48 answers

How Long Is Too Long to Cry It Out at Night?

My 11 month old is STILL struggling at sleeping through the night (which I know is my fault for not cracking down earlier & more consistently!). She wakes up at least once in the night and still wants to nurse and mostly cuddle in bed with my husband and myself. :( Last week we decided to put an end to it and let her cry it out. After 5 nights, she is still crying 1-1/2 hours before finally falling back to sleep hoarse and sweaty in her crib. It is so sad, and I just want to make sure that this isn't an excessive amount of crying. I know that my older son "gave up the fight" way sooner when we have to let him cry it out this way. What do you think? and, will it just make it worse if we keep checking in on her during the fit? (we haven't been). My husband and I are sleeping downstairs so that we can sleep through the screaming while she goes through this. I feel like a terrible Mom that I have let it get to this point. Ugh..

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To add my thoughts to the Please don't let your baby cry it out! group: Besides being a mother and grandmother, I am a therapist and have extensively studied and experienced pre- and perinatal psychology. Babies' early experiences are what makes the connections in their brains and wire their brains for a lifetime of either feeling safe and secure in the world or feeling anxious and afraid. I myself have been through many years of therapy because of my upbringing, which included being left to cry it out. I coslept with both of my children, nursing them as often as they needed, until they were ready for their own beds (at about four years old). They are now in their 20s and 30s and are happy wonderful secure loving adults who cosleep with their very happy and secure children.

You obviously care about you children and want to do what is best for them - please trust yourself and ignore the "experts" and other well-meaning people who haven't read any of the latest research. You gave birth to these children - it is your responsibility to meet their needs to the very best of your ability, not only for their sakes but for the sake of your whole family and the entire world, as a happy secure person influences everyone they come in contact with for his or her whole lifetime.

As far as practical matters - it may be good to get a bigger bed. And if you or your husband aren't getting enough sleep, the two of you could go to bed earlier when the children do or sleep during their naps. Or if your husband isn't sleeping well in the family bed, he could sleep somewhere else for a while. And I agree, waking up one or two or three or even four times a night is perfectly normal at this age, so you could consider yourself fortunate that your baby only wakes up once or twice a night.

I think it is wonderful that your daughter is NOT giving up easily and is continuing to let you know what she needs, and that she likes to nurse and cuddle. That shows that she is well attached - so please don't destroy that wonderful attachment by ignoring her cries.

She will probably need some extra care and attention to help her recover from the cry-it-out nights, so that she can feel reassured that you will not abandon her again. I recommend also that you talk with her about it, apologize to her, tell her that you were doing what you thought was right but that you really wanted to come to her when she cried, and that you won't leave her alone again. Also make sure to tell her that it wasn't her fault, you were just doing what other people were telling you was best, but that now you will listen to her and to your own motherly instincts and will meet her needs to the best of your ability. She may need to release some of the trauma by crying - just hold her and listen to her and thank her for letting you know how she feels and let her know you understand and care.

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My son didn't truly begin making through the night until after his second birthday. He was routinely up 1-2 times a night until then. If you are a fan of CIO, then by all means, go that route. I prefer to think long term...they will never be this little again and both my husband and I have very sweet memories of going in to comfort our child and the snuggling and falling asleep together (he slept on a futon on the floor, never a crib) that went along with all of this. Were we tired? Of course. Did it pass? Yes, he now sleeps like a champ unless he is sick, needs the bathroom, etc. I am an elementary school teacher and still hear about children up at night due to nightmares, can't put the book away, etc. My point is that there is no holy grail of nighttime sleep...children are always in process and to expect them to be otherwise just sets parents up for disappointment. CIO is a short term solution, but you should ask what the trade off is? When you look back on this time 10-20 years from now, do you want to remember laying in bed listening to this new little person wailing through the night or rocking, singing and comforting this little soul back to sleep. I understand tired and how crazy in can make you, but that is when the long term perspective is most important. If you are feeling like a terrible mom, that is a strong sign that this approach is not working for you or your child.

Good luck.

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I have a similar answer on another thread, but on almost any *other* subject most moms will tell you A) to listen to your gut and B) all kids are different. On this one subject, however, many suddenly parrot the "experts" and promote all kinds of CIO, and usually they recommend a one-size-fits-all approach. The fact is that you describe your whole family as feeling really unhappy with this, so maybe it's time to stop. CIO does *not* work for some temperaments, and for many others it only works for a while before having to start all over again.

I think one of the major problems with "cry it out" is that people interpret that in a variety of ways, from shutting the door and walking away cold turkey to a gentler "extinction" method where you check in more often.
But in the name of full disclosure, I agree with those who feel that all it teaches the child is to give up trying to communicate your needs, 'cause mama ain't comin'. It's cruel and unnecessary.

We have not done CIO and you bet, we have paid the price for it--less sleep over the short run--but we sleep a lot better knowing we haven't done that to her. We figure it we can take it for a couple of years until her biorhythms kick in better and/or we can actually explain things to her a bit, instead of leaving a tiny creature alone in a dark room to wonder why that caring parent just won't/can't come. She'll get it down eventually and in the meantime, we have a cheerful, confident, well-adjusted child.

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I have to agree with Peg M.

My now 6 year old is a great sleeper, and has been in her own room since just before she turned 3. She is happy, confident, independent, and up to 3 years old, was a co-sleeper, who night nursed up to 2 years old.

I also have a baby boy the same age as your daughter, and it just saddens me to think of him being left alone in a dark room to cry for an hour and a half. If it feels agonizing to you, imagine how it feels to the baby.

With our children I have not found that responding to their needs has made them manipulative. It has made them secure, confident and independent. They *know* without a doubt that Mom and Dad are there when they need us, because we have shown them that from day one. And we do that by responding to their needs.

An 11 month old baby still needs to know you are there. My baby often has to come "touch base" when he is out exploring his world and learning new things. He just needs a quick 30 second nurse to feel comforted and confident and off he goes again. Nighttime parenting is no different I think.

I get that you are tired. I'm exhausted a lot of the time! But, that's what we signed on for when we had them. And, it doesn't last forever. I know he will eventually sleep on his own, eventually he won't nurse at night anymore, and eventually this tiny blip of time that I get with him to snuggle up to his warm little baby body at night will be over.

I can sleep then :) For now, we're going to work on night weaning from the nursing, but I wouldn't dream of booting him out of bed just yet. I can tell that he is not ready for his own bed. It sounds like your little one isn't either, and she is trying to tell you that.

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If she is still crying, she's probably going through a phase of separation anxiety or something anyway, and CIO will only aggravate the problem and make her really distressed about sleep. A good resource for understanding babies' brain development at this age is the book "The Science of Parenting," (which I will tell you, suggests that based on brain research we know now that prolonged distressed crying does bad things to babies' brains - not crying generally, but prolonged distressed crying, which it sounds like you've got.). If you want some other tools you might try "The Baby Whisperer" books. I found them really helpful, the methods really work, and I didn't have to endure CIO with my child at all. Good luck.

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I wasn't going to respond because I have been having the same issue with my almost 7 month old, but then something worked. Last night, after her crying for over an hour - with my going in and comforting her (rubbing her face, telling her that I love her and it's night-night time) - I took my shirt off and gave it to her. When I would go in to comfort her, she would grab my hair and pull it to her face, and almost go to sleep; so I figured that my shirt would smell like me and maybe comfort her. It worked last night. Within three minutes of my leaving the room after giving her my shirt, she was quiet and drifted off to sleep. I thought that maybe it was a fluke, but tonight she was getting tired again, so I put her in her crib with my shirt and within 10 minutes she was asleep. She didn't really even cry. Long-story short, try giving your son your shirt, or something else that smells like you. Maybe it will help.

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Hi S. - I had to respond.
I co-slept with my son and it was not good. I didn't sleep well, he was constantly on my breast, when we did put him in his own room it was NOT a smooth transition. Some children just have a more stubborn temperment than others. The mother before me obviously has a daughter who is a bit more relaxed than my son or your daughter.
That being said, you MUST stick to your guns now. Because if she is crying and after 1/2 hour you go in and get her or go to her, she has learned that if she cries a long time you will get her. So she will continue to cry. Does she take a sippy? Maybe put one in her bed with water (my son has one), that way she can have something to drink. Also, maybe a buddy or lovie. Something she can comfort herself with. She will NOT remember that she had to teach herself how to go back to sleep in the middle of the night. Do NOT worry that you are scarring her in any way, you are not. On the contrary, she is now learning that she ALONE can comfort herself and doesn't need mom or dad to ALWAYS be there to give her a hug. It is making her stronger. But it's hard. I hate to hear my son cry too (don't we all), but after he learned how to go to sleep (and STAY asleep) we both became happier people.
YOu are not a bad mom, you are helping your daughter. It will get better, L.

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Oh S.!! I was so relieved to read your e-mail and know that someone is going through the exact same thing as me! My daughter is also 11 months and was also having a hard time sleeping at night and at nap time. It kills me, I completly feel like a horrible parent when she cries for a long time. I tried different things...honestly...it really is different for every baby,and what may work for a little while may suddenly change. Don't feel bad at all if your baby has to cry for a while and your at the end of your rope trying to hold on to some sanity for yourself so you can tend to your baby without loosing it! I too think an hour is too long, I have done it actually and it just seemed to work her up even more and when I finally went in there and rocked her she was out, and I just wanted to hold her all night cuz I felt so bad, it's not worth the agony for you and her!! What I ended up doing and works MOST nights/naps and is getting better is more of a gradual thing... I always try to put her in her crib awake and sleepy, we do a night-time routine of a bath, brush teeth, massage and jamma's, then I sing her a lullabye while rocking her, then I gently put her in her crib, give her her lovey and leave. It has got to the point now where she knows what to expect and can put her self to sleep most of the time:) If she does end up crying I let her go for about 5 min, if she needs help I'll rock her again for a few minutes and always back in the crib awake but sleepy, you can't give in if she crys, stay right there and rub her back or sing to her while she's in her crib, telling her she can do it, she's ok and your right here. It was tuff for the first few nights and gradually I did let her cry a little longer before I went in there, just to give her some more time to work it out. Also if she's not screaming, she usually ends up putting herself to sleep but if she's outright screaming for longer than a few minutes the chances of her putting herself to sleep are slim. So I just repeat and repeat until she understands I'm not going to rock her to sleep, I'll be here if she needs me, I'll try to lay her down first and rub her tummy or head and sing to her with my cheek next to her cheek, sometimes thats all she needs to go to sleep other times I have to pick her up and rock her for a bit.

Also a good book I read on sleeping is the Lullababy Sleep Plan, I forgot who the author was, but her basic golden rule was always put your baby in your crib awake, be creative on how you make it work but stick to that 1 rule!! Check it out mabey It'll give you some more insight. I know this is really long and I'm sorry, I just know how it made me feel going through this and you wonder if your doing the right thing, it's horrible!! Also I wanted to say, some of these other advices really make it sound like your doing something wrong to your child that will scare her for life! You obviously sound like a caring mother and I'm sure you show your baby in many ways that you love her and tend to her needs in everyway, don't feel like you doing anything wrong or that your poor baby is going to have abondonment issues because of it! How ridiculous!! We are teachers to our children and I think a lot of it is just teaching her how to have good sleeping habits, so both of you sleep better, how you do that can be just as controversial as any other parenting style. Go with what you feel is the right thing for your family and feel confident it will be right.

Good Luck

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