All across the globe parents ask the age-old question: “To cry or not to cry?”
Will letting them cry themselves to sleep turn out to scar babies for life?
Will avoiding sleep training cause permanent damage?
In 2012, we all finally got our answer when the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) published data from the first randomized, long-term study examining the effects of sleep training.
In essence, they divided babies 7 months old into groups that either
(1) performed no sleep training
(2) used a technique called “camping out”
(3) used a technique called “controlled comforting”
Then they periodically followed them until 6 years old to see if sleep training had any long-lasting effects on their “mental health, stress levels, the child-parent relationship, or maternal mental health”.
The conclusion? (drum roll, please…)
Sleep training techniques were safe for the child, mom, and child-parent relationship as there are no long-lasting negative effects OR benefits at age 6.
Yep, turns out there were no negative effects OR benefits in children who had sleep training in infancy.
So no matter what you decide to do (with regards to sleep training, that is), your child is going to be just fine.
At the end of the day, all of our babies are perfect and loving in every way (most days, at least). But along the journey, we did discover some pros and cons to sleep training vs. not.
Disclaimer: This page contains affiliate links. See our disclosure policy for more details.
Jo is “Team Sleep Training”
As evidenced by the fact that I’ve sleep trained both of my children, I think it’s pretty clear that I’m on “Team Sleep Training”.
Yes, sometimes that means using Cry-It-Out (CIO).
I didn’t reach this opinion lightly, I did my research first. Here are some pros I discovered from my reading and experiences:
1) Getting more sleep for longer periods did amazing things for me personally. I was a happier woman, which in turn helped me become a better mom, wife, and colleague.
2) I helped teach my baby a very important skill. Sleep is essential to everyone, especially growing and developing children.
3) Sleep training allows the crying associated with sleep to be over in a short period of time, in the span of a few days. It’s like ripping off a band-aid – painful but quick.
However, there’s obviously a HUGE con to CIO:
1 – Having to listen to your baby cry for long periods :’(
Shortly after having my first baby, I realized something very important: I wasn’t supermom.
For the first few weeks, I didn’t need [much] sleep. I was running on adrenaline.
I was excited – thinking this baby we’d been talking about for months was finally here!
I was stressed – constantly worrying if he was eating/playing/socializing enough?
I was busy – trying to keep an infant cared for in addition to all of my normal household responsibilities.
Fast-forward a few months, I was absolutely exhausted. Sleep in 2-3 hours increments (sometimes 4 if I was lucky) just wasn’t cutting it anymore. So I did a LOT of reading and decided to sleep train.
Let’s go back to those original sleep training “pros”
1) Getting longer periods of sleep did amazing things for me personally
When Ry was around 4 months, I felt exhausted all the time.
I went to bed when he did to try and get the max amount of sleep possible, even if that meant it was 7:30 pm. Still though, every time I was awoken at night I felt as if I hadn’t slept at all and sometimes I would be nursing through tears from sheer exhaustion.
I snapped at my husband for the smallest things, couldn’t concentrate at work, and watched as my house became an untidy state as my household duties were neglected.
I was a miserable mess.
That’s the point where I started to seriously consider sleep training (after reading this amazing book).
Look, the first night of sleep training was terrible (both on me and baby). The second was slightly better, and the third better still.
It took my body about a week to adjust to longer amounts of sleep, but then… I felt like a new person.
Most importantly, I felt like MYSELF again. Getting longer amounts of sleep was incredible in and of itself, but it allowed me to gain something else as well.
I started staying up until 9:30 pm which meant that after Ry went to bed I had 2 full hours to myself. Honestly, I mostly did laundry and watched TV – but it was “me time” and it felt amazing.
I went back to being the cheery and chatty one at work. I stopped forgetting everything. My husband and I started laughing together again. I stopped being so stressed about every little thing with my baby.
Let me continue by saying that my reasons for sleep training were not entirely selfish!
Of course as I already explained, personally getting more sleep helped me in all aspects of my life. But I also firmly believed my baby benefited from continuous sleep.
Sleep is essential for everyone, but especially young, developing minds. After Ry started sleeping better at night, he started taking better naps during the day too and was therefore less cranky (and more playful) when he was awake.
We also discovered happier associations with sleep in general after sleep training.
For one, bedtime itself was a breeze.
Around 7:15 pm we’d start our bedtime routine with nursing, teeth brushing, PJs, sleepsack, and stories. Then we’d sing a song and into the crib Ry would go.
Sometimes he’d curl up and go right to sleep, sometimes he’d play for a few minutes – but he would never cry about it.
I know babies are only this little once, but I preferred enjoying those snuggles during the day when we were all at our best. Not in the middle of the night when we’d all rather be sleeping.
Rachel asks, “How did you handle the crying?”
The words “mom guilt” doesn’t even begin to describe the way the crying made me feel.
Listening to him wail felt like someone was taking my heart out with a wrench.
Sleep training is not for the weak, you have to be confident in your decision and be determined to stick with it. Remember your goal! Try to see the light at the end of the tunnel.
I wouldn’t have been able to do it if it wasn’t for my husband. He sat with me as I watched the baby monitor, with my own tears falling down my cheeks.
He rubbed my back, told me it was okay, and reminded me a hundred times why we were doing this. Because let me tell you in those moments I had my doubts.
Another technique to deal with the crying? Take a page out of my friend’s book. Try wine – and lots of it.
Rachel decided CIO wasn’t for her
Prior to actually having a child, I had assumed that I would sleep train my baby.
This changed when I faced the reality of the crying. I could not handle it and decided cry-it-out was not for me.
So what are the pros of NOT sleep training?
1) I did not have to hear extra crying. Tears can’t be completely avoided, they are babies after all, but at least I didn’t have to listen to more crying when I was able to stop it.
2) I didn’t have to ignore my momma instinct. It felt right to respond to my baby’s cries.
3) Responsive parenting builds trust. I wanted to set a precedent for our relationship in infancy. I want my child to know that I will always respond when he needs me.
What about cons?
1 – Lack of sleep – it is not possible to overstate how much this sucks.
My son was not a great sleeper from birth.
He had reflux and the first few months he cried A LOT. My husband worked shifts so I was usually up shushing and swaying all night alone.
Though we got the reflux under control and he became a much happier baby we had already developed some “bad” habits like nursing to sleep.
He’d wake every 2-3 hours and nurse again. So I slept in approximately 2 hours increments… for months.
I have actually never been a fantastic sleeper myself, so I didn’t expect the night wakings to be so difficult.
I can honestly say that I thought I had felt tired before, but I had never ever reached the levels of exhaustion that followed the birth of my son.
Despite my need for sleep, I could not handle listening to my baby cry. It is hard to describe just how difficult the sound is to endure… my heart raced, I felt physically ill.
Suffice to say, I was willing to forgo sleep to avoid it.
It felt like everyone was interested in my baby’s sleep or lack thereof. I was told so many times that I needed to sleep train, to teach him to self-soothe, to let him cry it out.
If anything this advice, actually made me more resolved to not sleep train. I did not want to be pressured into letting my baby cry it out.
Yes, I’ll admit, I can be rather stubborn.
The initial reason not to sleep train was the crying, but with time it became so much more.
We both needed those night time snuggles after being apart all day.
I was struggling with severe mom guilt having my baby in daycare. I felt like being a working mom had already taken so many parenting decisions from me that I refused to let it determine anything I could still control.
I could not CIO just for my own sleep so that I could function better at work. That was my problem, not my baby’s.
I also refused to let the difficulty of pumping at work keep me from reaching my breastfeeding goals. The night feedings helped me maintain my milk supply.
2) I didn’t have to ignore my momma instinct
I also did not want to force myself to ignore my baby.
The discomfort of the cries was one aspect, but the intentional disregard did not sit well with me either. Ultimately, the issue was not just about sleep.
My son does sleep through the night. Sure, it took longer than if we did sleep training.
I was more willing to lose sleep than parent in a way that made me uncomfortable. Yes, my baby would have been fine, but I’m not so sure that I would have been fine.
He wouldn’t remember the tears… but I would.
At the end of the day, I have to be able to live with my parenting choices, so I have to do what I think is best for us.
Jo asks, “How did you physically do it? Go over a year without a full night’s sleep??”
Caffeine, just kidding… but not really.
It definitely took a toll, there were a lot of rough days. Accept that you may not be at your very best all the time and give yourself some grace. It can be tough to just get through the day.
I used to have a great memory, but that seemed to suffer the most. I wrote down absolutely everything, or it was almost certainly forgotten.
I have never been a morning person so getting up and out was even more difficult. I got everything I possibly could ready the night before (I made a checklist so I didn’t forget), our clothes were laid out, lunches and pump parts packed, bottles prepped. I also learned the hard way to build in redundancy, such as keeping extra frozen milk at daycare and spare pump parts at work.
Regardless of your decision to sleep train, your child will be fine. The best any of us can do as parents is weigh the options and figure out what works best for our family. We each made decisions by trying to balance our own sanity and our child’s needs. Sure, this looks different for each of us and may be completely different for you too.
Watch our video for some tips to get baby to sleep better!