and unavoidable stage in their development, there are certainly better options than “do nothing.” 

A cold cloth or teething ring to chew on can do wonders at bedtime to soothe aching gums, and even just a light massage with a fingertip can help. Rubbing some essential oils mixed with a carrier oil on baby’s gums can also be helpful. They may also be drooling a lot, and that can irritate the soft skin around their mouth. These solutions should be incorporated into their normal sleep routine rather than interrupting it—a change in habits will almost certainly turn on the waterworks!

Try-It-Out: Find Your Perfect Sleep Consultant!

The cry-it-out method could be a workable solution that’s both a short-term and developmentally appropriate approach, but it’s usually not necessary if you’re working with an experienced sleep consultant. There’s so many other factors that affect sleep, and once you get those in place, cry-it-out is generally not necessary as sleep will naturally move forward on its own. 

Remember, you don’t have to go it alone if you’re struggling with your little one’s sleep. At Your Sleeping Baby, I empower new families with the knowledge, understanding, and curated methods they need to get the rest that they (and their little ones) deserve.  

It’s normal to weigh your options when it comes to sleep training; there’s a lot to consider, especially when your sweet baby is relying on you to make these decisions. Let me help take the stress out of the equation. I’ll give you the tools to begin laying a  healthy foundation for sleep for the whole family going forward.

Sleeping well is transformative, which is why I’m here to simplify your journey at every step. Book your free consultation with me today and let’s get your little one sleeping soundly!

10 Simple Ways to Get Your Baby to Sleep Better Tonight

These tips are simple, easy to implement, and created to help your baby slowly step into a healthy, secure relationship with sleep!

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