Should You Let Baby Cry it Out?

What the bestsellers say about this controversial sleep technique. Most parenting pros agree that somewhere between the ages of three and four months, babies become physically able to sleep through the night. But the consensus ends there. On the matter of how babies get to sleep, expert advice runs the gamut from midnight massage to crib-side cheerleading. Here’s how popular parenting guides weigh in on the cry-it-out technique.

Solve Your Child’s Sleep Problems

Dr. Richard Ferber, MD

Cry-it-out stance: “Going ‘cold turkey’—putting your child in the crib at bedtime, letting him cry, and not returning until morning—is far from ideal,” writes Dr. Ferber. “[But] allowing some crying … will never cause psychological damage.”

His alternate approach: Put your infant to bed when she’s awake—that way, she won’t be disoriented if she awakes during the night. Then you can try what Dr. Ferber dubs the “progressive waiting” approach: Let Baby cry for one minute, then go in and verbally reassure her (without picking her up). Leave and repeat as needed, gradually lengthening your absences until they max out at 10 minutes.

The hitch: “Occasionally, as parents increase the time they wait before responding, their child cries so hard he throws up. If that happens, go in even though the time isn’t up yet. Clean your child up and change the sheets and pajamas as needed. But do so quickly and matter-of-factly, and then leave again.”

Sleep: The Brazelton Way

T. Berry Brazelton, MD, and Joshua D. Sparrow, MD

Cry-it-out stance: “There is little that a child can learn from sobbing alone in the darkness for long periods….If you let him cry it out, as some may recommend, he may finally give in, but at what cost!”

Their alternate approach: Comfort your child with motivational murmurs. “If he is dry and physically well, there’s no need to take [Baby] out of the crib. Instead, sit beside him, pat him soothingly, and croon softly, ‘You can go to sleep! You can do it! You can do it yourself!'”

The hitch: “From about nine months on, children are old enough to remember that you’d been there and to notice that now you’re gone, so they may need a parent to stay in the room. Get yourself a comfortable chair—you may be there for a while.”

The No-Cry Sleep Solution: Gentle Ways to Help Your Baby Sleep Through the Night

Elizabeth Pantley

Cry-it-out stance: “One dreadful night, I let [my daughter] cry it out. Oh, I checked on her often enough, each time increasing the length of the time until I returned to her side. But each return visit struck me with my precious baby, holding out her arms, desperately and helplessly crying, ‘Mama!’ with a look of terror and confusion on her tiny face. After two hours of this torment, I was crying, too.”

Alternate approach: The strategies in Pantley’s book vary depending on whether Baby is bottlefed, nursing, sleeping in a crib, or co-sleeping. But in every case, it’s critical to ensure your child is comfortable and well fed, as well as to create a loving bedtime routine that sets the stage for sound slumber.

The hitch: If Baby wakes and cries during the night, she must be comforted promptly. Explains Pantley, “There are no magic answers and no shortcuts.”

The Happiest Baby on the Block: The New Way to Calm Crying and Help Your Newborn Baby Sleep Longer

Harvey Karp, MD

Cry-it-out stance: “Letting a 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.”

His alternate approach: Tweak your baby’s environment to head off nighttime wakings—white noise from a fan or special machine often does the trick. (Dr. Karp is famous for his “five S’s” method of soothing baby.)

The hitch: Despite preventive efforts, your baby could wake during the wee hours. In that case, Dr. Karp advises offering your infant prompt TLC but declines to provide pointers: “Your job as a parent is to adapt to the needs of your newborn,” he states, “not the other way around.”

Sleeping Through the Night: How Infants, Toddlers, and Their Parents Can Get a Good Night’s Sleep

Dr. Jodi A Mindell, PhD

Cry-it-out stance: A little bawling at bedtime is okay, but it’s a different story during the predawn stretch. “For everyone’s sanity, do whatever it takes to get your child back to sleep during the night,” writes Dr. Mindell.

Her alternate approach: First, babies must learn to fall asleep on their own at bedtime. For this Dr. Mindell recommends a Ferber-style strategy: Put baby to sleep while she’s alert, then pop in intermittently if she’s crying. Sooner or later, your baby will start to use her self-soothing skills during the overnight hours, too. In the meantime, writes Dr. Mindell, “if you usually rock your baby back to sleep during the night, then go ahead and rock her. If you usually nurse or take her to bed, then do that. … She will naturally start sleeping through the night in about two weeks.”

The hitch: “Don’t abandon ship halfway through the process. Otherwise, you will only teach your child to scream for a longer time the next time because he will expect you to not follow through.”

The Baby Book: Everything You Need to Know About Your Baby from Birth to Age Two

William Sears, MD, Martha Sears, RN, et al.

Cry-it-out stance: The technique can permanently damage the infant-parent bond. “Each decade we see baby books advising variations of this sad theme. Going to your baby after five, then 10, then 15 minutes of crying may sound humane or reasonable, but the result is usually the same: a strung-out mother and an angry baby. We wish to put the cry-it-out approach to sleep—forever.”

Their alternate approach: Shop around until you find a sleep strategy that meets your baby’s sensory needs. Suggested tips include massaging baby before bed, going for a car ride, snuggling as a family, warming the crib sheets, and playing soft music. She’ll develop positive sleep associations and eventually learn to snooze on her own.

The hitch: Trial and error is the name of the game—and stumbling on the right technique could take weeks. “Each time you try a sleeping method, you build a nighttime experience file,” the authors explain. “Each month that you try something, you are wiser, and baby is more mature.”

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