Letting a Baby Cry to Sleep: Yes or No?

I know this is quite a controversial issue, and I am by no means an expert on this topic. I thought I’d just share my thoughts and experience on this. I respect other opinions and hope my view will be respected.

Maria 11 weeks!

Maria 11 weeks!

As those who have been reading my “Life With My Baby” updates know, sleep has been quite an issue ever since Maria was born. Soon following her birth she started sleeping in her bassinet at night, but during the day it has always been more of a problem. And even at night it would sometimes take us hours to get her to sleep (and stay asleep!).

When Maria was six weeks old, I even wrote the following on my blog:

One thing I brought up was that she rarely accepts to sleep in her bassinet during the day and wants to be held most of the time. The nurse replied, saying something about how manipulative babies can be and how Maria knows that we will take her if she starts crying. Her advice was to keep her in the bassinet and not take her straight away if she cries.

This went totally against my (and Ahmeds) instincts and so we didn’t follow her advice. How could a baby, who is just discovering that her hands and feet actually belong to her, be manipulative?! For her, crying is just the only way to communicate that she is not happy, whether she feels hungry, cold, hot, in need of a cuddle, or unsafe.

Maria 11 weeks-3

Recently, however, Maria would not only start crying as soon as we put her down in her bassinet; she also started screaming as soon as I put her in the sling. Nothing seemed to help her fall asleep, and the result was a weepy baby, a frustrated mother and a surprisingly zen father (who claims to be Mr. Impatient himself but turned out to be much more patient than I am).

Then, a few days ago, I was talking to a pregnant friend of mine. She remarked that when her little baby is as old as Maria now she would have to go back to work, and her baby would go to the daycare.

At that moment, something clicked: If I had to go back to work and Maria were to go to the daycare, they wouldn’t spend hours trying to rock her to sleep or carry her around in a sling. What do they do with babies who don’t settle?

Maria 11 weeks-6

Say cheese, Maria!

Lucky me, my mom works in a daycare center and I decided to ask her. I know we had discussed this before, but in that time I thought Maria was too young and not ready yet to sleep alone. After all, she was quiet as soon as I put her in the sling. Since the sling was now not the panacea it had been I was open to try different things.

My mom told me they would give babies a dummy (which we don’t use), swaddle them (which I stopped doing as Maria didn’t like to be swaddled) and put them down. If the baby is crying they watch the clock and wait 10 minutes before checking on him/her again.

I decided to resume the swaddling and try the crying out for 10 minutes method. I made sure to really check the clock, because when your baby is crying two minutes already feel like an eternity. Yesterday, we tried this method and, surprisingly, it worked! In the morning, I waited 8 long minutes hearing Maria cry and sob and breaking my heart. I told myself I would brush my teeth (which takes about 2 minutes I figured) and then try to soothe her. When I was done brushing the house was quiet. Carefully, I approached the bassinet and saw… a peaceful girl, deeply asleep! Yesterday afternoon: the same story after only 4 or 5 minutes of crying.

Maria 11 weeks-2

Another thing we introduced is an evening routine before Maria goes to sleep. We now give her some diaper off time around 8:30-8:40 (the girl loves being without diaper). At 9 p.m., we give her a bath (not every night though) and I massage her while playing soothing baby music. I then put on her PJs, take her to the bedroom, feed her and sing a few lullabies. Lastly, I swaddle her and put her to bed.

The first evening this didn’t work, and we spent two hours trying to get her fall asleep (but this was before we tried the 10-minutes-crying thing). The second it worked like a charm: not only did she fall asleep, she did so without any crying at all! Last night it worked as well. Fingers crossed it will keep working (though I am expecting the notorious three-month sleep regression to arrive at any time…).

Maria 11 weeks-4

So, while I fiercely opposed the “crying it out” method (and many “experts” advise parents to wait until your baby is four to six months old before you try this) I have to carefully admit it might be a solution in our case. And although it really breaks my heart to let my baby cry – even if just for a few minutes – I know that taking her up and trying to soothe her doesn’t work either. She wouldn’t fall asleep, and the result is a very fuzzy baby who is struggling and seemingly fighting to go to sleep. I had no problem carrying her around in the sling whenever she couldn’t sleep in her bassinet, but given that that was not an option anymore (unless we went outside for a walk, but she would wake up as soon as we’d step foot in our apartment) we had to find another way to make her sleep.

If someone wants to try this 10-minute method, I do advise you to really watch the clock. Ten minutes are an eternity when your baby is crying. If you don’t watch the clock you most likely “surrender” after a couple of minutes. I think it is worth trying. At least for us it was.

P.S. Please share your thoughts and/or experience with me!

19 thoughts on “Letting a Baby Cry to Sleep: Yes or No?

  1. Anonymous says:

    Thank you Selma for your post, of course I have no experience with crying babies, but I have observed like Pamela Druckerman who wrote ‘French Children don’t throw food’ the French method of ‘waiting’, which might confirm your findings. It was nicely described in this article by Michele Hanson in the guardian: http://www.theguardian.com/books/2012/jan/20/french-children-food-pamela-druckerman

    “When a French baby cries in the night the parents go in, pause, and observe for a few minutes. They know that babies’ sleep patterns include movements, noises and two-hour sleep cycles, in between which the baby might cry. Left alone it might “self-soothe” and go back to sleep. If you dash in like an Anglophone and immediately pick your baby up, you are training it to wake up properly. But if a French baby does wake up and cry properly on its own, it will be picked up. Result? French babies often sleep through the night from two months. Six months is considered very late indeed.”

    All the very best and I am sure you are doing a wonderful job at parenting!

    • Selma says:

      Thanks for sharing! I read the article in the Guardian and found it very interesting. I am even thinking to get it from the library. Sleeping remains an issue though, and mainly during the day. At night Maria hardly ever cries. She just wakes up for a feed and goes back to sleep. We are still figuring out the best way to get her to sleep during the day.

  2. Tessa says:

    Love your honesty in this column. Who said raising a child was easy. I hope I can use some of your experiences and tips in the nearby future. And I so agree, Maria is beautiful!

  3. Mercy McCulloch Hasselblad says:

    I don’t think the baby knows she’s manipulating you, ha ha. They don’t do it intentionally. All they know is that if they cry, they feel your arms around them and get your attention. It’s like what happens when dogs bark. They aren’t manipulating you to get you annoyed. They want your attention. All they know is that if they bark, that’s what they get. And when baby cries, she gets the person she loves most in the world: you. 🙂 I’m glad it’s working. 🙂

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