What You Don't Have To Do When Crying It Out

If you want to get moms riled up, casually mention that you're crying it out. Wow are there are strong opinions on both sides. Honestly, I don't really understand it because the fact is, cry it out (CIO) isn't an all or nothing proposition. It's just like any other parenting philosophy or strategy (attachment parenting, RIE, or Love and Logic); you take what works for you and your family and leave the rest. So it should come as no surprise that there are plenty of things you don't have to do when you're crying it out, even if everyone says you do.

My 19 month-old daughter has been sleeping through the night for the better part of a year. We resorted to CIO one night in desperation, and then began formally sleep training. It's been a blissful 12 hours of rest for baby girl nearly every night since then. Well, at least until a few weeks ago. My daughter was sick and woke in the night after vomiting, and I went to her (attending to my sick child isn't against my CIO rules, or anyone else's that I know of). Unfortunately, once the sickness passed, the night waking remained. I've found myself yet again in the CIO trenches.

It's not so bad, really. I know what I'm doing this time around so the process isn't as intense or draining. There are some things you really do have to do, such as put baby down awake, establish and maintain a bedtime routine, and overall just be consistent and committed. And, for me, the video monitor was an absolute necessity. But other than that, the rules aren't necessarily hard and fast. So, with that in mind, here are a few you can cross off your worry list right away.

You Have To Let Your Baby Scream For Hours On End

It's worth noting that the purpose of crying it out is not to have your baby wailing hysterically until they fall asleep in an exhausted, tear-faced heap. The goal is for baby to learn to fall asleep on their own. Crying is just an unfortunate by-product.

I hate to tell you this (you probably already know), but when babies reach a certain age, they are capable of manipulation. As in, "I'm dry, fed and safe, but I know if I cry, mom comes a-runnin'!" Can you blame them? I mean, snuggling is awesome, but it's hard to be Wonder Mom when you're running on empty.

I don't think anyone actually advocates allowing your baby to cry themselves to sleep for hours without any intervention from you. In fact, many methods of CIO allow for some degree of attention and comfort from parents during the night.

You Have To Withhold Comfort

You're not simply plunking your baby in the crib and closing the door, never to return again. Your bedtime routine should involve winding down, lots of cuddles, stories, songs, and maybe a warm calming bath. End with the same words each night. I say, "Goodnight. I love you. Dream with the angels." (I promise it sounds less creepy in Spanish.) In the beginning (and now if we're spending a night away from home) I explained to my daughter that mommy would be very close if she really needed me, but I expected her to sleep in her room.

You're also totally allowed to provide comfort after you've put baby down. If you use the Ferber method, you'll be leaving baby alone for gradually longer periods of time. If baby cries for a certain amount of time (say, five minutes), you would go in, pat them on the back, and offer soothing words. It's called a "check and console."

In general, you don't pick them up. I totally did it, though. I would practice mindful breathing, and her breath would soon match mine. I figured I was teaching her a self-soothing skill, so rules be damned.

You Have To Have A Threshold

According to some experts, you should let your baby cry for a predetermined amount of time. Most recommend five minutes. As in, the longest five minutes of your life. You gradually increase the time interval between checks until baby is sleeping soundly.

I found that my personal threshold is ten minutes. That's based on both what I can handle and what I know about my daughter. Once she's gone that long, she's not going to settle down without some help.

That being said, you don't have to set a timer. Some moms prefer to listen to their hearts. If you want to, you can respond as soon as you feel you need to and it won't ruin your sleep training. I do recommend, however, you watch your response time. Practice the French "le pause" and don't dash in at the first hint of a whimper. Give your child the opportunity to self-soothe before you swoop in.

You Have To Remove All Soothing Items

If you're looking at starting CIO, it's probably because you have a very specific problem: object permanence. They know that when you go away, you're still there. Your baby is used to cuddling, rocking, and/or nursing to go to sleep, so when they wake in the night and you're not there, they're pissed. And they don't have the skills to fall back asleep on their own.

They need to learn to self-soothe, but that doesn't mean they can't have any help. My daughter has a small fox lovey to cuddle (even better if mom wears it during the day so it smells like her) and her nightlight. A pacifier, however, is a no-no. It's a sleep prop and prevents baby from truly falling asleep on their own. My daughter sucks her thumb, which is perfectly fine with me because most kids give it up on their own by age 3. I actually think it's a great coping strategy for night wakings. I mean, it's not like she's ever going to lose it.

You Have To Ignore Your Instincts

You are biologically programmed to be affected by your baby's cries. When they're very small, it's their only way to communicate with you. You can distinguish between your baby's cries, so if they're throwing up the Baby Bat Signal of course you can go in there! Maybe something about baby's cries tells you that something is wrong. Maybe they threw up or got those adorable chunky legs stuck between the crib slats. (This is why I advocate the video monitor because you can see if anything like that happens.)

You Have To Start At A Certain Age

Granted, there are certain times when you don't want to try CIO. Newborns should not be left to cry it out. They have higher needs for soothing than older babies, and they need to learn that their world is a safe place. Likewise, you don't want to sleep train a sick child or start a new regimen when you know you're going on vacation.

Other than that, there's no ideal time to sleep train. If you start at 4-6 months, as some pediatricians recommend, you may find that your baby is simply too young. However, if you wait until six months of age, you'll probably be dealing with sleep regression, teething, and the development of object permanence (which may already be your primary sleep issue). Older babies often have separation anxiety. So, at the end of the day, you just have to pick a time and go with it.

In my opinion, it's never too late to try CIO. If you have a 1 or 2-year-old toddler whose stubbornness has kicked in it might be harder, sure, but it's not impossible. There may be special considerations for sleep training an older baby, but you don't have to just live with a preschooler who doesn't sleep through the night.

You Have To Leave The House

Some sleep training experts suggest that mom or the primary caregiver leave the house after baby has been put to bed. If you're a person who turns into a puddle at the sound of your baby's cries, this may be something you want to consider. Sometimes it helps to have your partner be the one to respond, especially if feeling guilty is going to make you cave.

However, I'm here to tell you that it's not absolutely necessary. My husband is up by 4:00 a.m. and sometimes works 12 hour days. It makes sense for me, the stay-at-home mom, to do the sleep training. I did it mostly by myself. I'm not immune to my baby's distress (I'm not a total frigid b*tch, you guys), but I do value my sleep.

You Have To Be Made Of Stone

Everyone tells you to steel yourself against what's to come. It's good to be prepared, but don't assume it's going to be horrible. The first night we tried CIO, our daughter fell asleep after ten minutes. She went to sleep on her own the next night. When we were ready to night wean a few months later, extinguishing that last middle-of-the night waking/feeding was simply a matter of moving her last feeding 20 minutes earlier in her bedtime routine. Seriously. It's magic.

That's not to say there aren't babies who are going to give you a run for your money. If you have a high-maintenance kiddo, chances are you're in for a rough time. I'd urge you not to give in too easily, but if once you've given it the old college try, you may conclude that it's just not for you. So I'll add to this list of things you don't have to do when you cry it out: the fact that you don't have to do it at all.