Experts Say 'Crying It Out' Doesn't Harm Babies -- but That's Hard to Believe

crying baby girl

At some point, you're going to have to prepare your kids for the "real world" -- including feeding themselves, picking out their own outfits, and that pesky thing called a bedtime. While many parents go back and forth about when to begin, there's been a ton of controversy regarding littles and how to get them to sleep. Well, a new study says the "cry it out" method doesn't harm babies, and just might be the key to Mom's getting a good night's rest.


In case you need a refresher, with the "Ferber method," parents refrain from comforting a crying child for a period of time that Mom and Dad usually determine. It's also known as "graduated extinction," which might sound a little scary, but is the same practice.

Published in the journal Pediatrics is new research that supports that babies who cry it out get better sleep and don't suffer long-term stress many parents fear. Experts monitored 43 infants (between ages 6 months to 16 months) who had issues falling asleep. Some moms and dads were asked to try the "cry it out method," and others were told to implement "bedtime fading," which is when LO goes to bed later.

So, what were the results?

While parents who tried both of these methods saw success (on average, their kids fell asleep much faster than those who didn't try graduated extinction or bedtime fading), babies who cried it out slept roughly 20 minutes more -- which is definitely a victory to many moms and dads. In addition, the study measured cortisol, a stress hormone, in participating infants and found that none who participated in the "cry it out method" showed signs of immediate stress -- or had raised levels that could indicate long-term stress.

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Experts also mention "cry it out" babies didn't have attachment or behavioral issues a year after the study.

As wonderful as it is to hear that the "cry it out method" isn't as bad as some of us parents thought, I'm still on the fence about using it. Maybe it's me, but I feel this new study has the potential to be a little dangerous, as there are too many "what ifs" and variables that will be different between households. Yes, I believe in letting a child try to soothe a little before Mom or Dad comes in to save the day, but how much time are we talking here? Is it 10 minutes, 15 minutes, or a half hour? Plus, if a parent hears, "Hey, it's okay to let your kid cry it out," will said mother or father decide it's now okay to turn off the baby monitor? (I would think not, but you never know!) Psychology Today also points out that letting babies get distressed can have long-term damages.

I certainly won't take away from any research that experts involved with this study noted -- but I also have to think about other experts who've raised questions about the "cry it out method." For starters, many believe the Ferber method isn't suitable for young babies, mainly those under 6 months. Even though this study focused on children ages 6 months and up, will parents try to incorporate this practice with LOs younger -- especially if they think it will be effective? Experts at the University of Michigan recommend parents not start the Ferber method until LO is older, preferably 12 to 18 months, out of fear it can mess with parent-baby attachment during the first year of life.

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Even researchers at the Child and Adolescent Sleep Clinic at Flinders University, who were involved with this study, advise parents to try bedtime fading first, which could hint that crying it out might not be the number one choice.

At the end of the day, I believe in parents' making the best decision for their child. (At least with this study, we have more cards on the table to do so.) I definitely don't want to "spoil" my 2- and 1-year-old boys -- or turn them into codependent monsters -- but I fear some will go a bit extreme with the "tough love" approach, and miss the opportunities to comfort and nurture their baby.

I just hope we don't turn a deaf ear to our children, for the sake of trying to promote independence.




Image via thechatat/Shutterstock

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