'Cry It Out' Sleep Training Now Considered Dangerous


crying babyWhen my first child was an infant, sleep did not always come easily for him (or, as a result, for me or my husband). Some nights our son would conk out on his own and stay asleep through the night (though I'd still wake up to check on him). Other nights, it didn't matter what we tried, our baby wouldn't go to sleep until he was good and ready, and it was impossible to predict when (and how) that time would come.

Many people suggested that we let our son "cry it out" in his crib. "Have you tried 'Ferberizing' him?" they'd say, referring to the methods of Dr. Richard Ferber, a pediatrician who recommends parents let children fall asleep by themselves at bedtime -- even if that means allowing them to cry for extended periods of time -- in order to train them to be self-sufficient. "Ferberizing," such an ugly term. Machine-like. Cold.

My husband and I made a few half-hearted efforts at not responding right away to our baby's cries at night. But we could never really hold out for long. After a minute or two, if our son was still howling, we were by his side or he was in our arms. (Who could sleep through that racket, anyway?) Letting him howl for minutes or even hours on end? Even as every fiber of my being felt drawn to respond, to hold him, shush him, bounce him, and rock him? That just felt like a primal wrong to me.

Ferber's methods have long been controversial (he himself has softened his stance), but now they're being labeled downright dangerous. According to University of Notre Dame psychology professor Darcia Narvaez, research has shown that "letting babies get distressed is a practice that can damage children and their relational capacities in many ways for the long term." What's more, she writes in Psychology Today, "Giving babies what they need leads to greater independence later."

Narvaez maintains that babies cry for a reason and suggests that, when parents don't respond to their infant's cries, it can, among other things, negatively affect the baby's brain development, lead to neural and digestive disorders, keep them from being able to self-regulate and self-comfort, and even "stop growing, stop feeling, stop trusting."

Ugh. This must be terribly frightening news for the many parents who have relied upon (and in many cases, sworn by) the "cry it out" method of sleep training. Even I, with my few random half-hearted attempts at not responding to my infant's nighttime cries, feel a little unsettled. Have I irreparably damaged my child in some way? It makes you realize that, at the end of the day, we really have to trust our own instincts as parents. If an expert's advice doesn't feel right, it probably isn't.

Did you try "cry it out" sleep training with your child?


Image via Chalky Lives/Flickr

baby first year, baby development, baby health, baby sleep, bedtime


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nonmember avatar Ashley

Its truly sad that parents are inconvenienced by their baby's needs. I rock and snuggle my son to sleep every night. When he is starting to drift off I set him in his bed. I would never, ever let him cry himself to sleep. How cruel. He will blissfully fall asleep in loving, warm arms...Not alone in a dark room, screaming until his voice is hoarse and so stressed that he eventually passes out. I don't care how bad your child's sleep habits are. CIO is never the right thing to do.

heave... heavenlybliss19

Never have, never will.  If my daughter gets too upset, she throws up.  So, why would I purposely allow her to get so worked up like that?  IMO, babies cannot get spoiled.  My daughter is far from spoiled, and she's co-slept, been cuddled (or "coddled" in an ignorant view), and given every opportunity to love and be loved in return.  I think allowing yourself to calm your child teaches them that it's okay to rely on others when they need to.


I may be selfish, but I didn't have a baby to plop in her crib and let her cry bc I want to sleep. I had a baby to rock and hold and love. I'll sleep when she's grown.

Hate CIO. I wouldn't ignore my 4 year old's cries, why would I ignore my baby's?

Melis... Melissa042807

Oh yes, let's demonize the idea of letting babies learn to comfort themselves to sleep. Again. 

Here's your stick. Commence beating the dead horse. 

nonmember avatar Lexasmom

It depends on the age of the baby. Anything less than six months you just have to respond to the cry. PERIOD.

I also think ppl misunderstand the term "Cry it out". It doesn't mean you let your baby cry incessantly and never do anything about it. When the child cries and you have determined that all needs have been met and there is nothing medically wrong, you let the child cry for a few minutes and you check on them. Pat his/her back. Talk soothingly and say things like, its ok you're safe or mommy's here and its ok to sleep. Then you leave and come back again in a few more minutes. The intervals of checking in get greater and greater and eventually the crying subsides. Its work but I did it with my daughter to get her to sleep through the night. She's a beautiful smart and fiercely independent little one.

CadesMum CadesMum

It is normal for a baby to want its parents. Not responding to that is laziness. We never let our son cry it out. He is 20 months now, and he is independent and falls asleep on his own.

LissD LissD

As an adult, have you ever cried so hard and long that you ran out of tears and could no longer physically open your eyes? Its an awful feeling.

Babies can't talk...crying is one of their only means of communication...I would sure hate to be dependent on some one who ignored me when I need them the most.

There's a difference between letting your child scream until they can't any more..and letting them fuss for a bit. The first years are all about understanding your child.

Among many other parenty, I always thought CIO was dangerous...I mean..its not rocket science.

Sarah... Sarahbeth7

We NEVER did "sleep training". I agree with what was said. An infant needs to be independent!? Yeah...okay. We did the no cry sleep solution and my son is now 18 months old and falls asleep completely on his own and has never cried for hours on end to get there.

Telep... Telephus44

I never did sleep training per se, but the only way my son would fall asleep would be for me to leave the room.  If I held him, snuggled him, evern sat on a chair where he could see me, he would not sleep.  If I left the room, he would cry for maybe 1 minute tops - then fall asleep.  It's what worked for him.  I always wanted a "cuddly" baby and felt bad about it, but I did what worked for him.

I also know that you can tell the difference between the types of crying - not all crying means the same thing.  I could always tell when my baby really needed me (or diaper, or food, or was sick, etc).  I think most mothers can.  Most people sleep training aren't letting infants cry to the point of throwing up.

Lucre... LucretiaMcEvil

My 18m old just cried himself to sleep in his crib. He was tired and throwing a fit, hitting me and throwing his cup at me. Enough is enough. My husband is home, and baby won't sleep. He wants to be with his Daddy, despite obvious sleep deprivation.

Should I hold him and let him scream in my face and kick me? Should I lay him on the floor and let him thrash around and possibly hurt himself?

He's freaking out anyway. He can do that in his crib and take a nap. He screamed for 10 minutes, and he's literally snoring right now.

When he wakes up, he will still love me.

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