Is it Damaging to Allow Baby to Cry it Out?


It’s the great baby-sleep debate: Is it harmful or cruel to let babies cry themselves to sleep? Dr. Richard Ferber’s Cry it out method has received both praise and criticism for years. But what does the science say? Is it all right to allow your baby to cry himself to sleep, or is it emotionally damaging? Must parents hold or sleep by their babies all or most of the night to keep them from crying? Unfortunately, there is still not a universal answer.

The Ferber Cry it out Method

The basics behind Dr. Ferber’s method is that you are training your baby to sleep better by teaching him to self-soothe. This method does not imply that you simply allow your baby to cry by himself all night long (known as extinction), but that you let him cry for a pre-determined amount of time before offering comfort, then gradually lengthening that amount of time. There are many variations to this method, and there is much to be considered before implementing sleep training for your baby.

Cry it out Supporting Research

Some experts support baby sleep training, while others feel it causes emotional distress for infants to cry it out. A study by the AAP published May of 2016 involves 3 different methods of sleep training: graduated extinction (basically the Ferber cry it out method), bedtime fading (putting the baby to bed later each night so he was more tired), and a control group. The objective was to compare how fast the babies fell asleep, their stress levels (which were measured by the stress hormone cortisol from saliva samples), and the reported stress levels of their mothers. At the end of 12 months, it was discovered that the babies doing graduated extinction and bedtime fading fell asleep faster and had less stress, as well as their mothers. When the babies in all three groups were tested for emotional or behavioral problems due to crying, the results were the same. The most attractive feature of this method is that both baby and his parents get more sleep.

Opposing Opinions

Despite this research, some child-sleep physicians maintain the position that allowing a baby to cry it out for any amount of time is damaging to baby’s brain, emotional well-being, and to the naturally nurturing relationship between a baby and mother. They argue that there is no need to sleep train a baby, that eventually a child will learn to fall back asleep on his own and that parents need to mold their sleep schedules around that of their child’s instead of the other way around. Check here for some ideas to safely calm a baby.

Sleep doesn’t need to be a traumatic experience for your baby, but one fact remains true: Most parents feel they cannot manage their responsibilities on months or years of such little sleep. Some parents truly cannot bear to hear their little baby crying in the night, and that’s okay. Do what you feel is best for you and your little one. No parent will make the same choices in raising children as another, after all. When it really comes down to it, most of the decisions made by a parent are a matter of deciding which option is the best for you and your child.

Have you tried any sleep training methods for your baby? Please share in the comments!

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