6 Ways 'Crying It Out' Is Dangerous for Babies​

baby with tear in her eyeOne of the most polarizing issues in parenting has to be what's often referred to as the "cry it out" method, or "Ferberizing," stemming from pediatrician Richard Ferber who developed his sleep training strategy and published it in Solve Your Child's Sleep Problems in 1985. The approach says that if a baby gets used to being rocked to sleep or always falling asleep while breastfeeding, she won't learn to fall asleep on her own. So the goal is to train the baby to "self-soothe" herself to sleep at bedtime, and then use the same skill when she wakes up at night or during a nap.

While many parents are intrigued by the idea, there's quite a bit of research and opposition against it. And research has shown various short- and long-term negative effects of the method. Here, six reasons "crying it out" can hurt little ones ...

  1. Babies left to cry have been shown to be stressed even after they do appear to be "sleep trained." Research conducted at the University of North Texas published in the Early Human Development journal in 2012 looked at 25 infants aged 4 to 10 months in a five-day inpatient sleep training program. Even though by the third night of being left to cry, they were crying less and falling asleep faster, the cortisol levels measured in their saliva remained high, indicating that they were just as physically "stressed" as if they had remained crying.
  2. Even once a baby does fall asleep, sleeping alone has long-term negative effects. "Isolated sleeping is bad for babies," says Darcia Navarez, Ph.D., professor of psychology at the University of Notre Dame, who has done extensive research on responsive parenting, characterized by breastfeeding, frequent touch, soothing babies in distress, outdoor play, and a wider community of caregivers. She notes that animal studies show how even brief isolation can affect stress reactivity. "All sorts of systems can become disorganized when a baby is not 'in arms' with long-term effects on intelligence, social capacities, and health."
  3. The distress associated with crying it out can affect brain development. "Extensive distress in babyhood kills synapses, which are rapidly growing in the first years of life. This means that networks of connections between brain systems don't get established properly," says Narvaez. A key set of connections are from the prefrontal cortex to the older parts of the brain. When these are established well, they control primitive survival systems (anger, fear). If they are not, a child may develop anxiety and depression.
  4. It may also may lead to a higher probability of behavioral problems. Narvaez notes that studies out of Harvard, Yale, Baylor, and other prestigious institutions show that the practice can kill off baby brain cells and lead to a higher risk of ADHD, poor academic performance, and anti-social tendencies.
  5. Prolonged crying can ultimately lower IQ. Dr. Rao and colleagues at the National Institutes of Health showed that infants with prolonged crying (not due to colic) in the first three months of life had an average IQ 9 points lower at 5. They also showed poor fine motor development.
  6. Babies left to cry it out also have a higher chance of becoming more dependent later on. Although the hope is that allowing a child to "self-soothe" will foster independence, Narvaez notes that it actually accomplishes the opposite: "It is more likely to foster a whiny, unhappy, aggressive, and/or demanding child, one who has learned that one must scream to get needs met."

How do you feel about sleep training?


Image via Daniel Lobo/Flickr

colic & crying


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Dana M

Fearmongering nonsense.

Rachel Dixon-Makrucki

You do not understand the feber method at all... in no way do you just leave your child to cry continuously until they fall asleep. It is a graduated small step approach to teaching a child to sleep without being held. You don't just plop the kid down and walk away. If you are going to critizing a method please do a little bit of research, otherwise it just makes you look lazy. 

nonmember avatar Ashley

LOL NO. What, so we're SUPPOSED to cosleep? Or cosleeping kills babies and we're supposed to give them their own beds? Or letting them sleep alone makes them stupid and stressed out? It cannot be both ways. Either it's best for a baby to sleep in bed with a parent, or alone in their own bed. You can't ever have it both ways.

starl... starlight1968

ugh... really??? this is just silly fluff taking up space...sorry don't believe it ....

nonmember avatar Mommadeeder

I feberized my 23mo son when he was 8 months old. BEST choice my husband and I made for our son. Not only did he have to be rocked to fall asleep, he was waking up between 8 - 10 times per night! Within a week, he was falling asleep on his own within 2 minutes of low key crying and only waking twice per night. By the end of the second week, there was absolutely NO crying and only sporadic waking during the night. I believe that you should do what works best for your family and NOT rely on fear mongering bs,

Britt Woods

Sorry I don't believe this crock for one minute. Obviously there's a fine line between ignoring your child and letting them cry it out. I can see how leaving them to cry for increments of time longer than 20 minutes can't be good. But seriously, leaving a child to cry for 3-4 minutes before they fall asleep is detrimental to their health? What a load of crap.

youth... youthfulsoul

So my baby will have issues because he slept in his own crib alone??? Ya ok. And he never cried it out, thankfully he was a good sleeper. But I don't believe for a minute that he's stressed out or whatever you said because he sleeps in his own room.

sterl... sterling21

I have severe anxiety and could not let my son cry it out for even a few minutes. So yes, we had to rock him to sleep until he was around 2.5 bothersome, but I could never personally let my baby cry at all, without holding him.

nonmember avatar Bridgitte

I'm just only tired of everything we moms do is being wrong! If I sleep in my Clarks room on the air mattress then its better for both my son and me. Parents should sleep in the nursery with there kid cuz of all the stuff going on out there like strangers sneaking in the house and staring in the crib or creepy men peeking through the baby's minutes. Enough is enough

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