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Downside to "Cry It Out" Sleep Training

The Downside to "Cry It Out" Sleep Training

We all want our babies to sleep well, for their health and for our own sanity. Much has been written about the Ferber Method since pediatrician Richard Ferber published Solve Your Child's Sleep Problems in 1985. He's been credited for being a savior, accused of advocating child abuse, and scrutinized for about everything in between. For those unfamiliar with this method, here's the most simplified version: if you let your baby cry himself to sleep for a few nights, he will learn to self-soothe quickly, and he'll soon be putting himself down at night without your presence.

While there isn't much scientific evidence yet that will help you decide whether to sleep train via a CIO method, word from the parental front lines is that some babies take just fine to "Ferberizing" while others are very distressed by it.

Why I Didn't CIO With My Son

Perhaps the most ardent challenge to the cry-it-out (CIO) methods comes from moms like Sarah W., who points out that babies who are left to cry, even for a brief time, experience emotional upheaval, which can include an increase in blood pressure, heart rate, and the production of stress hormones. While there is no proven link, there is a fear that these shifts can cause children to be more likely to vomit, putting them at risk for choking. Long-term consequences are not known, but many parents believe that memory and attention span can be compromised, and that an excess of cortisol (a stress hormone) can predispose a child to anxiety and depression later in life.


I didn't "sleep train" my son, and he's now a happy, independent nearly-3-year-old. He still needs help getting to sleep, but I cherish this time with him, and I've never regretted my decision. For me, it was a gut decision: CIO ran counter to everything in me.

CIO methods speed up a process that we all struggle with, and I've come to believe that there is no compelling evidence that this process should be rushed, at least not from the child's perspective.

Still, many parents swear by CIO, and their babies seem none the worse for it. But even if it works for some babies, does that mean it's right for every infant?

Is "Cry It Out" Right For You?

Sarah also points out that there are several potential negative consequences to CIO, such as becoming desensitized to your baby's crying and unconsciously disregarding possible medical problems that might cause crying, such as ear infections or stomach distress.

Many parents who need help but don't want to choose the extreme of the Ferber method try modified versions that involve being present to soothe your baby, but slowly removing yourself from the bedside and, eventually, the room. These methods usually involve less crying (because they entail less abrupt separation), and the versions that have popped up are too numerous to count, from "the sleep lady shuffle" to "Sleep Sense."

Danielle H. and several other moms point out that CIO methods and similar offshoots work well for some kids, and that you'll know right away. If your child doesn't get the hang of it and starts crying more in the first few days, it might not be wise to persist. Some kids with strong personalities are not suited for this sort of training, and it can make any underlying anxiety worse.

Ferber himself, in a 2006 NPR interview, has softened his position somewhat as well. Once adamantly opposed to cosleeping, Ferber now says that each family should do what works best for them, and this can include kids sleeping in bed with parents. It's the best advice of all: what works well for your family is what you should stick with, regardless of what "experts" or other parents might say. It's a simple rule of thumb that carries real clout.

Join The Conversation
LouiseFolettaSmith LouiseFolettaSmith 5 years
There's a lot of good points being made on both sides of the argument and I lean to the "whatever works for you and your baby" part. I have three extremely different children who have all been put to sleep differently to suit them. The last one was the worst sleeper and partly due to acid reflux. He is 20 months and HAS to cry it out - nothing else works! We would have him in our bed every night, wrecking our sleep, and his, otherwise. He can cry for hours, especially if we go into his room and try to settle him. I can't live without sleep, not good without 7+ hours a night. I would be psychotic if I didn't let him cry it out. So what's worse? A mum who can't cope. First and foremost we love our kids and want to do the most loving job of it we can -but sometimes you just do what works and being a matre to an 'ideal' way of parenting never helped anyone! Let's be less judgemental and kinder to all Mums, it's such a hard job!
DawnGooden DawnGooden 5 years
I think the thing people are not understanding is that as moms we KNOW what our babies sound like when they cry certain ways: hunger, comfort, warmth, etc. However, I think if done CORRECTLY the CIO method is not as barbaric as many of you are making it sound. I used the CIO method with my boy. There were some nights I could not get him off of me no matter what I tried. When I was losing so much sleep because I tended to every single whimper at first, my husband intervened and said we need to try something different. We co-slept for a while which helped all of us sleep better for a while, but we did it for too long imho. Fortunately, however, my son adapted to the switch from our bed to his own room and crib very well, and almost instantly. (i'm talking one night people lol). A few nights when I knew he had all of the necessities, that he wasn't scared or in pain or anything I would go check him, tuck him back in with a kiss and tell him to go to sleep. after a while (and yes with a few tears) he found a way to soothe himself to sleep. Now that he is almost 2, we do our usual sleep routine, and I put the baby gate up infront of his door and if he doesn't stay in bed, he will play in his room until he falls asleep. (and we keep the door open so he knows we are there). If done the right way this can be an effective method. you don't just chuck your kid in bed and say tootles! now sleep, brat! you check them every few mins. to be sure they are safe and OK, tuck them back in if you have to, and be on your way until they fall asleep. parents who choose to use the CIO method are not bad parents, and I think articles like this need to be banned because that is the only attitude that comes across when stuff like this is written. no parent is wrong in their methods unless it truly causes a child legitimate harm...anything other than that should not be picked apart or compared.
RondaLongard RondaLongard 5 years
Some of us actually want, and appreciate the complete trust our babies place in us Lisa. I would never trade the bond for anything, because that is what happens when you RESPOND to your child, a BOND is formed.
TaraPaisley TaraPaisley 5 years
We never did CIO, but we also didn't co sleep, or run to them for every little cry. From the beginning, we did a feed, awake, sleep cycle. Our daughter would wake up, we would feed her, then she would be awake for a bit. Then we swaddled her, and put her down sleepy, but awake. She went right to sleep. As a baby, if she started to cry we would go to her door and listen. If she was fussing then we knew she was waking up to be fed. Later it might mean nightmares, so we made ourselves available if needed. We did the same for the other two. Even as an adult, I might cry out in my sleep. That doesn't mean I need to be comforted and chances are I won't remember in the morning.
CoMMember13627708839399 CoMMember13627708839399 5 years
at 9 months old after months of a child who only cat napped and spent more hours screaming in our arms rather than sleeping, we were told to try the cry it out method. Our son had test ran on him to make sure nothing else was the issue, given different medicines, and given sleep drops that only hyped him up. So we had a nurse from NGALA come to our home, and teach us, well we stuck to her method for one month, and yes he would sleep for an hour during the day, but he screamed for an hour before he slept, we would put him down the same at night, but every wake up meant 30 mins to an hour of screaming. So we went back to rocking him to sleep during night wake ups. We stopped going in during his screaming to sleep time, and just let him go until he went to sleep, until he was 2 and a half, often he screamed for an hour before he slept. Then he learned how to get out of his room, so we let him drop to sleep during the day on the couch if he did have a sleep, and drove him to sleep every night and put him in our bed, so if he awoke we knew straight away. Then just before he turned 3 , he suddenly started just climbing into bed at 7:30, completely surprised us, and just in time as i was 7 months pregnant. Our youngest was extremely clingy, and had bad reflux, if he cried he vomited and induced an asthma attack as well. He was a better sleeper than his brother, but we always settled him to sleep and then he would sleep fine. Our oldest even at 8 was still not sleeping through the night, but has learned how to settle himself, at 15 he is still the first up on weekends and the last to bed. His time screaming to sleep has not harmed him, he is an easy going, well behaved lad, who loves his family, our youngest is no longer clingy at 12, but whilst very out going and social, is actually not very confident at all. Both of them have had hyperactivity and attention problems,at times teachers tried demanding my oldest get put on medication, I refused, and now a days he is doing fine, in accelerated maths and science year 10 classes, and knows his behaviour is his responsibility, I honestly think his younger year sleep issues were due to the hyperactivity, and the lack of sleep is what delayed a lot of his milestones (ie crawling, walking, talking).
angelahodges96915 angelahodges96915 5 years
I followed text book CIO. Both boys have difficulties with sleeping now. I have now idea if it is related to the method, which did initially work, or if it is something individual with the boys. Hindsight being 20/20, I may not have used this particular method with them
amandariedner amandariedner 5 years
my son sleeps threw the night most of the time, but their are nights he just wont sleep, treid the crying out thing it dont work, he just gets louder and louder, till eventualy the whole house is up,
CarmenSteen CarmenSteen 5 years
I'm a first-time mother to a frisky little 2 1/2-year old boy, and I have come to one conclusion - parenting today seems to be all about defending your values or beliefs. Breast-feeding vs. formula. CIO vs. co-sleeping. Stay at home vs. back to work. Disposable diaper vs. cloth. The list goes on and on. As a pediatric nurse, I find myself advising new mothers that they need to go with what they feel is the right thing for themselves, their baby, and their situation, and let go of feeling judged by the world. Everyone from mom, in-laws, doctors, friends, aunts, etc. will have advice for you. The thing is, they are not there raising your child (unless they are, of course...;0)). So to keep your sanity intact, just listen to your gut. And try to do it without disclaimers like "I felt like the CIO method was neglecting my child". No need to defend your stance by alienating those who feel differently. We used a modified CIO because I am gone for 14 hours at a time, and my husband is in school, so it worked for us. I nursed my son until he weaned himself at 10 months because I ran out. We don't have a TV because we noticed all he wanted to do as soon as he walked through the door was watch it. We use compostable diapers because they are no more expensive than regular diapers, and we just don't have the time to deal with cloth diapers. He's not potty-trained because he's not ready. He knows where it is, and we talk about it daily and read books. I know he won't be in diapers until he's in high school, so why stress over it? If you want, you can drive yourself crazy trying to justify your every move as a parent to everyone you encounter. But then who will raise your child?
RachelBlackett RachelBlackett 5 years
I did the CIO method and it was the best thing I could have done. It was in my control, I checked on her every 10-15 mins to make sure she didn't need burping, changing etc, gave her a soothing cuddle then put her back down and would get her up again after 45 mins and try again in a hours time. I learnt what each cry meant very quickly so knew when she needed attention or if she just wanted attention. And I also had a camera baby mointor so I could watch her closely. By 20 weeks she was sleeping 8-10 hours and have good naps during the day and was a very content little girl. Was hard work but I am very glad I did it
karenpadgett karenpadgett 5 years
To each his own. I opted for sleep so I could be a rested, happy, alert mom during the day when people are supposed to be awake. Babies are easily trained if the parent believes in what they are doing.
TheresaSchlacterKelly TheresaSchlacterKelly 5 years
I didn't use the CIO method because I decided (just for myself, ladies you do whatever is best for you and your family) that if I did the same thing during the day it would be considered neglect.
ErinWojcicki ErinWojcicki 5 years
GREAT article! I have never used CIO metthods and I never plan to. I have 3 children and we are thinking/talking about maybe having a 4th. I could not bear to hear my child cry for no reason other than trying to make him sleep, and not being there to comfort him. I love that my children know that if they need me, I am there for them... and I love rocking my babies to sleep and co-sleeping with them when they are little. My 2 older children are 8 and 4 and they have no problems going to sleep on there own... they did not become dependent on my sleeping with them or putting them to sleep. I really love this article and agree with it 100% that you need to do what works best for you and your family. :-)
CharleneMattson CharleneMattson 5 years
My son responded really well to CIO methods. *shrug* It was well controlled though as other parents have pointed out; we didn't let him scream for hours or anything! The first few nights were rough, but it got better and now he (usually) sleeps just fine unless he has a nightmare or he's stalling!
GabrielleIrwin GabrielleIrwin 5 years
I have 2 children. my son is almost 3 and my daughter is almost 1. When she wakes up at night I don't let her cry it out because she will end up waking my son up. (It's happened before)
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