Cry-It-Out Overview

I get a lot of traffic to this blog from keyword searches for cry-it-out. As a result of some really extensive posting about our really extensive cry-it-out saga, I want to be sure that those folks who are researching cry-it-out can find the information they're looking for without having to go everywhere across the web. I know how frustrating it is to try like crazy to just find ONE person who expresses a sane idea on CIO without telling you that whether you do or don't use CIO, you're destroying your baby. I just want to give you a brief overview of our CIO experience. I believe our son, Gage, was around 18 months when we started trying CIO, so I can't speak to using it with infants or even younger toddlers. But I can say that with a kid around my son's age, it was an AMAZING success, and went so much better than we ever could have expected. Let me just tell you, I have an incredibly stubborn kid; he is so set in his ways, it is not easy to change him. But CIO WORKED.

So, here's the wrap up. If you're considering CIO, these are the things I want you to know, from a parent who has been sitting exactly where you are. Is it safe? Is it effective? Will it work for my child? I’ve gone a little more in depth below, but if you’re exhausted like I was and just want a few short answers, here’s what we found from CIO.

1. Continuity is absolutely the key. Never baby in your bed once you start trying to get them to sleep in their crib. Never, ever, ever. If you do this, it's like a reset on the whole process. At least it definitely was for us. If you're struggling with why CIO isn't working for you, check your tactic. Are you following the same routines and rules every single night?

2. Give your kiddo some extra love, cuddles, and attention during the day, since you're no longer doing so at night. Extend bedtime for a little, or spend some extra couch/floor time cuddling throughout the day, if you’re home with baby. It'll be good for both of you to remind yourselves of why you're undertaking this process.

3. There has been absolutely no change in Gage's personality, other than the fact that he is better rested, no longer cranky throughout much of the day, and has a longer attention span. He did not become withdrawn, clingy, or anything else negative. The only repercussion from his CIO experience is that he is so much more rested and happy.

4. How are we doing now, months later? Gage is 21 months, so it isn't as though we have years of proof. However, I can tell you that he is an amazing sleeper. He goes to bed at 7:00 PM every night (at least by 8:00, if something comes up like a late dinner; this is maybe once every couple weeks.) He sleeps until at least 6:00 AM, but recently he's been sleeping until close to 7:00 AM. So as you can see, this is a very appropriate amount of time for a child his age to be sleeping. And he is fairly flexible, demonstrating that he can go to bed later than his usual bedtime if need be. He is excited to lay in his crib, whereas before he'd scream if you even hovered him over it. He giggles, smiles, lays right down, and waves good-bye to us when we put him in at bedtime. He rarely cries after being put to bed; if he does it's for a minute or two and then quiet. It's likely that these cries are related to something external like teething. He does periodically cry in the night, but when he does, I or my husband go in and pick him up, hold him for a few minutes, tell him how much he is loved, and lay him back down. It is likely these cries are related to a sound he hear or a nightmare, so we are happy to go reassure him. He goes back to sleep every time. He naps for 1-3 hours every afternoon, his usual is around 2 hours. He naps in his crib. He does cry from time to time when I put him down for nap, but I think this is normal. Toddlers don't like to be interrupted in their busy days for sleep. He does easily settle in and sleep though, even if he fusses for a bit.

5. We did not use Ferber; that did not work. Every time we went into his room to "check" on him, it made his crying jags worse. As bad as it made us feel, for us, it was much more effective to put him in his room and just let him cry. We live in an apartment, so that was unnerving, but it was the only way for us. I think it was very important for him to learn that he did not have to breastfeed to be comforted, that he could comfort himself with his blanket and stuffed dog. This is a healthy, normal adjustment.

6. We utilized the "special toy" philosophy, letting him pick his favorite stuffed animal to be his comfort companion. We are extremely careful with this stuffed dog, that it doesn't not get chewed up by our dog or lost. It is integral to his nighttime comfort.

7. I wanted to wean Gage, and I could not do that while he was co-sleeping and dependant on nursing to sleep. I was able to successfully wean Gage around 20 months. It was hassle free and easy, and he was a devoted nurser. We cut out one feeding a day until we were only doing bedtime, and then we cut out bedtime. He only asked for it once after cutting out nighttime. So I'm not worried there is any attachment issue there. He did great.

8. Ultimately, we decided that we could do no more damage to him than we were doing to him by letting him suffer chronic exhaustion simply due to lack of sleep. A child getting 5 hours of solid sleep a night and 30 minutes of deep nap is not a child who will be learning or developing as they should be. That is also a recipe for a cranky, crazy, out-of-sorts toddler who has ZERO attention span and can't sit still for 5 minutes because constant motion is required to stay awake.

In short, cry-it-out worked for us. I am, of course, not a doctor or an expert, so if you have concerns about cry-it-out for your child that you're unsure of, please consult your doctor. I speak from personal experience, and because of my experiences with no-cry, some-cry, and cry-it-out sleep solutions, I would never profess that the same thing that worked for one person's child would work for everyone's. But if you're at your wit's end and don't know what else to do, and CIO is looking like your only option, it may well be just what you need. My household is so much healthier since CIO. If you have questions though, please feel free to shoot me an email or comment on any of my CIO posts. So here’s just a bit of the back story on us and CIO, all in one place, if you’d like to continue reading.

If you read each day of my CIO chronicles from the start, you'll see that it looks like a catastrophic failure at first. We started doing CIO because we were at our wit's end with co-sleeping. Our little guy wasn't sleeping well anymore, he wouldn't sleep alone, and he wouldn't sleep without nursing. So when he co-slept, he was up all night long, nursing off and on. This meant my husband and I were also up a good bit of the night, because a 23 pound puddle of squirminess in bed with you is hard to ignore. Gage was constantly tired, we were constantly tired, and no one was happy with co-sleeping anymore.

We talked to Gage's pediatrician (well, ok, technically it was Gage's "fill-in" pediatrician) about what method, other than CIO, we could use with Gage to get him sleeping successfully on his own. We explained that we had tried every no-cry solution out there, and even dabbled in Ferber, which didn't work for us, either. He basically told us that if we wanted Gage out of our bed and all of the no-cry/some-cry solutions had failed, then our only option was serious cry-it-out, by which he meant put Gage in his crib after a bedtime routine, shut his door, and stay out. Period. Let him cry himself to sleep, and let him learn that he can sleep without interference. He explained that after 18 months of co-sleeping and nursing and nurturing, that there was not going to be any reason for Gage to develop trust issues with us. He told me that it was clear that Gage was healthily attached, and that letting him learn to sleep on his own would not break that bond, that he would learn that we would be there for him in the morning, but he needed to sleep alone. He made it clear that setting Gage up for a lifetime of sleep troubles was not the most loving way to raise him. This made sense to me, but I asked about the handful of studies out there that say (basically) CIO turns your kid into a sociopath. The doctor told me that those studies are typically conducted using foster children; that you are dealing with children that already have abandonment issues, and it is an unfair bias in the study to have kids that are already pre-disposed to feeling abandoned. Now, obviously, I'm not familiar with every study out there, so maybe there are some that aren't done that way, if that's the case, that's perfectly fine, I'm recounting what my doc said. He told me that the best way to do CIO was all at once, letting him cry for naps and for bedtime. So, armed with this knowledge, but still with a heavy heart that this was going to be awful, we set out for home.

I explained to Brian what the pediatrician had said, and then we stalled for a few days before getting started. I won't break down every night for you here, because I've basically done so in the blog. However, I will tell you we didn't do naps at the same as bedtime. I felt awful that Gage would've been getting basically no sleep, and yes, it definitely showed. So he would lie in bed for bedtime, and then he would sleep with me, nursing, for naptime. This went on for over a month with really good results the first few days, and then we got off routine. We started letting Gage sometimes finish the night with us, sometimes not. It straight up did not work. Frustrated and stressed, we went back to the doctor, and explained that it was not working. She asked me to walk her through what we'd been doing and the pattern emerged... when we stuck to it appropriately, CIO had really started to work. When we got off track and didn't give Gage any continuity that he could understand, he didn't do so well. She also said he needed to be out of our bed until he's three, NO MATTER WHAT. No letting him back in. She said if he absolutely needed to cuddle with someone, like if he were sick, we could sleep with him on the couch or an air mattress for a night or two, but not in our bed. And that if he needed to still lay with for naps, the couch was ok, but not the bed.

We resolved that night to get back to doing the exact same system for CIO every night. Lo and behold, within 3 days, we started seeing serious improvement. I was still letting him nap on the couch with me, but bedtime was going amazingly. We started to feel really positive, and started doing CIO for nap time. It took a little longer with naps, but it did work out effectively.

Please note: If you believe I destroyed my son's psyche by using cry-it-out, and you feel the need to leave me comments or send me emails to that effect, know that you won't be well received. I did not embark on the CIO quest lightly. I did heaps of research, we prayed, we thought, we talked to nurses, parents, doctors, etc. If I'm honest, I will tell you that I stood where you stand once, if you hate CIO. I believed CIO was unbelievably cruel, and I couldn't believe anyone would do it. It's amazing where you'll find yourself when your circumstances are what mine were. As stated above, we were more concerned about the cognitive issues that could be caused by prolonged exhaustion. However, if you want to debate, feel free. I stand behind the fact that CIO was our single best option, and we're happy with the results. No-cry sleep solutions worked for you? That is awesome! I wish they would have worked for me. It wasn’t for lack of trying. I am all for whatever works best for your kid in this instance! I believe in whatever path to a safe, healthy, well adjusted child. I happily found our path.

I also would like to avoid being skewered for having let our baby co-sleep. We certainly didn’t set out to, but it worked for us for quite a while. I am not a militant co-sleeping proponent, in fact I believe in many circumstances it is very dangerous, because people do not take appropriate precautions. We did. Would I ever co-sleep again? NO. Because of the trouble we’ve gone to to get Gage back out of our bed, we will NOT co-sleep with our upcoming baby. But it did work for quite some time with Gage, and that was the important part. We have a co-sleeping bassinet and I will certainly be using that with number 2. But never in our bed, not ever. We simply did what worked the best for us, and you should certainly do the same. Best of luck to you! If you’re researching cry-it-out, I bet you’re pretty sleepy, so I wish you the best, and long nights of constant sleep ahead.


  1. I used a combo of Babywise and Baby Whisperer books. My first boy we started at 6 months old. He is the happiest, smartest, most well behaved boy ever-and I'm not being biased here. Yes, we have our moments, he is a very exotic food eater-not 'picky' but what 3 year old loves grapefruit and hummus over pears and mac n cheese?
    He started sleeping through the night when we did CIO and has been a great sleeper since. He still at age 3 takes a 2 hour nap, goes to bed by 8am and sleeps till 7am. We have NO bedtime fussiness-in fact he tells me if he is tired for naps or bedtime and asks if he can go.

    For number 2 we started at 2 months old. It took only a week. She started STTN and has-besides the occasional cold or teething. She at age 1 takes 2 naps 1.5 hours long and also goes to bed from 7pm to 7am.

    My boy is my snuggle bug-no separation damage there. He is in a 4 year old preschool class-being given 5 year old worksheets because he is so smart, but socially I didn't want him with 5 year olds. My 1 year old girl is talking in sentences and can't get enough hugs!

    Good luck to you with baby #2. I'd love to connect via facebook sometime

  2. Thanks so much for your input, Lorrie! I think there is such a wealth of misinformation out there when it comes to CIO, and a total lack of information about real-world folks who've given it a shot. I know when I was researching it, I found either one extreme or the other. People who thought it was the ONLY WAY or people who thought you'd be raising the next Dahmer if you use any CIO method.

    It sounds like your little guy is pretty excellent. Mine is too. He's clever, has a great attention span, learns quickly, absorbs knowledge like a sponge, and loves his family he very much. He also is a great socializer, although he doesn't like to get close to people he doesn't know-but that's as it should be, at his age.

    I'm really looking forward to #2. We'll see how it goes with the sleep training with him/her, but hopefully we won't have the same starting point without the co-sleeping. So we'll see!