how long do you let the baby cry it out when sleep training (3)

How Long Do You Let The Baby Cry It Out When Sleep Training?

There’s a reason brand-new parents are universally exhausted — it’s normal for a newborn to sleep for only a couple of hours at a stretch.

But if your baby isn’t falling asleep on her own or sleeping six hours straight by the time she’s between 4 and 6 months old, you might be interested in learning about sleep training.

One of the most straightforward ways to train your baby is with the "cry it out" method (CIO). It's not for every family; as the name suggests, it involves tears (babies, and probably yours, too).

If you're unsure about letting your baby cry, it can be reassuring to keep the ultimate goal in mind: helping your little one learn the essential skill of falling asleep on her own and soothing herself back to sleep when she wakes.

Of course, every family is different. If you do end up deciding to use a more traditional cry-it-out method of sleep training, here's how to do it:

  • Begin while your infant is awake. Put him in the crib with a soft “I love you” and then exit the room without waiting for him to fall asleep.
  • You can expect a fair amount of protest and crying.
  • Here’s where it can get a little hard. Let your baby cry for a full five minutes.
  • Next, go back into the room, give your baby a gentle pat, an “I love you” and “good night”, and exit again.
  • Repeat this process for as long as your child cries, making sure to extend the time you leave your baby alone by five more minutes each time until your baby falls asleep.

You can’t take sleepless nights anymore. You’re so delirious from lack of sleep you could cry. You’re starting to wonder if it’s officially time to sleep train your baby.

But you’re worried. Is your baby old enough? What techniques work best? And how long does it take? Pediatrician offers sleep training advice for exhausted new parents.

The goal of the CIO method is to let the baby fuss and cry on her own until she eventually wears herself out and falls asleep on her own. In the beginning, you may have to let the baby cry it out for 45 minutes to an hour before she goes to sleep, though it varies from baby to baby.

Most parents who try the cry it out method find their babies cry increasingly less over the first three nights and their crying virtually ends somewhere between the fourth and seventh night.

Eventually, babies may fuss or screech in the complaint for a couple of minutes — or quietly fall asleep.

FAQs About Baby Sleep

But if your baby's naptime is typically on the shorter side and only lasts 30 minutes or so, you may want to limit how long you let her cry (to around 10 minutes) before you try another sleep training method or even give up on the nap for that day.

Long continued or oft-repeated crying can produce so much cortisol that it can damage a baby's brain. That doesn't mean that a baby should never cry or that parents should worry when she does. All babies cry, some more than others.

In this method, Marc Weissbluth, MD, explains that babies may still wake up to two times a night at eight months old. However, he says parents should start predictable bedtime routines — letting babies cry 10 to 20 minutes to sleep —- with infants as young as 5 to 6 weeks.

Many sleep training books say never to get them. Some say wait an hour. I don't wait longer than 30 minutes for my baby. If the child is very young, they may just be needing their parent's touch. If the child is older than five or so months, I'd say they are ok to cry for a while.

4 to 6 months

Most pediatricians recommend 4 to 6 months of age. Allowing a baby to cry for more than an hour or two at night isn't harmful, sleep experts say, though most babies won't cry that long. If parents don't intervene when an infant cries at night, sleep training can be accomplished in as little as three days.

What Is The Cry It Out The Method Of Sleep Training?

Cry it out, also known as the extinction method, is a sleep training technique that involves putting your baby in her crib fully awake and allowing her to fuss or cry until she falls asleep — without help from you. That means you won't feed to sleep, rock or use any other crutch to get your baby to drift off. 

The point of all sleep training methods isn’t to keep a baby from waking up during the night (everyone does, even adults), nor is the goal for a baby to get through the entire night without a feeding (breastfed infants might continue needing a feed up to age 1). The goal is to teach the baby to fall asleep independently outside her arms. 

Tips On Letting A Baby Cry It Out

how long do you let the baby cry it out when sleep training

While it might seem hard to believe, crying it out is much harder on you than it is on your baby.

Before you get started, make sure that the baby’s not napping too much or too little during the day since overtired babies have a harder time falling and staying asleep.

You’ll also need to establish a bedtime routine that doesn’t involve feeding or rocking to fall asleep.

Ready to try the CIO method? Here's how:

  • Look for your baby’s cues that she’s tired. She might rub her eyes, suck her thumb, pull at her ear or get cranky at the same time every night. Anticipating when your baby needs to sleep is crucial to CIO success to ensure you get the baby in bed before she’s overtired.
  • Start your 30- to a 45-minute bedtime routine. This helps your baby wind down and prepare for sleep. Good baby bedtime routines often involve a bath, final feeding, a book, lullabies and maybe a massage.
  • Put your baby down in her crib every time. Whether for bedtime or naps, the crib (and not a stroller or swing) is conducive — not to mention safe — for sleep and helps establish a routine.
  • Always put the baby down while she's still awake. The goal of sleep training is to allow your baby to learn how to fall asleep on her own, which requires being awake and not rocked to sleep. Give her a gentle pat and softly tell her you to love her, then leave the room without waiting for her to fall asleep.
  • Expect some protest. Your baby will probably cry, maybe even a fair bit. However long you leave the baby alone, it'll likely feel much longer.
  • Don’t respond. Here’s where the going gets tough: The full-on cry it out method calls for you to let the baby cry, without comfort from you, until she gets tired and falls asleep.

You'll have a rough couple of nights (or even a week or more) as you listen to your baby wail. But remember this as you're sitting outside her door, thinking you're the worst parent in the world: Crying won’t hurt your baby in the long run. Ultimately you're doing your baby a favour by helping her learn to fall asleep on her own.

Sleep Training Basics

In its simplest form, sleep training is the process of your baby learning to fall asleep by themselves — whether that’s in the very beginning of the night when they are put into their crib or when they wake up in the middle of the night.

Essentially, you’re getting your baby to realise that they can put themselves to sleep or self soothe. It’s a development skill they will need to learn.

Sleep training translates to more sleep for parents or caregivers.

Night Weaning Vs. Sleep Training

It’s important to note that sleep training is a separate thing from night weaning.

For months, you’ve likely woken up several times a night to feed your little one. Night weaning makes sure your baby is eating their meals during the day, so they don’t have to wake up to eat in the middle of the night anymore.

 Night weaning is perfectly safe as long as your baby is healthy and at an appropriate weight. Talk to your pediatrician about when it’s time to wean your baby.  

You can sleep train and night wean at the same time. Sleep training will sometimes lead to a drop off in overnight feedings simply because your baby will learn to fall back asleep on their own. But sometimes, if your baby is underweight or has other medical conditions, you might need to continue night feeding, even during or after sleep training.

Sleep Training Techniques

The goal of sleep training is to teach your little one that they can fall asleep independently. You want your baby to be able to fall asleep on their own without needing to be rocked or soothed by you.

“Often, sleep training techniques overlap, and parents combine methods, which is perfectly fine,” says Dr Schwartz. “It’s all about finding what works best for you as a parent and how your infant responds.”

Here are some of the most common sleep training approaches:

Cry It Out (CIO)

Perhaps one of the most famously known techniques, this method is often synonymous with sleep training. CIO involves putting your baby to bed while they are tired but still awake to learn the skill of putting themselves to sleep on their own. Your baby may cry in the process while they learn this new skill, but that certainly isn’t a requirement!

Before putting your baby to bed, make sure they have a clean diaper, have eaten, and their crib is safe. After that, once you say goodnight, you won’t pick them up or take them out of the crib until morning or until their next scheduled night feed.

This method is perhaps the most difficult for parents, but it often works the quickest. The first couple of nights is typically the roughest because your baby is used to falling asleep with assistance, and it may take them a night or two to learn that they can do it on their own, but it should improve quickly after that.

Consistency is important, and all caregivers need to be on board for it to work. A key part of CIO is not taking your baby out of the crib, but some parents may feel better acknowledging or reassuring them by doing a few quick check-ins throughout the night (see the Ferber method).   

Ferber Method (Also Known As “Check And Console”)

This technique consists of timed interval check-ins. When your infant is tired but still awake (sensing a theme here?), place them in their crib, say goodnight, and leave the room. You will then re-enter the room at designated intervals to check in on your baby, but you should not pick them up.

For example, after putting your baby down, check-in at three minutes, five minutes, 10 minutes and so forth. You can briefly say a word or two to your baby, for example, tell them you love them, they are doing a great job or that you are here for them, but don’t linger for too long.

The time between each interval should get longer, teaching your baby that you are always there to support them and make them feel safe. Increase the time between check-ins each night. 

Some babies benefit from the timed check-ins, while others become more upset seeing their parents come and go. Many caregivers combine CIO and the Ferber method depending on their baby’s needs.

Pick Up, Put Down

This approach takes patience (and perhaps the most time), but it typically makes sleep training easier for the parents. The idea is that you can provide direct physical comfort to your baby by picking them up and putting them down when they begin to cry or fuss during the night. 

But be sure you don’t linger when you pick them up. Go in, pick them up, soothe them, so they settle down, put them back in the crib, then leave the room. It’s common to combine this method with the Ferber method.

The Chair Method

This sleep training technique involves – you guessed it – a chair. It also involves lots of patience and time. It’s similar to the Ferber method in that it involves gradual intervals.

Put your baby in their crib while tired and sit in a chair next to them. Once they fall asleep, leave the room. If they begin to cry, come back in and sit in the chair nearby. Every few nights, move the chair back further until you’re eventually out of the room.

Dr Schwartz says this method can be tough on the parent as it can be hard to sit there until your baby falls asleep, especially if they begin to fuss or cry. It can also be distracting and confusing to the baby to see you there, in some cases.

Bedtime Fading

This isn’t sleep training as much as it’s a method to move your baby’s bedtime to a different time. For example, if you typically put your baby down around 7 p.m., but they cry for about 30 minutes in their crib, their natural bedtime (aka their circadian rhythm) is likely closer to 7:30 p.m. 

If you’d like to move up their natural bedtime, begin shifting back to bedtime by 15 minutes each night until you’ve reached the desired time. This technique is often combined with other sleep training methods to get your baby on a better sleep schedule.

Sleep Training Tips

how long do you let the baby cry it out when sleep training (2)

No matter what method you try, sleep training takes practice and patience. These tips can help you and your baby makes the transition. Here’s what to keep in mind:

  • Some methods won’t work for you – and that’s OK. It might take some trial and error to figure out a method that you, your partner and your baby are comfortable with. Don’t be afraid to bail on a method if it’s a total nightmare, and remember to combine if needed. No one method works for everyone, and there’s no right or wrong way. However, once you find a method you are comfortable with, be consistent for at least one week to give your baby a chance to learn this new skill.
  • It comes down to the parent or caregiver to make sleep training work. Dr Schwartz says sleep training has more to do with the parent and less with the baby. Caregivers should know their personality and limits when they begin sleep training. They should also commit to a consistent sleep training schedule. It will never work if one partner breaks from the routine every night. That being said, always trust your intuition – you know your baby best.    
  • Establish a bedtime routine. Getting your baby ready for bed is just as important as sleep training itself. Newborns (and even toddlers) have no concept of time, but when you develop a bedtime routine, it starts to get them in the mindset of recognising what is about to happen. Try bathing, feeding and reading a book. You can also try feeding your baby in a different room or setting to help decrease their sleep-onset association. Kids will start to associate this routine with learning to relax and winding down for the night. Often, a bedtime routine transfers over into the ability to self-soothe for many babies and toddlers.  
  • The time is right. Look for your baby’s sleep cues like yawning or rubbing their eyes. All sleep methods recommend starting when your baby is tired but not asleep yet.
  • Don’t respond to every little cry or noise. As long as your baby is sleeping in a safe place, there is no reason to panic over every cry or fuss. No matter what sleep training method you use, there will likely be some crying or fussing. It’s important to give your baby the space to learn this important new skill. Your future self will thank you when you’ve made it to the other side of sleep training! 
  • Be confident in yourself! Your baby will pick up on your emotions. If you feel confident throughout this process, your baby will feel that way.

Never hesitate to reach out to your pediatrician for any advice or help regarding sleep training or any other question or concern you might have.

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