Why I let my baby cry… and hated it

*the photo used for this post is not my baby.

This post is written from a gentle parenting perspective. I tried cry-it-out (sort of, not really) and it was not for me. If you have used CIO, I do not think less of you as a parent, and I hope you don’t think less of me because I don’t let my baby cry. We all try different things for different reasons with different results. 

Shit has hit the fan with sleep. I was used to waking every hour at night with my almost 10 month old, but all of a sudden our once reliable naps became a battle, and our 15 minute bedtime routine reverted back to the 2 or 3 hour gong show it was when we hit the 4 month sleep regression. Well, less crying than before, more moving and whining. I get her to sleep by side lying nursing on a floor mattress or in a chair, and she has started getting up and crawling away. For every nap and bedtime. Relentlessly. 

I move between bouncing, rocking, rocking her while standing while she nurses, laying with her, sitting with her, persevering in the dark room for an hour, giving up and going back downstairs to play for another hour and trying again… It is so much work to get her to sleep right now. 

Last night I was entering hour 3 of this nightly battle and I had run out of comfort to give. My back hurt and I was sweaty, and I laid her in her crib to get a hold of myself. She started her slightly displeased little whimper. I knew she was physically fine (which isn’t always a given with our food allergy baby). I put my hand on her and sang her our lullaby. She shoved my hand aside and drown out my singing with loud, angry crying. I thought to myself, she’s physically fine right now, I’m right next to her, there’s no reason why she can’t settle down and come to realize she is perfectly ok. I waited. I stood there, shushing her, letting her cry. 

I didn’t plan to try crying it out. There was no predetermined time that I was going to wait. There was no plan. I was tired, touched out, frustrated, and desperate. 

She laid there for 10 minutes, screaming at me angrily, tears streaming down the sides of her face and pooling in her ears. I shushed her calmly the whole time. I stood next to her, reassuring her. She only got more and more angry. She was already almost 3 hours past her bedtime, remember, and extremely tired. By the time I caved and picked her up, she was brutally exhausted. She snuggled into my neck, her breathing still hiccuped from the crying, face wet, and promptly fell asleep. 

All I wanted to do in that moment was hold her tight. I felt like I could hold her all night. I wanted to take her into my bed with me (but we’re trying not to resort to that…). I felt like what I had just done was pointless. Wasted tears. In the end, she didn’t learn that she could fall asleep in her crib. She learned that if she cries enough, mommy will eventually pick her up. I don’t understand the psychology behind controlled crying. True CIO, sure – the harsh reality is that the baby learns that no amount of crying will get them what they want, and the behaviour is extinguished. But with controlled crying, the baby should, from a behavioural psychology perspective, persevere. Cry for 10 minutes, get picked up. Cry for 20 minutes, get picked up. The baby gets the pattern that it takes longer each time and is willing to keep crying for 30 minutes the next time. I’m sure it has worked for some families, or it wouldn’t still be a thing. I just have no faith in it because I don’t understand it. 

So that’s where I’m at with letting my baby cry after trying it one time, without a plan, out of desperation. I don’t understand it. It’s not for me. It made me feel yucky inside. 

But I also needed that to remind myself why I get up with her every hour and why I don’t have evenings to myself (or with my wife) again right now. It’s worth it to me because of the value I place on always providing comfort to my baby when she asks for it. It’s not everyone’s parenting approach, but it’s passionately mine. 

19 thoughts on “Why I let my baby cry… and hated it”

  1. I agree, i’ve tried to let my little one cry it out and the entire time I felt anxious and horrible and he was still crying after 20 minutes, so sometimes if he’s tired I’ll let him cry for 3 minutes ish to help him go to sleep then cuddle him but i couldn’t let him cry himself to sleep

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  2. We used a controlled crying method at 13 months. I think it worked because he was old enough for us to communicate with him and tell him he needed to go to sleep. After two nights of going in 5 minutes apart about 3 times, he stayed falling asleep on his own. Mostly, that’s continued to be true. But, I also think it has a lot to do with your child’s temperament and other factors. Which is why the best sleep methods is whatever works for your baby and family.

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    1. Yes it’s totally dependent on the child. Before having Avery I imagined I would try this method and be totally ok with it, but after meeting Avery and getting to know her personality, I knew it wasn’t for us. Glad it worked for you! It’s such a win to get sleep…

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  3. Sleep is the hardest thing I’ve had to do with my kids. I don’t know if my experience with Linnea will help, but thought I’d share just in case (not as a ‘try this’ but as a ‘solidarity’). Linnea does not like me to put her down for bed. She will push Leah into longer and longer bedtimes though, like your sweet one is. So I’ve been doing more bedtimes. And when it’s a hard night Linnea screams. She is angry. She is sad. She asks for Leah. She will sometimes melt down for 30 or 45 minutes. The whole time I am there to offer comfort and snuggles and rocking, but she’ll often just push me away. But eventually, every night, she has processed out her upset and she will either calm down on her own, or finally crawl into my lap, and fall asleep. I guess my point is, even with the option to fall asleep, some babies can benefit from letting out some upset (I’m not a CIO person either, but specifically am not about leaving a baby alone without access to comfort). No matter what you choose to do, your little one is a-ok. ❤

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    1. My mom told me that I used to cry myself to sleep in her arms every night as a baby and that’s all she could do to get me to sleep (I didn’t breastfeed). Avery has definitely had nights when she was younger that she would cry herself into exhaustion and fall asleep, and it is SOOOO hard to hear that and deal with it. Even if they do fall asleep after. Babies are hard. Thanks for sharing!

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  4. I hate letting J cry. We’ve done very little of it, and every time it is painful to hear. But as she gets older, I feel more aware of what her crying is saying, and sometimes when she is overtired, she just needs to burn off some energy/emotions so we let her cry while we are in the room. But the other night, after 2 hours of trying to get her to sleep, I left her alone crying. She freaked out, and when I came back after talking briefly to my wife about how frustrated I was, J looked so scared. And for the last three days, she has been talking about it as she tries to sort through her feelings about me leaving her in her room crying for literally less than 2 minutes. I think all kids – and parents – have a different capacity for tolerating CIO, but I don’t think it could possibly work for anyone in our family. Hearing J articulate her feelings about me leaving her for such a short time made me SO glad that we didn’t try CIO with her when she was too young to tell us how she felt.

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    1. Yes parents totally have different capacities for it. And I had a feeling from the beginning that Avery was one of those kids, like J, who really, really didn’t want to be left alone, and would feel real fear. There are absolutely babies out there who must just be crying because they aren’t getting what they’d prefer to have but get over it easily enough. It’s important to to know your baby and follow your intuition like you did.

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  5. Oh my goodness, all of this. We did do some controlled crying, even though I was in the same place re: CIO seeming most effective and controlled crying seeming like it would just teach them that they have to cry longer. I think the idea behind controlled crying is more to give them space to figure it out on their own, while also with the reassurance that you will return, eventually. At least, that’s what I told myself. But it doesn’t work for every baby or every mother. I have never felt worse than when I have sat in the living room, listening to her cry.
    *hugs* I hope you can find a solution soon, for both of you.

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    1. Thanks! It is so so hard to hear them cry. I think it’s just as hard for those who actually want to use and have faith in controlled crying methods. Never easy to listen to your baby cry and do nothing.

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  6. I have been all over the place with CIO. There have been nights when I’ve just let her cry herself to sleep because nothing else was working and I couldn’t deal with it anymore. There have also been nights when I’ve held her until she hiccuped her last sob away. As she’s gotten older and I’ve grown more confident in my parenting, I’ve found that it’s become easier to make a judgement call in the moment. Mostly on nights where she’s just overtired and cranky and screaming for the sake of screaming, I let her do it in her crib. I’ve found that there’s a certain cry that I am just not okay with, and the moment I hear that particular cry, I am there. If I suspect there’s an underlying cause, I hold her and comfort her until she’s ready to sleep. Granted, she’s a bit older now, so we don’t deal with this as much. It almost feels like just when I started to really figure out what works for us, she outgrew it. Typical!

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  7. I agree with Andi and others – we’re just starting to see the glimmer of communication that lets her know she is okay and we’re not picking her up. We’re not there yet, but I can tell it’s coming closer. I’m also developing a little more skill in deciphering the nuances in her cries – there are times when I can tell she’s super tired and about to fall asleep, so I let her cry a little longer. When I fall pray to her trap, go in, and see NO TEARS, I know I got duped and I’m so mad at myself because I just reinforced the crying…waiting would have let her actually fall asleep on her own. It feels like an art to me and I think we’re slowly getting better – me at knowing when I should NOT go in and her at knowing how to fall asleep on her own.

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  8. I’m definitely in the minority, at least in the online world, but he m a hard core CIO mom. I tried the controlled crying at first, but it just seemed to make everything worse, so we went full on with fantastic results. I totally don’t judge people for. It doing it though, I think we all do what we think is best, and what’s best varies for everyone.

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  9. I’ve never even heard of controlled crying, just CIO. I can’t do any of that, it makes me feel like a horrible person, and the worst mom in the world. That said…last Thursday I was at my wit’s end, and I couldn’t take it anymore. She was exhausted, but would NOT go down for a nap, she woke up every time I put her down and screamed. I was mentally and physically exhausted after hours of that as well, so I finally just put her in her crib and shut the door. She was fine for a couple minutes, then started crying. When I didn’t come right in, she became hysterical. I told myself I’d give her 5 minutes, then get her. Just as I was about to go in, she laid down and stuck her thumb in her mouth. She whimpered for about a minute, then fell asleep. I sat down on my couch and cried because I felt horrible. But, she slept for almost 3 hours, because she needed it. I totally get where you’re coming from, I can’t do it either. That day reminded me that although I do need a break once in a while, I can’t deal with the CIO method at all. (I still feel horrible about it, a week later…when I think about it my chest feels tight and I get tears in my eyes.)

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    1. It sounds like that really worked for her that one time when she really needed it. That’s kind of what I was going for, but gave in. Perhaps in another couple of minutes Avery would have gone to sleep on her own. I think you are doing a great job, and every parent needs to be able to step away every now and then, even if it’s not a planned sleep training method. Little one has guaranteed forgotten about that nap time experience, so I hope you can feel better about it soon ☺️

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  10. Good luck Amy- you know what is working for you and Avery. I don’t think there necessarily is one cure all approach to sleep- that’s why there are so many different techniques, but they all do seem to have some similar philosophies. I couldn’t do CIO either, instead I did the Sleep Lady Shuffle, which was gradually moving further away from the crib each night. I liked it because I could still touch/soothe him when he’d wake up. My spouse on the other hand did do CIO when he was a bit older than 10 months when he was resisting going down for naps- that was more like tantrums though than distress cries. As adamant as I was that I didn’t want to do CIO, it worked for her.

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  11. I 100% agree with you. That crying pierces me to the core 🙈 but some days your cup is just so empty that you have to walk away for a moment or just center yourself whilst they cry. And I guess sometimes they need to just express themselves too. Lord knows I’ve sat on the floor and cried with them 😂🙈

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