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What To Know About ‘Cry It Out’ Sleep Training

Sara Gaynes Levy

March 4, 20245 minutes

Have you heard the term “cry it out” in regards to helping your baby sleep through the night? The phrase refers to a method of sleep training -- a term that refers to teaching your baby to fall asleep on their own, whereas previously you might have rocked or fed them to sleep. When you’re practicing the method, you put your baby to bed and… let them cry until they fall asleep. 

To be sure, some kids will cry a lot. Some won’t! But you get where the term comes from. 

The “cry it out” method, also referred to as CIO, can sound intimidating — probably because it doesn’t sound fun — but there’s nuance to the term. 

“What ‘cry it out’ means to me is, making sure that all the child's needs are met in terms of being fed, changed, having their comfort objects, are safe, etc., but not responding to how the child is likely used to the parents responding to their cries,” explains Alanna McGinn, the founder of Good Night Sleep Site and a certified sleep consultant. If your baby is used to you helping them to sleep by rocking, feeding, or otherwise being present, and you stop, even in service of them learning to sleep by themselves, then there will probably be some tears.

A Tip From Hatch: Experts believe that infants might find white noise soothing because it mimics sounds they heard while in the womb. Read more about using sleep sounds such as the ones available on a Hatch Rest to help your baby fall asleep on their own.

There’s More Than One Way to ‘Cry It Out’

Within this idea of cry-it-out, though, there are different ways to execute. In the most common conception of the method, also known as “extinction,” you put your baby down in their crib and then don’t go back in the room at all, all night. Your baby will probably cry (a lot), but there’s a cost-benefit to consider here: “Yes, there is a lot of crying, but [the overall process] is quick,” explains McGinn. “It's the quickest method of sleep training.” 

McGinn says families who use the extinction/cry-it-out method usually see their baby sleeping independently in a few nights. (CIO is appropriate for babies who are at least 4-6 months old, adjusted if they were premature, and have doctor clearance.) 

CIO can be difficult for parents! It’s tough to listen to your baby cry it out when you’d like to comfort them. Cut yourself some slack in this process. Know that it’s not easy. Most importantly, McGinn says, it is not going to somehow damage the bond and love you have with your baby. 

In fact, McGinn used cry-it-out with all three of her kids! “I’ve been doing this for many years, and I’ve worked with thousands of families who have used cry-it-out,” she says. “They all live in attachment- and love-filled homes. Cry-it-out does not undo that.”

A Tip From Hatch: Use your Hatch Rest product to provide gentle sounds for your baby’s best sleep. Read more about how to safely use sleep sounds in your home.

Even with that reassurance, cry-it-out might sound hard. But here’s the thing: other methods of sleep training all have some amount of crying. Independent sleep may not be something that’s important to you and your family, and that’s fine (as long as it’s working for all of you and everyone’s sleep needs are met). But tears may be a part of almost all sleep-training methods, and that’s okay.  

“I don't personally believe that if we're talking about the actual, active sleep training, there is a no-cry method,” says McGinn. In other popular sleep training methods, like the much-lauded Ferber method, your baby simply “cries-it-out” for short, preset amounts of time, which you gradually lengthen over the course of the training. And just as with the extinction type of cry-it-out, there’s a tradeoff here too: There’s less crying, yes, but it takes longer — on average, more like one or two weeks, according to McGinn. 

These less cry-time methods can be psychologically easier on parents: They don’t feel like they are ignoring their baby’s cries, which can be really hard. If this approach feels like a better fit for your family, make that choice. “We’re constantly hearing: You must meet the needs of your child,” says McGinn. “But sleep is a need.” 

Have a Plan but Stay Flexible

The short-term tears really do lead to long-term gains. “It’s so important for our children to have consolidated, quality sleep. And at the end of the day, the most important thing is you have to choose the method and the approach that works best for the child,” says McGinn. “And it's not always the method and approach that the parents want to use.” Parents might want to go into their child’s room to do a check, she says, but that might end up confusing and stimulating them --ultimately prolonging sleep onset instead of quickening it. 

The most important thing before starting CIO is to have a plan. Do some research and set yourself up for success by instilling other good bedtime habits, and that should lessen the sleep training tears.

A Tip From Hatch: A simple sleep routine -- even a two-step routine of feeding and a lullaby from your Hatch Rest -- can help your baby recognize when it’s time to rest. 

“Chances are that if all rules are being followed (earlier bedtime, consistency, etc.) the child won’t cry for hours,” says McGinn. “But I will never tell a parent to not trust their gut and go in. If the parent feels that they need to go in and end the CIO they can try again next time. Consistency is key though!” 

The one exception? If your child is sick, she says, abandon ship on the sleep training. And if you’re struggling to come up with a good plan, you can always reach out to a sleep consultancy to get some professional guidance. 

However you choose to help your baby learn to fall asleep on their own, “what I think what I like to educate my parents on is that the method we choose is only one piece of the puzzle,” says McGinn. Cry-it-out could be that method. “But we also have to focus on a safe, consistent, and conducive sleep environment, an appropriate nap schedule, and an appropriate bedtime. So cry-it-out could be part of the sleep training process, but it's not the entire process.”

Sleep-Training Takeaways

  • “Cry-it-out” is a sleep-training method where you put your child in their crib at bedtime and try not to return until the morning.
  • It’s best to wait until at least age 4-6 months to try this method
  • Cry-it-out can be practiced in a love- and attachment-filled home, and it can result in consolidated sleep in just a few nights
  • It’s not a method for everyone, so make sure everyone in your family and your doctor are on board before trying.