For years, if not decades, the battle over the best methods for sleep training — or whether it's even necessary or good for your baby — has been raging on. Parents find themselves smack dab in the middle, bombarded with contradictory information and endless inquiries. One of the most common questions, of course, involves crying it out. So, is cry it out safe? While it depends on certain details and circumstances, for the most part experts believe it is.
First, let's outline what cry it out actually is. According to the Baby Sleep Site, crying it out is the technical term for graduated extinction, where you put your baby down to sleep on their own, and leave them for gradually longer periods of time to fall asleep on their own. Yes, sometimes that can involve fussing or crying. Crying it out does not involve letting your newborn cry (potentially because they are hungry) for hours on end in an effort to get them to sleep on their own.
A 2016 Australian study, covered in Forbes just last year, found that cry it out might be the least stressful approach for babies over time, "The babies in [the cry it out group] group — whose parents used graduated extinction — fell asleep faster, slept longer, woke up less and had lower stress levels overall than the babies in the other two groups after 3 months and a year."
According to Forbes, sleep scientists compared graduated extinction with "bedtime fading," which involves parents allowing a baby to fall asleep on their own in order to set a temporary bedtime. Then the bedtime is moved back by 15 minutes each night until it reaches a normal bedtime hour. This Australian study, published in Pediatrics, found that graduated extinction not only resulted in babies falling asleep an average of 13 minutes faster within a week, they woke up much less frequently in the night than those in the control or bedtime fading groups.
In fact, according to Tara Haelle in Forbes, "Those in the graduated extinction group got 19 more minutes of sleep each night," which is a pretty big win for the cry it out team. Still, critics of cry it out have long harped on the potential attachment problems babies who cry it out will face in the longer term. Not so, says this Australian study, which found that the stress hormone cortisol was lower in the babies who were crying it out or trying bedtime fading when tested the next day.
So according to authors Emily Willingham and Tara Haelle of The Informed Parent, "Sleep training with graduated extinction in babies at least 6 months old really, truly is almost certainly not going to cause damaging stress, long term problems or insecurities in your baby."
While that one mom in your moms' group might still be crying foul on crying it out, it looks like you can rest assured that the evidence is stacking up that cry it out is safe for your baby and more effective as a sleep training tool.