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My 4-month-old has a set bedtime routine and will generally go happily to sleep - but occasionally (for no particular reason) he'll work himself up into a fit and cry for long periods of time, refusing to go to sleep. He can keep it up for quite a while.

My husband believes that we should just let him cry it out. I feel that you can't let such a small baby cry indefinitely without at least coming into the room periodically, although when he asks for a reason I find it hard to put my finger on why. I generally go into the room every few minutes, stand there for half a minute, and then leave, without talking or touching him - just as a sort of "I'm here" statement. Of course, when I do this he cries harder. (I think it makes him calm down faster in the long run, but my husband doesn't agree and I can't prove it :) )

Is it okay to just let a 4-month-old (or even an older baby) cry? Why or why not? Is it something terrible, like I seem to think, or does it make no lasting difference to the baby (besides teaching him to sleep :) ), like my husband claims?

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Go with your gut. There's dozen's of theories of cry vs. coddle. But in the end, you're the mom. You gotta go with your gut. –  DA01 Sep 6 '11 at 21:35
    
My husband and I have had the same discussion (about whether or not to check on my baby while she cries), and I've actually come to agree with him. I also notice she cries louder when I go in, and I think she calms down faster when she doesn't see me. –  Sarato Sep 7 '11 at 0:43
    
A legitimate issue to consider is gas pain. More than a few times with my kids they would not settle down because of that. –  Bryce Sep 25 at 23:14

8 Answers 8

Check out this article and its sources, the combination has a lot of depth. I'll summarize some of the high points.


The excessive stress from crying it out reduces long term coping skills for stress. The article I link can lead to a fear of being alone, separation anxiety, panic attacks and addictions as well as a 10 times greater chance of the child having ADHD according to Harvard research.


This direct quote from my linked source is too sad to edit. You need to consider that even if crying it our does work, why is your baby not crying any more? You haven't fixed whatever upset them.

Researchers have shown that although leaving a baby to cry it out does often lead to the cries eventually stopping, the cries do not stop because the child is content or the problem has been alleviated. Rather, they stop because the baby has given up hope that a caregiver will respond and provide comfort. This results in a detached baby. Detached children are less responsive, appear to be depressed or “not there” and often lack empathy.


Please read this article and don't let your little one cry it out. An infant is too young to understand that you're trying to make them more independent; they really do need you at this age. One of your most basic duties as a parent is to attend to the psychological and emotional needs of your child, if you are unwilling to do this, you should find another home for the baby.

I'm not trying to be harsh or judgmental. But the question of whether or not allow a baby under, say, one year to cry without comfort is not a debatable one. When they're older, more secure, and have the language skills to understand what you're doing, that's a different story and there is certainly room for disagreement. But it is ignorance at best and simple, uncaring laziness at worst to think that denying an infant comfort will do anything but harm them.

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I realize this will likely get quite a few downvotes. But doing this to a little baby is child abuse. While I wouldn't advocate doing it to older children either, I certainly can respect a difference of opinion there. I'm not dogmatic, but before you disagree, try to justify doing this to a pre-verbal child. –  William Grobman Sep 7 '11 at 6:07
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I think if a parent is really hard on this and never attends to the crying baby, trauma sounds likely. On the other hand, always and immediately attending may also cause problems, although different ones. The balance point between those two extreme points is what each (set of) parent must decide for themselves. –  Torben Gundtofte-Bruun Sep 7 '11 at 7:11
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-1 For quoting a source that deliberately distorts opposing viewpoints in an attempt to sensationalize the issue. The different methods of techniques are variously lumped together as "Cry it out", and falsely described as "ignoring your baby". The Ferber method is specifically mentioned, yet no part of the Ferber method actually indicates that a child should ever be ignored. There's a big difference between "go in and comfort the child without picking them up, in gradually increasing intervals until you are waiting 15 minutes between visits" and "ignore the kid until they fall asleep". –  Beofett Sep 7 '11 at 12:17
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@Beofett, I may have come off a bit strong too. It's really that this baby is 4 months old that got me going. That's far too young to let them CIO. The reason Ferber is fine is that you're letting the little one know you're there for them; they won't feel abandoned/neglected. –  William Grobman Sep 7 '11 at 19:58
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Sorry, but raising kids IS easy, almost everyone does it on Earth. It is not like doing math or studying laws, it is much closer to cooking: a task that some people in the spoiled "first-world" can think is very hard and that one must read a ton of "helping" books about it. But in fact it is a task that most normal (i.e. unspoiled) people will handle just fine, following common sense, their own feelings of love for their offspring, and some parts of their traditions. In my culture (French), it is not only OK but good practice to let kids cry for a reasonable amount of time. –  Guillaume Feb 6 '12 at 3:11

I'm not a parent, but I think you should just sleep next to your child while it is a baby until it is old enough that it doesn't cry anymore when left alone. I'm sure that is what happened for most of humanities existence, not to mention other mammals currently. So children are probably evolutionarily conditioned to not wake up in the middle of the night and be alone. If that did happen, it probably would have some benefit to find mom or dad if it was to survive. Only recently have we had this idea of separating them into a crib in a distant room. So if you notice they stop crying once you cuddle them, isn't that clue for you.

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Welcome to the site! Sorry, but you're not answering the question. This isn't about where the child and parents sleep, but about whether crying should be cared for. Your answer is referring to co-sleeping, which is discussed here. –  Torben Gundtofte-Bruun Sep 7 '11 at 9:53
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Yes, and I think you will not benefit from either of those approaches because they are unnatural in nature for the overwhelming majority of mammals evolutionary history. Either you attend to their crying - crying because you are not there - and give them swings of ups and downs throughout the night. Or, you let them cry it out and that leads to however evolution affects a child / prepares a child's psychology for that type of world. Thanks for the vote friend. –  Shane Sep 7 '11 at 10:01
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Clearly not a parent –  jamesTheProgrammer Jan 11 '12 at 14:03

This is a recurring question. I found good advices in the Baby Owner's Manual. The author explains that babies have some growth period during which they are more likely to cry. When babies cry, ensure they are not hungry and that their diapers is ok. Then you can certainly let them cry for a while (within limits, a baby crying for 3 days full time may have another problem).

The book gives a useful trick: the 5-10-20 rule. You let cry 5 mn, then 10 mn, then 20 mn.

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5-10-20-then what? –  capdragon Jan 19 '12 at 2:41

There's a lot of (very strong!) difference of opinion on this subject. There are people who advocate for always comforting a child who is crying, and there are those who feel that it is okay to leave you children for varying lengths of time before responding.

The former group tend to support the idea that not responding to a crying baby may lead to the baby becoming unnecessarily stressed, with the possible consequences of teaching the infant that their attempts at communication (crying) are ineffective, with potentially far-reaching consequences to the child's development.

The later group tends to support the idea that crying at bed time is a problem caused by the child not being able to self-soothe, and while infants will eventually learn how to self-soothe on their own, there are techniques that may help them learn faster. There are a number of divergent methods on how this is best accomplished, and one of the more popular ideas is the Ferber Method. The basic premise of the Ferber method is to put your baby down for bed while the baby is still awake, and alternate soothing the child (without picking up the child or feeding them) with gradually increasing periods of leaving the child to try and fall asleep.

To quote Dr. Ferber:

"Simply leaving a child in a crib to cry for long periods alone until he falls sleep, no matter how long it takes, is not an approach I approve of. On the contrary, many of the approaches I recommend are designed specifically to avoid unnecessary crying."

It is worth noting that the various cry it out methods are generally targeted for children who have reached a certain age. While I have seen claims that the Ferber method and other similar methods can be used as young as 4 months, most people seem to advocate waiting until at least 6 months.

My wife and I used the Ferber method on our son when he was 6 months old, and within 2 days he was falling asleep on his own without crying. We started by waiting 1 minute before coming in to soothe him, and gradually worked up to 10 minutes in between visits (the first night; we never got past 8 minutes the second night before he simply fell asleep).

Not all children will respond as well as our son did, and some children simply do not respond at all to this method. This is why it is important that you should consider your child's temperament before deciding whether you want to try to teach your child to self-soothe, or continue to respond when they cry and let them learn to self-soothe on their own. I believe either method is viable, depending upon the temperament of the individual child. I think most children will be fine with either system, but some children will likely be strongly predisposed to respond more to one, and far less to the other.

Also to be considered is your own comfort level. If your child crying for 10 minutes at a time causes you undue stress, then you may be better off avoiding the Ferber method and those similar. Remember: you need to be as free from stress as is reasonably possible, too!

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Yes, you can let a baby cry it out. If you want to send the message that you are there it is probably better to sit in the room reading a book, the child will see you but you won't be reinforcing the crying. This may be hard as you will be sitting there watching your child cry.

However, if your baby is only doing it some of the time, try change a diaper and change the pajamas. (try to notice if it is always the same clothes when the baby cries).

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Two schools of thought, one desired outcome. Toddlers have basic needs (Food/Drink, Clean Diaper, Safe Environment, Consistency). If you have taken care of his/her's basic needs then the goal should be that the child learns to be content and to fall asleep. At that point, wait 10 min and let the baby cry, if crying persists go into the room make sure the baby has not somehow hurt themselves, their diaper is clean etc, but do not pick them up, do not get angry, and do not linger in the room. Next extend the waiting time to 20 min, then 30min etc. You and spouse must be consistent. When the toddler learns the fit is futile, yet you have met their basic needs they will begin to learn the basics of contentment.

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I think its fine to let the child cry, and its fine to pick the child up. It's really the parents choice. As long as the child is safe, there is no harm in letting them tire themselves out by crying. If they cry for awhile, go in periodically, rub their back, reassure them and then leave again. If you are consistent in this approach, they will soon be putting themselves to sleep.

Our first child, my daughter, I danced her to sleep almost every night, while my boys that followed were put down awake. I do not see any developmental or psychological differences from the two approaches.

If you as a parent can't stand listening to your child cry, then rock them to sleep, before you know it, they will be grown and you will miss the days when you rocked them to sleep.

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My 4 month old baby does this too. We have a great bedtime routine that she responds to well and will fall asleep peacefully almost every night. Some nights, however, she cries and gets all worked up. I've noticed it tends to correspond with her being gassy, but not always. I find that picking her up only makes the situation worse. Initially I respond quickly so she doesn't start raging. I plug her soother back in and stroke her head which often does the trick, but not always. If this doesn't work I will go back to her when she's fussing very quickly about 3 more times and repeat plugging her back in and stroking her hair without saying anything. After the 3rd time I will plug her in and stroke her hair and then sing her favourite song Twinkle Twinkle Little Star. She LOVES this song and it tends to work.

If she continues to fuss I will leave her for 5 minutes and then 10 minutes. After that, I figure she is clearly not tired. So I pick her up and bring her into the family room and just lie her on the couch with her diaper half off (she loves this). Usually she will get super tired and so I do my nap routine (shh shh and swaying) until she falls asleep and then plunk her in her crib.

It happens so rarely that I figure there is no point in making her cry it out. Clearly she's just not tired enough, is gassy, or is otherwise uncomfy. If she cried every night I might try a different tactic.

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