It’s O.K. to Let Babies Cry It Out at Bedtime

Sleep-training a crying baby isn't easy, but a new study finds that certain techniques work in the short term without causing later psychological harm

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When infants can’t sleep, it usually means Mom and Dad aren’t getting much shut-eye either. That, in turn, can double the risk of depressive symptoms in mothers, cause strife in marriages and result in costly trips to the pediatrician.

For wiped-out parents wondering whether or not to sleep-train their restless babies, a new study in Pediatrics has some good news: strategies that let babies cry it out for limited periods while teaching them to sleep on their own can help families sleep better in the short term without causing long-term psychological damage in kids or weakening the bond between babies and parents.

The study looked at two sleep-training methods known as controlled comforting and camping out, both of which let babies cry it out for short amounts of time. Controlled comforting requires the parent to respond to their child’s cries at increasingly longer intervals to try to encourage the baby to settle down on her own. In camping out, the parent sits in a chair next to the child as he learns to fall asleep; slowly, over time, parents move the chair farther and farther away, until they are out of the room and the infant falls asleep alone.

(MORE: A History of Kids and Sleep: Why They Never Get Enough)

While neither strategy is as extreme as letting babies cry all night by themselves, they have been criticized over concerns that they may cause long-term emotional or psychological harm in babies, interfere with their ability to manage stress or cripple their relationship with their parents.

The new study by Australian researchers involved 326 children who had parent-reported sleep problems at 7 months. Half of the babies were put in the sleep-training group, in which parents learned helpful bedtime routines as well as the controlled-comforting or camping-out technique (parents could choose which strategy they wanted to use), and half were put in a control group that did not use sleep-training. The researchers followed up with the participants and their parents five years later. (By the study’s end, about 30% of families had dropped out.)

By age 6, the researchers found no significant differences between the kids in either group in terms of emotional health, behavior or sleep problems. In fact, slightly more children in the control group had emotional or behavioral problems than in the sleep-trained group.

Researchers also found no differences in mothers’ levels of depression or anxiety, or in the strength of parent-child bonds between families who had used sleep-training and those who hadn’t.

(MORE: Why Sleep Is the Ultimate Parental Bugaboo: Go the F— to Sleep Offers a Clue)

Meanwhile, earlier data from the study show that sleep-training does work: babies learn to go to sleep easier at bedtime and stay asleep longer at night. Based on the findings, the authors conclude that sleep-training is safe and effective, and call for an increase in parent education about these methods as well as more training for health specialists to recommend the procedures.

100 comments
ayoy24
ayoy24

Thank you for this amazing writeup! I didn't know it is healthy for babies to have a good cry before sleeping. But believe it or not, crying can be beneficial for adults too. Having a good cry once in a while can release tension and relieves emotional stress.

Ayoy @ http://thekopiprincess.blogspot.com

dmullin1240
dmullin1240

I think you have to look at it in perspective. Everybody knows you cant spoil your child in the first 6 months and they dong really fully understand anything you tell them until they have their own children. So if your kid is crying because they're hungry or dirty diaper then suck it up. If they're crying for 6 hoursbin the night just because they want attention, then driving off a bridge or losing your job from sleep exhaustion isnt very smart either. Figure out your limits and live by them but keep in mind that being a parent is an art, not a science; but its not for pansies that are going to coddle their children for their whole lives either. Having independent children and keeping your sanity is the best balance whatever your sanity. Children cry and whine (look at congress). Maybe you're a bad parent for not considering that in your parenting before you judge other people in what's best for their child.

Jenn Bing
Jenn Bing

For Reythia,

Think about a different perspective: Doctors say that while infants are in the womb, they feel a rocking sensation when the mother is walking or moving during the day.  Then when the mother tries to sleep, the baby is awake and most mothers feel movement from their baby when trying to sleep.

With this being said, the infants have a constant companionship with the mother for months and all of a sudden they are forced to try to sleep on a different schedule and without the comfort of their mother.

Leaving babies alone to cry is cruel, because they are still new to the world and there are many different changes they are faced with.  By giving them comfort during the early months and slowly weaning them off the attention during the night is the way I would approach baby's crying.  A part of a parent's job is to teach their child Independence, but parents have 18 years or so to teach them that concept! A few months of dependence wouldn't hurt! Give the poor baby a break!

purple_tux1
purple_tux1

Um, great article?? Go ahead and tell parents what they want to hear so they don't have to feel guilty about doing what they know is wrong. Are we such simpletons that the best we can do is drop the baby in its crib and close the door. There are about a million ways to improve family sleep and part of that is realizing that babies wake up at night and that having a baby is not always convenient.

purple_tux1
purple_tux1

Um, great article?? Tell parents what they want to hear so they won't feel guilty. Only in our ridiculous culture do we think this is acceptable. There are about a million ways to improve family sleep other than letting your child cry. Are parents really so simple the only thing they can think to do is put the baby in the crib and close the door?

Dani Gusto
Dani Gusto

Wouldn't it be fantastic if people reviewed the results of scientific studies cautiously, and waited to see if the results could be replicated under different conditions before making decisions about what science does or does not "prove?" Because that's what scientists do.

Drea
Drea

This is shoddy research and irresponsible journalism. Letting a baby scream and cry alone does irreparably damage them, it's been proven in previous studies, and it's just common sense.

http://www.askdrsears.com/topi... 

Norge81
Norge81

I have to say that I am most troubled by the drastic conclusions the media has come to with this study, stating that it is OK to let a baby CIO. These conclusions are NOT what this study found. They did not allow the experimental group to CIO, they allowed the parents to utilize sleep methods that included some level of presence. More importantly, the control group could have used CIO, Sleep training,...point is we don't know if the control group was a group of parents that co-slept, responded to the needs of their babies, or did just what the experiment group did and let them have periods of crying. Culturally, it is possible the control group chose a sleep training method similar to the experiment group. Theoretically, they may be comparing the same groups. I also have a problem with their conclusion to state this sleep method is considered "safe" and does not "cause psychological damage" based off of their analysis of the subjects at 6 years of age. I would have preferred this at an older age where individuals began to demonstrate more interpersonal difficulties as the result of attachment issues. 

On a more personal note, I choose not to CIO - based off of my natural parenting responses. I believe our intuitive response as mothers to have a hormonal firestorm when our infants cry which causes us to subjectively hear our babies louder then they are actually crying ... to have a lot of meaning. I believe that meaning is I am supposed to respond to my baby and her cries and in response, her and my cortisol levels (stress hormones) decrease - which brain imaging has shown (dramatic increase in babies cortisol levels when CIO which basically causes them to sleep from complete exhaustion and stress). 

Norge81
Norge81

I have to say that I am most troubled by the drastic conclusions the media has come to with this study, stating it is OK to let babies CIO. These conclusions are NOT what this study found. They did not allow the experimental group to CIO, they allowed the parents to utilize sleep methods that included some level of presence. More importantly, the control group could have used CIO, Sleep training,...point is we don't know if the control group was a group of parents that co-slept, responded to the needs of their babies, or did just what the experiment group did and let them have periods of crying. Culturally, it is possible the control group chose a sleep training method similar to the experiment group. Theoretically, they may be comparing the same groups. I also have a problem with their conclusion to state this sleep method is considered "safe" and does not "cause psychological damage" based off of their analysis of the subjects at 6 years of age. I would have preferred this at an older age where individuals began to demonstrate more interpersonal difficulties as the result of attachment issues. 

Anne G
Anne G

I am so tired of all these so-called "experts" and "mommy bloggers" coming up with new parenting "rules"! How can any parent with a conscience ignore his or her crying baby? Shame on you. If you have no problem leaving your precious infant, who loves and trusts you completely, alone in a dark room to scream, then you have no soul. Being a parent (especially of an infant) means there will be many sleepless nights! If you can't or won't accept that, choose a permanent birth control method! 

Nine Naturals Mom
Nine Naturals Mom

Interesting article that somewhat gives an approval for parents to let their babies cry it out during bedtime. So at how many months can you start sleep training your baby and leaving them in another room?

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Kerry Steele
Kerry Steele

Fascinating how these so called experts think they know everything, bet half of them never had children . Most of them have no idea what they are talking about, Mothers  usually know why their child is crying and act accordingly.  On the whole a child does not cry for nothing.

zgberg
zgberg

I have a gut feeling half the people trashing this article are trolls themselves trying to get responses from people like me who actually care about this stuff

zgberg
zgberg

Totally works and our baby is very happy and smiley. 

Deby White Dagher
Deby White Dagher

Babies cry for a reason. They do not perceive the world as adults perceive it.  Babies who do not sense a nurturing human believe themselves to be totally alone. Their brains cannot register that mom and dad are listening in the next room, and they cannot "understand" that they are just fine and that they have been left to cry "for their own good."

Why are we so against the closeness of parent to child, especially at night? We look at breast-feeding as unnatural and mothers sleeping with babies as spoiling. We need to look closely at these things and wonder why we don't focus on how babies grow and what they need instead of finding ways to avoid the intimacy it takes to raise an infant into a healthy human being.

MariVi02
MariVi02

First the "mom enough" article and now this???  Seems like TIME magazine has an ax to grind, or maybe they have some attachment issues of their own.  Why aren't they reporting REAL science and REAL research showing that it is biologically normal to wake frequently and sleep close to parents and showing the increased cortisol and effects on the brain from CIO?  Because there's plenty more of that type of research out there, than this obscure stuff that they dig up.  Sounds like TIME is focused more on a personal agenda to preserve mainstream American parenting than reporting real science. 

Jennifer Farmer
Jennifer Farmer

I find it interesting that this report is focused on the results and fails to state the science of what is going on during the crying it out.  Like the fact that research has found that children exposed to intense episodes of crying are 10x more likely to have ADHD, more prone to depression, and averaged lower IQ.  The brain at these times of distress is flooded with cortisol (a stress hormone) and has lower growth hormone levels.  I do not find it substancial to justify this type of treatment because a child will have the same "emotional health, behavior or sleep problems." Essentially if you sleep train, your child is going to have the same sleeping habits as someone who doesn't.  Why are you going to put your child through the stress and possible complications when it doesn't help them sleep better, behave better, or become more emotionally healthy in the end?  Had this study demonstrated a clear benefit to helping our children reach their maximum potential by ignoring their cries I would have listened but to me it seemed to show how resilient children can be emotionally and behaviorly when left to cry.  They can adapt and become like their non cry it out peers over time but I believe physiologically it will still leave its mark.

Sources posted at:http://www.askdrsears.com/topi...

MariVi02
MariVi02

I love this: "Meanwhile, earlier data from the study show that sleep-training does work: babies learn to go to sleep easier at bedtime and stay asleep longer at night."

Really?  Define "work" because 1. CIO "works" by using the "defeat response", or learned helplessness.  When a baby's cries are ignored, babies give up and their nervous system shuts down the emotional pain and the striving to reach out. The baby is overwhelmed by stress and gives up because the only way he has available to communicate is being ignored.  The baby learns that he cannot make a difference, so there's no point in reaching out.  This is damaging to baby's long term psychological well-being, no matter how beneficial it may be for mom and dad in the present moment. 

Also, there is NO evidence that CIO teaches babies to stay asleep.  They still wake up, only they've learned instead of crying or calling to mom/dad to come comfort them, they lay there alone / scared / sad / whatever, but they do it silently because they've learned no one cares at night.  Human babies, like all primates, are designed to nurse and wake frequently throughout the night.  It is NORMAL, and works to help prevent SIDS. No amount of sleep training or CIO is going to change human evolution.  Babies will still wake up, only they will lay there all alone :(

Why is it assumed that a baby's needs are secondary to an adult's needs.  Crying is the ONLY way an infant has to communicate and should be treated with the same respect we would show another adult talking to us about what they need. When I became a parent, I assumed that I would be a parent, day and night, not only when it was convenient for me and didn't interfere with my sleep.

wiseoldcrone
wiseoldcrone

How do parents get so out of touch with their own common sense and emotional responses to the needs of their crying infants?  We are mammals.  Our infants have a long period of dependence on parents to meet their basic needs.  Cross species and cross cultural infant care practices support close proximity and responsiveness to infant cues.   Individual temperament awareness and empathetic responses will result in less stress, more sleep, and feelings of competence for both the parents and infant.  How did cuddling and sleeping with our infants became so  "out of fashion" and "dangerous"?  Prevention of SIDS is very important.  Let's stress safe co-sleeping practices and get our infants " back to sleep" the way nature intended.  A good old rocking chair, nursing in mother's arms, a sling or baby carrier, a "nest" or co-sleeper all make a lot more sense toward the goal of getting everyone calmed down.  What parent could possibly "get some sleep" when their baby is screaming its lungs out in another room, alone, in the dark?

JS7
JS7

I have a remarkable memory that goes back to the age of 6 months.  My parents have verified numerous things from that age that I could not possibly have known about from any later information.  Several of those memories include the utter horror and agony of being left alone by my parents at night to "cry it out" or being left with a babysitter and seeing them go out the door, not knowing whether they would ever return.  This pain is comparable with major losses I experienced as an adult. 

When I visited my childhood apartment as an adult, expecting a pleasant visit, I was instantly awash in tears when I went into my old bedroom.  The horror of that dark room came right back to me at the age of 30.  Please do not make the mistakes with your own child that my parents made with me.  It is indeed devastating to your baby.

Jest
Jest

It may be "okay", but that doesn't mean it's right or even best.   A baby cries to have a need or desire addressed, a  parent's job is to address those needs and desires. 

Sure many people let their babies cry it out, and those babies turn out fine.  But many also take the time to respond to their child's needs and those babies turn out fine too --without having had to cry and wonder why no one was responding. 

I never let any of my six children cry it out -- it's just a colder style of parenting than I cared to engage in. 

Kallie A Jurgens
Kallie A Jurgens

My oldest boy would want to hold his little brother when he cried so I let him for awhile.  Then we'd do it together.  Him on my lap with little Johnny on HIS lap.  When the third boy came, both boys wanted to hold him.  None of my boys ever lacked for attention.  When the 4th one came along, they all held him for awhile and then it was me alone to hold him as they were all in school.  He did have to cry for a little bit but he was okay.  Didn't hurt any of us I think!

Beth
Beth

We put on talking books or nice music set on low at bedtime even at infancy as this allows the child to listen to voices as they doze off.  Found that even a ceiling fan on low creates white noise that is soothing. 

Jimmy B. Talampas
Jimmy B. Talampas

I suppose allowing babies to unnecessarily stress their bodies out to the point where it "may" just shut down (increase chances of SIDS) is worth the risk of getting an extra hour of sleep. (sarcasm) 

I always picked up my son :)

dlg123
dlg123

This is sickening.  We may not always be able to comfort our crying infant/child/adult child/friend/spouse but that doesn't mean we shouldn't try or at least let them know in a way they can understand that we empathize with them.  It is simply irresponsible to imply there are no ill effects from crying hard for long periods of time when there is plenty of research to the contrary.  The ill effects look different in each person, but they are still there.  We are the product of our life experiences, no matter how early they happen to us.  As Alice Miller says, "The Body Never Lies."  Let's put the humanity back in parenting!

dlg123
dlg123

This is sickening.  There are times when you can't find a way to comfort your crying infant/child/adult child/friend/spouse, but that doesn't mean you shouldn't try or at least let them know you empathize with them in a way they can understand.  Let's put the humanity back in parenting.  To say there is no ill effects of crying hard for long periods of time is simply irresponsible in light of all the research that proves this is not the case.  The ill effects might look different in different people, but it's there.  We are the product of our life experiences.

dlg123
dlg123

How sickening.  There are definitely times when we can't find a way to comfort our crying infants/children/adult children/friends, but that doesn't mean we shouldn't try or let them know we empathize with them.  Let's put the humanity back in parenting, people!

Mary Della Valle
Mary Della Valle

I'll never understand why so many parents ignore their crying infants out in public - they just turn a blind ear to the baby's needs. Not a good idea to let a child cry it out - especially when the crying is a public disturbance to others.

janierock
janierock

Worked for us and we have a happy, healthy 4-year-old who has always been an independent sleeper.

AlisonAlison
AlisonAlison

This article concludes that crying it out "works" because kids sleep afterwards, but at what cost? There are loads of studies saying that babies' stress levels skyrocket after sleep training. Some studies even measure benefits of other sleep arrangements, like co-sleeping, into adulthood, see James McKenna's site: 

http://nd.edu/~jmckenn1/lab/lo... . 

Sleep training teaches babies that their needs aren't going to be met by their loved ones and it teaches parents to ignore their babies' cues. How irresponsible of Time to publish such a one sided article!

Emily Rennes Boettger
Emily Rennes Boettger

If you want quiet evenings without any distractions and nights of uninterrupted sleep, then don't have kids.  Otherwise, accept that this comes with having kids... it's a part of being a parent.  Babies don't enter the world already possessing sleep routines that fit to adult wishes.  It's not the kids who need to adjust their sleep habits, but us adults who need to adjust our expectations. Parenting is sometimes more than we thought we'd sign on for. It's really hard and full of sacrifices. But our kids HAVE to come first. And that means being there for them at ALL times. All kids eventually learn how to sleep. And in the grand scheme of things, they are only little for such a short time. How awful can it really be to hold them, comfort them, lie next to them?! The dishes, laundry and TV can wait. But our kids don't wait to grow up... with or without our full love and support.

MissMaryMac333
MissMaryMac333

Ironic that the article shows a child sleeping on its mother but advocates CIO!

The biological norm for human babies and toddlers is to sleep next to or at the very least in close proximity to her parents and to nurse throughout the night to nourish (emotionally and nutritionally) our big human brains. Professionals would do us all a favor if they would focus their time and energy on helping new parents have realistic expectations for their babies and teach safe co-sleeping practices and coping techniques for the new sleep patterns we must adapt to when we have kids, not the other way around.

Beth
Beth

What about all the research showing the benefits of skin-to-skin for babies? How about not telling new parents they're doing something wrong by picking up their crying child? And how about we acknowledge that mature adults entering into parenthood do realize their sleep patterns will be disturbed for a short period of time? 

choke999
choke999

Just the simple fact that our generations, who were left alone to CIO as infants, CANNOT function with babies because of a lack of sleep shows that there's something wrong with it.  If you seriously think that letting a baby cry for ANY REASON is okay, you should not have children. This is abuse. Go ahead, fight it all you want, but when your baby is alone crying in that room, and YOU are crying, and feel guilty, and have that huge knot in your chest, YOU WILL KNOW THE TRUTH. Our society if fucked up enough. Give your baby all the love and attention they need. Go that extra mile to walk with them when they wake up at night alone in a freaking cage and are terrified. Go even farther and let them sleep with you! It's okay for an adult couple to sleep together for comfort, but not for parents and their babies?? That doesn't make any sense. 

It is traumatizing and cruel. Raise children, don't freaking TRAIN them. They're your babies, not your damn dogs.

Kelly KellyNaturally
Kelly KellyNaturally

Boo!!! So, according to Time, the infant child is now responsible for the health of the adult parents. The new human, brought here by no choice of her own, should be subjected to fear, isolation, and intermittant responsiveness from the p...eople most important in her life, just so those people can get a "good night's sleep". Frankly, I can't imagine getting a "good night's sleep" after ignoring my child's cries. How about an article emphasizing the biological norm of SLEEPING WITH YOUR BABY?

hazyhurren5
hazyhurren5

The study was only 6 years wit30% dropping out. Research into CIO methods being pyschologically damaging has been based into adulthood and shows that as adults they do suffer emotionally. we have 5 children all who are confident, secure adults, teenagers and children, as they knew/know mum and dad were/are always there for them. 

syen
syen

Well, ever had a baby who would cry til' she vomit and choke on it??? That was the last time I ever let my baby "cry it out".

John Nicoletti
John Nicoletti

....for the neighbors, too?.........lol.........................

Duck Duck Gray Duck
Duck Duck Gray Duck

Not sure I like this method for babies under 3 mos. I am a new dad and recently posted some tips that readers might find useful. Baby Advice for New Dads: http://bit.ly/Rycv3z

JohnOBX
JohnOBX

Your kids are not going to be little for very long.  They grow up fast and so spend that extra time with them if it helps.  

These comments about toughening them up make me laugh.  In the not-too-distant past when we were hewing our way across the wilderness, the log cabin was a one-room deal where everyone slept in the same room, often in the same bed.  Anybody want to question the "toughness" of Davy Crockett, Meriwether Lewis, William Clark or Sam Bowie?  I thought not. 

The true "coddling" of youngsters in our society starts a bit later in life and I agree it is a serious problem.  But letting your two-year old snuggle up with you isn't going to turn them into some kind of sissy.  

JenKay81
JenKay81

My parents made me cry it out not only when I was a baby but also when I was a young child. I remember being terribly frightened and they would never come to my rescue. I was extremely sleep deprived. As an adult, I am now still afraid to sleep alone and I'm extremely insecure. Crying it out does affect the child!! I have 2 children of my own and I would never let them go through what I had to. 

imwithu
imwithu

@purple_tux1 Are we such simpletons that we really believe this article is telling us to drop the baby in it's crib and close the door?

benalt613
benalt613

So true!... for everyone you disagree with. So true!

benalt613
benalt613

Sounds more like fishing for justification rather than trying see what the truth is. There is not clear scientific evidence for what you say. Many of the studies trying to show a connection to ADHD and lower IQ came from Child Protective services cases where the child was clearly not in a loving environment.

Source: http://www.babble.com/baby/bab...

benalt613
benalt613

 Yes. Much easier to get some sleep while they are screaming in your arms or sleeping there making you unable to get to sleep yourself. Or perhaps smother the child accidentally when sleeping in the same bed.

benalt613
benalt613

There is research showing benefits for everything these days if you want something to rely on. Generally, you have to take all the research together to come to an informed decision because there will be valid though conflicting studies for every issue.

benalt613
benalt613

I am sorry for you and wish you well . Though the article was not about that method of sleep training. It was talking about letting the child cry only for short amounts of time. We sleep trained our 3 children and discovered that our approach had to differ with each child. We never let any of them just cry and cry and were always there for them though not always beside them. Having a balance can be good for the child and the parent in my opinion.

vinski1956
vinski1956

"  I remember being terribly frightened " YOU remember being terribly frightened?  really JenKay?? At 5 or 6 months or even 1 yr old?  Wow, what a great memory you have...  you must also remember spitting up and messy diapers, and teething too..    you poor thing...   Crying it out or not is different for every parent.  You write that Crying it out does affect the child... What if a child in his/her teens develops issues socially or starts to act out in a negative way?  Is it proven that this is due to the fact that the parents let that child cry it out as an infant?  Maybe it could be due to overbearing parenting like a lot of what I have been reading in a lot of these comments.  I especially liked reading the one about the parent who shoveled manure with baby strapped on.  I am sure thats gotta be healthy...