Sleep Training: What is Normal and How Long Should I let my Baby Cry?

By Pamela S Stevens
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Many parents bring their new babies home with a mixture of excitement and anxiety, especially first time parents. The old adage that a baby does not come with an instruction book is about the only thing you can count on over time. However, modern technology does provide many effective tools to help ease the anxiety of parents and help in baby sleep training such as baby monitors. With a good baby monitor you can hear every cry, whimper and coo, but the problem remains: Which ones do you ignore and which ones do you respond to? And how long should you let your baby cry and at what age? Every parent ultimately wants to know what is “normal” and what should I really worry about?

There are many schools of thought on the topic of baby sleep training, ranging from parents who invest in video and movement monitoring equipment and run to comfort their baby at any sign of distress to those who don’t use any kind of monitor and let their baby cry it out until they exhaust themselves and fall asleep. Not to mention that every child is born with their own unique personality quirks, so a technique that works with one baby may not work as well with other babies. So, we read through many articles on the topic and came up with a few basic agreements among those ‘in the know’ with baby advice.

Here are some things we discovered about crying babies and baby sleep training:

Newborns and Baby Sleep Training

It is generally agreed that newborns are not to be treated the same as an older baby. Most experts advise caretakers to be especially attentive to a child until about three or four months of age. During these early months not only does the baby need more care and attention, but it is also valuable get-to-know-you time, where the baby and the caretaker(s) figure each other out and learn how to communicate with one another. It may take a few months to discern which cries are calls of distress and which ones are just general fussiness. The first few months can also be spent slowly helping the baby learn routine and schedules and for you to figure out how to integrate a new baby into your life in a way that works best for everyone. Baby sleep training is an important part of this.

Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS)

Many new parents have a fear of SIDS, and it is a real fear, but a small one. In the United States there are more than four million babies born every year and about 2,500 die from SIDS. While this number is sad to hear, it only accounts for roughly .000625% of all babies born nationwide. The cause of SIDS is still not clearly known, but keep in mind that the prevalence is low and that the American SIDS Institute provides a list of preventative measures you can employ to minimize the risks (see www.sids.org). Fortunately, crying is not a known symptom of SIDS and employing good baby sleep training methods does not increase the likelihood of SIDS.

Colic

Colic is a time-honored baby mystery. It is not entirely understood, but it is common, occurring in about 20 percent of babies. Generally, colic occurs in babies at about two or three weeks old and may last until they are around five months old. Colic is tough on babies and parents since it often induces prolonged crying, even for hours, often at the same time of day. If you suspect your baby is colicky, it is a good idea to have them examined by their pediatrician to rule out other causes, but keep in mind that colic is common and your baby will grow out of it.

How long should I Iet my baby cry and what are good sleep training methods?

There are two schools of thought with baby sleep training, the ‘Cry it Out’ (CIO) method for baby sleep training and the more attentive ‘No Cry’ method. Keep in mind that both techniques are meant for healthy babies who are past the newborn stage, you’ve ruled out medical concerns such as colic and that you may have to try both methods, or a combination of both, to find what works best for you and your baby. The ultimate goal is to teach your baby to soothe itself and calmly fall asleep.

As a parent myself, I tried both methods before I even knew there were “methods.” Like most parents, I experienced a lot of trial and error during baby sleep training. The CIO method I used involved first making sure that my four-month-old baby was clean, happily fed and tired. Then I would lay him down to sleep and set my kitchen timer for 10 minutes. If, after 10 minutes, he was still crying I would investigate to see if something really was wrong. That worked for my son. My daughter, on the other hand, was another story. As mentioned, all babies are different. My daughter would cry more often, for longer periods of time and every day when she woke up from her nap. With her, it was more an expression of her frustration and desire to communicate. After a while I realized that her crying after her afternoon nap was “normal” for her and, no matter what I did, she was going to cry. So I just let her work through it on her own. And, as soon as she learned to talk and could relate to me what her frustrations were, she stopped crying as much., It was as simple as that. As mentioned above, sometimes it’s just a matter of getting to know your child so you can figure out what will work best for them.

So, with my children I employed elements of both methods, CIO and the No Cry method, for baby sleep training. And, from what I have read, even the so-called No Cry method still involves some crying. In many ways, crying is just your baby trying to communicate with you. If you choose to use a CIO method for teaching your baby to self-soothe to sleep, keep in mind that there are limitations. No one recommends that you let your baby cry for hours, hence my kitchen timer method. Prolonged crying may not be a sign of stubbornness but a sign that something really is wrong and requires attention. The No Cry method involves rocking, swaddling, nursing or otherwise coaxing your baby to sleep; however, once you lie them down they still may cry a bit. But, instead of picking them up, you may rub their belly or forehead until they fall back asleep. The theory is that they will eventually learn to put themselves to sleep cry free.

All in all, no one technique of baby sleep training is going to work for all babies. You will have to try out a few methods, be extremely patient and try to get some sleep yourself so you can keep up with your baby. In addition, there are many devices out there to help you lower your anxiety and increase your productivity, such as a good baby monitor. To see which one is best for you, check out our baby monitor reviews.

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