I want to start this post about letting your baby cry it out by saying, from the bottom of my heart:
You are a great parent, no matter how your baby sleeps.
This is a no-judgment post, from one mom learning as she goes, and if this doesn’t work with your experience as a parent, I completely understand.
The reason I want to make this post about letting your baby cry it out is because before I actually became a parent, I didn’t have any real strict “rules” in my head, but I never saw myself as the “type of mom” who would let her baby cry.
(I know that sounds judgy already, I’m sorry, I was naive and childless, okay?)
But really, I had a lot of fears about letting my baby cry it out, and knowing my own personality, I just wasn’t sure I was going to be able to do it, even if I decided I wanted to.
First, what is “crying it out”? It’s basically a form of sleep training where you do everything you can to put your baby in a soothed, drowsy state of mind before setting them in their crib and walking away. If they cry, you are supposed to allow them to cry until they go to sleep, rather than going in and picking them up and rocking them back to sleep.
My Fears About the “Crying It Out” Method
So before actually having my son and becoming a parent, I had several key fears about letting my baby cry himself to sleep.
First, how sad does that sound? As a semi-professional emotional mess, I have had my fair share of nights were I’ve cried myself to sleep, and they’re miserable. If I knew someone who loved me could hear me crying and decided to just let me “cry it out,” I would be incredibly hurt and upset, and I’m a semi-well-adjusted adult. Babies are brand new to the world, have no coping mechanisms, heck, they may not even know for sure if you’re ever coming back for them. To expect them to gain anything from crying themselves to sleep sounded insane to me.
Second, I am very wary of tough love. As a highly sensitive person, tough love has never really worked for me. And I’m not actually convinced that it works all that well for anyone. All I’ve ever wanted as a human being is to feel loved and understood, and I think that’s what most everyone else wants too. “Bad” behavior comes from unmet needs, and I think it’s far more effective to gently discover and meet those needs than to ignore them in the name of tough love.
Finally, I was so nervous about causing my son emotional pain that he might not consciously remember but would store somewhere deep in his trauma centers. I know this might sound ridiculous to some, but I’m realizing how much of our lives as children really can be deeply traumatic, even when it seems relatively normal. This is why I worried that, even if my husband and I decided to do sleep training, I simply wouldn’t be able to. I was worried I would get so obsessed about not passing on my own emotional hangups that I simply wouldn’t be able to let him cry it out.
So…Why Do We Let Him Cry It Out?
As it turns out, my husband and I frequently let our son cry it out in his crib, and none of these things seem to apply once you take them out of their theoretical context and apply them to real life.
The number one reason crying it out works in our life even though it doesn’t seem great on paper is because of this: it’s flexible.
In all of my fears above, there was no room for flexibility. The idea was to just plop my son in his crib at my convenience and walk away and not give a flying fart if he screams himself hoarse all night.
Well of course that’s garbage parenting. But that’s not what letting your baby cry it out has to be.
How “Crying It Out” Works In Our House
Here’s what the “cry it out” method really looks like in our house with our five-month-old son:
Our son usually starts getting a little drowsy/cranky around 8pm so we hold him and rock him for a bit. But we’re flexible with the timing. If 8pm comes and he’s wide awake, we don’t force him to rock with us if he’d rather be playing on his activity mat. If it hits 9:30pm and he still isn’t acting sleepy, then we might start forcing things, but really, we let his bedtime be up to him for the most part. He knows what he needs.
After about 15-30 minutes of rocking and making faces with either me or my husband, we get our son all ready for bed and make him his last bottle of the day. We burp him and rock him, sometimes until he falls asleep in our arms, and then we go lay him down in his crib. Some nights, he stays asleep and there’s no crying necessary. On other nights, he wakes up and gets upset that we aren’t there.
Because of this, we try to lay him down either after he’s fallen asleep hard and isn’t likely to wake up, or before he falls asleep at all, when he’s just drowsy and notices us set him down and leave his room, that way he understands what’s going on. The worst-case scenario is when he falls asleep lightly, we go to set him in his crib, and he wakes up in the dark, alone. We try to avoid that, because when our son is scared, he isn’t likely to cry and then self-soothe. He’s afraid we aren’t there, and he won’t soothe himself until he sees us again.
On nights where our son does start crying after we set him down, we both take a deep breath, turn on a show, and set a 10-minute timer. If he’s still crying after 10 minutes, one of us goes and tries to soothe him with rocking, maybe a diaper change, or even some gas drops if he sounds like he’s in pain.
Why do we go back in if we’re doing the “cry it out” method? Because flexibility is key. It’s okay for our son to cry sometimes, that’s just what babies do. But that doesn’t mean we have to let him scream and scream when he’s just alone and scared and wants a hug. Plus, I would guess that we only have to go back in about 40% of the time on nights when he cries, and we typically only have to go back in once.
10 Minutes? My Baby Can Cry For An Hour!
I understand that the above scenario may not happen for you. I understand that some babies have a lot more issues with falling asleep and crying. Sometimes our son cries for an hour before bed, but that is not the norm for us, so I don’t feel I can really speak to what that daily experience is like or how to handle it. Every child is different and that is completely okay, but it means my advice may not be all that helpful for you. If that’s the case, your next step should be visiting Taking Cara Babies.
This is not a sponsored post, Taking Cara Babies is just an incredible site with so many invaluable resources on babies and sleep. Even though our son is a great sleeper, I’ve still learned so much from the site and Cara has really made me feel better about letting our son cry.
It’s Not Selfish to Let Your Baby Cry
Finally, I just want to say that it is not selfish to let your baby cry and work on sleep training. I was certain that if I did start letting the baby cry it out, it would be because of my needs. I would simply be too tired, too drained, too annoyed to go in and soothe my baby to sleep every time he cried. In short, I thought it was selfish.
I won’t lie, my needs are definitely part of why I let my son cry it out, but that isn’t actually completely selfish. It turns out taking care of my needs actually takes care of my baby’s needs as well. More well-rested parents are more patient parents, more forgiving parents, and more mentally present parents. For me, a few minutes of crying a couple of nights a week seems worth the cost if it means I can replenish my resources for the next day to be truly present and patient with my son.