Getting sleep as a parent can be a serious struggle. When you don't get enough, it can impact your health, ability to function, and overall mental health. Unfortunately, if you're like me, the idea of letting your baby or toddler "cry it out" when they refuse to sleep can seem scary, challenging, or even harmful. So if you're asking yourself, "What are the different types of cry it out?" in order to find something that doesn't seem so overwhelming, you're in luck. There are various forms and methods you can try.
According to the Baby Sleep Site, "cry it out" sleep training methods specifically include methods where parents, to varying degrees, let their baby cry for a period of time at bedtime. The theory is that through these methods, your baby can learn to fall asleep on their own. Extinction methods, for example, call for parents to let their child "cry it out" without a parent coming in the room and until they fall asleep. Other methods, like the Ferber method, suggest a gradual approach, where parents periodically check on their child and console them.
Like all things in parenting, there is no one-sized fits all method that works for all parents or all babies. According to sleep expert, Kim West, a licensed certified social worker (LCSW-C), parents should choose a sleep training method that "best aligns with their parenting values and beliefs, is the best match for their child’s temperament, and the method they can follow through with consistently."
Extinction (The Weissbluth Method)
According to the Baby Sleep Site, the extinction method, also called the Weissbluth method and named after Dr. Marc Weissbluth, who pioneered the technique, is what most people think when they hear the phrase, "cry it out." It's pretty much exactly what it sounds like — you do your normal bedtime routine, put your baby to bed awake, kiss them goodnight, and leave. The key to this method is not coming back to check on your baby at all after bedtime, not even if they cry. Rather, you let them cry "to extinction," hence the name "cry it out."
The theory behind this strategy that if your baby can learn to soothe themselves, fall asleep on their own, and not rely on you to return, they will fall asleep faster and be able to fall back asleep, all by themselves, if they wake during the night.
Graduated Extinction (The Ferber Method)
If traditional "cry it out" makes you feel like crying, there's a more moderate approach that allows parents to gradually teach their babies to fall asleep on their own. According to the Baby Sleep Site, with graduated extinction, parents let their baby cry, but check on them at regular intervals to comfort and reassure them (and themselves). This method was popularized by Dr. Richard Ferber, author of Solve Your Child's Sleep Problems. Parents gradually increase the amount of time between checks by five minutes each night, until their babies sleep on their own without checks. The goal of this method is to reassure your baby that you are there for them, but to also help them fall asleep alone, without snuggles, rocking, feeding, or pacing the room.
Whether you choose to let your baby cry it out to extinction or prefer a more gradual approach, you may be comforted to learn that recent research published in Pediatrics shows that cry it out methods are fast, effective, and safe, and contrary to what some opponents claim, don't cause babies psychological distress.