The ultimate guide to how to do cry it out sleep training. Follow this for a step-by-step guide on using cry it out to get baby sleeping well.
While this blog has several posts with CIO (Cry It Out) information on it, none is more popular than this one. I wrote this when Kaitlyn was around 4 months old. So here it is revised and updated! This is a parent bootcamp to get the parent to know what to do and not do during CIO.
CIO Bootcamp was derived when I had written a couple of posts to a BW Yahoo group on CIO (Cry It Out).
- CRY IT OUT DEFINITION
- CRY IT OUT GOAL
- CIO EXPECTATIONS
- Great Sleep Training Books
- BASIC RULES FOR CIO
- CRY IT OUT SLEEP TRAINING TIPS
- CIO and WITCHING HOUR
- CIO SYNOPSIS
- Frequently Asked Sleep Training Questions
- Sleep Training Tips and Info
- Sleep Training According to Babywise (Baby Wise)
- Gentle Sleep Training: The Four S's
- The Big List of Sleep Training Resources
- 6 Rules for Using Cry it Out as a Baby Sleep Training Method
- How to Sleep Train Your Baby Responsibly
- Everything You Need to Know About Cry It Out
- The Best Baby Sleep Training Books to Get Baby Sleeping
- Cry It Out Sleep Training Tips
- 5 Important Sleep Training Tips for Baby Sleep
- What Are the Benefits of Sleep Training?
- How to Use the Extinction Method for Sleep Training
- 5 Reasons to Establish Good Sleep Habits
- OTHER HELPFUL POSTS
CRY IT OUT DEFINITION
The definition of CIO ranges from person to person. For some, it means putting baby in bed and walking away never to return until A)baby has slept and/or B)naptime is over. That isn’t my definition. For clarificaiton purposes, let me talk about what my definition of CIO is.
For me, CIO is a method used to help your baby learn to fall asleep. I don’t think it is a process you can use a formula with. You can’t use langauge like “never” or “always.” There will often be times when you need to break rules. You are using this process to help your child learn to sleep on their own, and the exact steps you take will vary from child to child.
CRY IT OUT GOAL
Your goal with CIO is for your child to learn to sleep on her own.
It is SO HARD to listen to your baby cry. It put me in tears so many times with my first and the second time around was easier because I knew the benefits, but I still had my days of tears. And you know what? It really wasn’t easy for me the third time, either. My third child only had a couple of naps where she cried herself to sleep, but it still was very hard for me.
Don’t confuse hard with wrong. There are a lot of things in life we have to do that are hard that bring about great benefits. We have to work out to be in shape. If we want to get in shape, it will take hard work. To make a nice meal takes work. To have a clean house takes work. To be pregnant and labor to deliver a child is hard and takes work. The best things in life are hard to come by!
You will think back to this time and remember how hard it was but realize how beneficial it was! You will also think the process wasn’t that long after all and the benefits were worth the heartache. That is easier said on the happy side of things than at the beginning of the process, I know. But it doesn’t make it less true.
Things are easier to deal with if you have a better idea of what to expect.
- It is hard. Listening to your baby cry is hard. Know that the difficulties you will experience are normal–especially if you start after you have soothed them for some time. Babywise says some crying is normal, but I don’t think they really give an honest picture of what to expect. It is harder than they make it seem.
- It will improve. Know that if you stick with it, it will get better over time.
- It can be a roller coaster. You will have difficult days interspersed with the good days for some time. Kaitlyn would have days with no crying, then a day where she cried at least thirty minutes for every nap when I did nothing differently. But as time went on, the hard days got fewer and farther between and eventually were a thing of the past.
- It can be a roller coaster. I know I said it. I need to say it again. Expect things to get better, then to get bad again, then better, then bad. You will have dream days. Then you will have days that make you wonder what on earth you are doing and will reduce you to tears. But stick through it. This pattern is true of having a baby CIO at any age, from my observations.
Great Sleep Training Books
BASIC RULES FOR CIO
Like I said, you will sometimes need to break rules, but here are some basic ones to follow.
- Work Toward Your Goal. If you can think through things as to how they apply to your goal, you will make this a lot easier on yourself. You won’t have to second guess yourself and wonder if it is okay to do XYZ. Always keep your goal in mind: You want to teach your baby to sleep on her own. You don’t want to just make your baby cry.
- Be Consistent. If you are going to do CIO, I think you need to do CIO for every nap and for bedtime. With my first child, I first tried just at night, but that ended up making no sense. Why rock him sometimes and expect him to fall asleep on his own others? I think in the CIO case, it is best to do it all at once rather than trying to ease into it. All or nothing! I don’t think you should do CIO at all if you aren’t going to stick to it. If a baby knows they will be “rescued” at some point, they will cry until they are. Go big or go home, as the saying goes. If you know you can’t see it through, wait until you can.Of course, there will be times you will break this rule. Maybe you are at a friend’s house. Maybe your baby is sick or teething. Maybe he is overstimulated because you kept him up too long. These are examples of times you will rock your baby to sleep, put him in a swing, or do something else to help him fall asleep.
- Be Ready. This rule applies to both you and the baby. Mom needs to be ready for this, but so does baby. If baby has reflux or some other medical condition then wait until the pain is under control and not a factor. Don’t start if baby is sick or teething. See What Are The Benefits of Sleep Training?
- Be Home. Don’t start CIO while you are traveling or when you will be in and out for several weeks. You need to dedicate at least two weeks to staying home and getting this worked out.
- Be respectful. If you know you are putting baby down too late, don’t do it. The baby will just cry and never go to sleep and you will eventually get baby. That does not work toward meeting your goal. I wouldn’t put Kaitlyn down if I knew I had missed her window–I would put her in the swing. And at 7 months, if she had missed a nap and needed to sleep, I would often put her in the swing just because I think the more tired she was the harder it would be for her to fall asleep without difficulty. With McKenna, I never had to do things like that. She was skilled enough at falling asleep on her own she could always just go down without a fuss.
- Check…or Don’t. When doing CIO, I would check on Kaitlyn at some point if she hadn’t gone to sleep. Figure out your child’s reaction to your interference. Brayden wouldn’t ever go to sleep if I made my presence known after I put him down. And, if I ever got him out of bed after he had been crying, naps would be AWFUL for a long time afterward. He seemed to hate to sleep (he still does!). He would even fuss to go to sleep in a swing. That is when you know you have a hates-to-sleep-er.Kaitlyn, on the other hand, did well with my presence if she had been crying for a while. When she was younger, I would go in after 20 minutes. At 11 weeks I waited 30. I didn’t pick her up because that made it worse for her. I would pat her and tell her to go to sleep. Then she usually got really mad when I left but was asleep within 10 minutes.Now, this did not work for my son. If I ever checked on him, he would not go to sleep at all. For him it was better to be left alone. Once I left the room, I needed to leave him be. So, this is something else that you need to learn about your child.I have no idea what would have been best for McKenna becuase she never really did CIO.
- Set a Limit. Set a limit you can all deal with. If Kaitlyn had not gone to sleep after an hour, I moved her to the swing so she could get some sleep before the next feeding. This way we avoided getting overly sleepy and getting way ahead of schedule. For her, if she hadn’t fallen asleep at that point, she just wouldn’t.That worked for her, but for my son, that was asking for trouble. If I ever did that, he would cry double time for his next nap (and often for every nap for a couple of days) because he knew if he cried long enough he would get out of it. I don’t know if it was his personality or if it was because I started him at 9 weeks so he knew there were other options. I started my daughter CIO at one week, so to her this is just the way it was.
- Have a Back-Up Plan: Have a plan for if your child is overstimulated or just won’t fall asleep. When I wrote this post originally, I said I thought that a swing is a better alternative to you rocking or doing something to help–then the baby is still “alone” and not relying on you and knowing you are doing it for them.Then McKenna came along and hated the swing with a passion I have never seen. We literally just packed it up before she was 3 months old because she even hated it just to sit in. If she was woken early (usually by a noisy sibling), I would go rock her back to sleep and we didn’t have any long-term sleep problems.
- Keep Baby Awake. It is good to not let baby fall asleep (as best you can) while eating. If they do, they aren’t quite tired enough to fall asleep when it comes time for nap.
- Adjust For Context. Some moms are nervous to attend to baby later down the road after sleep training is completed. Say baby has been falling asleep without a peep for three months, then one day cries before going down for her nap. This would be uncharacteristic for her. This is a moment when you want to go in and attend to her needs. You want to be sure there is nothing wrong. If you have checked her over and are sure there is nothing wrong, you can have her CIO if needed.I remember when Brayden was one year old. He woke in the middle of the night crying. This was really uncharacteristic of him. I had the thought that maybe I shouldn’t go in, but I knew this was different and figured something had to be wrong. We were in the middle of moving and were in a different house than he was used to, but I didn’t assume that was the problem. I went in to find that he had diarrhea –the worst kind–the acid kind that burns the minute it touches the skin. I was very glad I had checked on him
CRY IT OUT SLEEP TRAINING TIPS
- Discover Optimal Waketime. Get to know the timing of your child’s naps. The younger the baby, the more crucial it is to get them down at the right moment. As they get older, down-to-the-minute isn’t as important, but timing was still important for Brayden at two years old. He wouldn’t cry if I put him down late, but he would play in his bed for X amount of time rather than going right to sleep. We’ve all experience the second wind or being too tired to fall asleep. So get to know your child’s cues.This is a hard thing and unfortunately can require some trial and error on your part. Kaitlyn would always yawn (at least for the first couple of months of life. Then she went to zero sleep cues. Talk about hard!). Brayden would get fussy. He had an easy sleep cue. McKenna yawns and starts squaking like a bird :).Your child should get tired around the same time–for example Kaitlyn stayed up for about an hour each wake time, so I started watching her at 50 minutes like a hawk so I didn’t miss the sign.You also don’t want to put them down too early. A young baby may only be able to do 45 minutes of waketime—including feeding. Take note of the timing of everything and how baby responds. Unfortunately, there is some trial and error here.If you are following cues and your baby still has a hard time falling asleep, you might need to ignore cues. Those cues might be “too late” cues rather than “just right” cues.
- Swaddle. If your baby will be swaddled, I would do that for a newborn. The problem is that their arms will fling out and scare them awake, so if you can swaddle, it does help. My first wouldn’t ever be swaddled, but my second would. Around 3 or 4 weeks she protested the full swaddle, so we moved to one arm out. McKenna was swaddled until about 4 months old. Now, as a mom with more experience, if I were to have another “Brayden” who seemingly hated to be swaddled, I would do it anyway! I have talked to other moms of 3 or more who say the exact same thing, “My first wouldn’t be swaddled, but knowing what I know now, I would make him/her!” There will definitely be exceptions. There will be some who absolutely will sleep better unswaddled. But I think those are in the vast minority. Give swaddling a fair shot.
- Have a Routine. I like to sing the same lullaby every time once they are in bed. This lets them know it is bedtime, plus it is something you can take with you everywhere you go. That is nice when you aren’t at your home, and also nice once you move them into a bed and out of the crib–it will come quicker than you think. You could also rock your child so they are more drowsy to start, but don’t rock beyond the point of the sign of sleepiness. Rocking can be a good thing to do with younger babies, even if it is just for your peace of mind; then you know you did something to help. Tracy Hogg, The Baby Whisperer, says rocking is never a good idea before sleep and that it overstimulates, so keep that in mind.
- See the Connection. Overall, everything is connected. The better rested they are, the more awake they will be for eating, and the more they eat, the better they will sleep, and the more they are awake, the more tired they will be for sleeping.
- Get a Video Monitor. You will love it! It takes a lot of the guess work out of things. You can see your baby so you know if she is unswaddled or stuck in a corner or flipped on her tummy. During McKenna’s two naps of crying, I could watch her. She sounded furious, but didn’t look that mad. Watching her actually made it easier on me. I use a Summer video monitor.
CIO and WITCHING HOUR
If your baby is crying because of colic or witching hour, this is not the time to do CIO. If you need a break for sanity and need to put baby down for a few minutes, that is fine, but don’t try to sleep train a baby who is crying for one of these reasons.
McKenna experience witching hour as a baby. She was fine all day, but would cry for her last nap. We couldn’t do the swing because she hated it (that would have been my first choice). We tried to rock her. Otherwise, she just stayed up. She would stay happy with a pacifier in her mouth. We used this time to get out of the house as a family since she wasn’t sleeping anyway.
Here is a basic synopsis of each of my children’s CIO experiences. Keep in mind that this is a synopsis of me looking back. Things always sound better looking back than they do in the heat of the moment!
- We started CIO at about 9 weeks of age.
- We did it in the summer when things were crazy. We spent about a month meeting family expectations and being everywhere. This was hard on Brayden because we were so inconsistent. We eventually decided we needed to be fair to him and dedicated to stay home and be consistent for one month.
- At first, he cried a lot. It was definitely a roller coaster experience in the beginning.
- Within days of starting, he went from waking twice a night to just once.
- After two weeks, even despite the inconsistencies, he had really improved.
- Once we started being really consistent, he went to just basic fussing for a few minutes before some naps.
- 4 days before his 4 month birthday, he stopped fussing at all before naps and never looked back.
- For the first 5 days of her life, she just slept basically around the clock, but when she was a week old, I started working to keep her awake after eating and putting her to bed awake.
- At first, I was going to rock her to sleep, but I felt like I should put her in her bed. I decided it was unfair to train her to fall asleep one way only to switch it up on her in a few weeks.
- The very first nap we did “CIO,” she didn’t cry at all.
- The next nap, she cried between 5-10 minutes. Then she went days without crying at all. Then she started having some long crying sessions. Then she would go back to not crying at all. Then she started crying 20 minutes. Then down to 5 minutes.
- She went to minimal fussing before naps, but by 8 weeks she was not crying/fussing at all before naps.
- I did the 4 S’s recommended by the Baby Whisperer with McKenna. I only ever had to do the first 3 S’s.
- I started putting McKenna to bed awake at three days old.
- McKenna never cried before a nap until she was 3 months old (except for witching hour–at that time, I didn’t have her “CIO”). On this day, she cried for about 5-10 minutes before a couple of naps, then she was done.
Good luck. Just know it gets better. I believe it is best for the baby, but that is obvious because I do it. Do what you think is best for your baby because you are his mom and no one will know better than you do. If you ever need support through it, let me know. I know it is so hard. I also know it is so worth it.
Where are we today? I have a 4.5 year old who, despite his disdain for sleep (and I can’t blame him, I don’t really like it much either), sleeps 11 hours at night and spends one hour each day resting in his bed. I have a 2.5 year old who sleeps 11.5 hours at night and 3.5 hours for a nap. I have an 8 month old who sleeps 12 hours at night and takes two 2.5 hour naps and one 1 hour nap each day.
All three are very smart. All three are very happy. All three are very loving. My older two show great compassion. I constantly get comments on how well behaved my children are and how happy and alert my baby is.
Both Brayden and Kaitlyn got to the point of no crying for naps or bedtime rather quickly. Brayden at 4 months and Kaitlyn at around 8 weeks. She would cry on occasion after that age, but rarely and it usually meant something was wrong. If it was a cry to settle down into a nap, it wasn’t the screaming cry that breaks your heart but more of an off and on and half-hearted cry.
If you are in the middle of CIO and need some encouragement, see the post When Does it Get Better?
Frequently Asked Sleep Training Questions
- Allyson: Hi – I’m a new mom to a 10 day old baby. We were going to try BW, but don’t think we can handle CIO with him being so young. Is there a good post on using BW without CIO? Also, is there a post on suggestions to handle overstimulation once it’s already happened?
Plowmanators: Allyson, I would recommend you read Secrets of the Baby Whisperer. She has methods for learning how to self-soothe without CIO. Start with this post: Secrets of the Baby Whisperer. Once overstimulation has happened, the best thing is to get baby to sleep as fast as possible. For my daughter, that meant I put her in her swing to sleep instead of her bed. I didn’t expect her to self-soothe once she was all wound up. Then take note of what caused the overstimulation and try to do better in the future. But it happens 🙂
- Alison: Hi there. I have written to you before in previous blogs. I am having a hard time with my 8 1/2 week olds naps. We have been doing BW since day 1. We put him down awake and he will scream until his next feeding time. Next feeding time he will eat and go right to sleep as he missed his last nap because he was to busy crying through it. I have tried shortening wake time, increasing wake time, changing diapers, giving pacifier, so on and nothing will work. I have tried going in there after an hour and moving him to his bouncer or swing hoping he would get some sleep before the next cycle however he would never go to sleep. I have also tried leaving him in there the whole time. No success. He just eats at the next time and falls asleep immediately after and sleeps until his next feeding time. I am trying so hard to stick with this and have been letting him CIO but this has been going on for 8 1/2 weeks I am starting to feel doubtful that he will get it. I’m wondering if there is anything else that I could try? I need to get him napping more consistently especially before I go back to work and leave him with the sitter and am not sure what to do. I can’t imagine at his age he should be staying awake for one 3 hour cycle and then sleeping for 2.5 hours and then awake for another 3 hour cycle and sleeping for 2.5–should he??? Any advice or suggestions you have for me will be greatly appreciated!!! Thanks so much!!
Plowmanators: Alison, No, he shouldn’t be staying awake for a cycle then sleeping longer for another. There are a couple of posts I would recommend: Babywise Without Doing CIO, Early From Naps/Won’t Fall Asleep For Naps, CIO Responsibly. Let me know if you still have questions after reading through those.
OTHER HELPFUL POSTS
- CIO Responsibly: http://babywisemom.blogspot.com/2009/01/cio-responsibly.html
- Nap Cues : http://babywisemom.blogspot.com/2008/03/nap-cues.html
- Optimal Waketime Lengths : http://babywisemom.blogspot.com/2008/07/optimal-waketime-lengths.html
- Waking Early From Naps/Won’t Fall Asleep For Naps: http://babywisemom.blogspot.com/2008/01/waking-early-from-napswont-fall-asleep.html
- Sleep Training: The Four S’s : http://babywisemom.blogspot.com/2009/04/sleep-training-four-ss.html
- Using Babywise Without Doing CIO : http://babywisemom.blogspot.com/2008/12/using-babywise-without-doing-cio.html
- Word To the Weary: http://babywisemom.blogspot.com/2007/12/word-to-weary.html
- Sleep Training According to Babywise: http://babywisemom.blogspot.com/2009/08/sleep-training-according-to-babywise.html
- Book Recommendation: Healthy Sleep Habits Happy Child http://babywisemom.blogspot.com/2009/11/book-recommendation-healthy-sleep.html
- CIO blog label