In Defense Of Letting Your Baby Cry

by Suzanne Knower
Originally Published: 
A baby crying on teal sheets in a yellow overall

I’m just going to come out and say it: I let my baby cry. I’m not going to sugarcoat it and call it “Sleep Training,” or get all technical and label it “CIO.” I let my baby cry so she could learn how to fall asleep on her own. It was horrible and by far the hardest mama thing I’ve ever had to do. And it was extremely necessary.

On a December night, when my husband was away on a work trip, my mom was helping her sleep-deprived daughter take care of her sleep-deprived daughter. (And I don’t just mean oh-you-have-a-baby-of-course-you’re-not-getting-sleep sleep-deprived.) It had been an exceptionally tough month, marked by the dreaded 4-month sleep regression (seriously, PTSD just from typing that), and I needed backup.

Harper would not sleep. Each night, it took an average of two hours to get her to fall asleep. She would fall asleep nursing and I would (oh so gently) place her in her crib, only for her to startle awake and have to start the process all over again. Once I did successfully get her down, she would wake every hour to hour and a half. All. Night. Long. It was brutal.

My baby and I both desperately needed sleep, and we weren’t getting it. So, the decision was made. I would teach my baby how to fall asleep on her own. I knew it would be hard, but I likened it to taking her to the doctor to get her shots. She would cry (I would cry), but it was something we had to do. It was time to take the training wheels off and let my girl learn.

That first night, Harper cried for 25 minutes. My mom watched the baby monitor while I sobbed in the shower. I was a horrible mom. I was abandoning my baby. My mom tried to console me: “We know she’s not hungry. Her diaper is clean. We know she is safe and isn’t hurt.” Right. She just wants me. That’s it. I’m all she wants in the whole entire world, and I’m not there for her. My heart broke into a thousand tiny pieces, and I felt hopeless.

And just when I was sure I couldn’t take another second, that I would physically break, my baby girl stopped crying. She fell asleep. But I didn’t feel the relief I thought I would. I felt guilty and sad. I was certain she was emotionally scarred and damaged. I just knew a permanent wedge had been driven in between us, and our relationship would never be the same. The tears wouldn’t stop.

After a horrible night’s sleep (for me, not her), I ran to her crib the second she woke up in the next morning. I wanted to scoop her up and never let her go, while apologizing over and over. I wanted to remind her that I loved her endlessly.

When I walked into her nursery, my girl was smiling. She was happy. How could she be happy? Wasn’t she still pissed at me? Didn’t she hold a grudge? Nope. She was just plain happy. And well rested.

Each night got better, with less and less crying. Knowing we would have to go through the anguish of the first night again propelled me through the next couple of nights. They were still tough. My mom still watched the monitor, and I still cried my eyes out. But each morning, Harper woke up with a smile.

Yes, we still have tough nights and naps aren’t perfect. But she’s a much better sleeper now, and a happier baby overall.

I definitely didn’t come to the decision lightly. Here are the 5 reasons I let my baby cry:

1. We needed sleep. I mean, duh. Right? But as moms, we are selfless. If our babies need to eat, we will feed them – even as our stomachs are growling because we’ve been living on stale cereal for days. Could I run on fumes to take care of my new baby? Yes, I could (and did). But I wasn’t the only one who was sleep-deprived. My baby needed good-quality sleep, too, and she just wasn’t getting it. She was fussy and overtired most of the time, and what she needed more than anything was sleep.

2. We failed at co-sleeping. One night, in my struggle to try anything and everything to get Harper to sleep, I decided to give co-sleeping a try. I know families who love it and tout its effectiveness in getting everyone some good-quality sleep. It was my last resort (second to last, I suppose), and I knew I needed to try it. At 1 a.m., after the usual rocking, nursing, patting and shushing Harper to sleep for the past hour had failed, we lay down on our guest bed. I created a barricade behind her, made sure no blankets or pillows were within 100 yards of her (an exaggeration, but not really), cradled her with a protective arm, closed my eyes, and hunkered down for the night. Well, that was the plan. I couldn’t get comfortable. I couldn’t relax. All the warnings I had ever read flashed through my head. Then, I heard giggling. I opened my eyes to see my girl, wide awake, ready to play in the new fort mama had created. Fail.

3. I missed my husband. Having a baby is a disruption in a marriage (understatement?). Have a baby who won’t sleep, and your husband turns into your (hot) roommate. While I was in my fog, stumbling through our days, I would catch a glimpse of my husband when he left for work in the morning, and that’s it. Gone were the dinners together and snuggles on the couch. I was too busy trying to get my baby to sleep. And when I wasn’t doing that, I was obsessing over (Googling) ways to trick her into sleeping.

4. I needed me back. I love quality time with my baby, and as a stay-at-home mama my days consist of mostly that. From morning to night. I wouldn’t choose any other way. But, I also cherish my time to myself. Some days – the hard ones – I count down to 530 p.m. bath time. I know that I have a glass of red wine and a brand-new episode of The Bachelorette waiting for me. And who knows? I might even get a little crazy and take a bubble bath. It’s my time, and I can rest easy knowing my babe is sleeping sweetly in her nursery.

5. It was the best option for us. I realize this is a controversial topic. Some mamas have been there and completely understand. Other mamas judge, thinking it’s selfish and cruel. Some have tried it, but it didn’t work for them. Ultimately, letting Harper teach herself how to fall asleep on her own worked for us because it worked for her. She was ready, and deep down I knew that.

As new mamas, we are constantly told the “right” way to do things, and getting our babies to sleep is at the top of that list. Everyone and their mother (literally) love to share their stories about how they did it, insisting theirs is the best way. But what finally worked for us was when I tuned out everyone else, followed my mama instinct and listened to the true expert – my baby girl.

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