How Long Is Too Long When It Comes To Crying
Whether you follow a full extinction or graduated extinction CIO plan, there gets to be a point where you might wonder: How long should I let my baby cry? Unfortunately, theres really no single answer to this question.
Nicole Johnson, sleep expert and author of popular blog the Baby Sleep Site, says that parents should have a clear plan before starting.
The goal of CIO is to have a baby fall asleep without sleep associations, like being rocked by mom or dad. So, its tricky, since going in to check on baby might involve rocking or other sleep associations.
Johnson says that parents need to decide together whats too long. Instead of waiting for what feels too long in the moment, try to work out the details ahead of time.
And she also says to be aware of situations where a babys long spells of crying may actually signal that the baby needs help .
Can You Spoil A Newborn By Holding Them Too Much
You cant spoil a baby. Contrary to popular myth, its impossible for parents to hold or respond to a baby too much, child development experts say. Infants need constant attention to give them the foundation to grow emotionally, physically and intellectually.
Sleepless Nights Can Be Hard On New Parents But There Are Simple Strategies To Help Your Infant Sleep Longer
For most new parents, sleep deprivation is a rite of passage. At times it may seem like your newborn isnt sleeping at all. In reality, many babies actually require up to 19 hours of sleep each day. The problem is, they tend to slumber only in short one- to two-hour spurts and often decide to be awake in the wee hours of the night, when youre desperate for some shut-eye.
But dont despair. There is some good news: Most babies settle into a predictable sleep schedule eventually, says Alison Niebanck, MD, assistant professor of pediatrics at the Mercer University School of Medicine and program director of the pediatric residency program atâ¯Memorial Healthâ¯in Savannah, Georgia. And with a little strategizing, you can get there faster. Heres how.
Go with the flow early on Babies younger than 4 months old dont have the ability to self-sootheto calm themselves down when left alone in their cribs. The main point for little babies is to hold and love them, and then gently put them down when they are asleep, says Dr. Niebanck. For that reason, she says, you shouldnt just walk away and let infants this age cry it out.
If, on the other hand, youre tempted to take your baby into bed with you, expert advice is simple: Dont do it.
You can capture some of the benefits of swaddlingwhile reducing the potential risksby using a sleep sack, which partially envelops the baby but allows her hips and arms to remain free, Niebanck advises.
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Is It Ok To Let A Newborn Cry
Just to get it out of the way, newborns under the age of six months should not be let to cry themselves to sleep. There are different reasons for that:
- Your newborn baby may be hungry or feeling ill. Newborns eat quite often so there is a big chance they just need to be fed when crying.
- It is actually pointless. They are far too young to respond to any behavioural training of any sort.
New Study Says That Its Okay To Let Babies Cry At Night
- By Claire McCarthy, MD, Senior Faculty Editor, Harvard Health Publishing
ARCHIVED CONTENT: As a service to our readers, Harvard Health Publishing provides access to our library of archived content. Please note the date each article was posted or last reviewed. No content on this site, regardless of date, should ever be used as a substitute for direct medical advice from your doctor or other qualified clinician.
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When my eldest was a baby, I remember feeling so torn when she cried during the night. Our pediatrician and my mother both said that it was okay to let her cry for a while and let her learn to go back to sleep. But as I listened to her cry, I wondered: Will this make her too stressed? Will it damage her emotionally? Will it ruin our relationship?
The answer to all of those questions, according to a new study published in the journal Pediatrics, is no. Not only that, if Id done it , my daughter and I might have gotten a bunch more sleep.
To measure the effects on the babies, the researchers did something interesting: they measured the level of cortisol, a stress hormone, in the babies saliva. They also asked the mothers about their levels of stress. Twelve months later, they looked for any emotional or behavioral problems in the babies, and they also did testing to see how attached the babies were to their mothers.
We can get sleep and still have well-adjusted kids who love us. How great is that?
Your baby will be fine.
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How Long Should You Let A Baby Cry
For babies past the newborn stage, there is still much debate on how long you should let them cry. This is a tricky question because it lacks the information of whether or not you know the reason why your baby is crying.
If she is hungry, then the answer is clear. You should feed her.
But many times, the baby will cry because she misses proximity and wants to feel warm and safe. That is where the intense debate lies.
Some experts claim that you can indeed let the baby cry up to 10 minutes by herself so she can learn to self soothe.
Parents Who Opt For Crying It Out Say Its Fast And Effective
After extensive research into crying it out and parent surveys, cry it out is the fastest way to sleep train your baby.
With crying it out, your baby can be fully sleep trained in as little as just a few days. On average, it takes a week. Most other methods take at least a few weeks to see improvement and a month to see more lasting results.
So comparatively, its faster and more efficient. And if thats what you need? Thats just fine. Go for it.
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Letting Your Child Cry It Out At Naptime Is Totally Different Than Bedtime
In my research and experience, sleep training during the night and doing so for naps? Its two completely separate events.
So if youre nap training your child with a version of cry it out, its okay to have a completely different set of rules especially for how long you let them cry.
For us, we found that letting our children cry for an hour at naptime had zero effect except to leave us all frazzled and exhausted. Instead, I had to implement a 10-minute max to the crying time. After 10 minutes, a crying baby was gotten up and wed try the nap again later.
Ive talked to other parents who were able to get a crying child to nap even after a longer period of crying.
In other words, theres still no time limit as to how long your child can cry it out at naptimes. Just remember that its different than bedtime and thats okay.
When Should You Stop Dream Feeding
If dream feeding is working for you and your baby, you can do it for as long as you wish. Theres no harm in slipping in an extra feeding time for your baby, and its especially wonderful if it affords you a longer stretch of uninterrupted sleep. Its really a win-win situation.
However, babies are always changing and by 4 to 6 months, many babies can sleep more than 3 to 4 hours at a time without feeding. At this point, its worth skipping that dream feed and seeing if your baby will naturally sleep a longer stretch without any intervention.
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What Does The Evidence Say
Babies usually begin to understand the 24 hour rhythm of day and night at around three months. At this point, their sleeps get longer but some little ones still wake and cry several times each night for months .
Young babies, in particular, might be waking up because they need to feed, not because they are unable to self-soothe. Many experts agree that young babies need the help of their parents or another adult to settle them .
The evidence is mixed on the use of sleep training. One review looked at 52 studies and found that most were effective at improving an infant’s sleep . Studies also suggest sleep training can improve how a parent feels .
There is little research that looks at the effects of sleep training on babies beyond the effect on their sleep though and whether there are any potential long-term effects .
If They’ve Been Crying For Longer Than Usual
If you are letting your baby “cry it out,” it’s important that you pay attention to the time. It’s not good for a baby if you just plop them down in their crib and let them cry for too long a period. They’ll feel abandoned, and possibly scared. If your baby usually calms down after a few minutes, but suddenly they show no signs of silencing their cries, you may want to check on them so that they know you’re still there for them.
In his book, Dr. Ferber says, “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.”The Ferber method recommends periodically checking in on your baby, rather than just abandoning them. So if the cries are lasting longer than usual, it’s time to bend a little.
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Sign #: Lots Of Crying Leads To Increased Straining And A Full Diaper
- Why its an issue: More changes to your babys physical status quo mean things need immediate attention.
- What to do next: Go change that diaper and hug your baby. The odds of another full diaper are low, so resuming or delaying letting the baby cry more is up to you.
Example: My boys were amazing at finding ways to get their arms and legs stuck in their crib during crying it out. When they got stuck, their cry changed and wed check on them. We quickly discovered that preventing more stuck limbs was crucial to their safety and ability to cry it out.
Not All Cries Require Immediate Attention
Not all cries are created equally. Some cries may need to be attended to immediately, while others can wait.
Learning which cries need immediate attention and which can wait takes practice and experience, as well as an intimate knowledge of your childrens particular cries.
Then once youve got several children, youre going to have to prioritize the cries and get to them as youre able to.
Example: When one child is crying because theyre hungry and another child is also crying because theyre hurt, Im going to help my hurt child first. The hungry kiddo can wait five minutes.
Furthermore, sometimes its okay to delay responding to a cry if you absolutely need a break. Its far better to endure a crying baby for a few minutes than to lose your temper, your mind, or both.
As a pediatric emergency department nurse, I saw scenarios far too often where frustrated and exhausted parents didnt take a break with heartbreaking consequences.
If you need a break, please put the baby down and walk away. Calm down, get help, and remember that not every cry requires immediate attention.
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Are There Any Alternatives
There are different methods of sleep training which might be gentler for babies . These include encouraging thumb-sucking or dummy-sucking, pretending to sleep in the room, or having more physical interaction from stroking or hand-on-chest contact through to co-sleeping .
For more information about these methods and others, have a look at our articles about sleep.
Note On Basic Assumptions
When I write about human nature, I use the 99% of human genus history as a baseline. That is the context of small-band hunter-gatherers. These are immediate-return societies with few possessions who migrate and forage. They have no hierarchy or coercion and value generosity and sharing. They exhibit both high autonomy and high commitment to the group. They have high social well-being. See a comparison between dominant Western culture and this evolved heritage in my article :
Narvaez, D. . The 99 PercentDevelopment and socialization within an evolutionary context: Growing up to become A good and useful human being. In D. Fry , War, Peace and Human Nature: The convergence of Evolutionary and Cultural Views . New York: Oxford University Press.
When I write about parenting, I assume the importance of the evolved developmental niche for raising human infants .
The EDN is the baseline I use for determining what fosters optimal human health, wellbeing and compassionate morality. The niche includes at least the following: infant-initiated breastfeeding for several years, nearly constant touch early, responsiveness to needs so the young child does not get distressed, playful companionship with multi-aged playmates, multiple adult caregivers, positive social support, and soothing perinatal experiences.
My research laboratory has documented the importance of the EDN for child wellbeing and moral development with more papers in the works see :
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Evaluate Your Own Emotional State
When your baby cries for hours on end, it is natural to feel responsible. Often, though, blaming yourself can get in the way of your ability to be calm, present, and responsive to your baby. The relationship with your baby is a partnership, so your emotions will make a difference to how your baby reacts. If you are feeling overwhelmed, depressed, angry, anxious, or detached, your baby may have trouble calming down.
Start With Letting Your Child Cry For Short Periods Of Time When Going To Sleep And Then Slowly Increase The Increments
For parents who are interested in using the “cry-it-out” method for babies over three months of age, Klein recommends starting off with 10-minute intervals.
“Babies can get upset, but you start off with 10 minutes at a time, you might decide to go in and check on the baby by putting your hand on the baby and assuring the child that they are OK. You’ve got to make it quick, though, and walk right out,” she said.
She adds, “I would say a parent should wait as long as the parent can tolerate waiting.”
Similarly, in the middle of the night, Klein said it’s OK to let a baby who is fussing put themselves back to sleep. Klein said infants who are six months or older are capable of sleeping through the night. Although, if an infant is fussing, they may just need a little guidance from their parents’ mom and dad.
“What I would tell parents is whatever you’re doing right now, let the baby cry for five minutes and that’s it,” she said. “Now, try to lengthen it until 10 minutes just double it. By doing that, you feel OK about going back in if you need to, but you have to make it quick.”