Should You Let Your Baby Cry It Out?

crying baby

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Should you let your baby "cry it out" sometimes to go to sleep? This is a hotly debated topic among parents and parenting experts, and the simple answer is: There's no simple answer. All babies and all parents are different, and to expect one method to work for all of them is probably unrealistic. 

Plenty of parents have struggled with how to best teach their baby how to go to sleep. Like a lot of things in parenting, it's a difficult balance to strike. On one hand, you know that babies sometimes just need you, but on the other hand, sometimes you need sleep too, and the baby isn't getting into any kind of pattern.

Sleep deprivation has very real, dangerous effects on both mothers and fathers, raising the risk of everything from postpartum depression to obesity. Lack of sleep is a big motivation for some parents to try a cry-it-out method of sleep training. And although letting a baby cry themselves to sleep is a method that has been met with criticism, some research shows that crying it out may help babies learn to sleep more at night.

How to Let Your Child Cry It Out

The "cry-it-out" method of sleep training means different things to different people, but in general, it means putting your baby down to sleep awake and letting them cry for a set amount of time before soothing them. In a 2016 study, researchers called this method of sleep training graduated extinction, which refers to a "graduation" in the number of times a parent lets their baby cry before going in to soothe them.

In this method, on the first night it may take 10 minutes for your baby to self-soothe, while the second night, it may take less time. The goal with crying it out is to teach babies to soothe themselves back to sleep, so that during those inevitable nighttime awakenings (because it is totally normal for babies to wake at night, even if they don't need anything), they can go back to sleep on her own. This method also allows parents to put babies down to sleep quickly and easily without hours of feeding or reading or rocking.

Effectiveness

Advocates of crying it out swear that it works. Although it may be difficult for the first night or two, after the first initial hurdle, babies learn to sleep better on their own.

The 2016 study found the cry-it-out method works. On average, the babies in the cry-it-out group slept 20 minutes longer than any other babies in the study. This may sound like a small amount, but from the standpoint of any sleep-deprived parent, 20 minutes is nothing to sneeze at. Twenty minutes of extra sleep may as well be 20 hours when you're a new parent.

Is Crying It Out Harmful?

In this one study, researchers found that the cry-it-out method was effective as a way to help babies sleep longer, and also that it was not harmful to them. The study measured babies' stress levels through hormones and mother's observations before, after, and a year later, and found that the babies did not display any short- or long-term negative effects from crying it out.

So should you try the cry-it-out method with your baby? As a parent, you know what your baby needs and if you are considering using the cry-it-out method, just remember that crying it out does not mean leaving a very young baby to scream for hours alone in their room.

Crying it out needs to be a controlled aspect of sleep training that accounts for all of your baby's needs, including making sure they are fed, cuddled, diapered properly, and comfortable before you implement it. You also need to be sure you can see your baby, so invest in a good quality video monitor. Be sure to speak to your doctor before you start sleep training as well, to make sure you are following safe sleep recommendations.

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