Hey Parents, Science Says You Can Stop Beating Yourself Up Over Letting Your Child Cry It Out

by Christine Burke
Originally Published: 
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When I brought my first child home from the hospital, I had no way of knowing just how many wars raged among mothers: breastfeeding versus bottle feeding, cloth diapers versus disposable, bed-sharing versus crib sleeping. Everywhere I turned, another mother had an adamant opinion on how I should raise my son. And it was exhausting to try to make sense of it all, particularly at 2 a.m. when my son was screaming and I was at a loss.

But perhaps the biggest war that rages between parents is infant sleep, particularly how your infant falls asleep. There are so many opinions, and if you ask any parent about how they get their infant to sleep, chances are they’ll have pretty firm opinions about the best methods of sleep training, and it’s more than likely that those opinions will differ from person to person.

Co-sleeping. Swaddling. Ferberizing. Infant swings. Car rides. Walking in circles for hours on end while praying your kid falls the fuck asleep. Parents have tried everything in the name of getting a few hours of sleep when a baby is in the house. And sleep training doesn’t have a one-size-fits-all solution because every baby is different. Every family dynamic is different.

The one method that causes the most ire, though, is the highly controversial “cry it out” (CIO) method. Simply put, you let your child cry until they fall asleep, while typically intervening at measured intervals, or sometimes not at all, after the child has been put to bed for the night.

And many moms far and wide clutch their pearls with rage at the mere mention of a mother who has chosen to let her child cry in their crib in an effort to help said child sleep through the night.

Well take a seat, sanctimommies, because science says letting a child CIO is fine.

You certainly don’t have to do it, and there are other ways to help children sleep longer and self-soothe, but utilizing this option in one way or another is not damning your child to some sort of delinquent life. And it certainly won’t destroy the bond you share with your kid.

A new study published in the journal Pediatrics states that, after studying the cortisol levels of infants via saliva samples during the CIO process, Australian researchers came to the conclusion that babies are not under stress or duress when they are crying before sleep. In fact, according to this study, the babies who fell asleep via the “graduated extinction” method (where a parent goes in to soothe baby in increments of one or two minutes) and the “bedtime fading” method (where a parent delays bedtime until the child is fussy) fell asleep faster and had fewer stress hormones in their saliva than the children who had parents cuddle them to sleep.

My husband and I used the CIO method for both of our children.

When my son was 6 months old, I started to notice signals that he was waking up out of habit rather than necessity. After talking with our doctor, we discussed the ways I could help my son sleep through the night and he recommended a book by Dr. Marc Weissbluth. In his book Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child, Weissbluth discusses the EASY (eat, activity, sleep, your time) method. His book stresses not only healthy sleep habits for the baby but also self-care for exhausted mothers. I won’t lie: I liked his style immediately.

His method made sense for our family, and I quickly incorporated his suggestions into our sleep routine. His premise is that babies need a schedule and consistency and that learning to sleep alone is a milestone that babies can master. And in order to accomplish this, some babies will inevitably cry.

Weissbluth reminds parents that often the sounds of crying are more tortuous for the parents than the baby. He deftly explains the reasons why it might be hard for a parent to listen to a crying child and also helps parents understand the necessity of a good night’s sleep for everyone in the family.

Our son was sleeping through the night in a matter of days after we initiated the CIO method. Was it easy? No way. Did I enjoy listening to him cry? Nope. But did our family life immediately improve once we were all sleeping regularly and on a schedule? Hell yeah, it did. My mental health improved dramatically, and I would do it all over again.

The CIO method worked for our family.

And just so we are crystal clear: Parents who choose to use this method are not cold-hearted barbarians who enjoy the sounds of our children crying. That’s such complete BS.

If you are a mom who is reading this through bleary eyes and a foggy brain because you haven’t slept in months, I am here to tell you that using the “cry it out” method does not make you a bad mother, sanctimommies be damned.

And if you are a mom who has been shamed for your choices in helping your baby (and yourself) get some much-needed rest, please let yourself off the hook already. You’re not a bad mom.

Science says that babies who cry themselves to sleep will be just fine. So stop worrying about what the sleep police say and do what your gut tells you when it comes to your kids and their sleep patterns. No judgment from this mom, I promise.

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