It's a universally accepted fact that every baby is different. One parent's experience can drastically differ from another's. So, when it comes to sleep training, my little one might sleep through the night almost immediately, while yours might wake up multiple times a night night until they start preschool. Varying success rates is just one of the many things people don't tell you about crying it out, but I will. I mean, who else is going to prepare you for the sometimes-bumpy, usually exhausting, but in-the-end-worth-it road ahead?
While crying it out is usually a different experience for every parent who decides to use it, across the board all parents can agree that sleep deprivation sucks. I mean, there's a very good reason why withholding sleep is used as a form of torture. If I was forced awake 13 times between midnight and sunrise, I would happily reveal every state secret I knew (and just make up the ones I didn't) if it meant I would be granted the blessed relief of sweet, sweet sleep.
There are so my different parenting philosophies and, quite frankly, it's unlikely anyone has the "right" answer. We are all just trying to do our best, so if you decide to try sleep training, you'll need to know the cry it out method basics. Of course, and contrary to popular and misguided belief, crying it out doesn't mean you plop your baby in their crib and leave to catch a Netflix marathon. In fact, there are alternative names for the practice, like "controlled crying" and "interval sleep training." The idea is to put your baby down in their crib when they are sleepy but awake, then leave the room for short periods of time, always returning to sooth them. You repeat the process, building up slowly until you are allowing your baby to cry for up to 10 minutes at a time.
My husband and I used the cry it out method with our son and, good news, after one week he was going to sleep by himself in his own room, sleeping through the night like a champ. The bad news? Well, the process was the most stressful, tear filled week of my life. So, with that in mind and because someone has to break it to you, here are a few things people don't tell you about crying it out, but I will:
It's The Worst
I cried more than my baby did when we were sleep training. I sat in our office next door to his bedroom, stopwatch in hand, and felt like a delinquent mother ignoring his little cries. My husband would come in and hold my hand while I fretted. Each time the timer announced I could go to my son, I would snatch him up and hold him just until he stopped crying (as per instructions) and then gently lower him down into the crib again.
The genuinely confused look he gave me each time I left the room only made me feel worse.
You’ll Feel Like You're Winning And Losing At The Same Time
Crying it out really takes you on an emotional roller coaster. You feel wretched letting your baby cry on purpose, and then you feel great waves of elation as you realize they have stopped crying and have finally gone to sleep.
To get through it you need to constantly remind yourself why you're doing what you're doing, and give yourself and your partner little sleep training pep talks when necessary.
You’ll Hate Your Partner
If you are lucky you'll have a partner you can tag team with when sleep training. For example, when you want to rush in and pick the baby up, your partner will be strong and tell you to wait it out (or visa versa).
However, in the midst of such an emotionally fraught situation and environment, you're bound to start annoying each other and criticizing your responses. At the end of the day (or night), just try to remember that you're on the same team.
You’ll Simply Check On Your Sleeping Baby And, Without Fail, Accidentally Wake Them UP
After endless rounds of interval crying — picking your baby up and putting them back down and listening to them cry and crying yourself — all goes quiet. You breathe a sigh of relief, high-five anyone in the vicinity and sit in peaceful silence.
Then you start to obsessively watch the baby monitor and decide it's not showing quite the right angle. You start to panic and wonder if you're baby is OK or breathing so you think, "Well, I better go check." You quietly turn the door handle, tiptoe into the nursery, step on a creaky floorboard, trip over the nosiest toy you own, and have to start all over again. Sigh.
You’ll Think Your Baby Is Trying To Manipulate You
The sound of a baby's cries can be incredibly frustrating and sleep training can sometimes feel like your taking one step forward and two steps back. If your baby is quiet for 9 minutes and 59 seconds of a 10 minute interval and then, and only then, starts to wail, it can feel like you're being played.
Of course, the reality is your baby isn't out to get you and doesn't have the capability to manipulate you. After all, that's what the toddler years are for!
A Minute Will Feel Like An Eternity
When we used the cry it out method, my partner and I started off by leaving the room for a couple of minutes, then progressing to 5 minutes, then 7 minutes and then 10 minutes. Sometimes our son would end up crying, continuously, for 10 entire minutes, and it was really hard (read: almost impossible) to keep my butt on the chair while the timer slowly ticked away.
In my experience, it's a good idea to try and distract yourself when crying it out. I even put headphones on and listened to music to drown out the noise (plus, when I took off said headphones and heard nothing but silence, I felt like I had won a prize).
You’ll Convince Yourself Your Baby Hates You
Each time you put your baby back down into their crib and leave, their little furrowed brow and puckered mouth will make you think they're silently saying, "I hate you Mommy." However, babies seem to have poor short term memory and they will forgive you for leaving them for a short amount of time. I promise.
You’ll Realize No Sleep Training Method Is Perfect
Just like pretty much every conceivable parenting topic — from co-sleeping to breastfeeding and everything in between — you will meet a decent amount of critics and proponents of crying it out, who will try to convince you that their specific sleep training method is the best.
Let me save you some time and just tell you that there is no ideal perfect strategy. There's no one way to parent and no one has all the answers. However, once you decide on a plan of action, you do need to commit to it and see it through, otherwise you aren't giving it a fair chance and you'll just confuse your baby.
You’ll Have Setbacks
Although my son responded pretty quickly to crying it out, there were setbacks and he had a pretty savage sleep regression when he was a 2-year-old toddler. You have to be realistic and remember that just like you sometimes have trouble sleeping, your baby will have sleep troubles of their own, too. There's no such thing as a one-and-done solution to sleep.
However, if you remain consistent with your approach, you should see results (and, for me, a great night's sleep was worth a few steps backwards).
Your Baby Will Eventually Learn How To Sleep Alone (They Just Might Be In College When They Do)
Whether you co-sleep, nurse your baby to sleep, use sleep training methods, or a range of other strategies, your baby will eventually sleep by themselves. It just, you know, might take a bit longer than you would like.
Sleep issues are stressful, so find and take advantage of your support people and online resources and any friends, family members, and fellow moms that have experience crying it out. In the end, the most important thing you need to know when crying it out, is that you're not alone.