Cry It Out: When Is It A No-No And When Could It Be an Option?

Author: Heidi Holvoet, PhD

Important: the goal of this page is to offer general information on alternative approaches. Heidi's approach differs from this one, and she does not support any form of crying it out.

When is Cry It Out not safe at all? Does it ever actually make sense? At what age? In which situation?

Crying It Out methods, sometimes called ferberizing, are not safe for newborn, young or sick babies and usually not successful at that age. On the other hand, there are very specific situations where you could consider it (in my opinion only if other methods are bothering rather than helping, see example below).

Having looked at the pro's and con's of crying it out, you may decide to give baby sleep training a try. To make the most of it, check the two lists below: when is crying it out a clear no-no and when can it actually work.

When is Cry It Out a no-no

Sleep training your baby with a Cry It Out method will not work and may even be harmful for your baby when:

  • Your baby is a newborn (!!)
  • Your baby is under 6 to 12 months, depending on maturity (see below)
  • Your baby is ill, whether seriously or just having a cold or teething - read the infant sleep problems pages for help
  • You know your baby is in pain, is afraid or hungry
  • Your baby has separation anxiety - check the baby separation anxiety page to help with sleep in this case
  • Your doctor has disadvised crying it our for any reason
  • You, as a parent, feel lightly or seriously depressed (post natal depression/baby blues)
  • You don't believe the crying will help your baby sleep better

The reason for not trying letting young babies cry to sleep - apart from they are not strong enough mentally and physically - is that before six months their sleep patterns are just not mature enough to be messed about.

Erratic as they may seem, the development of baby sleep patterns is crucial for your baby to reach good sleep habits. In this case it is not the sooner the better. Allowing the natural sleep patterns to develop, with guidance but without forcing, is most effective.

When could cry it out work?

"At 2 years old, I realized that my daughter was not settling at bedtime, for no 'legit' reason at all. She was totally fine, did not need night feeds anymore and had learnt to soothe herself to sleep quite well since she was eight months old.

Now she suddenly refused to go to bed and we spent hours before she would settle down for the night. It was so clear to me that our presence actually made things worse. I was so certain of that, that I decided to let her 'figure it out' one bedtime (hoping she wouldn't cry much!).

I made clear rules about bedtime and routine, gave her all the hugs and attention in the world. But I was firm: time for bed meant quiet time in her bed.

I think my determination must have been clear: she only fussed a bit the first night and then went to bed with a smile every night after that.
"

This is a situation when crying it out could be an option to consider:

  • When your baby is old enough and
  • You know that she's not crying because she's afraid, in pain or hungry.

It can be a very thin line between just being cranky or over-helped and really having a problem. But as a parent, follow your instincts to decide when and if crying it out is right for you.

Also, before cry it out could work, you will want to have the basics in place:

  • A bedtime routine
  • A baby sleep schedule
  • A safe sleep environment
  • Clear rules about when and where baby is sleeping.

Without these, you can't really expect your baby to sleep well.

Start at the sleeping through the night pages for practical tips on these basics and download your free e-copy of Baby Sleep Essentials for the 9 keys to good sleep.

In any case, remember that there are always alternatives (with more reliable and lasting results) and you never have to let your baby cry if it does not feel right to you!