How Long to Let Baby Cry It Out?

How long to let baby cry it out?

Sleep deprivation is a common complaint of new parents. Infants have difficulty sleeping long periods of time, and this leads to parents wondering about the cry it out method. Is it okay to let a baby cry it out? Each parent has to make that decision and then decide how long to let baby cry it out.

What Does It Mean to Cry It Out?

Any sleep training is often referred to as letting the baby cry it out, though this can be a misleading phrase. While some controversial sleep training recommends letting an eight-week-old cry for as long as it takes for him to sleep, most are much less extreme. The Ferber Method is the most popular form of cry-it-out sleep training, and it recommends short periods of crying it out, not never-ending stretches of time.

How long to let baby cry it out is ever changing when using the Ferber Method. Parents start at only three minutes and increase the wait time with each subsequent cry. The next night, cry-it-out time increases further. Know that three minutes can seem like a very long time when a child is wailing, and working up to 30 minutes takes patience.

Why Not Just Respond When the Baby Cries?

Advocates of the cry it out method worry about creating sleep routines that offer props to lull a child to rest. Rocking, nursing, or bouncing a baby to sleep before placing him into the crib could mean having to repeat the same process every time he wakes up at night.

Those who believe in the benefits of crying it out feel that self-soothing can be taught and that it’s simply a matter of not offering sleep props so a child won’t expect them when they wake at night. The child may cry, but he will understand how to self-soothe back to sleep because he has been taught.

Critics of the cry it out method believe a child should be responded to every time she cries and that self-soothing is a skill kids develop with age, not by being left to cry at night.

How Long to Let Baby Cry It Out Based by Age

If parents choose the cry it out method, it’s important to know that waiting until a child is ready is key. Though not every cry it out guru specifies what age to start, the general consensus seems to be not before the baby is four to six months of age.

One reason is that babies wake up to eat at night, and they need parents to respond to them so they don’t fail to thrive. No solid food is usually given the first four to six months of a child’s life, and breast milk and formula run through a baby’s system quickly.

The first three months out of the womb are also referred to as the fourth trimester, and so it’s perfectly normal for a child to want comfort from the sound, smell, and touch of the person whose body housed him for nine months. Leaving a young infant to cry it out in those early months worries many because of the potential for developmental or attachment issues.

Approaches

Cry It Out

What parents think of when they hear cry it out is an infant screaming in his crib alone until he figures out how to go to sleep. This approach is not advised by many, but it is used by some parents. If a child is not being responded to at night and he has a wet diaper, needs food, or is ill, then serious problems can arise. That’s why the never-ending cry it out method is not recommended.

How long to let baby cry it out?

Those who adhere to this method believe a child will eventually cry himself out. No one knows for sure what the effects on the child are when left to cry alone indefinitely.

Controlled Crying

When considering a cry it out method, most parents are more comfortable with a controlled crying approach. An example is the Ferber method where parents put the child down drowsy and don’t respond to the first cry for three minutes. The response after three minutes is to simply pat the child on the back and offer reassuring words before leaving the room again. Parents extend the wait time after a second cry starts to five minutes before going in, and then to ten minutes for the rest of the night. Response time extends each night.

How long to let baby cry it out?

Using the Ferber or another controlled crying method usually means not leaving a baby to cry for more than 30 minutes at a time. In fact, parents work up to the 30 minutes, so they start out on a much smaller scale, giving the baby and parents time to adjust to this new sleep training.

Fading

For parents concerned about any sleep training that leaves an infant crying on his own for any period of time, fading may be a better option. Fade it out, as opposed to cry it out, means helping a baby learn to sleep on his own without doing all the work for him. If you rock the baby to sleep, you can still do that, but rock her for a shorter period of time and place her in the crib drowsy, not totally asleep.

Parents who practice fading don’t have to drop nighttime feedings or ignore infant cries. The point is to help a child figure out how to go to sleep independently and go back to sleep after night wakings, but not to take away all the help she’s used to all at once. It’s a gentle option that will likely take longer, but it may be less stressful for all involved.

How long to let baby cry it out?

Parents who try fading don’t have to jump at the first whimper, but they are still encouraged to respond to a crying child when it’s obvious he is upset. The goal is to offer soothing and support while still letting the child doze on his own instead of offering long-term sleep props. This could mean offering verbal reassurance, a nighttime feeding, or pats on the back that take less time each night, hopefully.

How long to let baby cry it out still on your mind? Here are some benefits of sleep training:

Pros

  • Parents get more sleep
  • Baby learns to self-soothe
  • Sleep routine shortened

If the correct answer to how long to let baby cry it out seems to you like it should be none at all, here are some cons that may support your decision to skip sleep training:

Cons

  • Hearing a baby cry is hard
  • Not all babies learn to self-soothe, leading to a loss of sleep for everyone
  • A baby can fail to thrive if done too early or improperly

Steps to Success

How long to let baby cry it out is a hard question to answer, but one thing is true no matter what approach parents take: a solid bedtime routine is key. Just like adults, babies need time to wind down from the day and a routine that triggers their brains to recognize nap and bedtimes.

Schedule a simple bedtime routine that stays consistent. Give baby a bath, read a story, and keep lights dim before bedtime. If the baby likes to nurse before bed, have a feeding session. However, try to put the baby to bed awake but drowsy. This same consistent routine on a nightly basis should make any approach parents choose when it comes to sleep training easier.

How long to let baby cry it out is also something that should be discussed with a child’s pediatrician. All children are different, and there may be circumstances that prevent a child from being ready to deal with crying it out.

Ultimately, how long to let baby cry it out and what strategy to use so everyone in the house can some rest is up to the parents. Make the choice that makes the most sense to you.