In all our new-parent wisdom, my husband and I chose to start crying it out the weekend my parents arrived in town to meet their first grandchild. My advice? Don't do that. Just don't. It's a terrible idea and tops the list of things I wish I knew before I started crying it out. Almost as important is making sure your cupboard is stocked with enough wine and chocolate to help you cope for as long as it takes, and a mom friend on speed dial to talk you off the ledge when the going gets tough.
Sleep training is a contentious issue that gets parents all riled up about what's best for babies and what's going to send them into a terrible downward spiral of attachment issues for the rest of their lives. I'll be honest, crying it out was one of the hardest parenting decisions to make (and stick with) for those exact reasons. The last thing I wanted to do was permanently scar our precious baby girl, after all. However, we also knew that helping her to find a way to soothe herself to sleep was going to be important for all of us every night and for the foreseeable future.
I think many parents hit the point where they're considering crying it out when their baby won't settle even with your help and cuddling and bottles and attention. I watched my sister bounce on that exercise ball with her 3 month old for hours trying to get her to sleep, only to have my poor niece cry her brains out the entire time. When she was finally put in her crib, she seemed relieved to be finally left alone to work it out herself.
Our daughter was similar. From an early age, she had total FOMO about sleeping if she could see a single interesting thing. Even taking her for a walk wasn't a viable way to get her to sleep; she was mesmerized by the light streaming through the blanket we used to block out the view. After a few months we realized black-out blinds and letting her work it out on her own was going to be the solution. In the end, it was much harder on us than it was on her, only taking a few days of fussing before she could knock out on her own without a peep. Be brave, friends! It's worth it!
You Should Never Have An Audience
I'll top off this list with the most important lesson we learned the hard way, so hopefully you don't have to. Do not, under any circumstances, start crying it out when you have visitors. Living in an 800-square-foot apartment certainly doesn't help that cause, but crying it out is something you do when you have a stretch of a few days (or a week) where only your family will be around. The last thing you need when crying it out is to have another set of opinions floating around and making you feel guilty or second guess your sleep training plan.
It's Gonna Hurt
Listening to my daughter cry and not being able to swoop in and fix it made my body physically hurt all the way down to my fingertips. Some of my friends said this was reason enough for them to abandon ship and stop crying it out altogether. For me, it was something that wasn't fun at all, but didn't cause me to abandon ship.
You'll Want To Stop
Unless your child is some magical unicorn baby that doesn't cry for more than a minute or two of crying it out, you'll definitely want to stop at many points along the way. Of course, that's totally up to you. However, just know that you will definitely feel like throwing your sleep training plan out the window somewhere along the way.
You Might Need Reinforcements
My husband and I decided together that crying it out was the way we were going to sleep train our baby girl. But once it was decided and we were actually doing it, he needed to be the enforcer of the decision. I don't think it hurt him in his bones to hear his daughter cry like it did me, so his job was to keep the running pep talk going as I wrung my hands and second guessed our decision.
You'll Need A Mom Friend On Speed Dial
There were a few things that got me through our cry it out period, and one of those was absolutely crucial. Having a mom friend I could call or text to distract me while my daughter was getting herself to sleep. But it's also important to know that your mom friend is on board with your cry it out plan, or else texting is just going to add a whole other layer of guilt and second guessing to an already stressful period.
You'll Definitely Need A Reward...
Chocolate, wine, gummy bears — pick your favorite treat and make sure you're stocked. Please know that it's OK to break out the reward even before you have something to celebrate. Think of it more as extra fuel to get through to the finish line.
...And A Mantra
My mantra was, "The New York Times says it's OK to let babies cry it out." I repeated it in my head as a personalized pep talk as long as our daughter was crying. It worked to calm me down when I was starting to wonder why on earth we were putting us all through such a miserable decision.
Do What Suits Your Child
Not all kids are built the same, so not all sleep training will be suited to all kids. Some kids need the reassurance of you coming into their room every five minutes. For our daughter, that just wound her up even more. Crying it out involves a little more trial and error rather than a one size fits all system.
It's All About The Schedule
Keep in mind that the success of crying it out really depends on your baby's schedule. You're trying to find that ever elusive sweet spot of tired but not too tired, so that you can minimize the crying and maximize the falling asleep. We found that before our daughter showed more classic signs of tiredness (like rubbing her eyes or yawning) she would zone out and start staring into space. That was our moment. Once we saw her do that, we'd start getting her ready for bed so that we didn't miss the window.
If you miss that window, consider not letting your baby cry it out for that nap or bedtime. Letting an overtired baby cry it out is a recipe for sadness all around.
Giving Up Doesn't Make You A Bad Parent
I'm a results-oriented person, so the idea of giving up without any result really bugged me. Still, I think it's important to know that if you choose to cry it out or if you try and decide not to continue, that doesn't make you a bad parent. You have to decide what you can do and go with your gut. My gut knew that crying it out would work for our child, despite it being tough to hear her cry, so we powered through. However, if we hadn't powered through, it wouldn't have made us failures in parenthood.