We Tried Cry It Out Completely By Accident, & This Is What Happened

I never wanted to try the cry it out method (CIO), even though I’d been warned by many that I “had to CIO” because it would prove “the only way to get the baby to sleep through the night.” I took those comments with a forced smile, said, “OK, we’ll see!” and felt reassured. I didn't want to leave my daughter alone in dark room to cry. I didn't want to try cry it out. It just wasn't for me, and it seemed so sad and stressful for everyone involved. It felt cruel, and to be honest, not worth it. So I poured through article after article about “no cry” sleep-training methods.  When the time came, and if sleep-training was something my family needed, I resolved to try everything but CIO.

But I was wrong.

After my baby was born, my husband and I were faced with so many situations we were unprepared for, like, oh, I don’t know, the sheer fact we were responsible for raising a tiny, breathing human being (TBH, you are just never prepared for the immense pressure that entails no matter how confident you feel). So at her three-month checkup when the doctor suggested it was time try to CIO if she was still not sleeping completely through the night, I was totally against it. According to other young moms I know, I wasn’t the only one whose doctor suggested trying CIO. But instead of heeding his advice, I explained that our daughter was still sleeping in our bedroom, and to be honest, I didn’t think she was a bad sleeper. She was doing five-six hour stretches, sometimes occasionally hitting seven hours. Wasn’t that a good thing? Despite his advice, I knew it was, ultimately, my decision whether to try CIO.

By four months, which is also when we moved the baby from the bassinet in our room to her own room and crib (hallelujah!), she was basically done with night feedings and sleeping through the night. So you can definitely imagine my surprise when suddenly, around six months, she’d wake up hysterical at 1 or 2 a.m. It seemed the only thing that calmed her down enough to get back to sleep was a bottle. 

After talking with our doctor and knowing she was drinking enough ounces each day in addition to the three meals of solid foods we were feeding her, we realized a bottle overnight was not necessary. So we agreed to slowly take away the late-night feeding, not because she was hungry, but because she wasn’t. We even had a plan: If she woke up, we’d do all we could to calm her and get her back to sleep without the bottle. The plan was to see if we could hold her off until later in the morning, 4 or 5 a.m., like she used to be able to do.

Courtesy of Rachael Edwards

Throughout that night, she woke up first at 2 a.m. We knew we had to hold her off a bit, so we were ready for the crying. Instead of immediately caving when the tears came, we put her pacifier in, which calmed her for a fews seconds, but then she’d scream again. The cry, pacifier, cry routine repeated itself for about 15 or 20 minutes and it was hell. I hated it. I almost gave in — I had a bottle prepped and ready but before I could unscrew the lid, she was asleep. Could it be? Did our plan … work?

At 3 a.m., she woke again, and though we expected the 2 a.m. wake up, this one completely blindsided us. There was more crying and much more stress. While we wondered what he hell would would do, we continued trying our soothing techniques — pacifier bargaining, picking up and rocking, and letting her cry — and it was the worst. Fifteen minutes into the madness, with a body ready in hand, she was asleep, again. I knew better than to hope this would be the last wake-up of the night, so I resolved to give her a bottle the next time she woke up. Not only could our daughter not do this, neither could we.

Right on time, at 4 a.m., we were all awake again. Bottle ready, my husband and I agreed to give it five more minutes before caved and gave her a bottle. But not even five minutes later and she was out again. We were both so mentally exhausted from a night of hysterics and nonstop wake-ups that we didn’t even realize what we’d done. Had we inadvertently tried Cry It Out? Had it worked? Had I done the one thing I’d vowed not to?

By morning, my husband and I were both unhappy and racked with guilt. Yes, she’d made it all night without the bottle and survived (which proved she didn’t need it), however, we were disappointed. CIO was not the plan. Because we’d been so against it, we realized we didn’t have to continue doing it. So what? It’d worked one night, but that didn’t mean we’d have to do it the next night or any night after. In fact, right then and there, we decided to take a new course of action.

Here’s the thing, though: We never had to. That night, she clocked a full night’s sleep. The night after, too. And every night since then.

Thinking back on her sleep patterns then and now, I still have so many mixed emotions. Do I love that we all get more sleep now? Oh yes. Do I like how it happened? Oh no. I’ve spent hours upon hours reading about baby sleep, nap techniques, bedtime routines, age-appropriate wake times, and I’ve tried it all. I’ve spent weeks trying to get my daughter into the perfect nap routine and the perfect nighttime routine. (My obsession with sleep stemmed from the very early months when my daughter wouldn’t nap unless someone was holding her; not very realistic in the long run for my husband of myself.) Throughout all our trial and error, some of my attempts worked, while others have completely failed. Yet the one thing I swore I would never do, well, worked.

Instead of rejoicing, I was consumed with guilt, showering my baby with extra love and kisses, vowing to never have a night like that again. And sure enough, we never did. CIO worked. There was no denying that.

Courtesy of Rachael Edwards

What now?

If you had asked me two months ago if I’d ever use CIO, I would have said no. Now, I know things change, babies change, parents change. I think each baby is different and each parenting experience with that particular child is different. My next kid might be an amazing sleeper, sparing me any stress of deciding whether to CIO or not. So much of my reservation toward CIO was spent worrying whether or not it was right or wrong, never really thinking about whether it would work or not.

When you first become a parent, there seem to be so many “rules” to follow about how to do just about everything involving the baby’s care, and everyone in your life has their own opinion on what works “best”. Until my CIO experience, my gut instinct had been the best indicator of what would work for me and for my family. Unintentionally doing CIO was the first real parenting incident where I went against my gut. I still absolutely do not like the idea of CIO. No parent likes to hear their child cry or be in any type of distress, but I’ve learned, however, that, as mothers, we can’t be afraid to try things because until we know what doesn’t work, we won’t know what does.

Having had unplanned success with it has changed my view of the type of mom I wanted to be versus the type of mother I really am. I’m not saying I’m a CIO advocate, but I am just an open-minded woman who’s comfortable doing things differently than I had planned. I’ve realized that the thing you might be afraid to do just might be the very thing that works. It’s all a learning experience. I don’t know whether CIO is right or wrong. I probably will never know. But I do know a full night's sleep rocks.

Images: peasap/Flickr, Courtesy of Rachael Edwards (2), Giphy (2)