Should you let your baby cry it out?

Study says crying it out has no negative, long-term effects

The latest parenting study gives my husband more ammunition in the "I told you so" battle. When our son was six months old my husband was a strong proponent of the "let him cry" approach. Not me, I was a wimp. The sound of my baby crying was painful. Letting him cry it out took a bigger toll on me than it did on our son, said my husband at the time. According to a new study, he may have been right, at least past the seven month mark.

Letting babies cry does not have any long-lasting, negative effects, according to a study in the journal, "Pediatrics." The study was a 5-year follow-up on children who had sleep problems at age seven months. Parents in the study used different techniques like "controlled crying" and "adult fading." "Behavioral sleep techniques have no marked long-lasting effects (positive or negative). Parents and health professionals can confidently use these techniques to reduce the short- to medium-term burden of infant sleep problems and maternal depression."

Pediatric sleep coach, Cate McKee , MA, does not agree "crying-it-out" will work for all families. "I do not typically recommend that it is okay to leave a child alone in a dark room to 'cry-it-out' for long periods of time. Although it has had it's place in history and can be successful for some families, most parents are unable to follow through with it. We are just not biologically programmed to listen to our children cry without going to them and soothing. As a result, the sleep training fails, the child cries (sometimes for hours) and nothing good is accomplished."

More Sleep-Training Tips

Calm day, easy night - Babies under six months need to be held during the day. The calmer their waking hours are, the more peacefully they will sleep. Minimize baby's daytime hours in the crib (unless it's nap time). Keep your baby close during the day by wearing her in a baby sling or carry her for a couple of hours a day.

Fading or a graduated extinction - "A parent is able to be with the child as they learn the task of falling asleep independently. Parents gradually remove themselves from the room over a period of a few days. With graduated extinction, parents leave the child in the room but check back every few minutes until the child falls asleep,," said pediatric sleep coach McKee.

Create bedtime rituals - Not only will consistent routines help a baby go to sleep, they can also be relied on later when toddlers and school-age children need a regular bedtime. A soothing bath, soft music, reading a book, or rocking can all help a baby go to sleep more easily. Establish a sequence of nightly events that works for you and your baby. Stay consistent, yet be flexible enough to make changes as your baby develops advises Dr. Sears.

When is Crying-It-Out Not Acceptable?

According to "Psychology Today," the method is not acceptable. According to other experts, it's not acceptable for infants. The study did not include babies under seven months of age, a time when parents feel the most sleep deprivation.

"Newborns are not neurologically programmed to be able to consistently sleep through the night. Letting a newborn cry for long periods of time can be damaging, not to mention it can hurt the bond between parent and child. And with so many other proven techniques, parents have options," according to McKee. As a general rule, she advises the most successful method will be one that "best equals parent values" that they "can stick to without deviation."


Cate McKee, MA, and owner of Sleepy Time Solutions, LLC., via email, 9/11/2012

Darcia Narvaez, Ph.D. "Dangers of Crying It Out: "Psychology Today"

Dr. Sears, "8 Infant Sleep Facts Every Parent Should Know," Ask Dr. Sears

"Five-Year Follow-up of Harms and Benefits of Behavioral Infant Sleep Intervention: Randomized Trial," Pediatrics

Parents Can Let Sleepless Babies Cry It Out: Study, ABC News

Personal Experience

"Should I Let My Baby Cry?", WebMD