When you were pregnant, you couldn’t imagine letting your baby cry herself to sleep. Fast-forward six months and you’re ready to try everything and anything for some shut-eye. Here’s what Cara Dumaplin, baby sleep expert of Taking Cara Babies fame, has to say about cry it out (CIO).
“We want to meet babies where they are developmentally,” Cara tells us. And in a baby’s first four months, they don’t have the developmental capacity to go from crying to calming themselves down to putting themselves to sleep. Translation? You can’t—and shouldn’t—attempt to cry it out during those first four months. But that doesn’t mean you can’t teach a newborn how to fall asleep using other methods, like putting her down while still awake or with the help of a sound machine. (For the record, Cara teaches a no-cry approach newborn class that this mom swears by.)
“Now at five months and older, if sleep is a struggle then there will be crying,” says Cara. That’s because at this age, babies get used to falling asleep in a certain way (being rocked to sleep, for example), and they’re going to protest if you take that away from them. Another reason why babies cry? Because they’re trying to communicate with you and, well, their means of communication are pretty limited at this point.
But before you feel like the worst parent ever, know that there’s a difference between your baby crying because their needs aren’t being met (like if they’re hungry or cold) and crying because they’re frustrated that they don’t know how to fall asleep.
“When crying is involved, we want to reassure a baby. We want to say, ‘Listen, I know this is hard but I will not abandon you and I am walking through this process with you.’ But they’re still going to cry.”
So, how do you reassure your baby (without holding them all night long)? There are multiple methods to choose from including the pick up, put down method, Ferberizing, the chair method … they all work, says Cara. “And research will tell you that with all of those methods, the babies are OK and suffer no negative long-term effects.” Phew.
Here’s the catch—in order for a method to work, you have to be consistent. Cara advises parents to pick a method that they can stick with for 14 to 30 nights. And sure, a month of crying it out sounds pretty awful. But a baby who sleeps through the night at the end of it? Well, that sounds totally worth it.