How Soon Is Too Soon for 'Crying It Out'?

Crying baby
Heidi van der Westhuizen/E+/Getty Images

Crying it out (CIO) refers to any number of sleep training methods that involve permitting a child to cry for any amount of time. The goal of crying it out is to teach babies and/or children to sleep through the night and/or fall asleep independently.

What Is the Reasoning Behind This Sleep Training Method?:

The nuts and bolts of using the cry it out method is that falling asleep independently is a skill that your baby can learn.

If your baby needs "help" learning to fall asleep, supporters say that having the baby "cry it out" will break him of whatever sleep association he has developed.

The goal of crying it out is to eventually achieve cry-free evenings. Supporters feel that in the long-term, a baby who can soothe himself to sleep is worth the short-term disruption of tears and crying. CIO is about building a self-soothing sleep routine(preferably early on)so baby is not dependent on parents' help to fall asleep.

Who Advocates CIO-Style Sleep Training?:

While there are several sleep experts who suggest that at some point crying it out may be necessary, the method is most often associated with Dr. Richard Ferber, author of Solve Your Child's Sleep Problems. Interestingly, Ferber never used the term "cry it out" in the book, but his last name has lent itself to a somewhat synonymous slang term- "to Ferberize your baby."

When Can My Baby Cry It Out?:

Generally speaking, most physicians do not recommend using a cry-it-out method until a baby has reached the 5-month mark. Before beginning a cry-it-out approach, talk with your pediatrician to see what he suggests for your baby. You may be advised to start later based upon your baby's specific health history.

Why Can't I Use Crying It Out With a Newborn or Young Baby?:

A young baby is simply designed to wake frequently through the night. When he is coerced to sleep through the night at too young an age, it can be detrimental to his weight gain as basic needs go unfulfilled. Frequent night wakings also are known to maintain a baby's respiration, temperature, and pulse. So while night wakings can be very disruptive to sleep-deprived parents, it is actually a healthful behavior for young babies.

What Concerns Do I Need to Be Aware of?:

While many families have found great success with methods that involve crying it out, other sleep experts and parents argue that the cry-it-out method may be harmful to children. Dr. William Sears argues that crying it out can be physically and emotionally damaging.

He notes that when a baby cries it out, it increases his blood pressure, lowers his oxygen levels, and raises the level of stress hormones in his body. Sears theorizes that this may be damaging to developing brain cells.

Additionally, he maintains that ignoring a baby's attempts to communicate erodes the establishment of trust between parent and child.

What Practical Tips Can I Use?:

  • Before using a cry-it-out method, set up bedtime routines and stick with them.
  • Understand what you are doing and how to do it. Read step-by-step CIO guidelines and adapt your plan from that.
  • Be consistent in how you interact during sleep training, but also be flexible if needed. If it just doesn't seem to be the right fit for your family, try a different sleep method.
  • Be prepared for some challenging nights when you implement your plan. Don't expect it to go smoothly in the beginning.
  • Make sure all of those who help take care of the baby work together and are on the same page.

Continue Reading