The “cry-it-out” method is a phrase whispered among horrified moms who cannot believe a fellow mother would actually allow her child to cry until he or she falls asleep. Many (not all) of these moms preach 24/7 attentiveness to a child’s needs.
I am not one of those moms. Don’t get me wrong – of course I want my children to be happy. But I also value my sleep (and my sanity, which goes hand in hand).
When my first child was four months old, he was waking 4-5 times a night crying. I’d go in and feed him, only to wake up an hour later to do the same thing. One night I got so frustrated that I moved him back to his bassinet next to our bed. Guess what happened? He slept seven hours straight. That told me something important. He wasn’t waking up because he was hungry. He was waking up because he hadn’t learned to self soothe and needed me nearby in order to fall back asleep.
Something had to change.
Ever the avid reader, I picked up a book by Dr. Richard Ferber called Solve Your Child’s Sleep Problems. I was desperate to find a solution and this seemed like a good place to start.
The book changed my life. It’s focused on how to structure your child’s day in a way that makes good sleep possible. Dr. Ferber goes into detail about sleep phases and naps vs. bedtime. He also introduces a concept called progressive waiting – which has been coined negatively “cry-it-out.”
The progressive waiting concept has gotten a bad rep. Many parents mistakenly think that Ferber recommends they leave their child in a dark room to cry until morning. Let me be clear: that is NOT what he recommends. The progressive waiting approach allows your child to cry for a specific period of time before you go in to console him or her. It’s controlled and gradual. For example, the first night you go in to check on your baby after 2 minutes (if he or she is still crying, which they absolutely will be on the first night). Then you increase the time until the next check to five minutes. If your child is still crying, you go in after five minutes to offer some comfort. Then you increase the time until the third check to 10 minutes. Intervals only increase three times a night. This means if your baby is still crying after the third check, you keep going in at 10 minute intervals until he or she falls asleep.
The progressive waiting approach lasts for one week (and can go longer if you don’t see improvement during the first week…though I can say from experience that there is significant improvement after two or three nights). On the second night, you start with five minute intervals and increase from there. And so on and so on.
What does checking on your baby entail? It’s a quick visit to let baby know you’re there. Ferber recommends that you refrain from picking up your child and that you simply lay your hand on his or her tummy and shush them, sing to them, talk to them quietly, etc. Whatever method of comfort you’d normally provide, short of actually picking up your child and rocking them. If you linger, or worse, rock baby to sleep, you’re only hindering your baby from learning to fall asleep on their own. THAT, my fellow moms, is the key to solving all your sleep problems. If your baby does not learn how to self soothe, then you can count on having to help him or her go to sleep for the foreseeable future. #aintnomomgottimeforthat
This may sound cruel, and if that’s the case, then the progressive waiting method isn’t for you. No method is perfect for every parent. That’s why it frustrates me when people shame other moms who have chosen to use Ferber’s method. Trust me – listening to your child cry and tracking time until the next interval is fun for no one. It takes a ton of self-control not to go up there and smother your baby with kisses. The first time I sleep trained my oldest, I ate an entire container of animal crackers in one sitting and cried because I thought I was the worst mom ever and was psychologically damaging my child (spoiler alert: I wasn’t and he’s fine).
But once the first two nights passed (the second night is usually the worst for some reason), something incredible happened. My son started putting himself to sleep. Bedtime was no longer a cry fest. I didn’t have to sit there watching him and praying he’d fall asleep. And now, two years later, he consistently sleeps 11 hours a night without waking.
I don’t say that to brag, by the way. It’s not like I was born with some miracle baby (is there even such a thing?). I had to train my son to sleep better. But it was worth it in the long run. It’s not selfish to want good sleep. Getting a solid night’s sleep makes me a better parent. Heck, it makes me a better person in general.
At the end of the day, we’re all just a bunch of moms trying to do the right thing. There is no perfect approach to helping your kids sleep better or getting them to eat anything green or stop sticking their hands in their poopy diaper (just me?). There’s no perfect approach because there’s no perfect parent.
Instead of shaming or judging one another, let’s come together, share support and offer tips and advice based on our own experiences. It takes a village to raise a child, and a big part of that village are other moms. If the village turns on one another, then the entire village will be destroyed. How you treat your fellow moms doesn’t just impact them – it impacts you too.
Let’s stop striving for perfection. Let’s measure ourselves by the support and love we offer other moms in our shoes.
Moms helping moms. A novel concept, isn’t it?
Did you sleep train your kids? What method did you use? Did you receive judgment from other moms? I’d love to hear your stories!