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Is "Crying It Out" (CIO) Cruel?

Is "Crying It Out" (CIO) Cruel?

Is "Crying It Out" (CIO) Cruel?

Months of interrupted sleep take their toll on new parents. But what can be even more stressful is the parade of people telling you to just CIO, or "cry it out:" your pediatrician, best friends, the grandparents, and even strangers in the grocery store check-out line who spot you with your baby and those bags under your eyes.

The idea behind CIO (also known as "controlled crying" or "Ferberizing") is that you put your baby in the crib, awake, and after her bedtime ritual, let her wail herself to sleep. You do this every night until she learns to go to sleep without crying. Proponents of let-your-baby-cry sleep training methods say that in no time you'll wind up with lots more shut-eye (for you) and a happy, well-rested baby who has learned to self-soothe in the process.

But a resounding cry from a large group Circle of Moms members suggests that CIO is just plain wrong. As mom-of-one Veronica R. emphatically puts it, "I think it's cruel. I refuse to do it. Won't, won't, won't. I think it will ruin my attachment parenting bond with my daughter. Out of the question for me."


Many Circle of Moms members who have tried "cry it out" sleep training report that their sympathy and frustration for their balling babies (whose crying went on for what felt like hours) caused them to lie in bed fighting their own tears. "Letting my baby cry it out makes me sad," says Melissa J.

"I refuse to do this because I think babies under age one or so lack communication skills, and when they cry they are crying for basic needs," says Stephanie H. "There were many nights where my daughter would just cry when she was about six months old, and as much as I was frustrated, I would just sit in the recliner and rock her. I know in my heart that it was right for me to do it that way."

The central question about CIO sleep training (is it common sense parenting or bordering on abusive?) divides experts as roundly as it does moms.

A recent study by the Murdoch Children's Research Institute finds that "controlled crying" to help infants sleep does not lead to emotional and behavioral problems later on. On the other hand, child development experts including Dr. Penelope Leach (author of the 1977 book Your Baby and Child: From Birth to Age Five), insist that letting babies cry at night for lengthy periods of time can be damaging to their brains and psyches. Leach recently told the Daily Mail that this is "not an opinion but a fact that it's potentially damaging to leave babies to cry."

Experts aside, many Circle of Moms members say that letting a baby cry is just plain cruel. Crying is a baby's sole way of signaling when he or she is uncomfortable or distressed, they say.  As Katy explains it, "Babies are not developmentally ready at three or four months to soothe themselves. They need your love and attention. They're not spoiled and you won't be spoiling them. There is a real reason he is crying. Even if he just wants to be held, he needs it."

Jaime G. echos her opposition, explaining that a baby's trust in the world is at stake: "By leaving them alone you just teach them the world is not a safe place and parents are not going to be there. The baby is not manipulative. He is crying because he needs something."

And Allison B. is adamantly opposed to the letting an infant cry it out because of the potential for damaging "the baby's relationship with his or her mother." She says that "Babies need unconditional love and support from their caregivers. 'Tough love' can come later once they are older."

Siobhan T. suggests that moms who don't like the idea of crying it out should experiment with whatever calming methods work for the baby—and for them.

"What I found worked with my daughter was to give her a warm bath, put the lights on low and sit in her room reading a book," says Siobhan, about her infant daughter. "Once that was over we would put her in her crib. I had to accept the fact that I couldn't dictate when she got tired so we had to wait some nights until she was ready. I had to watch her for the cue to start bedtime. Luckily it started coming at around the same time every night. I'd try something like this before letting a baby cry it out."

For another perspective, see 3 Ways to Make Crying It Out Easier.

Do you think it's cruel to let a baby "cry it out?"

Image Source: Jessica Whittle Photography via Flickr/CreativeCommons

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, POPSUGAR.

Join The Conversation
karenpadgett karenpadgett 4 years
Allowing a baby to cry is not cruel. It takes a wise person to understand that allowing a baby to cry is not only good for the baby's lungs, but it also teaches from the beginning that one does not always get their way. If you want to hold and rock your baby constantly, that is your business. If some of us want to train our baby from the beginning, that is our business. Love does not have to always give in. Sometimes it stands firm.
susanna23147 susanna23147 5 years
*babys, not babysitter
susanna23147 susanna23147 5 years
Yes it is cruel your baby is crying for a reason,he or she needs you to sleep,and to teach him to put himself to sleep as baby is cruel and unrealistic,just because that baby eventually learns it put themself to sleep,does not mean "it worked for us"or mean you made the right choice,it means your baby lost hope in their own parents.this country forces too much independence on babysitter and children at far too going a age,then wants to be sad when their kid is distant and closed as a teen, well,think back to what you taught them as even an infant.
MichelleButson MichelleButson 5 years
sometimes we need to put ourselves first so we can revive and cope and enjoy the precious and demanding task of raising our children... controlled crying gave me that sleep I needed so I could cope and enjoy my babies, It was hard to go thr...ough with it and my motherly instincts wanted to give up and rescue them but I pushed on, it only took about 3 or 4 nights and it was all worth it...I got a better sleep and my child got a settled children dont have any adverse affects from controlled crying or from any other emotional trauma from infancy like - imunization or illness or teething or childbirth...there are some children that controlled crying wont work for, maybe because of illness or special needs...and of course if you can mannage fine with comforting your child to sleep everytime they wake that would be wonderful :)
RabiaZeeshan1217 RabiaZeeshan1217 5 years
It is cruel to let a baby "cry it out". It can cause many speech problems at the later age. You should never do this to your child.
HeatherYoungChief HeatherYoungChief 5 years
After about a month of struggling to put our second son to sleep, me and my husband tried the cry it out method, I am now very against it, for one you baby doesn't cry he or she screams, also after about a week of trying CIO, my son started to just yell when ever he was in his crib, and then when he got up at night he would yell and as soon as I went to get him he would grab on to me and hold on for dear life, after this we stop the CIO method but ended up having a harder time at night putting him back to sleep again until he realized that we were still there and not going to let him just cry anymore. He was 5 or 6 months old at the time
LillianaBrown LillianaBrown 5 years
I like to hold my babies, I like singing then to sleep and watching their precious eyes get droopy, I love that time of night when my 3 year old boy will finally sit still and snuggle in my arms whil we read countless books. These are all of my selfish reasons that I refuse to do nothing while my baby screams for me until they are so exhausted they fall asleep. Have you (as an adult) ever cried yourself to sleep? I know I have. And I know how horrible it feels. I want my sweet babies to fall asleep wrapped in love and kisses. This is my opinion. But, if you're set on CIO read baby wise, it's the best version in my opinion.
SharonSmith11410 SharonSmith11410 5 years
Does give choices, even the "experts" don't agree ! I feel that it deprnds on the situation and the child. My grandchildren, ages 2 yrs and <twins> 1 year, Seem to wake up screaming, usually because of teething. Very difficult on the parents. No matter what is done for them ..they are not settled. I would like some ffedback on possible solutions.
LizDuffy72906 LizDuffy72906 5 years
We left Helena to cry for about 10 minutes then go get her but now she learnt to stick her fist down her throat to puke so we have to get to her which she plans. She maybe 11 months but shes smart. Leaving them to cry for a little bit it shows her shes really tired or hungry.
Jodeyshrimpton Jodeyshrimpton 5 years
I am a loving mother who absolutely believes in controlled crying. I'v spent 10 years in the childcare industry and am now a qualified school teacher. My children are 15, 12 and 3. My journey was no bed of roses either. Mr 15 has ADHD, Mr 12 had 5 operations, including a kidney removal before he was 15months and they all had varying degrees of reflux. They had medication to reduce heartburn were well fed, burped, clean nappies etc but after 4 months i knew their patterns and if all their needs were met and they were cranky they all needed sleep. Its not rocket science. If a parent picks up a baby when they need sleep they are conditioning the child to need to be comforted to go to sleep. I'v found that lots of mums feel like its cruel to let a child cry but the earlier the baby learns that when they are put to bed its sleep time the less stressful it will be for the rest of the family. Older babies who haven't been allowed to have a cry for 10 to 15 mins get conditioned to cry for longer periods with the expectation that if they cry for long enough someone will pick them up. As soon as baby is on solids they Do Not Need milk during the night and its better to give water during the night to help set their body clocks so they will sleep through. Its not cruel to let babies cry.... They are generally not in pain they just haven't learned to talk yet. Mums and dads will do baby a favour by teaching babies asap that when they are put in bed its time to sleep. Hope this helps some mums to stop feeling guilty.. Babies do not cry to death and good sleepers are their parents creation. If ur baby cries you Are Not a bad or neglectful parent if all of babies basic nedds are covered.
NikkiWorkman NikkiWorkman 5 years
I was one of those parents that despised the idea of CIO. That was until my son (now one) learned “Hey, if I cry long enough, Mama will come pick me up and I won’t have to take a nap or go to bed.” This wouldn’t be so bad, but I work full-time and go to school full-time, so I need to catch a break somewhere. So I decided to try and let him CIO. It took two long weeks of his constant cries come bed time. I would change and feed him before lying him down for bed, and then I would check on him every ten minutes until he was asleep. It was a lot of work, and even less sleep then I was getting, but it paid off in the long run. Now he falls asleep almost immediately after I lay him down, and if he doesn’t then I know that he is either not yet tired or that he needs something before he can go to sleep. And it never fails, every morning he wakes up with a huge smile on his face and he cuddles me while we make breakfast together. If anything, I would say it strengthened our bond because I didn’t let him take advantage of my weakness.
ElliBean ElliBean 5 years
For the most part, my girl hasn't really needed to cry it out. But there is a difference between tossing your baby into her crib and waiting until she cries herself to sleep, and following a healthy bedtime routine which includes making sure she's safe and comfortable when you put her down to sleep. If she was already screaming before you put her in her crib, then something is probably wrong and she shouldn't be put to bed until it's right. On the other hand, if she was happy until she realized she has to go to bed, and only started wailing when she was put in bed, then you can be reasonably sure she just wants attention that she may not be able to have. Moms need sleep, too. And they need time to gather their thoughts. My girl slept through the night from an early age (just over 2 months and she did 6 to 8 hours a night), and she's ten months now and will usually sleep ten hours. Bedtime was never on a set schedule. We have a bedtime routine that includes a bedtime bottle, a bath, a change into a special heavy duty overnight diaper, the brushing of her teeth, fresh pajamas, kisses and hugs, some chatting back and forth and goodnights and then I turn on her musical light up mobile. She has a soft cloth book, a rattle and a few small plush toys in her crib she can play with if she truly isn't quite ready for z's. On occasion, she will cry a bit, and usually I will chat with her and sometimes cuddle her a while before putting her back to bed. But sometimes, when she's been particularly demanding of attention that day, I'm burnt out and need some time to cool down to keep my head. That is what CIO is for. It's for older babies who are being moody in a bid for attention, and moms that are trying not to go nuts.
brookeanderson88421 brookeanderson88421 5 years
My husband and i started using the cio method about a month ago and our 9 month old son seems to be learning that where we put him to bed that it is bed time and yes at first it felt crewl, but he is learning from it because before the cio method he was staying up until like 10 or 11 at night and his bed time is 8:30 so we was working with him for a long time just trying to get him to sleep and nothing else has seemed to work
MaryHoey MaryHoey 5 years
OMG i have 3 babies under 3 and work fulltime . I can tell you i have never used CIO and never will . when you become a parent its for a reason and its planned with your partner or husband. How can you then be selfish and let a baby at 6 months or more then cry through the night just so you can sleep well . You know what i say if your not ready then dont have the babies . Once kids hit 2plus they become a pleasure and fun and deadly to be around all the sleepless nights are gone and then the fun of learning begins . So why stress yourself and baby when they are young .. Most babies cry for something a cuddle ,milk wind ,uncomfortable , lonely or just some attention after all how else can they express them selves they cant talk . i cant rem the last time i had a good nights sleep but who cares its not forever and my kids are getting older every day .
HannahFleener HannahFleener 6 years
i have done this with both of my kids and it has not hurt them at all we still have a great bond to each other. i only used the cio when i knew they really didnt need anything; food, diaper change, sick, etc. and they were both going to bed with no trouble and sleeping through the night by the time they were 4 months old
CheriCurleyWilson CheriCurleyWilson 6 years
I read some research that showed when babies or children are left to cio it releases a cemical in the brain. The same cemical syco killers have in there brains. I fell you shouldn't be a parent if you can't be there for your kids
kellyHall93958 kellyHall93958 6 years
I think that its a matter of what you feel is rihgt as a mother. People tell me all the time to just let him cry. I cant, I refuse to. I feel like if I let him cio he will think that im not there for him. I personally think parents who do it are too worried about themselves getting sleep more than their child. When you decided to have a baby you decided to give up sleep personal time and a lot more stuff. So just get your child to sleep and deal with it.
HollyCarpenter74132 HollyCarpenter74132 6 years
I always thought it was wrong BUT I spent 9mth trying to get my baby to sleep and stay asleep. After i put my back out from hrs. a day bent over the crib i had to CIO and it was such a blessing!!!!!!!!! She was only having 45 min naps and sleeping 9 hrs a night waking many times in the night sometimes for 2hrs. NOW she is sleeping a full 12hrs and 2- 1 1/2 hr naps!!!!!!!!! she is much happier, eating more and my back is on the mend. it only took 2 days and the longest she ever cries was 1 1/2 hrs the first time! it is not for all babies and all mommas but i strongly recommend trying it.
SamanthaDenney SamanthaDenney 6 years
There is nothing wrong with it, I did it with both my children and now they both go to bed when I say it's time. for those parents who don't do it, how old is too old/ Are you still going to be rocking them to sleep when they are 15? It does not "break any bonds" and if done correctly it only takes a few days of crying for 30 minutes at the most. You will be ok and it will be better for everyone in the long run so suck it up and do it!
DanielleShanley DanielleShanley 6 years
I don't understand the idea of letting your child cry for hours? I do think that some crying is ok. With my daughter, she was in a co-sleeper until 4 mos. When I moved her to her crib, I moved the co-sleeper too (for some familiarity). First I rocked her till she fell asleep and placed her in her crib, then I put her in her crib just as she was falling asleep and would "pat" her till she was asleep, then I moved to slightly shaking the crib till she fell asleep, then when she was about 8/9 months I relied only on her bedtime routine ("reading" a story, then rocking her while listening to a musical pull toy that hung from the rocker..for one cycle of the song..then putting her in her crib, telling her I love her and winding up her "musical cow" that played two rounds of a lullaby) This worked great! Another thing that I feel is important is when she woke up, I let her sit and babble to her self for a while, this way she got used to being in the crib on her own and if she woke in the middle of the night she didn't automatically cry just because she was awake. There were times when I let her "cry it out"... but these were times when I knew from her cry it was only for attention and the crying lasted no more than 5 minutes. There has to be some common sense here! Children need to feel safe, loved, and protected... but they also need US to trust that they can develop skills for enjoying alone time and self soothing. As with everything in life, there needs to be balance.
KelliClark93744 KelliClark93744 6 years
It really depends... Letting a baby cry for lengthy amounts of time is cruel in my opinion and I just couldn't do it. With that said when my infant is obviously tired, fussing and rubbing her eyes I will put her in her crib and let her cry for 5 minutes. It's hard but when she falls asleep and takes an hour nap and wakes up happy, I know I am doing the right thing for her.
JanessaLloyd JanessaLloyd 6 years
Ignoring them or theoretically trying to ignore them isn't such a good idea, but at some point I do stop taking them out of their bed when I know they can stretch it a little longer. I'll go in there pat them on the back, or give them a pacifier, tell them I love them, but under no circumstances do I take them out of their bed, usually they start to realize they aren't getting anything and stop waking up. Really I feel each mother should do what they feel is best for them and their child, and if one mother wants to cry it out, and another doesn't neither should judge the other. My kids are great sleepers all of them, so what I have done has worked for mine. What others do is what works for them. My interpretation of cry it out has been just that, don't take them out and don't give them anything they don't actually need, but you can go in there and let them know that you hear them and love them.
LouiseFaithDonelanPoole LouiseFaithDonelanPoole 6 years
I'm fine with it, my little boy is 6 months old and because of this method he's been sleeping right through since six weeks old, only took one night for him to learn. He still trys it on now every so often so he can stay awake and play, so I just leave him for one minute go in pick him up without eye contact or speaking to him calm him down and put him back to bed, if he cries again then do the same thing but add a minute the the length of time I leave him, never got to more an three minutes. My Gabriel knows when it's bed time and he knows I take no messing about, he goes into his cot wide awake after his last bottle and just plays with his toys in his cot until he nods off and I'm happy with that it works for all of us. My mum did it with me and my brother and it worked for her and now it's worked for me.
AliciaCarroll69387 AliciaCarroll69387 6 years
My son is six months and he doesn't cry himself to sleep. I bathe him, give him a bottle and after that, he's usually knocked out! But during the day, if I'm doing something like showering, I let him cry. I know there's nothing wrong b/c he's right by the shower. Regardless of what others say I think my baby is SPOILED and I can't hold him every minute of every day. It's not fair to me.
JessicaJonesSterling JessicaJonesSterling 6 years
The point that many are missing is that you don't just let your baby CIO because they are crying. After 6 months, if they have been fed, changed, rocked, and nothing else will work to calm them down then sometimes you just have to set them down - in a safe place - and walk away. Otherwise they learn that mommy will come EVERY time I cry no matter if I need her or not and the child takes advantage of that power.
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