Thursday, February 3, 2011

Crying it Out

For parents, specifically moms, we all know too well the term, "Cry It Out."  It means letting our little ones cry to put them to sleep.  For some, it's easier to accomplish and for others, it's a complete nightmare!  I have been battling this debate for the past few months but this week, it finally came down to intervention time.

I know I've talked about sleep before, but realize that this topic comes up time and time again. Obviously sleep issues affect every new family, that is why there are 3 shelves of sleep books at the book store!

I've heard from other moms that sleep problems just don't end in infancy. That their 3 year old who slept well through the night, is now waking up at midnight because they are scared to go to the bathroom as they are being potty trained.  Or, when they turned 5, they started sleep walking.  That being a parent, means never getting 8 hours of sleep again. Oh, wonderful :)  I guess that's why I see sleep aide commercials on TV all the time, for the millions of adults that STILL suffer from lack of sleep.

So, back to the 'cry it out' issue of sleep. It definitely came up for me this week again!  I have been struggling with lack of sleep with my almost 9 month old daughter for awhile; well, since she was born.

My past experience with all of the kids I used to work with as clients, or babysit and nannied over the years, some were lucky to have babies that slept through the night peacefully early on. They would put their baby in their crib, and they would miraculously fall asleep quickly, no whimper and stay asleep for 8-10 hours!  But for most, their babies did not know how to fall asleep on their own, they needed to be rocked, fed, cradled or cuddled next to them in bed. They had to finally succumb to the Dr. Ferber method (aka Ferberize) or the old fashioned 'cry it out' until they fell asleep.

It seems like there are really only a few options to help solve baby's sleep issues. No miraculous cure unfortunately.  Here is a short summary for each:

The Ferberize method is where you put your baby/child in their bed, or crib drowsy and let them cry for 5 minutes, then go back in and soothe them by not picking them up, then leave, let them cry 10 minutes, then go back in, soothe, then let them cry 15 minutes, etc. until they fall asleep.

The old fashioned cry it out method is where you put them in the crib/bed partially awake and let them cry until they fall asleep, vomit or just plain give up.

There's also the No-Cry Sleep method where you let them be soothed by being rocked, nursed, bottle fed, or held but don't let them fall asleep, have them cry for a few seconds, then let them be soothed again, pull away, cry, soothe again, etc.  There is a book titled No-Cry but it is also the theory behind the famous Dr. Sears.  I would have loved, loved to have done this method, and tried it, but it just did not work for us.

So, after I tried the No-Cry method without success, my baby was waking up more and more as the months went on, and NOTHING was working. I was in desperate search for another answer. I just couldn't let my poor baby cry at 4 months as the doctor suggested, she was just too young and had that piercing newborn cry.  I was just. not. ready.

This is where I have to say that you have to do what works for you when you are ready!  If your child is not sleeping well and your doctor tells you to let your baby cry it out and you aren't ready. Don't do it.  You have to do it when you are ready. It may be at 6 months, 8, 12 or 36.

So this week, I reached a point where I knew I had to do something for my baby's sake and my own.  She was waking up every 30 minutes to an hour and then when 12am came, she was refusing to sleep in her crib at all and wanted to only lay next to me in my bed.

I was not getting any sleep so I was a cranky mom, but worse was what my doctor had told me when I called her for advice: "That if you don't solve it now, then when she becomes verbal and can walk, she will be standing up in her crib screaming, 'Mommy, come and get me' or worse, climbing out, and running to your room every minute." Wow, that sounded like a nightmare to me, and I used to have clients that had the same problem and would have to lock their doors. I did not want to go down that path.

I know there are the Co-Sleepers out there and believe me, I love having my little girl next to me as I feel like she is bonding with me and getting a lot of nurturing.  But I also know the importance of boundaries and did not want those lines to be blurry when she was 5 years old.

So, I re-read all of my sleep books and the ones I had used as a counselor, and found the best method.  A softer Ferber method book called The Sleep Easy Solution, where you let them cry but go in often to soothe them, as well as give them a little security object. It was written by therapists and moms, not scientists, so they know from experience what works.

The book said that babies need to cry a little to let out frustrations and it helps them soothe themselves.  I knew all to well about letting out anxiety as that is one of the goals of play therapy. So I was on board for a little crying, but if it got too bad, I was going to abort and try again the next night.

I was scared to let her cry too much as I did not want my baby to learn that only way of communicating-crying- was not going to be answered.

So 2 nights ago we attempted the 'solution.' We started with her regular pre-sleep routine, getting on her nightgown, giving a little baby massage, and reading bedtime stories. Then I rocked her in my arms for a few minutes until she got drowsy, and gave her her little security object/blankie that I had been wearing next to my skin (to have my scent on it). Then, I placed her in her crib and told her I loved her, that it was time to go to sleep and left the room.

Wow, it was the hardest thing to hear her cry as I was walking away! But I knew it would help her in the long run. So my husband and I timed it, wrote down what we did in the sleep journal and watched on the video monitor.

The LONGEST 5 minutes of my life!  I was flipping the TV channels, surfing the internet, paced and ate chocolate.  I highly recommend the chocolate!

While hearing her cry, I knew her cry was more of an angry one and not a pain, hunger or anxious cry. This is why I knew I waited at the right time to do this at 8 months because at 4 months, her still newborn sounding cry would have killed me to hear and I would've run back in and swept her up in my arms!

After the first 5 minutes, my husband went in and talked to her, soothed her, but didn't pick her up and then left and we waited 7 minutes. But during those 7 minutes, she stopped crying here and there and was starting to soothe herself with her blanket!

Wow, this was working faster than I thought. Then after not crying for 6 out of the 7 minutes, she cried for another minute then stopped for 12 minutes and was out! Cold asleep! I was in shock! I am using a lot of exclamation points here as there is no other way to describe the shock of how fast it worked!

I was expecting an hour of crying, my husband holding me back at the door to prevent me from picking her up, and screaming from my daughter's lungs. But it was almost as if she needed this and thanked me for it.

The rest of the night went well for her, and slept peacefully without her usual every 30 minute wake-ups. We are still working on extinction of 2 breastfeedings in the middle of the night, but so far so good!  The book is good about helping get rid of night feedings that aren't necessary.

And her naps, which used to take me forever to get her down, have been so effortless the past few days! It's as if she looks forward to me putting her in her crib as she instantly goes right to sleep. It's like I have a new baby- a non sleep deprived one!

So, after finally getting this sleep issue resolved, as I know more may creep up over the years, I have finally come to realize you have to do what works for you and your parenting style and your child. Each child does have a different temperament and you have to pay attention to that.  High need babies may need more of the No-Cry Method.  If the only thing that will work with your child is the die hard cry it out, and it fits their need- then go for it.

Whew, it was quite a night.  So what has worked for you??  Anyone used a method with success?


  1. Wow, this is great information. I am passing this on to my friends with babies and night time sleep issues!

  2. Great! I hope my information helps others out there with sleep problems.

  3. I just found your blog. I am a Counselor Resident working on my LPC. It's so great to read about someone else's experience being a new momma an a counselor. It can be tough to balance and I am glad to see I'm not alone.

    I read Ferber before ours was born a year and a half ago. We started Ferber as soon as reflux calmed down. What really made the biggest difference though was Babywise. We didn't use everything in the book in a really strict way, we just worked hard on getting an eat/wake/sleep pattern down. The crying is really the hardest part I think.