When my now-3-year-old daughter was a baby (and even now, if I'm being totally honest), bedtime rarely happened without tears. If I wasn't holding her or nursing her to sleep, she'd wail. I spent hours researching what I could do to get the tears to stop and the sleep to start. In doing so, I learned about a few things you should never do to get a crying baby to sleep, no matter how much you want them (and you) to get some rest. It turns out that there's no one-size-fit all approach to sleep training, and oftentimes, crying is a sign that shouldn't be ignored.
When you're already exhausted, endless tears certainly don't add clarity to the situation. Whether your baby is crying out of fear of sleeping along, pain, sickness, or sheer tiredness, knowing how to best handle the situation when you're just as likely to burst out in tears.
It can be hard to watch your baby cry at bedtime, but knowing what you shouldn't do to "help" them sleep can help you determine what's causing their sleep problems in the first place and ensure that you both have more rest and fewer tears each night.
1. Ignore Them
Even proponents of modified Cry It Out methods note that simply ignoring the crying will not help your baby sleep better. In fact, according to Healthy Children, ignoring your baby's tears can have lasting, damaging effects on their psyche. Crying is your baby's only way of communicating distress or other needs, so if you truly ignore them (not the same thing as doing timed check ins while sleep training), they'll be crying themselves to sleep out of distress, not because they're learning.
2. Create Poor Sleep Associations
It can be tempting to scoop your baby up the minute they start crying. According to the Baby Sleep Site, however, creating negative sleep associations that you can't keep up with, like nursing your baby to sleep every time they wake up, simply solves one issue by creating another.
Instead, think through why your baby is crying in the first place. Are they hungry? Have they been under the weather? Are they scared of fall asleep on their own? Knowing the root of the issue will help you best form a plan for addressing it.
3. Let Them Stay Up Longer
Although it may make sense that when your baby cries, letting them stay up later would make them more tired and therefore, help them sleep better. It turns out that the opposite is actually true. According to Parents, letting your baby stay up too long makes them overtired, which can cause excessive fussiness and frequent wakings.
4. Give Them A Bottle In Bed
Giving your baby a bottle will definitely stop the crying. According to Parenting, however, letting your baby sleep with a bottle can contribute to tooth decay and gum issues, which increases the risk of choking.
5. Sleep On The Couch With Them
Even when you're at your wits end and just want the crying to stop, sleeping on the couch with your baby is never a good idea according to Fit Pregnancy. It increases your baby's risk of SIDS significantly, and it usually isn't that comfortable anyway.
6. Break Your Bedtime Schedule
Baby Center noted that even on rough nights, routine is still necessary for your baby to feel comfortable and safe at bedtime. Instead of breaking a healthy bedtime routine, think about other reasons your baby may be crying instead and deal with them before caving.
7. Feel Bad For Comforting Them
Even if you opt for a sleep training method that involves tears, you should never feel guilty for comforting your baby. Striking a healthy balance between routine and comfort can be tricky, but both of your sleep schedules may depend on it.