Every parent knows that a sleeping baby is a beautiful thing, especially during those first few months and especially because a sleeping baby usually equals sleeping parents. What's been coined "new parent exhaustion" is the ultimate exhaustion, and studies have shown that parents functioning consistently on only a few hours of sleep at a time aren't really functioning at all. Sleep training can give parents some much-needed rest, but there are times you shouldn't let your baby cry it out, even if you're absolutely exhausted and slightly delirious and you're almost positive you're going to die from lack of sleep.
For some, sleep training is an easy and cry-free exercise, but for others it can be a long, tedious, and painstakingly stressful venture that fills new parents with guilt. Not everyone is on board with letting a baby, "cry it out," and some studies have shown that it isn't necessarily as effective (or safe) as people make it out to be. However, Every situation and every baby and every parent is different. Some believe that letting their baby "cry it out" worked great for them, while others saw no benefit whatsoever. Whatever works for you and your baby is exactly what you should do or be doing. Go with your gut and do what makes you comfortable. It took me far too long to learn that lesson, as a new mother, but now that I've been a mom for a good amount of time, I've learned that all the research and unsolicited advice in the world pales in comparison to that guilt feeling and maternal instinct.
So, it's totally up to you (and your parenting partner, if they're present) as to whether or not you want to give "crying it out" a try, but according to various research and physician advice there are certain times when you definitely shouldn't let your baby continually cry. So while you listen to your gut feelings and maternal instincts, also be aware of the following eight times you shouldn't let your baby "cry it out."
When They're Sick
Nothing makes you feel quite as helpless as having a sick baby. They're so sad, so miserable, and so defenseless as their little bodies try too fight off whatever is going on with them. If you are sleep training your baby, many pediatricians advise that you should give it a break if they're sick.
When babies are young it's especially hard for their budding immune systems to fight off certain infections, which can end with them feeling miserable. Imagine if you were left in a bed to cry it out by yourself when you had the flu. I mean, you probably wouldn't be too pleased about it.
When They're Sleeping By Themselves For The First Time
Many babies spend the first few months of their lives sleeping in their parents' room during the night, for the sake of caution and late night feeding convenience. If your baby is sleeping in his or her own room for the first time, they might feel afraid or confused. For that reason, it's a good idea to save the sleep training for a later time when your baby has adjusted to their new bedroom.
Throwing too many changes at your baby all at once could overwhelm them, and often the only way they know how to express this is by, well, crying. It's wise to get your baby crib trained before you try to sleep train them, otherwise you might risk traumatization.
If You're Breastfeeding
There are sleep training options for breastfeeding mothers, but "crying it out" isn't typically one of them. Most breastfed babies are fed on demand, so while they might be eating less quantities, they're also eating more often. The key is to figuring out whether your baby is wanting to nurse for comfort or for nutrition. If you attempt to sleep train them without knowing what they're actually asking for or needing, you may be throwing a wrench in what was already a pretty solid sleeping/eating routine.
Also, all that crying could trigger your brain to produce more breast milk, and if you're not getting your baby up to nurse that could lead to engorgement, which we all know pretty much sucks.
While Your Baby Is Still Very Young
Babies younger than 2.5 months aren't able to decipher the difference between night and day, because their bodies aren't producing enough melatonin and they still require frequent feedings. Letting them "cry it out" at such a young age would do more harm than good.
As babies get older, they go through different developmental milestones that might also hinder their willingness to sleep through the night. Each baby is different, but most experts agree that you shouldn't let a baby "cry it out" before they're three months old.
If They've Been Crying For Longer Than Usual
If you are letting your baby "cry it out," it's important that you pay attention to the time. It's not good for a baby if you just plop them down in their crib and let them cry for too long a period. They'll feel abandoned, and possibly scared. If your baby usually calms down after a few minutes, but suddenly they show no signs of silencing their cries, you may want to check on them so that they know you're still there for them.
In his book, Dr. Ferber says, "Simply leaving a child in a crib to cry for long periods alone until he [or she] falls sleep, no matter how long it takes, is not an approach I approve of." The Ferber method (aka "crying it out") recommends periodically checking in on your baby, rather than just abandoning them. So if the cries are lasting longer than usual, it's time to bend a little.
If Their Cry Sounds Different Than Normal
Babies cry for lots of reasons, and most mothers are able to recognize each variation of their baby's cry to figure out exactly what it is that they want or need. As you spend more time with your baby, you'll also probably begin to be able to differentiate between the cries that are caused by hunger or pain and the cries that are basically just whines (adorable whines, but still just whines).
If you are attempting to let your baby "cry it out," it's important that you not only pay attention to the time, but also to their tone. If it's changed from a soft, whiny whimper to something more forced, angry, or upset, you should definitely check on them to make sure that nothing is wrong.
They could be wet or hungry, or they could have gotten an arm or leg stuck in between the crib rails, or they could be confused and scared. Really, it could be anything, but it's always better to be safe than sorry.
When "Crying It Out" Isn't Working At All In The First Place
To put it simply: "crying it out" doesn't work for everyone. Some people claim that it helped their child to sleep through the night, and some people say it did more harm than good. The fact of the matter is, some babies just sleep better than others, whether they've been sleep trained or not.
So, if you've tried to let your baby "cry it out" to no avail, you might want to consider just throwing in the towel. Every baby and every parent and every situation is unique, so don't consider switching to a different method a failure; it just means you're finding out what works best for you and your family.
If It's Causing You Emotional Damage
Listening to your baby cry and not immediately running to their aid can be heartbreaking. Like, I literally think I have a few cracks in my heart from the experience. If you're suffering from any sort of anxiety or depression issues, allowing your child to "cry it out" might be causing you harm. Postpartum depression can be a seriously scary ordeal, so don't neglect your own needs for the sake of better sleeper.
For mothers with postpartum depression, it's especially important to try to bond with their babies. Sometimes, listening to their baby "cry it out" basically accomplishes the opposite, and might even increase the amount of anxiety that a postpartum mother feels. In other words (and, honestly, in every single aspect of motherhood) do what works best for you and your baby, and never forget that your needs are important, too!