Sleep Training: Dos & Don'ts of Letting Your Baby 'Cry It Out'

baby sleepingExhausted? Frustrated? Feel like you need an IV drip of caffeine just to function? Welcome to parenthood! At any given moment, millions of bleary-eyed parents across the world are wondering how to get their baby to sleep through the night, which is exactly why there are countless books on this very subject. One of the most famous, and controversial, baby sleep books of all time is Richard Ferber's Solve Your Child's Sleep Problems. Dr. Ferber's book, which certainly isn't without its share of naysayers, suggests parents teach their babies to fall asleep on their own through techniques such as letting them cry for a bit and not putting them down asleep. Harsh? Maybe. But plenty of sleep-deprived moms and dads swear by this method, which is also known as "ferberizing" or "crying it out."

More from The StirMilestones: When Will My Baby Sleep Through the Night?

Thinking of giving it a try? Here, 7 things to keep in mind.


Don't attempt to ferberize a young baby. Newborns aren't waking up in the middle of the night to prevent you from getting your beloved rest, they're getting up because they're hungry and need food in order to grow. Most experts, including Dr. Ferber, agree that crying it out shouldn't be attempted on a child younger than at least 3 months. Babies who are younger than that, or who don't yet weigh 11 pounds, likely aren't even capable of sleeping through the night. However, after that, if you feel your baby (and you) are ready, you can start trying to get him to sleep through the night via crying it out or another sleep training method. "Assuming they're healthy and gaining weight properly, babies are typically ready to start sleep training and learning how to sleep through the night sometime between 4 to 6 months," says Kim Schaf, founder and president of Sleep Training Solutions in Chicago.

Do stick to a routine. Pick a plan and stay with it. "Consistency is key when getting babies to sleep," says Schaf. "Babies and toddlers, especially, learn through repetition, and the process will go much faster when you follow the same routine each day."

Don't plop your baby in her crib, shut the door, and never return. There are numerous variations of sleep training, some more gentle than others, but ferberizing, or crying it out, does not mean you lock your baby in her room and let her cry herself to sleep without ever checking on her. In his book, Dr. Ferber says, "Simply leaving a child in a crib to cry for long periods alone until he falls sleep, no matter how long it takes, is not an approach I approve of." He recommends you periodically go in and comfort your child if she's crying, increasing the amount of time you leave her alone each time, as opposed to staying with her until she falls asleep. Most experts recommend going in in intervals of 5, 10, and 15 minutes, but the most important thing is that you do what you feel comfortable with.

Don't forget about naps. Routine is key. "When I work with a family, I don’t separate day and night sleep," she says. "Being consistent with how your baby is falling asleep -- whether it’s for naptime or bedtime -- is the fastest way to master this new skill. So, parents want to do the same thing at night and during nap time." It's important to remember, though, naps are always shorter than night-time sleep, so after an allotted period of time -- half hour, 45 minutes -- take your child out of his room if he hasn't fallen asleep and try the method again at night.

Do be flexible. We all want our babies to sleep through the night, but be reasonable. If your baby is sick or you are traveling (or just returned from traveling), it isn't a good time to start any sleep training method.

Don't wait until your baby has fallen asleep to put him down. Once your child is old enough to start sleep training, Dr. Ferber, among other experts, say that putting your baby down drowsy but not asleep is the crucial in teaching them to fall asleep on their own and self-soothe. One of the reasons you want your child to learn to self-soothe is so that when he wakes up during the night, he can fall back asleep on his own instead of needing you.

Do modify your sleep training method so it works for you. You can teach your baby to fall asleep on their own, and stay asleep, without following a specified plan to a tee. Take your own child and situation into account. "There's never a black and white answer when it comes to questions like how long should parents wait before going into their child's room, or whether or not they should pick baby up," notes Schaf. "It depends on the age of the baby and the method the parents have chosen."

Is your baby sleeping through the night?


Images via Tamaki Sono/Flickr/© matspersson0/  

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nonmember avatar krystian

This is jist wrong on so many levels

britb... britbritx3

Yes she is and guess what? i did the cry it out method. Just cause you dont agree with it krystian doesnt make it wrong.

Shelly Edmiston Lee

Why is it "wrong"? I sleep trained both of my boys and followed most of these guidelines. A routine is an integral part of the process. Both my children (ages 2 and 6) know their nightly routine, both of them start to wind down during bath time and know bed time is approaching soon after. If for some reason I don't put them to bed at their normal bed time they will ask to go to bed or even to their rooms on their own. What I took from sleep training is that it isn't so much about getting your children to go to sleep or sleep all night. The goal (at least for me) was for my children to be feel comfortable in their own beds/rooms and to be able to self soothe.

nonmember avatar Stacy S.

Yes, Britbrix, it IS wrong! You chose to have kids, and since your kid won't go to bed on their own, you punish them by making them cry it out!? GTFO. A little compassion goes a long way!

nonmember avatar Charlie'smama

I rock my 15 month old to sleep or almost to sleep every night. We both love the snuggles and bonding time! He always slepps through the night unless teething badly (since 8 mos). This is what works for us, but it's not right for everyone. They're little for such a short time, so I'll rock him to sleep for as long as he lets me.

Shelly Edmiston Lee

It is a common misconception that the "cry it out" method involves just placing your child in a crib and letting them cry for hours. If my baby cried I would check on him to make sure he wasn't thirsty, in need of diaper change or feverish/sick. If everything was ok I would comfort him for a few moments, turn his lullaby cd back on and put him back to bed.

Charl... Charlyla2

I don't agree with sleep training but I try not to judge. My 8 month old wakes up to nurse about 2-3 times a night and I let her. Both of my kids sleep with me. My 3 year old is getting ready to move to a toddler bed because he has just started sleeping all the way through the night and his night terrors have slowed down. To each their own.

nonmember avatar Jeana

I could never purposely listen to my children cry. I also can't sleep without my children by my side. .. I guess it boils down to some mothers love their children more.

Mikki Centeio Pereira

The people who think its wrong did not read the article.

My baby doesn't sleep through the night. He wakes up at least once a night. I don't follow any method. I do my own thing.

nonmember avatar Mommadeeder

My 4yo was an excellent sleeper, although I did have to do a lighter form of sleep training with him to get him to go to sleep on his own (I sat right outside his crib until he fell asleep, crying or not, for a couple of weeks) when he was close to 18mos.

My 2yo was a horrible sleeper from day one. When he was 8mos old, he was still waking 8-10 times a night. So, at 8 months old, we decided to sleep train him the full on Ferber method. This choice was not made easily, nor was it for my husband, older child, or myself to get more sleep. It was for us to have a child who would sleep on his own and be HAPPY! The first two nights were the worst, and it quickly became better. After two weeks, he was going to sleep every night on his own, with no issues. Now, at 2, he even climbs into bed on his own if he is tired before I go to put him to bed. Our choice to do sleep training could not have been any better than it was!

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