6 Rules for Using Cry it Out as a Baby Sleep Training Method

Cry it out is a fast, effective form of sleep training baby. This post outlines six rules to follow for using cry it out as your sleep training method. 

Baby sleeping on a white blanket

Sleep training and potty training are my two most dreaded milestones with each child. There are a lot of baby sleep training methods out there. You can go for extinction sleep training for something fast and effective, or you can go for some no tears sleep training. I personally have done sleep training in multiple ways with my multiple babies. No matter your sleep training method, there are rules that can help you.

Before my third child was born, I read up on Gentle Sleep Training: The Four S’s and really liked the idea of that. It is a gentle, no tears sleep training method and was very simple to follow. It also helped me get optimal waketime down perfectly. I did that with my third and fourth babies and we got to skip the cry it out part of sleep training for the most part (one had a couple of cry it out sessions around 3 months) and both slept on their own from birth. So I love that. If you have a newborn, I highly suggest checking out my post on that.

Today I am talking rules to follow when using the CIO method for sleep training. I have done many methods and they all work and have their own merits and drawbacks. Cry it out is fast and effective. There is also evidence that doing cry it initially means that after a disruption later in life (travel or sickness, for example), the baby will go back to sleeping well much faster than if you use another method of sleep training. So while there is some crying, it can be less crying overall when you look at the big picture.

Before we go on, let me quickly address the common concern of causing damage to a child’s brain or breaking all trust with the child by doing cry it out. I have a couple of posts talking about this. One is a list of sleep training studies and resources that are very helpful. Another is my thoughts on Sleep Training and Trust. Let me add to that here since my children are older now. I have to say it to give some strength to the pro-CIO argument, my children are very smart. Very. My oldest, who had the hardest, longest cry it out length of times of all of my children, is considered by many teachers in his school to be one of the smartest students to come through in their careers. That’s a big deal. They are all very, very smart. I have never once thought, “Wow, I wonder if cry it out damaged their brains at all.”

My children also all trust me completely, though I do think that is a poor argument from a child. I think most children trust their parents whether they deserve that trust or not. The real test is what that child feels when he/she becomes an adult. My husband and his four siblings were sleep trained–left to cry it out starting at about 6 weeks old. They all have trust for their parents and none of them feel any negative feelings about the fact that they were sleep trained. I know it is only anecdotal, but it really is stronger evidence than is often given on the flip side. These are real people who really experienced it who have real feelings about it today–not just a “this will happen in your future.”

If you don’t like crying, however, that is fine! There are other options for reaching your sleep training goal. If you are following Babywise, know that there isn’t one Babywise method for sleep training. One of my favorites in the context of this post is Study: Letting baby ‘cry it out’ won’t cause damage. You can read my post on Sleep Training According to Babywise for more. Look into the different ways to sleep train before settling. If you do settle on cry it out, here are six rules to follow.

6 Rules to Follow When Using Cry It Out as a Sleep Training Method

Six rules to follow for using cry it out as your sleep training method | sleep training method | #babysleep #sleeptrainingmethod

Define Cry it Out for You and Your Baby

Before you get started doing cry it out for your sleep training method, you need to define what it means to you to do cry it out. There are many sleep training methods labeled “cry it out” that actually vary quite a bit.

One extreme is called extinction. This method is when you put baby down for a nap or night and you do not go in again until the baby has slept. This is the hardest for parents to face, but statistically speaking, it gets the fastest results and baby is typically done with cry it out this way much faster this way.

That means night wakings go away and baby is able to establish good sleep habits right away.

I am not one who is comfortable with words like “never” or “always,” so the extinction method as a hard and fast rule leaves me a little uncomfortable. I think all people are individuals, including babies. What works for one will not work for another–that is what makes them challenging and what makes me dislike sleep training and potty training so much. I feel like in many ways I am reinventing the wheel with each child. Each child needs their own wheel.

Some people like to do a sleep training method where they go in after five minutes, then after ten, then after fifteen, etc. You continue to have longer intervals between going in. This is more of a graduated extinction method. This is often referred to as the Ferber method.

I don’t really love this method, either. I think it is a method aimed at making parents feel better about themselves but not at helping baby have the most success to be perfectly frank. Sleep training isn’t about you; it is about the baby. With that said, I am also sure there are babies for whom this is the very best method. So if you feel it is right for your baby, do it!

For me, cry it out sleep training is defined by the baby. I had one child who just did very poorly if I ever went in after I left him for his nap. He cried less if I went with the extinction idea. My second came along and she did better with a visit from me, but only at the right moment. Too soon and the nap was shot. Too late and the nap was shot.

Like I said, new wheel for each child.

So decide what cry it out is to you and be flexible to change it up depending on what ends up being best for your individual baby.

>>>Read: What To Do When Baby Takes a Long Time to Fall Asleep

Do Not Start Sleep Training When Something Else is Going On

I can promise you one thing. If you start cry it out sleep training during a sickness, teething, growth spurt, move, etc., you will most likely fail.

Baby won’t respond well and you will not keep your wits about you. When baby cries, you are going to think, “Is she crying because it is normal for cry it out, or is she crying because she has that cold and can’t breath? Should I go get her? I think I should get her.” There will not be success because there will be no learning.

It is hard for a baby who is already trained and sleeps well to sleep well when fully congested or when in the middle of a move, so it isn’t fair to your baby to expect her to develop new skills when she is uncomfortable or life is in upheaval. Wait until you feel you and baby are in a place that you can both handle the process well.

Do Not Start Unless You Will Finish

I can promise you something else. The cry it out method is hard. No one likes to listen to their baby cry or fuss!

No one likes it. You will not like it. Your baby will be upset and you will be upset. Do not start it if you won’t finish it.

I must caveat here. You might think you can handle it, start and decide “Nope! Not happening.” If that is the case, go ahead and stop. If you start and discover baby has a cold, go ahead and take a break if you feel that is best. If baby is having a rough time one nap and you really feel like it is best to intervene, trust yourself and do it.

But do not start, get baby after ten minutes, then next nap start, get baby after ten minutes, etc. All you are doing in this case is letting baby cry for no reason. You want baby to learn to fall to sleep, not cry. If you don’t see the sleep training through, learning will not take place and you have let your baby cry without any purpose.

Great Sleep Training Books

The Contented Little Baby
Mom’s On Call
Solve Your Child’s Sleep Problems
The Wonder Weeks
The Baby Whisperer Solves All Your Problems
Secrets of the Baby Whisperer
Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child
Chronicles of a Babywise Mom Book of Logs
The Babywise Mom Nap Guide
On Becoming Babywise
The Contented Little Baby
Mom’s On Call
Solve Your Child’s Sleep Problems
The Wonder Weeks
The Baby Whisperer Solves All Your Problems
Secrets of the Baby Whisperer
Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child
Chronicles of a Babywise Mom Book of Logs
The Babywise Mom Nap Guide
On Becoming Babywise

Be Consistent

Once you start, let there be extreme consistency for your baby.

Figure out what works for your baby and stick to it. Do your best to be home as much as possible during the process.

When our oldest was a baby, we had a lot of pressure from some family members to visit ALL the time. He did not have consistent times at home to learn to sleep.

I finally realized that it was a problem, put my foot down, and limited how often we would be leaving home until he had it down. Once I did that, he made really fast progress in his sleep training.

Be consistent with your method, also. Be consistent with what props you do and do not use. You might feel comfortable using a pacifier or you might not want to introduce that prop. Another common prop used is white noise.

Avoid using stuffed animals, pillows, blankets, and other items that are considered unsafe for sleep by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP).

Be consistent in your bedtime routine and your daily schedule. Have a consistent bedtime routine that you do each night.

This is a short term process that allows for long term sleep success. It is a relatively short period of time.

Identify Optimal Waketime Length

The biggest key to success for cry it out as a sleep training method is identifying your child’s optimal waketime length. This is the KEY. Figure this out. Knowing nap cues can be helpful, though not all infants offer those up.

Part of knowing optimal waketime is identifying what point is the point of no return. Sometimes you will have disruptions that keep your baby up too long. With my second child, she would not sleep at church. No way. I knew if I went home from church and put her in her crib, she would scream.

I didn’t feel that was fair to her. After that disruption each week, I went home and put her in her swing instead. She is not now nor was the worse off for it.

Read Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child (affiliate)

This book talks in detail about different ways to do cry it out for sleep training. It also talks in greater detail about the importance of sleep. This book outlines Weissbluth’s method for sleep training as well as the benefits of sleep training.

This is why we sleep train our children.

Sleep is important. It is vital.

Sleep is underrated and undervalued in much of our modern world, but it is vital to brain development.

This book will give you the courage to do sleep training. (And I don’t want to stress out anyone with a short napper; my oldest took short naps until 6.5 months old and didn’t sleep through the night until 6 months old, so don’t think if you have a short napper your child is ruined for life).

Sleep training allows you to avoid child’s sleep problems in the future and helps your baby get a good night’s sleep as well as solid naptimes.

Read More From Me

I have a lot on the sleep training and the process. Here are some key posts:


Remember, your goal here is to get your baby self-soothing and falling asleep independently. That is why people do cry it out or any of the sleep training methods. Cry it out is one way to get to the goal of sleeping independently. If you don’t feel comfortable with cry it out, you don’t have to do it to get to sleeping independently. Look into different sleep training methods. All that matters is that baby learns to sleep independently.

If you do choose cry it out, have heart! It will get better. It is not fun, but the results are worth it. You will improve infant sleep and the sleep skills learned will grow with your kids!

Find someone to support you, have a plan, and move forward. PS–if you need support, the Chronicles of a Babywise Mom Facebook Group is a great place.

Cry it out method pinnable image
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Sleep Training Tips and Info

These posts will help you sleep train your baby with confidence. Learn how to sleep train in the method that best suits you and your baby.

8 thoughts on “6 Rules for Using Cry it Out as a Baby Sleep Training Method”

  1. Okay so what about sleeping in their own bed? My little one with sleep for sure but she only will sleep in her crib for 45 minutes now and then wakes up and cries cause it’s not with me. She used to be an amazing sleeper, going 4-6-8 hours before needing to feed and even then would be content going back to her crib and waking up playing in said crib. Now she demands to be in our bed and HAS to be touching me at all times. She wakes up every 45m-hr or so to suckle for 5 min then pass back out and pacifier doesn’t seem to be to her liking. I’m sleep deprived..

    • It sounds like you have had her in your bed. The best option here is to not allow her in your bed anymore. She will protest, but stay strong and she will go back to sleeping in her own bed.

      I remember a dear friend telling me once she had let her baby sleep in her bed with her one night because it seemed easier at the time, but then she had weeks of bad sleep after that. This is often the case (and not just with sleep). It is usually easier to stay firm on your policies for one night than to try to fix it for many nights. Read this post for more on this concept: https://www.babywisemom.com/credit-card-parenting/

  2. With CIO- if they wake in the middle of the night do you just let them cry until they fall back asleep? I understand crying when you put them down initially, middle of the night wakings is where I get confused…

    • That will depend on the age of the child and ability of the child.

      I didn’t ever do CIO in the night. I wouldn’t do it unless your child was definitely capable of falling asleep independently and definitely doesn’t need anything when waking at night. I would wait until your child has been falling asleep peacefully independently for at least two weeks.

      There isn’t anything wrong with CIO in the night, I just found if I waited for those things, they ended up not needing it.

      If you do it, I would go in, do an abbreviated bedtime routine, and put baby back in bed so she understands what is expected of her.

  3. My LO is 15 weeks old today. We have a pretty good eat-wake-nap routine (6-9-12-3-6-9{dreamfeed}). His Naps are 45 to an hour. Should I let him CIO for naps? We’ve tried to let him CIO but he doesn’t fall back asleep. He will fall back asleep if we rock him. Should I let it ride and maybe he will take longer naps as he gets older? Thank you!

  4. Hello!
    Wondering if you have some advice for me with my little one. She is 9 weeks old and has just started sleeping through the night (yay!) for the last 3 nights. She has been a really good night sleeper from the very beginning, doing longer stretches even earlier on, and only waking up to eat. Our issue is with daytime naps. from the very beginning, she has had trouble napping on her own. The first few weeks I was more than happy to just have her nap on me— she was so young and just needed to be cuddled! But now that she is two months old, it would be nice for her to get used to napping in her crib. I will swaddle her turn the lights off, rock her to sleep and place her in her crib. But then anywhere from 20 to 40 minutes into her nap she wakes up and cries every single time. I think there has only been one nap where she actually slept for an hour and a half straight. Again, she sleeps great at night in her crib by herself., It is only during the day that she does not want to sleep alone in her crib. I seem to read everywhere that she is still too young to do the cry it out method and the shush Pat method does not seem to work with her because she will only calm down if I pick her up and rock her again. Do you have any advice for how I can help her get a full nap in her crib without waking up?

    • A hard thing with this situation is she has spent her whole life learning to sleep one way. It is hard to change the way she sleeps without there being any crying involved.

      One thing I wonder is if she is definitely falling asleep and sleeping for 20-40 minutes. If you do not have a video monitor, I recommend that so you can be sure that is what is happening. Sometimes babies are just quiet for a while before they cry.

      Does your baby fall asleep independently at bedtime or just stay alseep through the night? I would try to replicate the night situation in the day as much as possible. Make daytime as similar to night as you can.

      I would also look closely at wake time length. Your baby might be up too long before starting nap. You should also look at the 4 S’s for sleep training. That really helps you get things down well.


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