I will never let my child cry himself to sleep. No. crying.
This was my mindset at 6 months, when I first started to get serious about my son’s sleep. He had been waking every 1.5-2 hours to nurse for the past month and a half. I couldn’t do it. Something had to change. But I couldn’t bear to hear him cry.
Live and Let Cry: How I Became Friends with Ferber
So, I tried every no-cry sleep solution out there. I read the books. I drank the Kool aid. I’m a babywearin’, mama milk makin’, organic food eatin’ crunchy granola mom (mostly). I could get my baby to sleep soundly through the night on his own without crying! I became a hermit for a month and a half as we worked on our naps, consistent bedtime routine, and nighttime ritual. And what did I get? After a month and a half, I had a baby that went from 5-7 night wakings to 12+, woke up earlier in the morning, wouldn’t sleep between 4-6 AM, and who took 10-30 minutes of nursing and rocking to put back to sleep. After implementing no cry solutions, things had actually gotten worse. Way worse. And I was starting to get resentful. But – I refused to let my baby cry. So I just kept going.
I’ll give you a hint: it didn’t work. In a spur-of the moment, desperate, last-resort move (after 45 minutes of trying to nurse/rock him to sleep one night), I tried the Ferber method. And it worked. Beautifully.
I want to tell you the story of his birth, because it plays a huge role in our sleep journey. His cry was a sound I longed to hear when he was born. For months I envisioned a pink, wailing baby being placed on my chest, tears flowing. But, when he was born, there was no cry. There was a grey, floppy, unresponsive baby who was neither breathing nor crying. He was recussitated, brain swollen and deprived of oxygen. Taken immediately to the NICU and placed on a cooling mat. I didn’t hold him until he was four days old. I swore I’d never let him go. Since the very moment he came into this world, a raw, basic fear and need erupted from my heart, unlike anything I had ever felt before. I must protect my baby. He must not cry. If I can do this, after the trauma of his birth and the flashbacks, anxiety, and PTSD-like symptoms I have to this day because of it, so can you. You can do this if you decide it is what is right for your family. That is key – it must be right for your family. If it’s not, that’s cool too! To each their own, especially when it comes to everything parenting.
On the first night, he cried for less than 20 minutes – I checked up at him at 3 minutes, after another 8 minutes, and before another 8 minutes passed, he was asleep. I cried for hours. I felt like the worst mom ever. But… he slept. We slept. He woke up at 10:15 PM (I’m pretty sure I was still awake, crying, but he cried himself back to sleep in 10 minutes with one check in), 1:15 AM (nursed, put back awake, cried to sleep in 3 minutes), and 3:30 AM (same as last wake up). He woke up at 7:00 AM for the day. THREE wakings. We went from 12+ to THREE. Naps? We went from three 45-minute naps to two 1.5-2 hour naps with a cat nap in the evening (depending on his wake-up time). Instantly.
The next night went even better – he cried for less than a minute at the beginning of the night and didn’t wake up at 10:15 PM. Almost every single night after that has been about the same – even through teething, a cold, a stomach bug, and a sleep regression. He still wakes once or twice a night, but that’s okay with me. I like nursing him at night. It’s a beautiful time of peace and quiet in our home. Eventually, we’ll phase that out – but only when we’re ready. Sometimes I still cry when he cries, especially if he wakes up too early in the night to be nursed. But, deep down in my heart, I know that this is what is best for him. It’s best for both of us.
Letting your baby cry to sleep is an extremely touchy topic. However, it’s very important to understand the different types of sleep training methods. Before I did my research, I thought that cry it out was any type of crying at night. It’s not. True cry it out, aka extinction, is when you lay your babe down at bedtime and let him/her cry themselves to sleep, however long it takes, with no interaction from you. The Ferber method (aka gradual extinction, aka controlled crying) is laying your babe down at bedtime and letting him/her cry at bedtime or at the start of a nap (or after waking at night), but checking in at regular intervals. This allows you to soothe and comfort your babe while they learn the important skill of self-soothing.
I believe that one of the greatest gifts we can give our children is the ability to be independent when it comes to sleep. Some say that Ferber or cry it out is emotionally damaging. But – I disagree. You can find research-based studies and evidence to support either point of view. My evidence? My happy, calm son, who stares at me lovingly at bedtime, eyelids fluttering and eyes rolling in delight as he nurses. My son, who gazes at me as I lay him down to sleep. My son, who gently turns, rubs his eyes (and his face into the mattress), and drifts off for a peaceful night of sleep.
My baby sleeps. And so do I.
For sleep training resources, see babysleepsite.com
Emily is mom to sweet baby James and a professional whale wrangler (Marine Biologist). She also creates art for her shop Sails and Tails and is a part time Academic Coach. Family snuggles, coffee and her amazing mommy tribe are her essentials.