Cry It Out: When Is It A No-No And When Can "A few tears" Be an Option?

Author Name: Heidi Holvoet, PhD

Important: the goal of this page is to offer general information on approaches that are out there. Heidi's approach, i.e. the entire approach here at Baby Sleep, is Truly No Tears in all respects and so differs completely from the CIO method referred to below.

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 "a few tears" 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 accepting a few tears an option to consider :

  • When your baby is old enough and
  • You know that they're not crying because they're 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 accepting a few tears 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!

Article Author: Heidi Holvoet, PhD - Founder, senior sleep consultant

Heidi Holvoet, PhD

Heidi Holvoet, PhD, is the founder of the Baby Sleep Advice website and movement, an award-winning author, baby & toddler sleep consultant with 15+ years experience as well as a certified lactation counselor.

Over the years, Heidi has received several awards inluding a Mom's Choice Award (MCA) and National Parenting Awards (NAPPA) for her Baby Sleep Advice website, programs and books. Also, Baby Sleep Advice was awarded "Most Trusted Infant's Sleep Solutions Company 2023" in the Benelux Enterprise Awards 2023.

Heidi continually conducts personal research and participates in continued education and in that way stays up to date with current scientific and pyschosocial infant care.

Association of Professional Sleep Consultants

She is also a member of the Association of Professional Sleep Consultants of which she was one of the earliest contributors. She obtained her PhD degree in physics at the University of Ghent in Belgium.

Heidi is passionate about helping babies and their parents sleep more and better, with her trademark approach that has been proven and praised time and again by parents worldwide to be effective and truly no-tears. Respect for you as a parent and your baby, is at the heart of Heidi's warm and kind support. Her approach always keeps in mind a baby's needs and abilities at any given age, is based on pediatric science and the most up to date knowledge in infant care and sleep science.

As well as the award-winning baby sleep programs, Heidi offers popular 1:1 consults and easy-access 30-minute SOS Sleep sessions.