Parenting isn't an exact science. There's no manual and, honestly, the only experience you can be sure about when becoming a parent is feeling exhausted. Even if your kid sleeps through the night, every night, the work of keeping them alive and happy throughout the day will totally wipe you out. But for some parents, crying it out is an option they consider when there's too many midnight back-rubs and they're tired of the "find the pacifier" game occurring four times a night. It's sleep training that works, but there are times you shouldn't cry it out because, hello, this is parenting and nothing is straight forward and simple.
I waited a long time to try crying it out with my daughter, and I was pleasantly surprised at how easy it was and how she became a sleeper in just three days. So many people told me it wouldn't work or that it was cruel, but I refused to let mommy guilt set in. Because you know what? Crying it out isn't about leaving your child devastated in the bedroom so you can watch Netflix in peace. You aren't abandoning them or forcing them to sleep 14 hours in a row without waking up. You're teaching them to self-soothe. My daughter puts herself to sleep and rarely wakes up in the night. If she does, I know it's because she needs me, not a back pat or a rock in the chair to get herself back to sleep.
But there are 11 times when you shouldn't cry it out because, trust me, it's just not going to work. Life often gets in the way and sometimes your baby just isn't ready, so take note of these times so you can make a plan to try crying it out when everybody in the house is committed and capable of making it happen.
1. If Your Baby Needs Extra Security
All babies want to feel secure and safe, but some babies need it more than others. Dr. Richard Ferber, the man behind what is now called "crying it out", told Parenting that if your baby is having some separation anxiety issues, especially around 9 months old, then putting them in their own bed, in the dark, may not be a great choice. You'll either have to gradually get them used to it, or you'll have to wait until they are a little older and less afraid of missing you.
2. If Your Baby Is Still Waking Up To Eat
Regardless of what your mother-in-law tells you, some babies are still hungry when they wake up to eat. This is norma. The Baby Sleep Site has a great chart that shows some of the average amount of feedings a baby will have in the night, including a 10-month-old still requiring at least one feeding in the night. If your baby is nursing for comfort and falling asleep after a minute or so on the breast, I can understand crying it out, but if your baby is actually nursing every night, and it's consistent, you may want to hold off on crying it out until you know they are full.
3. If Your Child Is Sick Or Has A Medical Condition
Some nights when your baby is crying, they actually do need you. The Sleep Lady noted that some medical conditions can keep your baby up at night, interfering with their sleep, and making them feel uncomfortable. Restless legs syndrome, a milk allergy, or even reflux could be a problem. If your baby has any of these issues (or you suspect they do), don't try crying it out just yet. Crying it out is to teach your baby to self-soothe, not to make them sleep through their own pain.
4. Their First Night In Their Own Bed
I get it, co-sleeping mama. You're ready for your little bird to fall asleep in their own nest. But you can't start crying it out the first night in their own bed. In fact, you can't really do it until your child actually settles into their own bed. Ferber told Parenting that transitioning your child to their own bed takes time and teaching them to self-soothe during that transition is totally pointless.
5. If Your Baby Wakes Up Once In A While
Confused? OK, listen, crying it out is simply teaching your baby to self-soothe. So when you've finally mastered that and your baby now falls asleep on their own and, for the most part, stays asleep, it can throw you for a loop when they randomly wake up screaming at 3 a.m. But listen, now is not the time to cry it out. If your baby's middle of the night wake-up isn't consistent and doesn't interfere with the rest of their sleep, they actually need you. They may have a wet diaper or are hungry or had a bad dream. Crying it out is to teach your baby to self-soothe, not to make them be quiet when they actually need you.
6. If It's Taking Too Long
If you've been trying to cry it out for a long time, like several weeks, and nothing seems to be working, give it a rest. The Sleep Lady suggested that if everything is OK with your baby, crying it out should change their nighttime behavior sooner rather than later. Take a break from the sleep training to find out if something else is waking your kiddo up at night or if you need a refresher on the method.
7. If You're Uncomfortable With It
According to the Baby Sleep Site, if you are adamantly against crying it out or uncomfortable with it in any way, don't do it. You won't be committed to it and since consistency is key in crying it out, you could make things even worse for your child's sleep. Wait until you feel better about it and then try again.
8. If Your Baby Is Still Swaddled
The Baby Sleep Site suggested that one way babies learn to self-soothe is by finding their thumbs or fingers to suck on. If they are swaddled, that takes away one of their opportunities to put themselves back to sleep. Wait until your little one can sleep safely without the swaddle before you attempt crying it out.
9. If You Can't Be Consistent
Life is busy and unpredictable, so if you know that consistency is impossible for you right now, don't attempt crying it out. According to Precious Little Sleep, consistency is critical in making crying it out work, because your child needs that routine to be able to self-soothe and learn how to fall asleep on their own.
10. If Your Baby Is Too Young
Every baby is different, but in general, if your baby is less than 6 months old, it's too early to try crying it out. Precious Little Sleep noted that if a baby is younger than 6 months old, they may still be hungry at night, they haven't learned how to self-soothe yet, and they can't settle down on their own when they are upset.
11. If You're Night Weaning
You already know that if your child is still hungry at night, you shouldn't attempt crying it out. But if you're trying to wean them from those middle-of-the-night feedings, it's a bad time to cry it out. KellyMom suggested that you eliminate any discomfort before you night wean so that you know your baby is crying because they want your breast. With this logic, if you try crying it out at the same time, you'll never be sure if your baby is crying because they are hungry or if they need help going to sleep.