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Letting My Baby Cry It Out

By Lauren Hartmann |

The sad tears that tug at my heart strings.

All the attachment parents out there are going to hate me for this, but last week I let my baby cry it out.

I would like to preface this by saying that the decision to actually let her cry it out was kind of unintentional. Fern had always been a pretty good sleeper (she was sleeping 8-10 hours each night by the time she was 8 weeks old), but in the past three weeks that all changed. We started experiencing a pretty intense sleep regression, with Fern waking up every 1-2 hours. It was exhausting.

At first I thought maybe it was a growth spurt, but everything I read said that growth spurts usually only last a few days and we were going on two weeks of this terrible sleep cycle. She didn’t seem to be fussy after eating, so I was pretty sure it wasn’t anything related to digestion and she didn’t seem to show any more symptoms of teething than she’d already been showing before. We even tried switching her to an earlier bed time, but nothing seemed to be working.

I was pretty sure that what started out as a growth spurt had slowly just turned into a bad habit of waking up to nurse and snuggle all night long. My patience was starting to wear thin due to lack of sleep – 3-4 hrs a night just wasn’t cutting it – and one evening last week, I just needed a break.

I heard a rustling noise on the monitor which quickly turned into a whimper and then a full out cry. I was on the verge of tears myself and just needed a couple of minutes to gain my composure before going into her room to nurse. After about five minutes I felt ok and got up to head toward the nursery, when my husband said, “You’ve already let her cry for 5 minutes.  Maybe you should just let her cry for a bit and see if she can go back to sleep on her own.”

Find out how things turned out after the jump…

Up until that night I had always gone in to comfort her immediately when she started crying. Would she be ok if I just let her cry?

I reluctantly agreed to try letting her cry, but told my husband that I was setting a half hour time limit and wasn’t going to let her cry any longer than that. I hadn’t actually read anything about the cry it out method before since I wasn’t planning on using it, so I didn’t realize that you’re actually supposed to start out with 15 minutes and then increase the time each night. Oops.

It was pretty awful listening to her deep baby cries over the monitor and in the interest of full disclosure I was totally a weepy mess. I’d read about the evils of cry it out and in between sobs, I told me husband I felt terrible and was worried that Fern would feel like she couldn’t trust us or depend on us to be there for her because we were letting her cry. He assured me that wasn’t going to happen, but I was skeptical.

The clock ticked slowly on and I was fully prepared to rush in to Fern’s aid as soon as she’d reached 30 minutes of crying, but after 25 minutes the crying stopped. I freaked out worrying that she must’ve stopped breathing or something, so I peeked in her room and was met with the sight of a sweetly sleeping baby. I proceeded to check on Fern every hour or so and I definitely didn’t sleep any better that night, but in the morning when I heard her fussing I rushed in and was greeted by the biggest baby smile ever. It was like Fern had absolutely no recollection of the stressful events from the previous night. I breathed a sigh of relief.

The following nights have been great. The second night she never made a peep and the third night there was just a bit of fussing, but overall I think we just broke the bad habit and then she remembered that night time is for sleeping.

I’m definitely not going to get on a platform and say that the cry it out method is the ultimate sleep solution and that everyone should try it, but I know my baby and nothing else was working and this worked for us. Sleep and sanity has been restored to our household and it only took 25 minutes of crying, which is totally worth it in my book.

Did any of you let your babies “cry it out”?

How have you dealt with sleep issues?

•Lauren Hartmann is the founder of The Little Things We Do, a blog about life and adventures in Portland Oregon. Follow her on Twitter and Facebook, or catch up on all of her posts here on Babble.

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About Lauren Hartmann


Lauren Hartmann

Lauren Hartmann is a wife, wardrobe stylist, and mama living in Portland, Oregon. She writes about her adventures in motherhood on Babble's Baby Channel. You can also find her blogging at The Little Things We Do or obsessively partaking in social media. Read bio and latest posts → Read Lauren's latest posts →

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33 thoughts on “Letting My Baby Cry It Out

  1. annie says:

    Though I am not for letting my baby cry it out, I am all about moms keeping their sanity. I delayed sleep training with Jacob for far too long for fear of harming the trust bond. Now, at 15 months, I finally have him sleeping a little bit better (though still only in 3 hour stretches MAX). A modified version of CIO worked for us, with him crying until he fell asleep, but with him patting his back and gently talking to him during it. I am definitely starting the sleep training WAY earlier with the next one. Your baby will love you and trust you and be so happy with a rested mama!

  2. Merle says:

    No judgment here! I haven’t resorted to this yet since my babe is a pretty good sleeper and is just 3 months. Although, I have heard that research shows children wake up between their sleep cycles (unlike adults who go from one into another) hence the whole reason for the cry it out method. It’s a skill they have to develop. It would make sense to me that a few nights of letting your baby cry will in the end result in a happier baby who has learned to get a good nights rest.

  3. Iain Brown says:

    We used a method of controlled crying for both our kids, similar to Ferber, but doubling the wait time between visits to see baby. We even wrote an iOS App to help with the process (Ciao Baby), but never actively marketed it after a barrage of negative feedback from people who were anti the whole process. It’s a really polarising subject, and that feedback had me questioning whether we had done the right thing. We do though, have 2 happy, contented, loving children who sleep very well, so in all I have no regrets.

  4. Meagan says:

    You didn’t do anything wrong… The 15 minute thing you described, also known as “ferberizing” is called “graduated extinction.” What you did was the extinction method (awful names, right?) where you let the baby cry for as long as it takes, even though you didn’t necessarily mean to. People who are against CIO will site studies that claim it damages babies, bu he studies are not really related to the use of CIO in the context of a healthy baby and family (one shows that baby’s who cry more in general – like sustained long term crying from colic etc, have long term brain differences from other babies, regardless of whether the are comforted. Another relates to children exposed to long term stress/abandonment in orphanage type situations).

    We did CIO, it was awful (lots more crying than 25 minutes :-) and our 11 month old is now a great sleeper. He is neither overly clingy nor detached. In fact, as far as I’m concerned, he’s perfect, but I might be a little biased. He almost instantly became a happier baby when we started CIO because, newsflash: he wasnt getting enough sleep either. I certainly don’t think there’s anything wrong with choosing a different method, but for my family a bit of crying was worth the sleep. For everyone.

  5. Alyssa says:

    It is totally normal for a baby to get up to nurse in the night during the first year. They need that extra bit in the night because their tummies can’t hold that much. I let my son cry, but he was almost a year. I think that younger than 6 months is too young. You don’t need to worry if she wants to nurse at night, she is just doing what her body says. If she stops crying it is because she realized no one is going to come help her feel better. Don’t feel like you’re spoiling your baby or damaging her sleep by nursing at night. You are just doing what nature intended.

  6. Katie says:

    @Alyssa: I think that holds true for a lot of babies. Many babies need more nourishment more often. But if a baby is *capable* of sleeping through the night without a feeding (which Fern obviously is), then I think it’s perfectly fine to allow her to self-soothe. It’s a rocky road, no doubt. We’re about to start the CIO method for our 4 month old, who was always a great sleeper (8-10 hours by 2 months as well). But now he’s waking up one hour after we put him down (and then again an hour later). He is not hungry (he eats more than enough during the daylight hours). But his brain is in overdrive with all the learning and growing. We want him to go back to sleeping 10-11 hours each night because that’s what makes him happier. I’m glad it worked out for y’all, Lauren. We’ll be giving it a go very, very soon.

  7. Abby says:

    we had the same type situation you did with Fern and did the same thing. it took a little longer than 1 night – but no more than a week and he is a fantastic sleeper now. i know it’s not for everyone, but it worked for us. and yes, big smiles in the morning and knowing he is getting good sleep makes it all worth it.

  8. FrankiesMama says:

    Good for you!! So many people are against cry it out, me initially as well. But from all the research I have done, babies need to learn how to sleep on their own (it’s considered a learned behaviour) and at around 6 months of 3-4 hours max sleeping I finally had to throw in the towel on comforting and try something different. It took much longer than a couple nights, but my 8 month old now sleeps 10-12 hours every night and is much happier for it.

  9. Adrianne says:

    I honestly just can’t do it. Like I’m physically incapable of listening to it. My daughter is 8 months and sleeps great through the night. When she wakes in the middle of the night, she is able to put herself back to sleep, so if she ever does start crying and continues for more than a minute or so, I know that something is wrong and I go in there. But this is very rare. When she was under 6 months, I definitely didn’t let her cry without checking on her. But I think when she was younger, she genuinely WAS hungry, so I fed her. I’ve heard that breastfed babies get hungry faster, so there was no way I wanted to risk her being hungry and me feeling like I was starving her:(
    Our problem is with getting her to go to bed without being asleep when I put her down. She will scream bloody murder and I just.can’t.handle it. So the few times that we’ve let her cry it out (not until she was over 6 months), I’ve gone out for a walk or gotten in the shower and left my husband to make sure she’s ok. I know that I need to do it so that she can learn to put herself to sleep at night, but it’s so very difficult. I definitely couldn’t have done 30 minutes on the first night, so I’m impressed that you held out! And glad that it worked for you guys. Hopefully Fern continues on the same path.

  10. Amanda says:

    I did something very similar with my son. It was tough, but it was so worth it.

  11. Jennifer says:

    Do what’s right for you and don’t let anyone tell you you’re doing it wrong! I’ve been reading Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child and there is a reason books and advice like that exist – because they work. I’m fortunate and my daughter (knock on wood) goes down to bed easily. Sometimes she wakes up and cries and needs to be fed but sometimes she was waking up and crying and just wanted a pacifier. We stopped going to her when we knew it was just for a pacifier and now only go in if we know she’s hungry. We’ve also stopped using the baby monitor at night. Her room and crib is maybe only 30 feet from ours so we hear her when she cries but don’t hear every little fuss and awakening. At the end of the day, do what’s right and works for you and tune out everyone and everything else. You’re a good mama and you’re doing the best you can.

  12. Nicolette says:

    Ditto the comments about doing what works for you. As a society we are too judgemental and quick to tell someone they are wrong if they are not doing something the way we are doing it. If it works for you and your family, not hurting anyone and your kid is thriving then keep doing it. No one knows your kid like you do and you know what is best.Keep on keepin on mama! We have to start being more supportive of our fellow mamas.

  13. Becca says:

    I agree with Katie…you’re the mama and you’re doing what works for you guys! CIO sounds harsh but it totally works and keeps your sanity (well eventually) which is an important part of being a good parent. A lot of the naysayers prob haven’t tried it out to see if it works for them. Being a parent isnt guaranteed to be easy all the time, but Fern will feel secure in the fact that she knows you are looking out for what’s best for her! Oh and don’t be afraid to turn off the monitor…it’s okay! :) You’re such a good mama Lauren!

  14. Erin says:

    I started sleep training with my daughter last week (she’s nine months old) and last night she slept from 7 pm to 4:30 am without waking to eat. The first night was torturous, but it has gotten much, much better. I am still sleeping on the couch (her crib is in my room), but it is working well, as long as I keep the monitor off. That’s my secret to surviving this whole thing- just turn the monitor OFF. I can still hear her crying when she gets loud but the little noises and whimpers are for her to deal with. She needed to learn that it was okay to wake up and just as okay to go back to sleep without me rocking her.
    Oh, and she woke up this morning sitting up and smiling. :) And I recommend the Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child book. Very helpful and reassuring.

  15. Carmen says:

    The only time we’d let our daughter cry it out was when she didn’t want to go to bed or it was only a couple hours after and we knew she couldn’t be hungry. We’d always go in first, make sure she wasn’t too cold/too hot, had a dry diaper, etc. We might cuddle for a short while, but then it was time to lay down on her own. We usually didn’t let the crying go past 10 min. Now, when she fusses, it’s only for a minute (literally). Any longer than that, and we know there’s something wrong – like a poopy diaper.

  16. Jude Strib says:

    Good for you! We’ve let our daughter cry it out and she’s doing fantastic.
    Usually she stops crying after 10 minutes.

  17. Jodi says:

    I agree with all the “do what works for you” comments. I am so tired of Moms getting down on each other if their ideas of “the right way” differ. We should be praising each other and building other Moms up for finding what works for them, not condemning them for choosing
    differently. Personally, I was very fortunate to have two excellent sleepers. Our problems (though still mild) didn’t start with our youngest until she was 2. We finally had to do a combo Supernanny/CIO and because of that I have a 3 and 5 year old that go to bed without issue at 8:30 every night and sleep till 7am every morning. Guess what, they are happy, rested, well adjusted kids who think the sun rises and sets for me alone. :)

  18. Dawn says:

    I’m just so confused about parents who teach the child to need them to go to sleep then decide to sleep train.a newborn will sleep no matter where they are so if parents would put the baby to bed when it is falling asleep there would be no need for sleep training .parents usually create the problem.the writer did what I think was perfect for the situation. I realize how sweet it is to hold a sleeping newborn but its hard to listen to that same baby cry because she doesn’t know how to just fall asleep in her bed.

  19. karyn says:

    also a big fan of Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child–used it with all 5 of my kids(ages 6-22).you teach babies many things–sleeping thru the night without help is one of them.also napping is very important–otherwize they are too overtired and wired to sleep

  20. casey says:

    I tried to let her cry it out. Never worked. She is extremely stubborn. It would go on for hours. As much as I loved her being baby,I’m glad she’s a toddler now.

  21. Sara says:

    No judgement, but I could never do it. I also share a room with my 8 month old so if he’s crying I’m going to be awake to hear it anyway. I might as well just nurse and comfort him back to sleep so we can both get back to sleep sooner and with less stress.

  22. amanda says:

    I nursed both of my children and am still nursing my 2 yr old in the morning. When they were newborn till about 7 months old, I would nurse them in the night knowing that they were hungry. I was informed that breast milk digests faster then formula and nursing babies tend to be hungry sooner than formula fed. Not sure, haven’t formula fed so I don’t know from experience. Anyways, When they got to the age when I felt they weren’t actually hungry throughout the night, I would make sure they are their solids, drank some “bah” and gave them a sippy cup of water to bed. My rules were 20 minutes, any longer I would go get them. Usually, if they were in fact tired, they would go to within 5 – 10 minutes. If they were still up after 20 minutes, I would go nurse because they were probably hungry. I did this sooner with my son, who is now 4, and never had a problem. With my daughter, I gave in more. Which has let to sleepless nights way more than I should have. I don’t think your children won’t trust you if you let them cry. They have to learn to self sooth because my son can, but my daughter, since I have given in, has a terrible temper that she has trouble calming without nursing. Im not sure, I think that people should do whats best for their baby, but still makes sure they themselves are taken care of too.

  23. Anne says:

    Dawn, parents can encourage self-soothing and independent sleep from a very young age (without CIO), but it is a little specious to suggest that doing so works in all instances, or that all newborns will sleep wherever. I was wracked with guilt over how I might have prevented the need to do CIO at six months, until I remembered that my son refused to sleep in his hospital bassinet, and would only sleep on myself or my husband, four hours after he was born! This child came out this way, and while I could have nudged him in a different direction earlier, I did not create the problem by getting him to sleep in the only way either of us knew how.

  24. luna laplant says:

    you are a horrible mother who neglects her child how the hell did’t you push that man over and gab your baby why the hell would you want to let you child cry her self to sleep.

  25. Dawn says:

    Anne,I’m talking about many parents.not judging not being ugly.just seen it happen over and over.(I’m a nanny) I’m also a Mommy who had a newborn terrified of the I know some are just born not so easy.I’m refering to those who rock and nurse to sleep consistently then decide to sleep train.

  26. Dawn says:

    Anne,suspicious? I’m not judging or being ugly.I’m only suggesting “nudging in the right direction” when they are tiny.

  27. amanda says:

    I know for a fact that some newborns will not sleep, I remember after my son was born I put him in the bassinet at the hospital after I fed him, and he would scream for a while, so Id pick him up, feed him more, the minute he left my arms, more screaming. around 3 or 4 in the morning a nurse came in a told me to just hold him. I knew it was that he was hungry, and that he felt insecure without me. but when he got to the age that I knew “most” babies were sleeping alone and through the night. I started the 15 – 20 minute rule because I knew it had turned into him just wanting to be laying on me, not about being hungry. Like I said earlier, My daughter has more problems now with self soothing and plain out temper than my son because I gave in too many times.

  28. Angelina says:

    CIO method is cruel no matter in which context you put it… I never did it with my son and would never do it with another baby.. Attachement parenting is the way to go and u’ll have a well balanced kid. Other than that, u’re just convincing yourself that you did good and everything worked out, news flash (No it didn’t) it’s a temporary fix and lack of trust is what u built, slowly but surely night after night…

  29. SarahB says:

    I think you did exactly what was needed for your family. We have twin girls and at some point in their first year we did the same thing. I can’t remember how old the girls were but one of them begain getting up at 3am. That didn’t work for me so we let them cry it out together. I am pretty sure it took a little less than a week but it worked and now they are 3.5 and just fine. They know we love them and sometimes what they want and need are two different things.

  30. Sai says:

    as long as it’s not for too long I let my baby cry but only for like 10 mins lol I give in easily but I can tell sad cries from angry/spoiled cries I don’t leave him to cry on the sad ones. My mom had a thing were she would let us cry ALL day cause house work was more important (so she says) I disagree and we always fight about that she tells me to let him cry so I can clean the house and I say I can clean on his naps or when he plays gets done slower but it gets done. I seriously think me and my siblings have abandonment issues cause of it…but she did it all day maybe if it’s just for a little bit it’ll be ok for u

  31. Crystal says:

    I used to think it was just AWFUL to let baby cry it out, but then I had my 2nd daughter before my first was even a year old… well, at about 6 weeks my 2nd started sleeping through the night, and I was like awesome she is just like her sister! but no sooner did I say that, and she flip flopped! she was sleeping maybe a totally of 5 hours in a 24hour time.. I couldnt take it anymore, so I let her cry, and it worked! she now sleeps in her own bed, in her room with her sister, and they both sleep about 8 to 10 hours a night! thats not to say we dont still have some tough nights, but they are FEW.

  32. Helen says:

    I’m more of an attachment (to say the least) parent, but I think sometimes you have to do what’s best for your baby, you and your family as a whole. I couldn’t listen to mine cry, but if they did this to me night after night, I’d consider it! : ) If you aren’t getting any sleep and the baby is that old, it’s a complete nightmare!!! I’m a nightmare without sleep, so then it would be more of a consideration : ) I do believe I just repeated myself : )
    I really feel uncomfortable at how venomous people (worse still, other mothers) are when it comes to people doing things differently!!! : ( I do what is best for us and I like to think that other parents do the same.

  33. margaret says:

    I cannot believe you would let a baby any younger than 5 months old cry it out, especially for as long as you did without checking on her to let her know you were there. I would hope at the very least you had a video monitor to watch her and be sure she didn’t vomit all over herself from crying so hard. What if she had a dirty diaper and was completely covered in poop? Did that ever occur to you? If you were so exhausted from lack of sleep, your husband should have gotten out of bed to comfort her. You can tell yourself that it worked as long as you want, but the fact of the matter is when you allow a baby that young to just cry herself to sleep a layer of trust is be chipped away. There was a study done very recently about letting babies cry it out. It studied babies 4 to 10 month olds (still younger than Fern) and its quite interesting:

    You may find some solace in the study, but the fact still remains that you let her cry it out for far longer than the 10 minutes it took for the babies in the study to fall asleep. 30 MINUTES? Seriously? And you never went to her? I just cannot fathom leaving her alone for 30 minutes to cry. If you are going to use the CIO method, then you should read about it before giving it a try. I highly recommend what other mothers have recommended– Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child. You will learn a lot about sleep patterns and an educated way to do the CIO method (in increasing 10 minute intervals with reinforcement that you are acknowledging her crying but she needs to self soothe. NOT 30 minutes left to just cry and feel completely alone, as if NO ONE cares that she’s crying)

    I’ve been following your writings here and your blog and I am shocked at some of things you have done. You complain that Fern doesn’t sleep, but then you mention that she takes a shower with you. Did it ever occur to you that a shower is incredibly stimulating, possible too stimulating for her, and that it is a shock to her system? Give her a bath, put some lavender oil in the bath, give her a baby massage with additional lavender and vanilla scented lotions or oil afterwards. You also didn’t wash under her arms for such a length in time that she developed some sort of “gunk” under them, which had a strong, nasty odor. How did you not wash under her arms? How did that never cross your mind? I wonder if the gunk under her arms was causing her pain and that was a cause for her not sleeping well? You say she likes dirty rap music. Did it ever occur to you that the reason she quiets down when its being played is that she is frightened?

    You need to accept that being a mom is the most difficult job in the world. And in those first 6 months, babies need our attention, our love, our devotion, for their cries to be met with comfort, and to be nurtured. I’m all for balance, but no one said being a mom is easy. If you are struggling because you are not getting enough rest, then lean on your husband, your nearby family, and your friends for help.

    I would also suggest changing your nighttime routine. Because what your doing obviously isn’t working, if you are lacking as much sleep as you claim you are. It certainly takes time to figure out a sleep routine that works, but once you do stick with it and it will help nurture her sleep habits and yours for a lifetime. Do you have a rocking chair? Does she have a sound machine and night light? Those three things should be implemented at every nap and bedtime. They allow for bonding and establishing a solid routine. My children’s nighttime routine is as follows and has been the same since they were 2 months old: bath>baby massage/lotion>read>rocking chair with sound machine & lights off>crib/bed.

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