Is It Wrong to Let Your Baby Cry It Out?

Seven months.

That’s the exact phrase I recently Googled; “Is it wrong to let your baby cry it out?” The results were nearly equally mixed; from stay-at-home moms to doctors.

What my wife and I had been doing was not working for our son so I decided to step up and be proactive.  Yes, I am one of those parents who unashamedly uses the controversial “cry it out” method when it comes to getting my son to go to sleep.

Granted, there are many versions of the method; some more harsh than others.  Today, I would like to share with you my version of it.

When my now seven month old son began crawling over a month ago, his former sleep schedule became abruptly derailed.  He began putting up a fight when it was time for him to go to sleep every night.

My son Jack became so preoccupied with his newly acquired mobility that his body just couldn’t stop moving, despite the fact he was exhausted and desperately needed rest.  He would even crawl in his sleep!

It didn’t take long for me to see the connection between his mobility obsession and his inability to fall asleep with the comfort of my wife’s usual routine with him.  The new normal was that it would take my wife 90 minutes or more to get him to sleep.

Needless to say, she was worn out and frustrated by the time it was over.  And I was frustrated to see her so frustrated.  Not to mention, by the time she got him to sleep, it was nearly time for the two of us to go to bed.

I respect the concept of quality time in our marriage.  And it just didn’t seem kosher that A) it should be that much trouble to get our son to bed and B) that our quality time together should be interfered with so greatly by something as seemingly natural as a baby falling asleep.

After barely skimming a chapter of a book on “crying it out” and a few websites, I decided to apply what I had learned.  The first night, it took my 43 minutes to get my son to sleep.  The second night, 27 minutes; the third; 17 minutes.  And now, a week later, I can often get him to sleep within 10 to 12 minutes.  (Tonight, it took me less than 5 minutes!)

Not only has the method caused my wife and me to be better relaxed and rested, but it also does the same for our son.  He wakes up less during the night now.

He goes to sleep a little earlier and wakes up a little later.  That’s not to say I’m excited by the fact that I have less quality time withhim during the day; but I do recognize that he was being deprived of quality sleep time before I started applying the method.

I recognize the common concern that the baby will become psychologically damaged by the process.  I disagree; not the way I do it, at least.  In fact, I proclaim that for the babies in the world who need the “cry it out” method, they actually become psychologically nurtured.

My son’s developing emotions have not yet successfully connected to rational thinking.  Half of his body is telling him, “Crawl! Crawl! Crawl! Don’t stop ‘til you get enough!”  The other half is saying, “I’m tired! I need sleep!  I’m so sleepy it’s all I can think about!”

That’s where I come in.  I help my son make those connections in his brain.  And I do it with the structure and strength he craves.  I view it as an early form of discipline.  Not discipline in the form of punishment or discomfort, but in the form of guidance and assurance.

Here’s a brief look at the Nick Shell version of the “cry it out” method:

1)     As it gets close to his established bed time (6:30 PM), I take him to his bedroom and shut the door, letting him play for a few final minutes on the floor with his toys.

2)     When he shows signs of being ready to go to sleep (rubbing his eyes, being unable to sit well), I wrap him up in his blanket and begin gently rocking him.  I make sure that he is physically comfortable as I hold him; not holding him too tightly.

3)     When he begins doing his “protest cries” (crying at the top of his lungs), I give him a hug by holding him more firmly- but only in that moment of him belting out his cry; so ultimately during the two seconds he lets out a cry, I hold him more tightly, but obviously not squeezing him or hurting him.

4)     As his eyes close, I continue rocking him in my arms, waiting for him to officially fall asleep and start snoring.

5)     I wait a few more minutes to make sure he has entered a sleep deep enough to endure my lying him down in his bed.

6)     Then I hold him over his bed for another minute, but ceasing to rock him.  This prepares him for the landing.

7)     I slowly yet steadily lower him to his bed and remove my hands from his head and legs, lying him down. I wait another minute to make sure he is going to stay asleep, then I quietly leave the room.

8)     If it any point from Step 3 to Step 7 he refuses to stop crying for more than one minute, I carefully set him down in his bed and leave the room.  The first time I leave him, I’m only gone for one minute.  The next time, three; then five, then ten.  But never more than ten minutes pass before I return to try again.  Each time I return, I restart at Step 3 by re-wrapping him in the blanket and gently rocking him.

The most crucial element with this method is that you, the parent, are consistent.  Do it every night.  Never give up during the middle of it.

When necessary, I remind myself that I am the one who controls my son, not the other way around.  I don’t give him the ability to frustrate me with his illogical behavior; instead, I frustrate him with my logical behavior.  He doesn’t get me worked up emotionally; instead, I redirect his emotions.

I realize that may sound intense to some, but I believe my son needs structure now more than he ever has needed it in his life.  I believe if I let him have his way and take 90 minutes or more to fall asleep on his own, I would be sending a message to him that he is able to make the rules.  I believe for him, that could actually be psychologically misleading and damaging.  I love my son, therefore I use this version of the “cry it out” method.

In closing, I write this with the assumption that at least 70% of readers passionately disagree with me on this issue.  By no means am I trying to convert anyone to this seemingly unloving yet effective method.  I simply want to share what works for me (a normal guy; not an expert) and tell the other side of the story- to answer the question by saying, “No, it’s not wrong to let your baby cry it out.”

I welcome your comments, whether you agree or disagree.  Just remember, I don’t approve comments that insult the character or intelligence of other commenters or of myself: Make it constructive, not destructive.  Make it legitimate; not sarcastic and condescending.

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  1. by MomOfMany

    On July 7, 2011 at 10:03 am

    Actually, what you have done is not teach him to sleep well, but teach him that, no matter how hard he cries, how scared and alone he feels, or what his needs may be, you will not be there for him. You have taught him to give up hope that mommy or daddy will be there for him no matter what, and to just give up trying. I see a major difference in the clinginess and dependency in kids that were let to cry it out, compared to those that were not. Kids go through stages and need us more in some then others. Congratulations!

  2. by Monica

    On July 7, 2011 at 10:14 am

    I did Ferber’s method (modified for my baby) and he sleeps from 8-8 every night. He loves us just as much and he definitely relies on us for support and help. (i.e. whenever he falls down he immediately looks for me or my hubby). Some people are completely against it. But good for you. Happy parents=Happy baby.

  3. by Julie

    On July 7, 2011 at 11:06 am

    I would like to say good job. I started with this method and gave up. I think you did well and as the pp said happy parents=happy baby= happy family. I will review your advice and see if I can get my now 8 month daughter to sleep.

  4. by Alee

    On July 7, 2011 at 11:21 am

    I don’t believe you have taught your son that you will not be there for him. I do the same thing with my son, except when it is time for bed I begin to rock him, if he is still bright eyed then I give him a kiss goodnight and tell him it is bedtime and that I love him I lay him down in his crib and turn on his lullaby CD and close the door, he may fuss (never scream at the top of his lungs) for a few minutes and then he is fast asleep. If he does fuss for more then 2 minutes or so I go pick him up and take him to rock, by that time he has wore himself out so he is fast asleep within minutes.

    Babies have to learn when it’s playtime and when it’s bedtime. This makes them more independent. If you rock them and hold them and run to them every time they make a small little cry then they are going to be dependent of you and won’t be able to do anything for themselves.

    I’m proud of you for taking control of the situation and giving your wife a break, that also helps your bonding with your child.

  5. by Alee

    On July 7, 2011 at 11:25 am

    Also, my son is one day shy of 10 months old and sleeps from 9:30-7:30 every night. If I hear him in the middle of the night I do not rush right in a get him, I wait a few minutes if I still hear him then I will go pick him up.

  6. by Amanda

    On July 7, 2011 at 12:09 pm

    Your method does not seem unloving, and it seems to me a very gentle way to do cry it out, especially since you never leave him alone for more than 10 minutes. I tried this and didn’t have the discipline to keep it up. I now am still rocking and laying down with my one and a half year old daughter and it takes at least one hour to two hours. It is so special that you have been able to do this and don’t let radicals make you feel badly. I’m sad the very first comment I read was exactly what you asked people to avoid. Ugh. sarcasm sucks.

  7. by Sarah

    On July 7, 2011 at 12:18 pm

    Oh, this is one of those topics that’s right up there with breast-feeding vs. bottles, cloth diapers vs. disposables, stay at home vs. working… and everyone has an opinion (which boils down to, basically, “you’re doing it wrong”).

    I think that it’s great that you guys are flexible enough to try new things. When it comes to sleeping, I am not. But that stems from the fact that I see it differently than you do (and have waaay less patience). My theory has always been that my son is eventually going to have to get to sleep by himself, so the earlier I start letting him figure it out, the less traumatic it will be for him later. Harsh? I don’t know, but it has worked for us. I always tell him that if he is still crying in twenty minutes, I’ll come get him. In reality, he’s usually asleep in five (and hardly ever cries), so if he were to cry for ten minutes straight, I’d figure something was wrong and check on him. I don’t disagree with you; I can see the value of rocking your child… but we just do it differently.

    And Owen being a fabulous sleeper is probably a result of the fact that if he’s awake, he is ALWAYS moving. He doesn’t sit in one place to play, he plays while he moves around, and half the time he’s outside. So when I put him in his crib, he’s ready to sleep.

    As a disclaimer to anyone ready to put me in my place about Owen not getting enough attention because I’ve never rocked him to sleep: when he is awake, Owen gets plenty of attention. We talk to him (and listen/respond when he “talks”), play with him, hold him, read to him, take him for walks, let him play with the dogs, everything that parents do with their babies. And to the first commenter, I think that going into a babies room every time s/he cries teaches him/her that if s/he cries long enough, s/he will get whatever s/he wants. We are still awake when Owen falls asleep, so he can hear us talking, cleaning up, etc. He can hear the dogs moving around. He does not feel alone or scared; in fact, I think that he likes to have some time to himself. Most nights, he babbles and giggles to himself, like he’s thinking out loud.

    But, ultimately, it comes down to Nick’s point about control. My child does not control what I do. I am the parent, and making decisions about bedtime and mealtime is my responsibility, not my son’s. And as long as you stick to your plan, instead of letting your baby dictate bedtime, he will learn that he can’t push you around, and respect you enough to lay quietly until he falls asleep.

    In other words, we do things differently here, but what you are doing works for you (and Jack), and that’s all that matters. Also, I love that you aren’t afraid to write about things like this. The parenting community can be extremely judgmental, but I think that if we talk about our experiences (successes and failures) and really listen to others’, we will become better parents.

  8. by Lindsay

    On July 7, 2011 at 5:08 pm

    I find the comment stating that you have taught your son that you will not be there for him extremly harsh and don’t agree with it at all. Children that age lack communication skills and cry for any number of reasons. As a parent, it is your job to know your child and what those cries mean. There is a huge difference between the “I am scared,” “I am hurt,” or “I really need you” cry and the “I am so tired I don’t know what I want” cry. I think you are doing a great job at discerning those cries and being there when Jack needs you. Leaving him alone for a few minutes and letting him cry when you, as the adult, KNOW that what he needs is sleep is not a method of torture or neglect.

  9. by Nick Shell

    On July 7, 2011 at 9:20 pm

    Thank you Amanda :)

  10. by Nick Shell

    On July 7, 2011 at 9:21 pm

    I appreciate you saying that, Alee.

  11. by Alee

    On July 8, 2011 at 10:52 am

    You are welcome Nick. And to Sarah, very nicely put! :)

  12. by Marina

    On July 8, 2011 at 7:38 pm

    We have a similar method that we use with our 1yr old daughter. I have 2 kids and trully believe that there is a unique method out there for each family so long as the baby does not cry in distress for too long. As parents it is our job to find that solution that works for us and our kids. What works for one may not work for another and vice versa. Sounds to me like your baby is getting the love and rest he needs!

  13. by Nick Shell

    On July 8, 2011 at 8:16 pm

    Thank you Marina for your encouragement.

  14. by Michelle

    On July 14, 2011 at 11:49 am

    Thanks for sharing your experience so honestly. Whether people agree or disagree with your method, what’s awesome to read here is how intentional you are with the raising of your child. You’re not mindlessly making a decision in the heat of a frustrated moment. You saw a problem in your family, you did your (albeit brief) research, and then you made the decision that was right for you guys. And you’re now reaping the benefits. The only thing I tend to get judge-y about is when I see parents not thinking through what their decisions will mean for their child, their partner, and the culture of the family. Just loved reading your thought process behind the decision!

  15. by Nick Shell

    On July 14, 2011 at 7:04 pm

    Michelle, thank you for your encouragement. Yes, I am a very methodical person. I’m glad to hear that you can relate to my writings. :)

  16. by Melody

    On September 27, 2011 at 9:13 pm

    I am so thankful for this article and the comments, except for the first comment. I just read an article about attachment parenting which had a phrase about the “cry-it-out-crowd” and immediately started questioning myself and motives. I, too, want my baby to sleep. I have learned that when I go to pick them up when they are at their peak cry, I have ruined their chances of falling asleep. At first, it is hard not to go get them, but they don’t even cry now when I put them down…so surely I am not raising an “unconnected” child like the attachment article suggested….? The parents I know who co-sleep with their children, or who must rock them to sleep every night, are unhappy because their children never learn to soothe themselves and the intimacy between parents is greatly diminished. So how can that be a happy environment to raise a child? My son is not yet four months and can soothe himself back down if he wakes up at night, though he rarely does, and sleeps between 10-12 hours every night. My daughter was the same way. So to all the members of the “cry-it-out-crowd” thank you for your support.

  17. by Nick Shell

    On September 27, 2011 at 9:15 pm

    You’re welcome, Melody. Glad to help :)

  18. by Lorri Summerford

    On January 31, 2012 at 1:31 am

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  19. by Mike

    On March 15, 2012 at 10:53 pm

    I’m an Uncle placed in the position of Parent of a 6 month old almost completely by surprise. Every step of the way I’ve been scared out of my mind. We are having some trouble with bed time and I have to say thank you for sharing your thoughts and suggestions. I can at least now try this out without feeling like a monster. My Niece isn’t crawling yet, she’s close to it though. Do you think it’s okay to try this out now or should I wait?

  20. by Nick Shell

    On March 15, 2012 at 11:06 pm

    Mike, thank you for doing what your doing; being a Super Uncle. I say definitely start it now. I believe that an infant should start sleeping through the night once they reach the point that they don’t need to eat through the night. From what I can tell, that’s around 3 months old. Do it. Come back with any questions. I’m more than glad to assist with what worked for me.

  21. by rachel

    On June 17, 2012 at 8:34 pm

    i dont understand why this is article is making other parents bash you for this. i personally started my daughter with the gentle cry it out sleeping method when she was 3 months because she was for the most part already sleeping through the night when she turned 1 month old.( i wasn’t starving her either; just because most babies at that age wake up every 2 to 4 hours to eat, but she wasn’t one of them. i asked her pediatrician and he said i was very lucky and she was in perfect health. if she’s sleeping through the night-let her! ) anyway, there is nothing wrong at all with this method. it teaches them how to self sooth while letting them know that their parents are there when they go to bed and as soon as they wake up. babies crave structure among many other things. and just like they have a feeding schedule, they should also have a sleeping schedule. my daughter will be 1 in july and since first introducing her to this method, she actually looks forward to tuck in time! because its not just a method anymore…its a routine:) so yes! its VERY effective when done the right way. and NO!!!! we are not bad parents for doing this!!! WE ARE AWESOME PARENTS!!!!!

  22. by Nick Shell

    On June 17, 2012 at 10:17 pm

    Thanks, Rachel, for your encouragement :)

  23. by Melissa

    On August 9, 2012 at 4:46 pm

    These are all very interesting comments and I love the amount of support that is expressed for each other as parents – parenting is hard and I have always believed the sign of a good parent is one that questions everything that they do (but then yes Nick, be able to be consistent with the model that they choose). To even out the balance in the cry it out or not debate, my husband and I have had a wonderful experience with not crying it out. Our sons are 5 and 7 now – they have been wonderful sleepers for a long time and never had to cry it out. We chose to co-sleep with our boys and they naturally transitioned to their own bed as toddlers. My boys love bedtime as it has never been a negative time for them. Today, we usually read a chapter to them and they take care of the rest – they are entirely able to sooth themselves and are able to sleep anywhere w/o difficulty. My husband and I have never resented having a baby in bed with us – in fact we look back on those years and cherish them greatly. It is such a short time in the great scheme of things (although I respect the feeling that it feels like a long time while you are in it!). We have never felt like our intimacy has been impaired. (There are more places to be intimate than in the bed with the lights off – let’s get creative people! Besides the fact that intimacy for me would be difficult with a baby crying in the next room.) To those of you who are in that phase of questioning whether to let your baby cry it out or not, please feel supported in your instincts to answer your baby’s cries. Parenting is a 24 hour job – unfortunately a baby can not understand why their daytime loving and engaged parents would disengage at night. Good luck to all!

  24. by Faith

    On August 12, 2012 at 2:17 pm

    The CIO method would not have worked with my son, because he was scared to go to sleep. Once we dealt with the unnatural fear, we got more firm about him going to sleep nicely. We did use CIO during play time, and he went from crying while being held, to happily playing on his own for up to 30 min at a time. He also smiled more and was happier and easier to handle all around. This was around 3 mo.
    There is a time and place for CIO and a time and place for comforting. CIO is for a child that doesn’t want to go to sleep, not for one that is scared to.

  25. by Taint69

    On October 12, 2012 at 9:43 pm

    Well as a parent of 4 of my own and 3 step kids everyone of my children have slept from day one of coming home from the hospital the first child I and the wife did exactly what the nurses wanted but also after the the second stopped found that instead of waking our baby up every few hours for feeding let them get up when there hungry although if it went too long then we’d wake them but every one of my children straight home have slept through the night and bedtime bed time now it may or may not work for you but this worked well for us as always my children from are youngest at 15 months to are oldest at 18 have never had any sleeping problems or crying problems

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  27. [...] were no longer able to get him to sleep without him (and us) getting extremely upset.  So I tried my own version of the “cry it out” method and it has worked great.  I highly recommend [...]

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