Is it REALLY OK to leave a baby to “Cry-it-out”? How to get your baby to sleep

By Lauren Paris

Block your ears peeps or stock up on ear plugs.
For it seems we’re about to be hit with an influx of screaming babies, left to cry on their own, in their cots, while parents happily ignore them.

Media outlets around the world are publishing headlines such as:

“It's OK to let your baby cry himself to sleep, study finds”
“New research says 'Cry It Out' baby sleep method doesn't harm babies”

“Parents Shouldn't Feel Guilty About Training Babies to Sleep”

Media outlets are claiming ‘Cry-it-out’ is OK; that letting your precious baby cry itself to sleep causes no harm, after the American Pediatrics journal published results of decade-long Flinders University research.

“Dr Gradisar said the 43 participants were retested for salivary cortisol 12 months later, and again researchers couldn’t find any harmful effects on children’s behaviour or emotions,” according to Adelaide Now.

“He said that mothers of children who didn’t sleep well were at a two-times greater risk of developing maternal depression, and improving sleep through controlled crying could actually outweigh the stress some parents felt when conducting the method.

Precious babies. Love, cherish, respond to.

“While Dr Gradisar advocated ‘bedtime fading’ as a gentler sleep method, he said controlled crying should definitely be available for parents.

“Dr Gradisar said more research was now needed to see if the results could be replicated and parents could further rest easy.”

Such studies are fascinating for parents. The research findings are very interesting/ good to know.

I can understand why and how Controlled Crying may work for some, however, my real concern here is the media’s focus on “cry-it-out” instead of “controlled crying” and that the research relates to babies and toddlers aged from 6-16 months. Not younger than 6 months.

There’s a HUGE difference. 

Consider how many sleep deprived mums are now seeing headlines pop up in their news feeds suggesting it’s OK to just leave their babies to scream until they pass out from exhaustion, with their needs unmet. Well, that really doesn’t sit well with me.

CIO = leaving bubs to cry themselves to sleep to enforce a strict routine (when baby could be crying due to hunger/ wind/ wet nappy).

CC = parent checks on bub at intervals, for example, 1 min, 2 min, 5 min, 8 min to reassure them and then starts process again.

Even the researcher in charge of the study (Dr Gradisar) advocated “bedtime fading” as a gentler sleep method. NOT CIO!


It’s a shame that many people are encouraged to program their babies, these precious little humans, into becoming robots who feed and sleep at set times.
Instead of, I don’t know… FOLLOWING their needs, responding to their communication – which is in the form of crying because they can’t talk yet - and watching for their tired signs so they can tell YOU when they’re ready for sleep!

 If they’re crying, it’s usually because they’re wet, dirty, hungry, thirsty, or in need of some affection. 

What if I told you, you CAN have your baby sleeping well using a GENTLE approach!?
It worked for us. We had our second child sleeping through from around 4/5 months old (and was still demand breastfed in awake times) and our twins from 5 months (they were also demand-tandem breastfed).
No leaving babies to scream. Ever.

Breastfed to sleep and happily/gently transitioned into self-settling in their cots so they could sleep through from 5 months.

“Bedtime fading is the more preferred technique parents choose when provided both options. … It’s a gentle technique that works quickly,” Gradisar told Fox13Now adding that the university’s website has instructions on how to carry out both sleep training methods.

What’s more, the study offers an alternative to letting babies cry it out.Dr Gradisar advocates a gentle approach, however the media are running with the ‘let your babies cry’ line without any concern regarding the huge impact this will have on many mothers around the world, who are already vulnerable in their sleep-deprived haze, and may not realise the age range (the huge impact CIO or CC could have on babies younger than 6 months!) and the differences between CIO and CC.

In her book ‘Sleeping Like a Baby’ (extract on author Pinky McKay, an International Board certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC) specializing in gentle parenting techniques said controlled crying and other similar regimes may indeed work to produce a self-soothing, solitary sleeping infant. 

However, the trade-off could be an anxious, clingy or hyper-vigilant child or even worse, a child whose trust is broken.

“In teaching a baby to fall asleep alone, it is due to a process that neurobiologist Bruce Perry calls the ‘defeat response’. Normally, when humans feel threatened, our bodies flood with stress hormones and we go into ‘fight’ or ‘flight’. 
However, babies can’t fight and they can’t flee, so they communicate their distress by crying. 
When infant cries are ignored, this trauma elicits a ‘freeze’ or ‘defeat’ response. Babies eventually abandon their crying as the nervous system shuts down the emotional pain and the striving to reach out,” Pinky’s book says.

“One explanation for the success of ‘crying it out’ is that when an infant’s defeat response is triggered often enough, the child will become habituated to this. That is, each time the child is left to cry, he ‘switches’ more quickly to this response. 
This is why babies may cry for say, an hour the first night, twenty minutes the following night and fall asleep almost immediately on the third night (if you are ‘lucky’). 
They are ‘switching off’ (and sleeping) more quickly, not learning a legitimate skill.”

Sleepy cherubs.

A parenting educator I am friends with raised a valid point:
“Who benefits from CIO system? Yes, sleep training practitioners. 
And what other impact is there? CIO is not conducive with a strong breastfeeding relationship; so who would benefit if breastfeeding is interrupted? Just saying? Why the push all of a sudden with lots of publicity?”

Apparently the real winners here are formula companies and sleep trainers such as one who advocates leaving your baby to cry even if it vomits.

To the rest of the mothers struggling to digest this new information that goes completely against your natural instincts, I say, follow your gut and respond to that baby a thousand times.

Love them, hug them, cherish them, nourish them and reassure them.

This ‘sleep deprived’ state won’t last forever, there ARE alternatives to CIO or CC (you can have your babies sleeping well by using gentle techniques I used on my own babies).

(We started putting our bubs down if they were drifting off to sleep during a feed. Soon they were able to happily self settle and could peacefully transition through sleep cycles without the need for a ‘sleep association’ - such as breast or bottle - and could sleep through. 
Though they do suck their finger/ thumb.)

Go to your baby, love your baby, comfort your baby. They're not babies for long.

My happy twincesses were able to sleep through using a gentle approach.

What are YOUR thoughts?

Lauren Paris is a multi-award-winning journalist and former magazine editor who juggles working as a business consultant/ social media manager/content producer/ parenting coach and breastfeeding educator as well as life as a mum to her 4 young children (including 2-year-old twins who were happily demand-tandem breastfed until their 2nd birthday and were HAPPILY sleeping 10 hours each night in their cots by 5 months old using a GENTLE approach). 


Breastfeeding twins - Celebrating 2 years!

Personal best - 18 months of breastfeeding twins

What helps my twins sleep through the night?

Creating a rod for your own back...what's so wrong with feeding your bub to sleep?

This is how we do. How we became accidental cosleepers


  1. This is a great article, thank you. It just makes so much sense. I wish every first time Mum could be told this and be given permission to follow their instincts. I was pressured by everyone around me with my first baby to let her cry and I found it so traumatic, so after 2 or 3 attempts at controlled crying I gave it up and will NEVER go there again. My baby is now a very confident nearly 4 year old who sleeps through the night in her own bed and who my husband and I both have a very beautiful and affectionate relationship with. She is not spoiled from being picked up and cuddled and responded to when she needs something, she is very secure, knowing she is loved and worth listening to.

    1. Thanks SJMoore! Totally agree. There's so much information to wade through isn't there! The best thing any parent can do is respond to their baby's needs! <3 <3

  2. Hi Lauren, I am wondering what gentle methods you used to help you babies sleep. Sorry if you already described it somewhere (I am very new to you blog); you can just redirect me to where you talk about it in more details. I am first time mom and my girls has been a challenging sleeper since birth. I ended up doing gentle sleep coaching when she was 9 mo and it worked very well. By gentle approach I mean that I was with her at all times during the process. However, she was still complaining and crying because I was breaking her unhealthy sleep associations. Would you consider this a gentle approach even though it does evolve crying?
    It was hard to see her crying but the thought that if I do not change her sleep habits she will keep suffering from lack of sleep kept me going. I think people who criticize sleep coaching evolving crying often miss the fact that most parents do this for the sake of providing the child with healthy sleep. I am glad that I did the sleep coaching because now I am sure that my girl gets the sleeps she needs and not up every 1-2 h at night.


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