Cry-it-out vs. nursing to sleep: the lowdown

I’m gonna give it to you straight: contrary to what every baby sleep book out there will tell you, there is no set rule or formula to get baby to sleep that will work with every baby, every time. Whether you’re a Ferber fan or anti-Cry-It-Out to the core, statistically, if you have enough babies, one of them will come along and prove you wrong. Given my luck, obviously it would be the first.

You might have noticed that I tend to be more of an attachment parent than a Ferber fan. When my doctor suggested putting Baby Diva down awake and letting her cry for 10 minutes before going in to see her, I smiled, nodded, and promptly forgot about it as soon as we were out the door. We had a bedtime ritual that worked – lights out, cuddle, rock and sing to Baby Diva while patting her bum, stop singing but keep rocking, then stop rocking but keep patting, then stop patting, then put her to bed – fast asleep. It usually didn’t take more than twenty minutes, and by 2 and a half months she was doing 8-hour stretches, waking at five to feed, then sleeping until 8am, aka – dream baby.

Then we got home from holiday with my family, and I don’t know if it was the relative lack of social stimulation or just the 4-month sleep regression come early, but she definitely regressed. Hard. As in, waking up every 2-3 hours, sometimes to feed, sometimes with what appeared to be colic (bit late for that, no?), sometimes for no other reason than she was awake and wanted to play right then.

Not only that, but she’d reject the lovely bedtime ritual that had worked so well up till then. As soon as we got into the darkened bedroom she would arch her back and wail. If I tried to rock her she would get even more annoyed, and singing made no difference whatsoever. We’d manage to get her to sleep only for her to awaken ten minutes later, and we’d have to start all over again until we went to bed ourselves, by which time she’d be exhausted enough to fall asleep for a couple of hours.

My partner, whose lack of knowledge and experience with children sometimes proves to be an advantage over the somewhat rigid values I’ve come to live by, decided one night to put her down instead of trying to soothe her in his arms.  And lo – it worked! Her crying grew less angry and more tired, and soon stopped. Since she was still awake, he sang to her while she was in her cot, then put the lovey over her eyes, and she fell asleep.

Grudgingly, I tried the same thing. It didn’t work quite as well. She cried in her cot, but if I tried to pick her up, she’d become furious. If I left the room, she’d also become furious. So I soothed and patted and sang to her while she cried in her cot. It took a while, but little by little, she calmed down enough to fall asleep.

A couple of weeks have passed since then. Her sleepy cries have turned into sleepy growls, which are a lot cuter. She clutches her pink elephant or pink rabbit or neko-chan kitty to her chest, which has the advantage of preventing her from spitting out the dodie (sometimes), and we put the lovey over her eyes, and she growls herself to sleep. The other night my partner went in to check on her while she was whining / growling, and she gave him the funniest “what are you doing here?” look, like he was disturbing her.

Sometimes she’s too excited, and I’ve lately started tweaking the bedtime ritual to include us lying on the big bed together and me kissing and stroking her face – which she loves as long as she’s not in my arms while it’s happening – until she stops crying and starts growling, at which point I can put her in her cot and sing her the lullaby, which at this point will calm her down further. Usually I leave her growling softly.

So, is this a point for crying it out, or for soothing baby to sleep? The answer is, neither. And here’s why: each and every baby is different, and every baby has not one, but an entire repertoire of different cries that each mean different things. It’s up to you to figure out what means what. I’m lucky in that my baby is pretty easy to read if I get my head out of my arse and pay attention – I later realised that when she was arching her back in my arms, she was actually turning to look longingly at the cot as she wailed.

But how can you know what your baby needs? Babies aren’t always easy to read. So I was looking around on the Internetz today and found a few interesting articles on baby sleep types, which make a lot of sense:

The theory is that there are two main types of baby: tension decreasers, for whom crying it out not only works, but is probably a lot easier than trying to soothe them to sleep in your arms; and tension increasers, for whom crying is horribly stressful and who may end up traumatised if you try to use the Ferber method on them.

And then there are babies in between, like mine, who need to be put down and let cry, but not too much, and not all the time. And I get it: I’m the kind of person who cries for the stupidest reasons, and people will look at me in horror thinking something is terribly wrong, and it’s hard to explain that if they just let me cry I’ll feel better in five minutes and it’ll all work out great.

Unless I’m particularly anxiety-prone that day, in which case it’s best to stop the crying ASAP before it turns into a panic attack.

I, too, am a weird mix of the two.

So what’s the point of this post? The point is that I used to be very attachment parent-y, and now I’m becoming less so because my kid is too independant and doesn’t like being babyworn all the time, or soothed to sleep in my arms at night. That I’m not swinging in the opposite direction either because when she wakes up after a nightmare, her cries are very different to the sleepy-cry and if we let her cry that out, it’ll just escalate into panicky screaming.

What I’m trying to say, to the Internet in general, is: Stop Being So Judgy. Your babies may all be champion self-soothers, or on the contrary need a lot of contact, but this is not the case for all babies. I don’t care if you have ten kids and they’re all the same, you still have no right to tell a first-time parent that the method they’ve been using that has worked like a dream because they listened to their child and responded to his needs rather than society’s contradicting advice, is wrong. If it works, it works, and if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.


7 thoughts on “Cry-it-out vs. nursing to sleep: the lowdown

  1. Both my boys were put down if I knew they were fed nappy changed and no pains and let them cry themselves to sleep. Only took one time of doing it and they boy have always gone to sleep bathe selves as soon as you put them down. I’m def for letting the, cry it out makes it so much easier in the long run if you nurse them once they want it every time you are putting more pressure on yourself. Everyone is each to there own tho.


    • Letting them cry it out doors closed goes against everything I’ve learned in my child development classes, but we were taught to put them down awake, soothe them in their beds and check every five minutes without picking them up. With the kids I used to mind it worked with some better than others, but then I didn’t have them during the night as well. With my kid I’ve found that she rarely cries properly, so if she does it means something is definitely wrong and she won’t calm down unless we deal with it. I’ve definitely met kids who occasionally need to rage on their own for five minutes before managing to calm down, though, and there’s no way I could stand letting her cry long enough to exhaust herself to sleep.


  2. Pingback: Exhaustion | Pickles & Muffins

  3. Pingback: Parenting 101: DO NOT FUCK WITH YOUR CHILD’S SLEEP SCHEDULE | Pickles & Muffins

  4. I’m a new mother, and also new to reading blogs, but can anyone explain to me how to read an article at the site? It takes me to square space every time which looks like I have to create my own website for a price??? Thanks in advance!


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