Alternatives To Cry It Out

Alternatives to the Cry It Out/Ferber Method

Alternatives to Cry It Out

There are ways to help teach your baby how to put herself to sleep that, when used correctly, can work faster than the Cry It Out method, without the stress on you or your baby. You can start now, whether your baby is a newborn or well into her first year. Our favorite methods come from The Baby Whisperer, Tracy Hogg.

First Steps to Encourage Independent Sleep

From the day you bring your baby home from the hospital there are many things you can do that will help teach her to be an independent sleeper, which means more sleep for you! It important to realize, however, that babies are not ready to go through “sleep training” until they are four months old. These first steps do not really fall into the category of “sleep training”, yet they are extremely helpful and lay a great foundation for when your baby is a few months old and able to soothe herself.

The first thing you should do is keep your baby on a flexible routine or schedule. This benefits both parents and baby and makes it very easy to learn to read your baby. To find out more, read our article about Establishing A Routine For Your Baby.

Reading Your Baby’s Sleep Cues

Once a routine has been established, you will find that you can easily read your baby’s sleep cues. You will know when she is getting tired and learn when is the best time to put her to bed. When you hit this “window” of time, putting your baby to sleep can be quite simple. Here are some typical sleep cues, Tracy Hogg outlines by developmental stages:

“When they gain control of their heads: As they become sleepier, they turn their face away from objects of people, as if trying to shut out the world. If carried, they bury their face into your chest. They make involuntary movements, flailing their arms and legs.

When they gain control of their limbs: Tired babies may rub their eyes, pull at their ears or scratch at their faces.

When they begin to gain mobility: Babies who are getting tired become visibly less coordinated and lose interest in toys. If held, they’ll arch their backs and lean backward. In their cribs, they can inch their way into a corner and may wedge their heads there. Or they’ll roll one way and get stuck because they can’t roll back.

When they can crawl and/or walk: Coordination goes first when older babies are tired. If trying to pull themselves up, they’ll fall; if walking, they’ll stumble or bump into things. They have full control of their own bodies, so they’ll often cling to the adult who is trying to put them down. They can stand up in their cribs but often don’t know how to get back down-unless they fall, which frequently happens.”

Look for these signs and as soon as you recognize that your baby is getting tired, start your wind-down routine.

Know How Your Baby Falls Asleep

There is a three-stage process to falling asleep for all babies, but every baby will go through these stages in their own way. Watch and observe your baby to know and understand how she falls asleep. You will quickly learn whether your baby is ultra sensitive to the timing/window, if he is prone to jolting or if he drifts easily to sleep. The whole process usually takes 20 minutes, so stick it through long enough to really know when your baby has entered dreamland.

Tracy Hogg identifies the three stages of sleep as:

“Stage 1: The Window. Your baby shows you he is tired by yawning and exhibiting other sleep signs. By the third yawn , get him to bed. If you don’t he’ll start to cry rather than pass into the next stage.

Stage 2: The Zone. At this point, your baby has a fixed, focused glaze that lasts for three or four minutes. His eyes are open, but he’s not really seeing-he’s off somewhere in the stratosphere.

Stage 3: Letting Go. Now your baby resembles a person nodding off on a train: He closes his eyes and his head drops forward or to the side. Just as he seems to be falling asleep, his eyes open suddenly and his head whips backward, jolting his whole body. He’ll then close his eyes again and repeat the process anywhere from three to five times until he finally enters dreamland.”

The third stage is especially important to pay attention to and know as you follow these other steps to teach your baby how to fall asleep on her own.

Do The Right Things Leading Up to Sleep

Establishing a calm and consistent wind-down routine before every nap and before night time sleep is very important. It helps your baby know when sleep is coming. Tell her it’s naptime, bring her to her room, make sure the blinds are closed and that the room is dark, check that her diaper is clean and dry, swaddle her or put her in a sleep sack, sing her a song or play a nice lullaby, talk to her softly in her ear or read her a story, then sit with her quietly for about five minutes. The purpose is to calm her and get her ready for sleep, not to put her all the way to sleep. If/when you notice Stage 2 setting in, or if she starts closing her eyes, put her in her crib (she should still be awake at this point).

Once you put her in her crib, stay with her to make sure she goes all the way to dreamland and help her if needed. Sometimes babies will fuss when you put them down or when they experience a “Stage 3 jolt.” If she cries at this point, try to soothe her while she is still in her bed. You can do this by rhythmically patting her back and “shhhhhhushing” to her. Once she quits crying stop your patting so she does not depend on that to fall asleep.

Once her breathing deepens and the jolts have stopped (usually around the 20 minute mark) it is probably safe to say your baby is asleep!

Putting Your Baby Back to Sleep

Hopefully your baby will take great 1.5-2 hour naps and not wake after 40-45 minutes each time (the length of an entire sleep cycle) or sleep through until the next feeding (if he still needs them) at night. If he does wake early and he needs to sleep longer, you can help him go back to sleep without using any aids that will turn into bad habits and get in the way of your baby learning how to sleep (rocking, holding, feeding, etc.).

If your baby is just stirring/fussing, but not genuinely crying, don’t rush in. Some babies will stir a little but put themselves back to sleep. By rushing in you may actually disrupt them and interfere with them putting themselves back to sleep on their own. Wait until your baby is actually crying for help to go in to him. To learn more about knowing the difference in your baby’s cries, read our article on the “mantra cry” and when it’s ok to let your baby cry. When you do go in to your baby’s room, try first to soothe them while they are still in bed. A shush and a pat while they are in bed may be all it takes for them to calm back down and go back to sleep.

If your baby is under four months old, and he won’t settle in his bed, pick him and soothe him by continuing to shush and pat. Once he is calm, put him back in his crib. If necessary shush and pat to keep him calm in his bed. But again, do not do this until he falls asleep-the purpose is just to soothe.

If your baby is four months old or older, he will have more of an ability to soothe himself and should be encouraged to learn to self-soothe instead of depend on you. If he won’t settle in his bed, pick him up, but as soon as he quits crying (immediately-the second he quits), put him back down in his crib. If he starts to cry, try to settle him in bed, if that doesn’t work, pick him up, then put him down as soon as he quits crying–repeating this cycle for as long as it takes. If your baby starts to cry on his way back down to the mattress, be sure you put him all the way down before you pick him back up. Tracy Hogg calls this the “Pick Up/Put Down” method and it works amazingly well. Babies don’t get stressed or feel abandoned because you are there with them and they quickly learn that you are not going to hold them until they fall asleep. The first time you do this, you may have to pick your baby up and put him down many, many times, but each time you do it, the number of times will shorten until you don’t have to do it anymore. Now doesn’t that sound a lot better than listening to your baby cry and scream for you while you are letting them cry it out?!

Do not try the Pick Up/Put Down method for babies under four months as it will actually stimulate and disturb them. For these young babies, just stick with the shush/pat. For babies that are older (10-12 months) and toddlers, you will eliminate the pick up portion of the method. When they stand in the crib, you will just lay them back down. Sometimes a simple hug will suffice before you lay them down.

To read all about Tracy Hogg’s Sleep Methods and to hear many case studies, check out her incredible books: Secrets of the Baby Whisperer and The Baby Whisperer Solves All Your Problems.

Recommended Reading

To read more about trying alternatives to the Cry It Out method, we recommend Tracy Hogg’s books, Secrets of the Baby Whisperer and The Baby Whisperer Solves All Your Problems

The Cry It Out Controversy

The Cry It Out/Ferber Controversy on Sleep Trainingsleeping baby, cry it out

The Cry It Out method, also known as the Ferber method, has become widely used and recommended to “train” infants to sleep. Much controversy exists over this method and we are in favor of other, less stressful methods that still provide your baby with the gift of independent sleeping.

The Controversy

There is SO much controversy over the Cry It Out (CIO) method of “sleep training.” There are two sides and, of course, both come with plenty of success stories and horror stories. There are also variations on the CIO method that range from letting your child cry for as long as it takes from night one of implementation, to increasing the time intervals that you let your baby cry before going in to check on her. Regardless of the variation we believe it is best to try alternatives to the Cry It Out method.

Unfortunately, the CIO method has become extremely popular in the U.S. and seems to be the primary method recommended by parents, doctors and sleep-training “experts.” Some may say that since this is the case it must be the best way, especially if professionals suggest it. I happen to disagree. I believe that one reason these professionals recommend it is because it’s very simple. It is black and white. There is no need to understand timing or to read your baby. You just let them cry. It does not require much explaining and any person taking care of a baby can manage it. The other reason is that it works. I will not deny that the Cry It Out method does get a baby to learn to put themselves to sleep. However, I think that there are other ways to teach them this that are less traumatic for both parents and baby.

The Trauma

You hear so many parents struggle with the concept of the Cry It Out method. They don’t like to hear their babies cry for a long time without being there to take care of them. They feel like they are abandoning them and overall it just doesn’t feel right. In my opinion, when something doesn’t feel right and just doesn’t settle well with the core of you, then it probably isn’t the best method for you. If you do decide to implement the CIO method despite the unsettled feelings, you can feel guilty, sad and even like a bad parent. Many parents that do the CIO method say that they end up crying while their baby is screaming in the other room. This is a traumatic experience and no way for any parent to feel. Having confidence in your ability as a parent is essential for your family to function in a healthy way.

The trauma to the parents is undeniable as there are numerous reports from parents who have done it. They can tell you how they felt. The trauma to the baby is harder to convince people of, however, because a baby can’t tell you in words what they experience. You have to be in tune to a baby’s way of communicating and there number one way of communicating is through crying. If you pay close attention you can hear differences in the cries of your baby. A cry for hunger sounds different that a cry of discomfort, tiredness or pain. Parents can get to know these cries and be able to recognize what their baby needs. A baby who is left to cry it out has an obvious distressed cry. It is not a mere cry, it is a scream and a deep call for help. When a baby first begins to cry for one of their needs it is just a cry, but when ignored a baby gets stressed and their emotions rise. No person that has listened to a baby cry and one that is being left to cry can deny the difference in the sound of these cries. And the cry tells us that the baby is stressed. Many babies that are being left to cry it out start hating their bed, or even their bedrooms, as they associate them with the trauma of being left. Obviously, as adults, we realize that if we let our babies cry we are not going to abandon them forever. But, babies have no way of knowing or understanding this.

Problems with the Popularity of Cry It Out/Ferber Method

Other than just the stress of the method, there are other problems with the popularity of the Cry It Out method. Since it is such a simple method, many parents decide to try it without educating themselves on it first. This causes some parents to do it much too early. Even the proponents of the Ferber method say that babies younger than four months old can not and should not be left to cry it out. However, many parents want to do it with newborns much too early, as exhaustion sets in. This is unfair to a baby, causes unnecessary stress and may even deny a baby of essential needs (like suckling).

Another problem with the Cry It Out method is that some parents will decide to try it without a full commitment to it. They will start to let their baby cry, but as the emotions of the method start to sink in and it tears at the parents, they go in and change their minds. And many parents will go through this cycle of doing it and not doing it multiple times. This means that a baby was left to cry for no reason because it was not seen to the end and this is likely an even greater stress to the baby as he has no way of understanding what is going on and what is supposed to happen when he is left to cry for a length of time (he never learns independent sleeping).

One of my biggest complaints about the Cry It Out method is that many well-meaning parents have to resort to using this method when a child is older (old enough to have learned independent sleep for several months) because they got into habits that taught the baby not to sleep independently. Some of these habits are: feeding to sleep, rocking to sleep, never putting the baby in the crib when she is awake, not having the baby on a routine and lack of a proper wind-down prior to sleeping. The parent did not do everything they could to encourage healthy sleep habits from the beginning, but the baby has to be abandoned and left to cry to learn it. It is far better for a parent to take steps to encourage independent sleep, even if bad habits have already been developed by the parent, than to pull the rug out from under the baby and do a complete 180.

Let me point out that I do understand that in all of these situations parents have no ill-intentions. Parenting is hard, especially when you are sleep deprived with a newborn. I do not want to condemn any parent that has made these “mistakes” or make them feel bad. These are just some of the reasons I am not in favor of Ferberizing.

Finding The Balance

Having an infant that is able to put herself to sleep is extremely important for the entire family, whether parents, baby or siblings. We know that there is a way to achieve this without having to Ferberize your baby, no matter how old he is. The older your child is, the longer it can take to establish good sleep habits, but with patience, consistency and determination you would be surprised at how simple and greatly rewarding it really is.

Check out our article, Alternatives To Cry It Out, to learn what methods you can use to teach your baby to sleep without leaving her to cry it out.

Recommended Reading

To read more about trying alternatives to the Cry It Out method, we recommend Tracy Hogg’s books, Secrets of the Baby Whisperer and The Baby Whisperer Solves All Your Problems