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Rested Mamas are Happy Mamas: The Meaning of Crying it Out

Rested Mamas are Happy Mamas: The Meaning of Crying it Out

When I hear parents talk about “crying it out”, they usually talk about books that say you should let your baby cry it out, or that they heard their friend let their baby cry it out and horrible it is. Or sometimes I hear parents talk about it, and they are absolutely fine with letting their child cry it out, but they really aren't sure exactly what this means.

Every time I’m involved in one of these conversations, I find out that, most of the time, they never read the book they are referencing. OR, they did read the book, and completely misinterpreted what was written. I’ve also found that there are some books that had first editions that were so unclear, they had to re-write them. I find some people are reading those versus the later versions. (Good tip: if you are reading a parenting book, check and make sure you are reading the most recent version.)

So if you're one of those people who are a little confused what "crying it out" means, I'm here to help! I thought it would be useful to tell you how I interpret, and go about implementing, “crying it out” practices.

First, I have to say that I think one of the most important things you can teach your child is to self-soothe. This does NOT mean letting a newborn cry incessantly because someone told you to let them cry it out. Teaching a child to self-soothe is as simple as waiting an extra minute before rushing to your child’s aid. Let me give you a for instance.

Let’s say you put your baby down for a nap. You expect this nap to last at least an hour and a half. But at a half hour, you hear your baby making some noise. You think, “Are you kidding? It’s only been a half hour. But, oh well. Guess baby’s up.” You rush in the room to grab your baby, feed him and continue on with the rest of your day.

But the parent who helps their child learn to self-soothe, doesn’t RUSH in to get baby. This parent waits a minute. In this time, the parent may hear baby whimper, maybe even let out a few cries. At this point, if they own a baby monitor, they check this to see if baby is ACTUALLY awake. They see that baby is certainly still asleep. Or they see baby is blinking her eyes. However, baby stops crying and keeps her eyes shut. Baby sleeps for another hour or so.

When this method is used, just taking an extra minute, babies learn so many things. They learn to connect sleep cycles, they learn they can entertain themselves and don’t always need mom or dad to do it for them, they learn to be independent, and when they are older, I would assume this little action probably helps a child learn to solve more problems on her own.

More often than not, I think some parents read books that suggest schedules, or similar practices, and assume because you didn’t feed your baby the SECOND they cried, you are now letting them “crying it out” or adhering to a very strict schedule. This is not the case at all. A schedule for your baby is still taking care of your baby’s needs, but giving them structure. If your baby is actually hungry, you feed your baby no matter what your schedule is like. Parents who use schedules understand this. They are flexible with their schedules as needed, but keep a structured day. They also understand that a baby has more reasons to cry than just to eat – like needing a nap. So let me repeat that, having a schedule does NOT mean letting your child cry it out.

Now, when does crying it out have a place?

For me, “crying it out” means you KNOW your baby does not need anything and the only thing you can do is let them cry. For instance, your baby isn’t actually hungry (a one-year-old does not need to be nursed in the middle of the night), your baby doesn’t have a dirty diaper, your baby just wants to play in the middle of the night, etc.

If this describes your situation, I do think you can let your baby “cry it out.” When I say that, what do you envision? Do you see letting your child cry for hours on end? If so, I’m here to tell you this is probably not the case when people talk about “crying it out.” It probably means letting a baby cry for 10 or 15 minutes. And by cry, I don’t mean screaming at the top of his lungs like he is dying. If that’s happening, there is probably something ACTUALLY wrong with your child and you need to fix it. Usually, this cry, the one where you let your child "cry it out", can be described as plainly as a baby crying. Like when you’re at the store and your child throws a fit kind of crying. Do you know what I mean? (Comment below if you need more clarification.)

However, if you're finding that your child needs to cry for more than this timeframe, that’s when you, and ONLY you, can decide how long your baby should cry. Does your baby actually NEED you? Does baby need to be held because something is just wrong--maybe he is having a nightmare and just needs a bit of extra love? Is baby teething and needs some extra comfort that only you can provide? This is something YOU have to decide. And, I think a lot of parents just know this for themselves. Because, let’s be honest, YOU know your child better than anybody else.

So tell me—what does “crying it out” mean to you? When does it have a place in your life? Have you ever had to use this practice, and what did it look like when you did use it? I would love to hear your experiences!


*Sleep is essential. We need sleep to function, to take care of our children, to keep up on every single task life throws at us, to keep our sanity. Are you getting your eight hours or do you have a baby who is keeping you up? Let’s remedy that! In the “Rested Mamas are Happy Mamas” series of our blog, sleep expert Jackie calms all of your sleep woes. Have a question or problem that needs fixing? Comment on the series, and a blog will be published just for you!* Featured Image PC: @kdbleu
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