Cry It Out Method: What the Experts Say

Cry It Out Method: What the Experts Say

There's really nothing in life that can prepare you for the complete and utter exhaustion that comes hand-in-hand with parenthood. 

Between midnight feedings, early morning diaper changes, and the many bouts of fussiness sprinkled in between, new moms and dads are often considered lucky if they can clock in a solid three hours of uninterrupted shut-eye at any given amount of time. 

But let's be honest, that's not nearly enough sleep for anyone to function optimally— let alone a parent taking care of a newborn.  

Enter: Sleep training method 

For the bleary-eyed dreaming of zzz's and better days, there often comes a time when sleep training enters the conversation, specifically, the "cry it out" method. 

While there are a number of fans around the world in favor of this popular approach to sleep training, there are just as many folks who advise against it — but what do the experts have to say? 

We'll tell you. 

In this post, we're exploring sleep training to uncover the truth behind the most controversial method of them all. Whether you're thinking about starting or just looking to sort fact from fiction, Little Yawn Collective is here with the scoop to tell you everything you need to know about the cry it out method. Are you ready?

Let's dive in! 

What Is The Cry It Out Method? 

Believe it or not, the idea behind sleep training an infant dates back to 1895, when Dr. Emmett Holt first suggested that babies should be left to "cry it out" if crying was habitual. A lot of the doctor's recommendations are now outdated and go against current beliefs, but for many sleepless parents in desperate need of a little shut-eye, this one stuck. 

Also known as "controlled crying," cry it out is an umbrella term used to describe any sleep technique — and there are many — that involves allowing your small bundle to fuss and cry as they learn to drift off to dreamville on their own. 

You see, the thought behind the approach is that if your little buddy gets accustomed to having you nurse, comfort rock, cuddle, or feed them to sleep every night, they won't master the skill of falling asleep independently. When they stir during the night, they'll become startled and cry for your comforting touch rather than just going back to sleep.

If your snoozy baby learns to self-soothe themselves to sleep, they can use the same skill when waking suddenly at night or during an afternoon siesta. This typically leads to a much more peaceful slumber for not just your tot, but you, too.  

Now, to be clear, crying isn't the objective of this controversial sleep training approach, but advocates say it's an inevitable side effect as little ones learn to catch zzz's on their own. 

They suggest that the short-term discomfort of a few tears is without a doubt outweighed by the long-term advantages: a perfect little snoozer who sleeps like a dream. 

The Controversy Behind Cry It Out 

Despite getting a lot of praise from well-rested parents everywhere, not everyone is a fan of the cry it out method, no sir. In fact, some folks argue that it's extremely cruel to purposely ignore a helpless infant's cries as it may lead them to feel abandoned, which could put a major damper in the parent-child relationship.

At the end of the day, it's important to remember that there is no one-shoe-fits-all approach to parenting. Every little one is different, and the techniques that do wonders for your family may not work as well for the next. In other words, just because your best friend had a terrible experience with the cry it out method doesn't mean you will, too. 

Although the controversy behind the popular sleep training technique may leave you feeling a bit skeptical, it's best to do your own research on sleep training and listen to the advice given by experts. 

What Experts Say 

So, what do the sleep experts have to say about child sleep training, anyway? In the 21st century, leaving an infant to cry it out is a challenging discussion that often leaves experts divided on how they feel about the technique. 

You see, back in the day, sleep training via the cry it out method was viewed as the holy grail in getting little ones to slumber peacefully through the night. And it's easy to see why — simply plop your tot in the crib, kiss them on the forehead and leave the nursery, not to return until morning regardless of how much the baby cries. 

Parents who otherwise didn't get a wink of sleep due to consistently answering their little one's every beckoning call were finally getting the rest they so desperately needed. 

Poor snoozers learned how to self-soothe, and bedtime became a breeze. Despite not having much scientific research backing the technique, the cry it out method worked, and at the time, that's all that really mattered. 

It's been more than a century since the conception of cry it out, and today, experts are finally able to weigh in their opinion on sleep training based on real evidence thanks to many years of research investigating its long-term effects on child development. 

What Research Tells Us 

One study from 2016 focused on the emotional effects of letting babies cry. Researchers found that sleep training provided several benefits without any long-lasting trauma. 

However, in a different study, it was suggested that infants become more securely attached to their mothers when bedtime interactions are positive — that is, when they are picked up and soothed if they wake up crying.

Additionally, psychologist Macall Gordon explains that sleep training methods seem to take a stance that the ability to sleep longer stretches is linear— meaning that the amount your little one sleeps at night should increase with time. 

However, Gordon points out that sleep may actually be tied to things like brain growth, your individual baby's temperament or physiology, as well as culture and developmental regressions in the first year rather than being a purely behavioral event. In fact, 85% of a child’s brain is developed by the time they are five years old – making sleep essential to helping form many of those connections and development. 

But despite having mixed results, many experts don't support the cry it out method, viewing it as need-neglect and prefer gentle sleep training techniques, such as: 

Ferber’s Method 

Also known as graduated extinction (or Ferberizing), the Ferber method — created by pediatrician Richard Ferber — involves checking on and briefly comforting your teary-eyed tot at longer intervals rather than leaving them to cry it out alone until morning. Roughly say goodnight to minimize separation anxiety and create a consistent bedtime routine.

These check-ins are short, spaced out, and eventually weaned out entirely when the baby can snooze peacefully through the night. 

Murkoff’s Method 

World-famous author Heidi Murkoff explains that babies no longer need night feeds by four months of age and, therefore, can sleep through the night by four months of age. 

So in the Murkoff method, gentle sleep training techniques like graduated extinction and scheduled awakening are to begin after an infant reaches four months. 

At six months, however, if your little one still can't sleep soundly without your help, Murkoff says that "cold turkey" cry it out is perfectly acceptable.

Bucknam and Ezzo’s Method 

Called the Babywise Method, baby experts Robert Bucknam and Gary Ezzo created this approach to sleep training to give little ones the "gift of nighttime sleep." The popular method involves a strict schedule in which your tiny tot eats, plays, and is then left to cry it out for 15 to 20 minutes before sleep. 

What’s the Right Age for Cry It out Method 

So, what's the right age to allow your small bundle to cry it out? 

Experts share that while various methods of sleep training state you can implement the cry it out method as early as three to four months old (sometimes younger), it may be more developmentally appropriate to wait until your little one is over four months old.

That being said, all babies are different, so before hopping on the cry it out bandwagon, it's a good idea to have a discussion with your pediatrician to ensure your little one is ready for sleep training. 

How To Start The Cry It Out Method 

By now, you know that there are many different variations to the cry it out method. If your little one is ready for sleep training, here's the most common way to do it: 

Set a Bedtime Routine 

Before starting your journey with the cry it out method, many experts agree that you should first get your tiny tot into a predictable bedtime routine. That way, your infant is able to start relaxing as you go through each nighttime activity and get cues that it's time to hit the hay. 

A good night’s rest requires a structured bedtime routine that might involve things like:

  • Dimming the lights in the house and turning off all electronics
  • Taking a warm bubble bath with soothing shampoo and body wash
  • Reading a snuggly bedtime story
  • Creating a result environment with relaxing pillow spray
  • Singing soft lullabies or playing white noise

Put Your Baby Down in Their Crib 

Done with the bedtime routine? Great — now it's time to place your little one down in their crib, but before you leave the nursery, make sure to practice safe infant sleep practices:

  • Always place your baby on their back to snooze
  • Check the crib to ensure it's free and clear of anything that could potentially be a potential hazard, such as stuffed animals, bumper pads, pillows, and blankets
  • Don't practice sleep training techniques with an infant who is still swaddled
  • Keep the room cool to prevent overheating

Soothe, but Don’t Linger 

If you're trying one of the gentler sleep training techniques that allow occasional check-ins to console your teary-eyed tot, simply pick up your baby (or not — parent's choice), soothe them, and then leave the nursery. 

Monitor Intently 

It's essential to monitor your snoozy tot intently to ensure their cries aren't a signal for help. If your baby is struggling, take a moment to evaluate the bigger picture: 

  • Is your little one not feeling well? Dealing with colic?   
  • Are they teething? 
  • Do they have a wet nappy?
  • Do they need more/less naps?
  • Did they wean off the pacifier?
  • Are they hungry?
  • Overstimulated?

Babies communicate primarily through crying — they can't verbally tell you when something is wrong. 

While the whole premise of the cry it out method is to leave your little one to, well… cry it out, that doesn't mean you should give them the silent treatment if something seems off because sometimes, they may actually need your help.  

Be Consistent 

Although sometimes easier said than done, once you start the cry it out method, it's important to stick to it and not deviate from the habit.

Keeping up with sleep training night after the first night can be challenging — especially if you feel your efforts are for naught. Eventually, though, your little one should grow accustomed to sleeping independently, so don't throw in the towel early! 

Remember, consistency is key. 

Get Some Sleep! 

Did you do the bedtime routine? Check the crib for sleeping hazards? Set up the baby monitor? Ensure the nursery is cool? Soothe, but not linger? Give yourself a nice pat on the back, and get some well-deserved sleep!

The Takeaway 

The cry it out method has been tried and tested for many years, and while it may not work for some, it certainly works for others. You see, there’s no one-size-fits-all approach to parenting as every small bundle is different, and the techniques that do wonders for your family simply may not work so well for the next — but there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that!

At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter if you’re a cry-it-out advocate or prefer no-cry methods — sleep is a critical part of an infant’s growth and development. And as parents, it’s our job to ensure our little ones get the shut-eye they need to thrive. It may take some trial and error to figure out what sleep techniques work best for you and your sweet pea, but once you have a solid routine, remember — consistency is key!  

At Little Yawn Collective, we’re here to help make bedtime a breeze with science-backed sleep solutions for little buddies like yours. From our Calming Probiotic Sleep Drops to our Snooze Bundle of sleepy essentials, you can always count on us to have just what you need to bring on the sleepies. 

Happier bedtimes await!


Positive bedtime routines for babies and toddlers | Raising Children

ezzo and bucknam method | ASECIB

From Safe Sleep to Healthy Sleep: A Systemic Perspective on Sleep In the First Year | Washington

Nighttime maternal responsiveness and infant attachment at one year

ARTICLE| JUNE 01 2016 Behavioral Interventions for Infant Sleep Problems: A Randomized Controlled Trial  | AAP

The Care and Feeding of Children, by L. Emmett Holt, MD, LL.D. | Glutenberg

Ferber Method Sleep Training - When to Start? | Sleep Advisor

Brain Development | First Things First 

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