How to get your baby to sleep through the night, Part I

sleeping How to get your baby to sleep through the night, Part IThis post is all about how to to get your baby to sleep through the night in 30 days…guaranteed!

Just kidding.

There are a number of “sleep training” methods out on the market. All with big promises, all with the end goal of getting your baby to sleep independently through the night. Almost all of them involve some form of “crying it out.”

I’ll go ahead and step out on a limb and tell you my “stance” on the topic: I don’t believe in crying it out. For my babies. Or for yours.

I know this is so not the politically correct way to approach this. I should say, “Crying it out doesn’t work for my family, but if it works for yours…well, that’s great.”

But I can’t say that.

To be honest, I think leaving a baby to cry it out is pretty heartless – especially in the “we’ll-just-close-the-door-and-turn-off-the-monitor-and-he’ll-learn-to-sleep-by-golly” sense of the word.

There are obviously varying degrees of “crying-it-out.”

*** I should point out here that there IS a difference between “crying-it-out” and letting your baby fuss a bit to settle down before sleep. Most babies do cry when they get tired and it’s not necessarily the end of the world to let them cry a bit, on your shoulder or while you pat their back gently in bed…but I don’t consider that “crying-it-out.”

Crying-it-out, by its typical definition (letting your baby cry inconsolably  without attempting to comfort him/her), has some pretty scary implications, in my opinion:

j0339044 How to get your baby to sleep through the night, Part IFor starters, I don’t like the “lesson” it teaches the baby – which is, “If I cry, no one is going to come.” I don’t know about you, but I want my children to know that I AM going to come, that I WILL be there – to comfort and to console, day or night, no matter how tired I am or how inconveniencing it is for me.

I always cringe a bit inside when a new parent proudly exclaim, “She sleeps great. It just took three days. She cried for an hour straight for three nights in a row and now she goes to sleep…just like that.”

Of course, she does!” I think, sadly, “because she gave up. She gave in. She came to the point where she thought, ‘my parents aren’t coming…no matter how hard I cry’.” That just breaks my heart.

j0339046 150x150 How to get your baby to sleep through the night, Part ISecondarily, I think crying it out takes advantage of a baby’s lack of voice. After all, what if a child or an adult were screaming from the other room, “I need you! I need you!“? Would you just turn to your spouse and say, “Turn down the volume on the monitor, honey. We can check on him/her in an hour”? Of course not! But since babies can’t use words, we somehow think it’s okay to leave them in their anguish.

j0339048 150x150 How to get your baby to sleep through the night, Part IThirdly,  “crying it out” ignores the fact that many babies physically require attention in the nighttime hours. Many babies – perhaps most babies – need to be fed, changed, burped, and/or held at night in the early months and…dare I say it?…years. Crying is how babies express their needs. Parental responsibilities don’t end promptly at 8 p.m. and start again at 7:00 a.m. the next day – as much as we might like that to be the case. There is no “off” switch when it comes to parenting. Even if you’re exhausted to the bone. It is in those moments when our character is truly being honed – are we patient and gentle and compassionate even when it is inconvenient? That is, after all, when it matters most of all. I am grateful – usually in hind sight, I must admit – for those times because they make me a better person.

j0339050 150x150 How to get your baby to sleep through the night, Part IFinally, crying it out causes mamas (and papas too) to squash out their natural parental instincts…and perhaps their “human” instincts too. It’s not “normal” to just listen to another human being in agony and do nothing – as a parent or as a global citizen.

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If you’re the type who likes to hear “expert analysis” on these kind of topics, consider the words of the following sleep experts:

karp 122x150 How to get your baby to sleep through the night, Part ILetting your baby cry it out makes as little sense as closing your ears to your screeching car alarm while you wait for the battery to die. It…goes against every parental instinct.” – Dr. Harvey Karp, The Happiest Baby on the Block

elizabeth pantley 1 120x150 How to get your baby to sleep through the night, Part II [am] convinced that [crying it out] is a simplistic and harsh way to treat another human being, let alone the precious little love of [your] life. To allow a baby to suffer through pain and fear until she resigns herself to sleep is heartless…“ – Elizabeth Pantley, The No-Cry Sleep Solution

If that’s not enough, perhaps a little bit of science will convince you: a number of studies have shown that excessive crying can be harmful to babies.

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So that’s my point-of-view, controversial though it may be.

YOUR TURN: What’s your “take” on the Cry-It-Out method…and why?

  • Brie Tonk

    I absolutely agree wholeheartedly Stephanie.

  • Amy

    I agree too! When they’re ready to sleep through the night they will.

  • Spoodles

    I was going to comment, but it got long, so I moved it over here: http://spoodles.wordpress.com/2009/06/19/getting-a-baby-to-sleep-through-the-night/

    Good post!

  • http://thedirtywork.blogspot.com Patti

    Beautifully put Stephanie. Thanks.

  • Melinda J

    Thank you Stephanie! I couldn’t agree more. I struggle so much when parents proudly tell me about letting their babies cry. It breaks my heart. I want my baby to know that when he has a problem, be it big or small, I’m going to be there.

  • http://seeryusmama.com/ Sky

    I’m not a fan of CIO. Thankfully, Paige is happy to take a nap or go to sleep for the night. We rock for a few minutes while listening to a lullaby CD (my favorite are from Lanny Sherwin!) and then I put her down. She has just recently started hollering out “SEE YA!” when I lay her down and tell her good night. Cracks me up everytime!

    Babies communicate by crying…so why not figure out what they need? Let them know from a young age (baby!) that their voice is important…and you’ll always be there for them.

    Just my thoughts!

  • http://kris-jay-caity-izzie.blogspot.com/2009/06/toddler-madness.html Kris J

    I 100% agree with you. I am VERY anti-CIO. I firmly believe that my babies cry for a reason and they need a response to that cry, even if its just a gentle pat on the back or a reassuring kiss on the cheek.

    BTW — I posted evidence on my blog that your 2 year old is not the only one who loves Sharpies. :D

  • http://www.ngradstudent.blogspot.com NGS

    I don’t have a child, so this is all theoretical to me. Let them cry. LOL.

    Of course all babies are different, but if it takes a few uncomfortable nights to make sure that you have happy, well-rested parents, then I see nothing wrong with it. Sorry. Maybe my take is controversial, but I guess my well-being is more important at that point than the child’s.

    This could also explain why I have no children. I have no maternal instinct.

  • Lisa

    I’d love for my son to sleep by himself but unfortunately he needs to be held & swayed for a long time for him to fall asleep. I did try to let him ‘cry it out’ but I couldn’t stand it & it was heartbreaking to hear. I don’t mind rocking him to sleep but he’s about 18 lbs now at 4 1/2 months. It really is so difficult. He refuses sleep when he’s laying down while you pat him or soothe him. You physically have to stand up (no sitting, somehow he just knows) and sway him while listening to music. We go through this every single time he naps or goes to bed at night. *sigh* I wish there was some better way to get him to bed. I tried feeding him rice cereal as some people say it fills up babies’ tummies so they sleep better, it didn’t work for my baby!

  • http://www.lettners.blogspot.com Nini Lettner

    Great post! Thanks for sharing. I agree with most of what you have written…I think I swim between your opinions and what Spoodles wrote on her blog. While I am not a huge fan of ‘how to parent’ books, I did read Secrets of the Baby Whisperer (silly title) and the main thing I took away was GET TO KNOW YOUR KIDS, and respect them. Like many said above, a child’s only way of communicating is to cry…SO…get to know them. Learn their cries. Treat them like you would treat yourself, your spouse, your friend..with respect and listen to what they are trying to tell you. With my first child, I did everything you are ‘supposed’ to do to get them to sleep through the night, and she just didn’t…not until she was just over 9 months old. I believe it is important to let your child know you are there for them all of the time, but there are boundaries that need to be set (as far as not letting them manipulate, etc.), but that comes later. When my 7 month old son wakes up at night, I have to remind myself that this is just a phase and it will get better. I remind myself that I have a healthy amazing boy who brings me much joy during the days so I can deal with the lack of sleep sometimes. Thanks again for sharing your thoughts!

  • http://www.nunnallyfamilyfun.blogspot.com Melissa

    I totally agree with you. I think CIO is so sad! My son is almost 20 months and has been mostly sleeping through the night for a while now. We did have some trouble right after he weened from nursing. I read a book called Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Baby and he totally says to let them cry, but I did get from his book that usually if a baby is having a hard time falling asleep they are over tired. We moved my sons bed time to 7-7:30 and he goes to sleep without a sounds. Of course we do read books, pray and rock for a few minutes in his room(on nights when he will let me rock him.) But I am so glad to read that you were so upfront with how terrible CIO seems.

  • http://the5cfamily.blogspot.com/ Clara

    Oh man, I am so hesitant to step into this one. I don’t like CIO either. BUT! Please don’t be so quick to judge those parents who are at their wits end and have tried everything. Let me tell you that severe sleep deprivation in parents is also not good for a baby. Of course you have to let your child know that you will be there. Of course you have to make sure that your child is safe, and well. Put please, parents, don’t judge and don’t be so quick to think you have the answers or to think someone is so terrible who has tried CIO. Again, in the vast majority of situations I agree that CIO isn’t the answer.

    I’ve read both of those books, and more, on the subject. And I’ve chucked them all. I’ve learned to rely on my maternal instincts, and treat every situation uniquely.

    THANKS BE TO GOD, I am finally at a place with my 3 kids that I am able to get some sleep. AMEN!

  • Casual Friday Every Day

    Crying it out would never work for any of my kids. They’d just get so worked up that it took me forever to calm them down. Needless to say I only tried this once for the two older boys, and never for the baby.

    Nell

  • Summer

    I really can’t say how I feel about Crying It Out since I’ve never had to try it. My kids have all been amazing sleepers. But I think based on what I know of it that I wouldn’t implement it for the same reasons you mentioned.

  • http://mombalance.blogspot.com sarah

    I agree wholeheartedly. Crying it out seems to me to be a lot like the antiquated belief that infants couldn’t feel pain. We just know it isn’t so! Just because they don’t have a voice doesn’t mean they are not communicating a real and serious need. I could never let my little ones cry, and it makes me sad to think about. When we respond to a child’s cries – every time – we’re reinforcing that they are important (albeit small) people.

  • erica

    Okay, so don’t hate me, but I think I’m closer to Spoodles’ post in my CIO beliefs. Kind of a modified cry it out? Taylor was a kid who would sometimes cry just to manipulate. It sounds devious for a tot, but it was what she thought would work, so I didn’t blame her. But we felt that we had to teach her that it wasn’t the way to get her way when she was crying for a desire and not a need. So when she started to cry in bed we would check on her. If she needed something, we took care of it. If not, we hugged her, sang a song, and put her back to bed, even if she was still crying. We’d let her wait ten or fifteen minutes, then check again. It’s not like we ignored her cries the whole time, but we also wanted to teach her what we thought were more appropriate ways to deal with her disappointment, and that it’s okay to be angry, but we’re not going to give in to her every whim. Some may think it’s a little barbaric, but it worked really well for us, and it set a good precedent for today; she (generally) listens very well even when she doesn’t like what we say but is still a happy child, secure that Mom and Dad are always here and love her endlessly. I think we handled it at neither extreme. It wasn’t the full CIO, which I do believe is not a good way to teach your children, but it was also not giving in to our very smart child’s attempts to get out of bed. That’s what worked for us.

  • http://ambercurtis.avonrepresentative.com/ Amber C

    Letting them cry drove me more crazy than not getting to sleep! I snuggled mine in bed and let them fall asleep with me then moved them to their beds. Of course I keep my babies in my room until they are about 6 months or so. My youngest is 7 and still likes to snuggle before bed but he does fall asleep in his own bed now :D My oldest two like to snuggle as well. We like that our kids like us and want to be around us. Some people have commented to me that its just weird that our teens want to hang out with us but I’m glad they do :)

  • http://www.johnsonfamilyaz.com/ Allison

    Never, never, never! Well said, I would never let my son cry himself to sleep. When he needs something, Mommy and Daddy will be there in a heartbeat, even if it is just a hug!

  • http://everyurlwastaken.blogspot.com Audrey

    I’m not sure where I stand with CIO. I don’t think it, in any forms, should be used before 6 months. But my daughter co-slept for her first 6 months…. it was when I was ready to have my husband back (and vice versa) and she was getting very active when she slept, and it didn’t feel safe to keep her in bed with us, that we needed to put her in her own room. After a month of even LESS sleep for all of us, but knowing we couldn’t go back to our previous arrangement, we reached desperate measured and attempted CIO. Not full-on, but a modified version like the one Spoodles posted. It worked, and I was finally able to get a little sleep! BUT… I don’t want to do it again. I will if I need to, but with the baby that’s coming in October, I am hoping something will give. I’m hoping she’s a baby that doesn’t need to fuss or cry before falling asleep, I’m hoping she just… sleeps.
    The problem I have with people being so avidly against CIO is that they never suggest other alternatives. They just say “Don’t CIO!”, which leaves desperate parents at a loss of what else to do, so they continue in their sleep-deprived ways and vow to never ever have any more kids because they can’t function with one, much less 2 or 3 or 4!
    So, with that said, what do YOU suggest for getting a child to sleep through the night? Or what do you suggest for moms to get some sleep themselves when the baby doesn’t sleep? Or if you suggest co-sleeping until they are over a year old, how do you keep your marriage alive? Not necessarily thriving (I definitely don’t expect that to happen, especially in my situation) while co-sleeping, but surviving. Thriving would be great, but co-sleeping past 6 months would have done the opposite for us. :)
    So, any alternative suggestions?

  • Shelley

    For my three is was easier for us to have them in bed with us and then eventually move them to their own beds at night. The older ones grew out of this and now prefer their own beds from the beginning of the night.

  • JDE

    I commend you for writing your opinion on your blog as you have. As outlandish as it may seem to some, I believe that the current CIO practice of following a ‘system’ with an infant or young child are interesting new techniques that are much like a huge experiment. People for centuries have taken care of their little-ist ones both day and night by being close and meeting the needs that are there. Distance, isolation and plain old ignoring (which do go beyond all instincts in a parent–if you don’t have a child, you haven’t experienced it) are a brand new phenomena which began in the in first half of this century and are still mostly practiced only in the USA. Yep, that’s it. Most other countries actually attend to their babies at night. Perhaps our children will get to see long term results of.
    I stick with closeness and listening to model what I will expect from my little ones. When they are three and they are ignoring you to get you to stop asking them to ‘pick up toys,’ ‘eat all your dinner,’ etc. remember how you dealt with their communications for half of the day. They grow up so fast, even when you are sleep deprived. I’ve been there.
    Thanks again for sharing your opinion and and backing it up. I’ve seen nothing positive in the research about letting kids cry on purpose for longer periods of time. Stress on anyone’s system, especially the little ones, only takes away from their positive growth.

  • Rachel

    Hmmm, well i don’t think you should completely throw CIO out the window but I also don’t think it is the best solution for most children (and shouldn’t be automatically jumped to just because a parent is exhausted). Our son was particularly challenging as an infant in that he was ‘hyper alert’ when he was awake. He would quickly become over-stimulated and over-tired but was very difficult to get to sleep. It was like his little eyes were propped open with toothpicks because he didn’t want to miss a thing… We tried everything–having him sleep in our room, baby wearing, nursing to sleep, etc. etc. and read every baby book but nothing worked. He often seemed to need to scream himself to sleep just to block out the stimulus. After talking to some experienced moms at our church (who were on their 4th child :)) we decided we would do a modified version of CIO to help him sleep better. And it worked. The couple of nights when he cried were torturous to me but it seemed to be the right solution for our child and he has slept great ever since.

    That’s not to say I would definitely resort to this again with another child–each child is uniqe–but I think CIO is a valid option for certain babies and can be part of following your maternal instinct in doing what is best for your child (in this case helping the poor thing get some sleep so he wouldn’t be so miserable!!)

  • http://speckledbutterbeans.wordpress.com/ Jillian

    Amen! THANK YOU for posting this and encouraging other mommies like me who refuse to let their babies cry it out. Personally, I love the feeling of knowing that my daughter trusts me to respond to her at night no matter what. Sleep or no sleep, I have no regrets!

  • http://myboyandme.blogspot.com/ Madeline

    I wholeheartedly agree! Crying it out just doesn’t make sense, and it is mean.

  • Amanda

    We did CIO. It worked well. He’s 17 months, is a champion sleeper and is a very happy, healthy, and loving kid! Might not work for all parents and babies, but it worked for us!

  • Kacy

    Amanda, I agree!

    I can understand the perspective of others who don’t agree with CIO, but each family gets to make that decision with whatever resources & information they have available.

  • Erin S.

    thank you for this post! i am most definitely NOT a let my child cry it out person. although i must confess i did try it once with my first child. i would have to say that it was not successful in several ways.
    anyways, i love how you worded these arguments/rationales. i now have a better way of expressing myself.

  • http://www.jinxyisms.com/ Jinxy

    I completely agree with you. There is no way I am going to let my sweet baby girl cry for longer then it takes me to get up and get her. Usually a minute at most.
    And yes a slight fuss is different. Although Lily doesn’t really know the difference.

  • Laura

    I agree with you, and couldn’t do it with our son, but I try not to judge others. I don’t live with their baby or know what they need. But… I agree with you.

  • Michael

    Unfortunately too many babies have had to make trips to the mortuary because they weren’t allowed to “Cry it out” or cry at all in some cases. Every baby, every parent, every situation is different and I don’t think that there can ever be a “One size fits all” solution when it comes to whether or not to allow your baby to cry. It may make you cringe to hear a parent say that they allowed their baby “Cry it out”, but how do you feel when you hear that a parent has shaken their child to death?

  • http://www.colorado-mama.blogspot.com Tiffany

    We did the cry it out with both girls and they were both around 9ish months old. With Mikayla, she would go to sleep fine on her own at the beginning of the night and then wake up sometime in the middle. All I would do is find her binky, rock her for a few minutes and then she would fall asleep again. She was also difficult to get down for a nap. After letting her cry it out in the middle of the night, I did make sure everything was ok (which ticked her off more) and she settled down after about 20 minutes. Now she is a great sleeper but is she wakes up and needs me she quickly comes to get me.

    Lily was (and still is a handful). At 9 months I would still take a bottle in to her and she would fall asleep eating. (It instead of rocking she would drink her bottle to lull her to sleep). She would also go to sleep just fine at the start of the night and for naps, it was just that middle of the night wakings. She cried, fussed and what not for about 10 minutes and then settled down. She is a good sleeper but she will wake up, cry for about 1 minute and then go back to sleep.

    I truly think with both girls this was what they needed and now they are great sleepers. I think if we did not do this I would be getting up with both of them in the middle of the night still.

  • http://www.larsenscrazylife.blogspot.com Cindy

    Finally, someone that thinks like I do. My babies sleep right next to me. They love it, I love snuggling too. They will only be little once and they will not be in your bed as a teenager. So, tend to your little ones, show them how much you love them by being there, showing them that they are safe and Mommy is right there. Thank you so much for posting your opinion!

  • http://allisonsays.com Allison

    I agree with you 110%. My son has always been a terrible sleeper. He was up multiple times a night throughout his infancy, before he finally started sleeping through the night at 11 months of age. But then? At 13 months…he started waking up again a few times a night. It was AGONY, especially after getting used to him sleeping through the night for a few months!

    He is back to sleeping through the night, and I have never, ever, let him “cry it out.” He cries, and I won’t go in the second I hear him. I give him a few minutes, listen to what kind of cry it is, and generally end up going in. He knows that I respond, and, like you, I think that is *very* important.

  • http://www.phdinparenting.com/ Annie @ PhD in Parenting

    Great post! Thank you for leaving a comment on my blog and pointing me your way.

  • Melinda J

    Stephanie, I just saw this post at KellyMom and was reminded of your article. Looks like that ‘limb’ you’re on is supported by lots of research!

    http://forum.kellymom.net/showthread.php?t=42835

  • http://www.goodenoughmummy.typepad.com Sarah V.

    But what you’re not mentioning here is that most forms of sleep training *aren’t* simply about leaving the child alone for however long it takes them to stop screaming. The most common one involves parents going back in after a few minutes and then lengthening the time they spend out of the room bit by bit, but always coming back in again (this is controlled crying, or Ferberisation). Personally, I prefer to use methods that don’t even involve leaving the child alone for that long – I’d have been happy to sit by the cot settling my children to sleep if that had been what worked, and I tried to use gentle methods first. But both of my children reached a point where they just wouldn’t settle that way. What I discovered with my son was that what was upsetting him most was having to stop playing and go to bed, and sitting next to him was actually giving him a mixed message, because he hoped I’d start playing with him again – it was actually kinder to set a firm limit by walking out of the room and thus making it clear that it was bedtime, rather than blurring the limits. With my daughter, I found that trying to put her to sleep just kept her awake. She needed a few minutes of crying to let off steam and get herself to sleep, and *any* attempt I made to comfort her in that time just made matters worse by waking her up when she was trying to get to sleep.

    With regard to the points you made:

    1. It’s hard for me to see how coming back into the room every few minutes teaches the baby that no-one is going to come.

    2. If an adult was screaming “I need you! I need you!” from the other room several times a night, regardless of how tired you were, not because of any sort of emergency but just because they wanted a cuddle multiple times per night, and if you’d checked on them and found there wasn’t anything more than that going on this time either – yes, I think in that situation practically all of us would consider it completely appropriate to leave them to it.

    3. Sleep training isn’t meant to be about leaving a hungry baby or one who needs a change or who’s had a nightmare. It’s meant to be a way of teaching children to get back to sleep when all that’s happened is that they’ve woken up briefly the way all children do several times each night, and when the only problem is that they can’t fall back to sleep by themselves.

    4. I certainly don’t believe in leaving a person who’s in agony and doing nothing. I don’t think a child left alone in a safe warm cot for a few minutes who isn’t hungry or wet or dirty is in agony. They might prefer to have more playtime, they might just prefer to have you there, but I don’t think you can equate that to being in agony.