Cry it Out When and Why?

nobody wants baby to cry

Cry it out is a touchy subject and it seems I’m the only person on the Internet willing to openly discuss it as a valid sleep strategy. Or at least that is my working assumption based on the volume of emails I get about it. And it’s becoming increasingly clear that people often have the misconception that CIO is the cure-all tactic to address a wide range of baby challenges. But it isn’t. So to clarify I’m sharing some questions that have come up a ton in email and comments followed by my “official” take on when and why CIO might (or might not) be the right tactic for your family.

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  1. I think I need to do CIO with my 10 week old because he needs way too much soothing.

    What is too much exactly? I’ve never read that there is an “acceptable” level of soothing beyond which you are providing “too much” for a newborn. Your baby needs as much soothing as he needs. Some remarkable babies need very little (go ahead and be jealous of their parents, I certainly was!). Yours needs to be soothed 4 out of 5 hours a day. He cries unless he is swaddled, nursing, and being rocked simultaneously. Does this suck for you? Absolutely! Is cry it out the answer? No! What is the answer? More soothing. And possibly a swing.

  2. I think I need to do CIO with my 10 week old because this soothing is killing me!

    Newborns are a crapload of work. Did nobody tell you this? Was this not covered in your New Baby class? Well if you missed that lesson let me clue you in: NEWBORN BABIES ARE EXHAUSTING! This is because they are newborn babies and thus NEED tons of soothing. This is one of the many reasons I only have 2 children. Which is not to sound unsympathetic because I hear you – your back hurts, you have no time to do anything, you can’t leave the house, etc. But letting your newborn baby cry (effectively providing -zero- soothing to a baby who needs -tons- of soothing) is not OK. What is OK? Get help. Friends, Grandparents, housecleaners, mothers helpers, postpartum doulas. There are times in life where you need to throw money at a problem. This is one of those times.

  3. My 3 month old is not learning to fall asleep alone so we’re going to wait another month or two and then do CIO.

    I hear your frustration. You feel like nothing is getting better so you’re just going to grit your teeth an obligatory amount of time so you can go with CIO because you’re convinced that nothing else is going to work. And maybe you’re right. But maybe you’re not giving yourself or your baby enough credit. Wait a week. Try something new. See what happens.

  4. I can’t do CIO with my 11 month old because she has an older sibling who needs to sleep.

    Waking the whole family up for a few nights doesn’t generally seem like a great idea. But bear these things in mind. 1) It’s a short term situation. 2) You can talk to the older sibling about it ahead of time to help allay any concerns. 3) Your older child(ren) will very likely sleep through the whole ordeal anyway. If CIO is the right solution for your family then don’t let your fears about older kids hold you back from what you need to do.

  5. Will CIO help me end my 2 month old night feeding habit?

    Everybody knows a baby who slept 12 hours a night without eating at 6 weeks of age and thus thinks something must be wrong because their baby is still guzzling milk all night long. But it’s totally reasonable for a newborn baby to require food at night. Even if they’re at the 98% for growth, even if they skipped night feeding that one time, even if your friend’s baby doesn’t need to. Yes it’s EXHAUSTING (see point above) and of course you are EAGER to be done with this part of babyhood. Little babies are growing at an astounding rate and their bodies need a constant influx of calories to accomplish this. If your newborn baby is waking up hungry then feed him.

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I want to be clear that when it comes to Cry it Out I am not judging you if you don’t take my advice and do things in a way I don’t agree with. I don’t like to judge people (except for reality show people on Bravo because I’m totally judging them). It takes up too much time which I can’t afford because the new season of True Blood is about to start and I’m busy catching up on last season. All I can do is share with you my perspective based on what I know and hope that it may help you to make good choices for your family. And my official perspective on CIO is this…

CIO When and Why

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  • Cry it out is a useful strategy for older babies (6+ months) who have an object permanence problem that results in short naps and frequent night wakings.
  • Cry it out is a lousy way to get out of night feedings. It will work but will result in a lot of crying as hungry babies don’t easily fall asleep.
  • Newborns need more soothing, not less. Cry it out is useful for older babies because the soothing that was so helpful when they were young is now, literally, preventing them (and you) from sleeping.
  • Cry it out is the strategy of last resort. It means you have tried EVERYTHING and NOTHING worked. That is OK, some babies struggle to fall asleep on their own and cling to their (rocking, nursing, bottle, pacifier, etc.) so fiercely you are left without alternatives….
  • However don’t give up too soon. If your baby is a newborn there is plenty of time to sort things out. What didn’t work last week may work the next. Sometimes it’s hard not to feel like baby sleep is an effort of futility, especially when you’re exhausted and not making any progress. But I would suggest that if you’re already planning on doing CIO 2 months from now, you don’t have enough faith in you or your baby to work things out.
  • If you CIO is the answer for your family you might want to use the are you ready for CIO checklist.

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Next up? How to do CIO and common mistakes people make with CIO.