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MAMA TALK - "Crying it Out"

Heather is a mother of two boys who lives in North Carolina. A degree in Theater from Rutgers University has been absolutely no use in learning how to care for her boys, so she shares what she's learned from personal experience

As a mother one of the hardest things to do is listen to your baby cry. Especially when you feel the answer to stopping those tears is very simple. For a lot of Moms, listening to their babies cry when their baby is put down for nap or bedtime is unbearable. Understandably so, we want to fix it. We want to go in there and swoop them up, take them in our arms and make it all better. However doing just this may be setting you up for a lot more tears and a lot more heartache. By always going in to your baby before you have given them a proper chance to really try and settle themselves you are not letting them learn the invaluable tool of self-soothing.

A couple of weeks ago a mom from an infant massage class I was taking, asked me how my then 4 month old was doing with his sleeping at nap and bedtime. I told her the truth, he’s doing great. He was on a regular nap schedule and went down awake, happy and easily. The same was true for bedtime and he was sleeping on average 7hrs a night before waking to nurse and has done 11 hours a few times as well.

Sadly her experience was not going as smoothly. She told me that her son of the same age was very difficult when it came to sleeping and would fuss and cry every time. When I asked her had she ever just let him cry, she said, “she just couldn’t bear it”.

My advice to her was to try letting him cry. I told her that as hard as it may be to listen to, she was in effect teaching her son to cry longer and harder by her trying to hold out and not go in to him, but that when she eventually gave in and went to him she was only teaching him to work harder at getting her to come in next time, thus perpetuating the cycle. I suggested she try to let him fuss and cry and added an important note- just when you think he cannot possibly cry any harder and he is at the height of his crying-WAIT! Give it just a few more minutes and you will be amazed. Babies seem to push and push to see if you will give in, it’s how they test their surroundings and boundaries. If and when you do give in to their cries you reinforce that their tactics worked, and just as you try to hold out a little longer the next time, they learn they may just have to push a little harder the next time and there you’ll be at their crib side. However once you show your baby that Mommy’s not giving in anymore your baby will give up and say to themselves “oh well, guess she’s really not coming in. I am kinda’ tired - guess I’ll just go to sleep”.

Today I saw this Mom again. She came up to me and said –“you were the one who gave me the advice about letting him cry it out. - IT WORKED!” She goes on to tell me how one day she couldn’t take it anymore and decided to try it. Just as she was at his door ready to go in after he had worked himself up to his big finish, she listened and heard –NOTHING. He had done it! He was asleep. She peaked in on him to see if he was all right and was elated to see he had actually fallen asleep on his own without intervention. She tried this over and over throughout that week and low and behold it had become the new habit. Her son had learned how to self-sooth and put himself to sleep! SCORE ONE FOR THE MOMS! As I gave her a high five and said that’s great, she went on to tell me how she had tried to convince a few of her neighbor moms of babies the same age to try the same thing. Unfortunately they had the same trepidation-they couldn’t bear the thought of letting their babies cry. So for all you brave moms out there who want to stop the tears and hear more zzzz’s - give it a whirl. Just remember put your baby down awake and happy, before they are overtired, and LEAVE THEM. Give them the opportunity to self-soothe. See below for detailed instructions on this method.

  • Best to begin implementing this tactic around 3 and a half to 4 months, but it’s never too late to try to undo bad habits- it just gets a bit harder the older they are and may take longer to get them used to the idea that your not coming in to rescue them anymore.
  • Always try to put baby down for nap or bedtime before they begin to get fussy and overtired. Watch the clock, and watch your baby. If you can catch a tired baby before they begin to get overtired your success rate will vastly improve.
  • Make sure baby is clean and dry and has been fed recently. If you nurse or bottle feed before bed or naptime and baby has fallen asleep, gently kiss them, talk to them and rouse them so that the go to their crib awake.
  • Regularly putting your baby down asleep will also not give them the opportunity to learn to self-soothe. Instead they will become dependent on this and need to always be soothed by outside sources in order to get sleep. This may lead to unhealthy sleep habits as they get older.
  • Once you put baby down in their crib, let them fuss and cry and even whale if they take it that far. The first few times will be rough, but if you can get through that first week You will see a major difference and life will be a lot easier.
  • Remember you are not doing anything bad to your baby by letting them cry. Keep it in your mind you are teaching them to self-soothe - an invaluable tool.

Another important tool in helping your baby to go to sleep and stay asleep is to swaddle them. To see my pick for the best-swaddling product I’ve found click on the link at the bottom of the page.

If you feel your baby has truly had enough and is hysterical you may have to go in to them and try to ease them into this concept a little slower. If this is true for your situation try staying in the room and talking in a soothing voice to your baby. Gently rest a hand on their tummy and assure them it’s okay. Try not to pick them up but let them know you are there.

These are all suggestions and should only be used on healthy babies. Above all trust your instincts as a parent. If you are comfortable trying the above ideas, go for it. Good luck and let me know how it goes.

That’s Momma Talk for now.

-Heather Whittington

Link to Miracle blanket -

Please post your comments below to post ... and see what others are saying. Or send your letters with stories of your own experiences as well as topics you would like to see discussed to:

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User Comments:
renita said:
great advice - it really helped me with my son's sleeping schedule!
Rowena said:
My daughter is just on 4 months and she goes down awake for all day with no problems but when it gets to bedtime at night she takes forever to settle! what an I doing wrong??
ROY said:
Christa said:
I was not one for letting my baby cry it out, but the problem was my baby cried a lot.. My husband was up for letting her cry to sleep and I often wondered how he could stand it. But now in reality I have started to see her go to sleep on her own and in her crib! Not everytime does she like the idea of going to sleep in her crib, but she does fall asleep quicker now.
Ann said:
How long are you supposed to let them cry. My son is 6 mos and used to sleep all night but now that we moved him to his crib he cries and cries. I let him go on and off for two hours the other night but he was still hysterical. Help!
Arlene said:
all of this stuff worked for me i meen i have three childeren and i am so much smarter for parrenting i just wanted to say that you are just awesome
Rhianna said:
To Ann: This is what we did for our oldest daughter: Hug, kiss and then lay the infant down. After the baby starts CRYING (not just whinning/complaining) go in. DO NOT PICK HIM UP! Rub his back, talk/sing to him. He may not stop crying. Only stay in the room 30 seconds-1 minute. Walk out. Double your time before you go in there again...IE if it was 2 mins before, wait 4 mins this time. Repeat and USUALLY within 20 mins he will be sound asleep. Each night will get easier. For my oldest daughter, this worked wonderfully. By night 3, she gave no prolems about going to sleep. Just keep up the same routine every night. Now I have an 8 month old that will actually scream until she vomits. She has a completely different way of being put to bed every night. Remember each child will be different. Good luck!
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