It can be distressing for any new parent to hear their little one crying at night. Especially when you may hear older, more experienced parents tell you to let your baby “cry it out.” It’s natural to feel conflicted. On one hand, you’d like to teach your baby independence and self-soothing skills. But at the same time, you want your baby to know that you will always be there when they need you. So, should you let your baby cry it out? Read on to learn more about “cry it out”, why babies cry at night. And why some people recommend the “cry it out” method and a few tips to help encourage an easier bedtime.
What is Cry It Out?
The method “cry it out” coined by Weissbluth involves putting your child to bed and disregarding their cries all night. Advocates figure that eventually, the baby will get exhausted and fall asleep. After a few nights of this, they will learn that their cries will no longer get a reaction and they will sleep through the night. This method of sleep training may seem alarming to some parents and rightly so! Completely ignoring a baby’s cries ALL night can feel heartless for a parent and I don’t want to even imagine what this feels like for a child. It shocks and saddens me greatly hearing this practice is still being recommended.
We know that crying can (but not always) raise the level of the stress hormone cortisol in babies. And having elevated levels for long periods of time in the form of chronic stress is not good for your baby’s brain development. Sleep training, if done correctly and appropriately, shouldn’t be a long-term process, therefore not causing chronic stress. Sleep deprivation can also result in raised levels of cortisol in the body, among other symptoms. However, this is not mentioned by those opposed to sleep training.
Changing the way you do things, will usually involve some tears. But it’s important to note that crying doesn’t always equate to despair. Baby’s cry for many reasons – it’s their way of communicating. Whether it’s a dirty nappy, pain, hunger, sickness, tiredness, frustration, releasing stress, trying to find a new comfortable position while sleeping and even dreaming! Who has experienced hearing a baby cry out and then when you get to them, they’re still fast asleep?
Yes, self-soothing is important as baby’s get older, but you don’t have to rely on the “cry it out” method as a sole means of sleep training. In fact, there are much gentler options that appeal to more parents and are healthier for your baby in the long run. Helping improve your little ones sleeping habits doesn’t have to mean stopping night feeds. As a Midwife, I understand the immense health benefits of breastfeeding (for both mum and baby). And I support mums wanting to continue to offer night feeds (breast or bottle) in conjunction with creating some positive sleep habits.
Simple steps such as introducing a soothing bedtime routine with a predictable sequence of events will help your baby learn to calm down and relax as bedtime approaches. A little massage after their bath, dim lights, quiet music, and a story can all help your little one prepare for sleep. There are many approaches to help improve your child’s quality of sleep, these can be gradual, gentle and not involving cry it out.
There is definitely not a one size fits all solution. And if you’re looking for more information and a holistic individualised approach to help your baby sleep in a loving and nurturing way.