True Confessions Behind Cry It Out

I read this post by Baby Rabies this week and it really got me thinking.  Part of me really understands letting a baby cry, and another part of me can't stomach it.  So what is really behind the Cry It Out phenomenon. 

Reason 1-

Mom is mean-

So I have really met (and I am sure you have to) women who are just.....selfish.  You know, you wonder why they had kids.  (No, I am not talking about YOU!).  But, obviously, there are selfish people in the world and some of them are bound to be fertile.

So, some people really probably have kids and then just expect the child to totally conform to all their needs.

These selfish moms "need" nine hours of unbroken sleep each night.  They need a strict schedule.  They need nice nails, lots of "me" time, and everything "their" way.

They see their children as an inconvenience rather than a blessing.  They use harsh sleep training methods from day one.  All parenting kind of revolves around mom and her needs with no respect or thought for the child, who obviously, though small is also a person.


I hope this kind of mom is rare.  I have only actually met one woman who employed cry it out on a newborn and admitted it.  I hope that this isn't done very often and I can only assume that women who DO this with very young children might be getting very bad advice from people who love them and other experts.  Or maybe she is just mean.

Reason 2-

Lack of understanding about normal newborn behavior-

Many people probably really don't know what is "normal" in the average newborn.  We kind of expect our babies to be, and then we also expect to go right back to our pre-baby life.  These "lies" about what a newborn should be like tend to be encouraged by baby trainers as though they ARE the normal and certainly the ideal. 

I have bad (or good, depending on how you look at it) news.  Babies are not exactly like adults, they have small stomachs, frequent needs, lots of growing to do, and food that is liquid and moves quickly through them.

As far as you are concerned, you will never be the same again.  That is part of the growth of being a parent.  Your old life is GONE forever.  This isn't a bad thing.  This is a really great life.  It is just different.  

Babies often need to eat frequently, every two hours or so, for the first months of life, maybe longer, depending on the child.  YES- some babies do sleep all night from very early, but not many.  For a young baby, really, the longest stretch you will probably get is one or maybe two, four hour stretches of sleep in a 24 hour period. This is IF you are lucky. 

Four hours is "sleeping through" for a baby.

Sarah Buckley's thoughts on this are really somewhat eye opening and a quick read.


I think if we realized what was normal and age appropriate for our children many of us would have less stress and lower expectations that are really just realistic if we were familiar with what babies are like.

Sometimes it helps not to talk to people who have perfect children when you are struggling.  I think the Dr Sears "Baby" book is a good one for understanding normal newborn behavior and also knowing when average growth spurts occur so that we realize when they may need to eat more.  I also love Harvey Karp's tips in his video, "The 5 S's".  He not only explains some normal newborn behaviors and reactions, but also gives some idea of ways to help a baby calm better that are kind, mimic the womb, but can increase baby sleep.

Reason 3-

Mom is overwhelmed and/or under-supported- 

Most of us live in single family units with mom and dad and other children.  Many women go back to work outside of the home when children are young.  The "normal" lack of sleep that babies cause when added into the schedule of mom who has many other responsibilities during the day can make dealing with sleep deprivation very difficult.

Adult humans really do need sleep too.  For me personally, if I don't get at least one three hour block I have a hard time functioning in a healthy way.  When I am up every hour all night long, dealing with life becomes a lot harder then next day.

Over and over I see mothers who are overwhelmed and miserable with their children or babies.  They are looking for alternatives.  Some find help from others, from co-sleeping, from supplements, from pharmaceuticals, and some find help with baby training methods.

I think that many women turn to cry it out methods because of a combination of not understanding what is normal and a hugely overwhelming feeling of simply not being able to cope brought on by sleep deprivation.  Add in a need or desire to live normally even with a young baby and you have a recipe for an overwhelmed mother.


I "wish" all mothers were supported.  I "wish" all mothers could spend a year or so just caring for baby.  I "wish" more of us gave ourselves a break and didn't expect much from ourselves for that first year or two.  Do we really need to have a career, go to school, be something that "matters" outside of our children immediately after baby?  Why do we feel that just being mom isn't enough?   But I don't believe this is possible for all women.  I can't ignore my house and other children because I have a baby.  Mama has some needs too.


When I hear people talking about cry it out in black and white terms, it makes me a little uncomfortable.  I don't know if this issue is all black and white.  Yes, leaving a baby to cry sucks.  But sometimes it sucks less than the other alternative.

I have four children, all with very different sleep patterns and temperaments.  Let me tell you about them.

My first was not an easy sleeper.  Looking back he was probably pretty normal.  He ate every few hours and preferred to sleep with mom.  He always nursed to sleep, even well past a year.  When he was little my husband started graduate school and we moved to a new state where I knew nobody and the closest family was a few thousand miles away.  My husband himself was surviving on about four hours of sleep a night because his schedule was so intense.

I remember when he was about eight months old that he was up every hour.  I felt like I was literally going insane.  INSANE.  I would get maybe four hours of broken sleep each night.  That simply was not enough for me to function.  Co-sleeping didn't yield magical family sleep hours, it just got me kicked in the head all night and my husband on the couch.  

I tried to let him cry because nothing else worked.  Letting him cry didn't work either, but if it had, I would have been grateful.  Some kids really can be left alone for a minute or two and they give up and go to sleep.  Others, just get more angry.  He just got more angry.

We survived.  But despite my Dr Sears love affair, I was a little more humble about attachment parenting after that.

My second slept like a Baby Wise baby- ten hours straight from two months on.  I didn't know that was possible.  She also refused to comfort nurse.

My third was very difficult again.  A combination of strong personality, desire to be busy, and physical sensitivity to her surroundings made nighttime very difficult.  When she was around 18 months old and I was more than halfway through my pregnancy with my fourth, I had had enough.

She was still, as she had her entire life, getting up every hour or two and screaming.  I know my daughter and she was not hurting or physically ill.  She is stubborn and sensitive and she simply didn't like sleep.  She still doesn't.

At some point I gave up.  I let my husband try to "sleep train her".  She was about 18 months old.  It worked some, but truthfully, nothing really worked with her.  And some of you will find the same thing-- none of the tricks or books or advice will "fix" your baby.

But I can tell you this- eventually they start to sleep a little better.  In my experience it is usually after 18 months for the "harder" babies.  The hard times pass.  They fade from memory.

My advice, which you can totally ignore, is this:

Be gentle on yourself.  Don't expect the world from yourself just because it seems like everybody else has everything together and is clean and happy.  They don't.  I know they don't because they have kids, and nobody who has kids has everything together.  Some just fake it better.

Remember that life lasts longer than this moment.  You can be more educated, more rich, more awesome.... later.  Sometimes the most awesome thing you can do is be the mom.  Sometimes the education you need the most is learning what that difficult child is trying to teach you.  Sometimes the richest blessing you can have is learning your limits and your limitless love.

Really DO sleep when baby sleeps.  This applies to NAP TIME and doesn't just apply to the first six weeks.  For goodness sake, if your 18 month old sleeps like crap at night, then nap with them during the day.  It just might save your sanity.

Be gentle on each other.  I love my difficult babies.  (It is easier now that they are a little older.)  I love what they taught me about myself.  I love that they taught me some humility.  I love that they taught me that the harder you work and the more you sacrifice, the more your love grows. 

When I see mothers attacking one another because somebody is torturing their child with cry it out, I cringe a little.  Not because I think letting a baby cry is the way to go, but because I have been there.  I have felt that hopelessness that mom feels when she is at her limit, in dire need of sleep, has nobody to help her, and the baby starts screaming.  Sometimes the best thing is to just stay in bed and collect yourself.

I think sometimes we as mothers try so hard to do everything perfectly that we push ourselves past the point we can handle.  I hate it when I see "perfect" attached mothers walk away from their kids, have their marriage fall apart, or escape somehow from their life, because they simply could not sustain on their own this notion of 100% attached perfect parenting.  This kind of parenting, I believe, is impossible to do alone all the time without something needing to give.   

So my point, now that I am finally getting to it is this- cry it out may not be right- but we don't usually know where another person is coming from.  I am not saying, "To each their own, anything goes, go torture your kids."

What I am saying is, we don't know where another woman is coming from when she parents in a way we think is wrong.

I don't think that Baby Rabies blog post was really about cry it out at all.  It was really about a mom who was at her limit.  I don't think it was trying to encourage cry it out, I think it was a mom, like you and me, who admitted publicly something that was really hard for her as a parent.

Sadly, she got a lot of hatred for it.  Cry it out might be wrong, but a mom who openly admits that she is suffering from anxiety partly caused by sleep deprivation, probably doesn't need any more stress.  She shouldn't be commended for letting her baby cry, but she SHOULD be commended for being truthful about her struggles.  We don't need to destroy each other when we see somebody who is open enough to admit a weakness or a struggle.

If she says that her child will calm faster when left for 5 minutes than when comforted, I believe her.  I have had a child like that.  Mothers know their own children better than some stranger online who thinks they have figured it all out.  

I have been there.  Someday you might be there too.


Great post. I love this because as you point out...every child is different.

Plus, crying it out means different things to different people. I cannot imagine every letting my children cry for hours, but did I let them cry for 5-10 minutes after they woke up to see if they would go back to sleep? Absolutely.

And I love your mentality on not judging. There just isn't enough people like you in this world!
Melissa said…
Thank you. Thank you. One million times, thank you. I am crying, and not because I feel torn down and condemned, like so many others have responded to me this way. I am crying because you GET it. You totally GET it.

No, I don't want my baby to cry. I carry her on my hip nearly ALL DAY to keep her from crying. I need energy to do that. I need to not be riddled with anxiety to do that. I've weighed my own personal circumstances and came up with the best possible solution for us all that I can.

I have a 3 year old. Many days I don't have the option of sleeping when the baby sleeps, though when he is at school 3 days a week sometimes I can swing it. My husband lets me sleep in when he works from home and helps me that way.

We are TRYING. We are not BAD PARENTS. And the black and white BS is mind numbing.

Thank you for your support. - Jill @BabyRabies
Mama Birth said…
Melissa/ Jill- awesome you commented and read it! Yes- I get it. And guess what, if other people have enough kids, they will get it too. Give 'em some time.
I agree with Sarah. CIO to me is five minutes, max. Some people don't want to let their baby cry *at all* and consider this harsh, which I kind of don't get. I know from experience that running in every five minutes was only prolonging the inevitable: that this kid could easily manage to fall asleep on his own if *only I let him.*
Well said! Definitely rings true in our home... how can 2 children be such different babies??
Hannah Joy said…
THANK YOU. Totally agree with you. And this encouraged me about some thing completely unrelated, yet as with so many things in motherhood: still connected.
Misty Pratt said…
I am personally against cry-it-out (especially in newborns), but I have totally been at the end of my rope. I've definitely let her cry for longer than a minute or two, and it was to prevent myself from throwing her down the stairs. Dealing with a baby who had reflux was THE hardest thing I've ever done in my entire life, and I don't think anyone understands how crazy you can get with a baby who can't be soothed. It wasn't just that she didn't sleep - it was that she screamed bloody murder for hours on end. So anyway, yes, I very much like this post, because it's certainly not black and white. I am praying to God that my next baby will be more relaxed :)
Anonymous said…
This post made me so completely happy. When my daughter was little i was a single, working mom, i slept maybe 2 hours a day (on a good day). I lucked out and my dd slept wonderfully for her first 3-4 months, and then she would wake up, whiney-crying (not i'm hurt screaming) i realized quickly, that if i got up and went to her immediately that she was up for 2+ hours. (i would jump out of bed and run to her, as a new mom with not much support, i didn't know she wasn't dying) But one night, i had just had it, i was dying for sleep. So, i laid there for 5 minutes, to stop myself from crying and by the time i went to get up out of the bed, she was sound asleep. I never let her scream and yell, i could hear her, i knew she was safe in her crib, and she slept wonderfully. She still has nights she will get whiney for a minute or two, and i don't run anymore (she is now 18 months). I know my daughter well, and i know the difference in cries. I think cry it out, isn't a black and white topic, so... it can't be thought of in black and white.

Hate, yell, call me a horrible person, we all get more sleep this way, myself, husband and Emilee are all much happier people this way.
Jennifer said…
Awesome! I want to add another type of parent there: the one who's co slept/breastfed her way through the last 19months but is done with the lack of quality, unbroken sleep and wants her hubby back in the bed. In other words...ME!
Mama Birth said…
I know Jennifer- I hate when people say that it doesn't impact the marriage- it can.
Tom and Juli said…
There is definitely a right and wrong way to do it, and some in between. I can't believe how harsh some of the comments were on that blog though! Sheesh!! I never thought I'd CIO but when my son (2nd child) was a little over a year and waking up every 2 hours something had to be done. Since I could tell he wasn't hungry I decided to let him cry when he woke up... and he'd cry for 10-15 minutes and fall back to sleep. It lasted 3 nights, then he was just sleeping through by himself. I did make sure to make his room a comfortable place for him though, with a night light and his favorite blanket, etc. I think it helped our transition even more.

People need to relax a little about what other mothers are doing. Unless you're in their shoes you have no idea what they're going through.
Aggie said…
When I resorted to CIO in desperation (my baby had his days and nights confused and would be up between 12 and 5 every night!!), one mum warned my baby would die of "failure to thrive" as he wasn't cuddled enough! Again, CIO was 5 mins, after which I went in and soothed him, put his dummy back in and left.

Your support point was very valid, we had moved when I was 6 months pregnant, away from my family for my husband to go back to school. With my second, and now third child I have learnt there are things you can do from the get go that help them get day and night the right way round without CIO. Things like, making night feeds quiet and dark, but day feeds with lots of cuddles and talking, going out in the fresh air as much as possible to kick start their circadian rythm, waking them for feeds during the day if they sleep too long. I hope I never have to CIO it out again, it as stressful and painful as no mother enjoys hearing her baby cry.
Melissa said…
I appreciate this article. I had a child born about four weeks early who had to eat every hour and a half to 2 hours for the first three months. I read Babywise and had planned on using it, but soon realized that every child is different and babywise was not applicable to my baby born at 36 weeks who needed more frequent feedings. Once my son had "caught up" in weight with most of his peers (around 6 mos), I then began to employ Babywise methods and did let him cry it out. Cry it out to me meant no more than 5-10 minutes. I did not do this because I was selfish, but I did this because he was a much happier baby, and I was a much more sane mother when I did this. He now goes to bed and naptime without a single tear. He is 17 mos. old now and is in the 75% for weight where as he was in the 12% when he was born. He sleeps 10-12 hours a night and takes a 2-3 hour nap a day. I would never have used CIO on a newborn who really does need to eat every two hours, but for older babies sometimes it is what the child needs. Women have to learn to be more supportive and less judgemental of each other. Yes, there are selfish mothers out there. I see this all too much as a teacher in an urban setting, but I don't think because you use CIO you are selfish or torturing your baby.
Jessie Roberts said…
I started out as an Attachment Parent to the max. We co-slept with Penny from the beginning, and it worked really well. Then at about 6 months, it stopped working -- nobody was getting decent sleep, not even the baby. My husband started sleeping downstairs most of the time just so he could function the next day. It definitely affected the relationship!

At the time, the only mommy friends I had were very pro-attachment parenting, and most of them just told me to wait it out, that it would better. But I didn't have time to be patient. I felt my mood getting worse and worse, and knew that what we all really needed was a good night's sleep. And CIO did that.

We are too hard on other mothers, and I suspect it's because we're too hard on ourselves. I wish mother's were more forgiving of weakness. We're all imperfect, after all.

GREAT POST! I shared it on my page.
Unknown said…
I love that people realize that when most, not all of us, let our children cry it out, it is when they are old enough, there is no other alternative for some of us (I had seen a comment about a mama trying to maintain control of her own emotions) and that when we do let them cry for a little while it is most definitely not for hours on end. I will let me children (2 boys) cry for 10-15 minutes if I know for a fact that 1)they are not injured and 2)they are in a safe situation i.e playpen, crib or even safely strapped in a high chair. I never leave my boys anywhere I cannot hear them. So I guess I am one of those harsh mamas, but I do harsh safely!
Mama Meadow said…
The last few sections of your blog spoke so deeply to my heart. THANK YOU! Your words encourage and inspire me to be a better mama and be more "awesome" later. My son and I thank you for your heart felt wisdom and advice. Bless you.
Melissa said…
I just found your blog through...someone else's blog! Not sure. lol Anyway, I really enjoyed this blog post. I find natural child birth and AP so interesting! I wouldn't consider myself an AP but I do love reading about. (Maybe a little! lol) I'm having my 4th in May and sadly, it will be a c-section. My first was a c-section ( water broke 18 hrs before. Only dialated to 7. Baby was stuck. Drs afraid of infection setting in) and second one was a scheduled c-section.Drs. told me same thing would most likely happen again so I didn't try for a VBAC. I SOOOO wish I had! When the third came around I was told VBAC was no longer an option. And now, of course,VBAC is really not an option. If I could go back and change things I would. But I can't live in regret. I've enjoyed these great natural birth stories. Makes me kinda Anyway, great blog!
Gatorhap said…
I just want to say thanks for this. That's all.
erin said…
@ Jennifer, I am that mama too! Co-Sleeping is wonderful, but I'm ready for unbroken sleep and my hubby cuddled next to me. I guess I can wait it out. Haha :)
Sheila said…
I completely agree. I've never done cry-it-out because I never really had my back that far up against the wall, and I really can't bear to hear him cry anyway. But now that he's almost two, I definitely can tell the difference between a "mommy come get me" cry and a "I'm actually still asleep, but having a bad dream which will be over in a second, so please don't wake me" cry. So I don't go running every time. I attend to my son when he needs me -- and I, as his mother, know best when he needs me!

But I know moms who have done "real" CIO, and I don't judge them. There's a point of sleep deprivation where you're a better mother by doing what you can do get some sleep than by rocking for hours. We all do the best we can. And who better to judge what the "best" is than the mother herself?
magadociousrex said…
Your first baby's sleep schedule is my son (did you like steal him or something? LOL!).

So many many folks told me to sleep train him and such.... and it was horrible as I wasn't getting ANY sleep and I was also like 4 weeks pregnant and he wanted to nurse through the night. We ended up nightweaning and stopping cosleeping WITH MOM. If he's having a BAD day, or teething, Dad sleeps in the room with him (we don't have a toddler bed, we have a double bed in his room) .

And 9 hours of sleep a night.... omg don't I wish. Someday, i'm hoping to get 9 hours again. I'm thinking once the kids are in college.
kelly said…
I'm not sure how I found your blog....but it's quite fitting as this afternoon I posted about something similar -))


From Kelly
Mommy Baby Spot said…
Wonderful post. I think this needs to apply to a lot of aspects of mom-to-mom relationships. We need to remember that we don't all have the same baby, same situation or same amount of patience but we ALL need support. Even if we don't agree we need to atleast not jump to judgmental conclusions.
I am trying to work on that with formula feeding and breastfeeding on my blog (really great guest post coming up on Tuesday, please check it out, I think you'll like it: