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Which is better: Controlled Crying or Cry it Out?

Updated on March 4, 2012

What are the Two Methods?

The two methods mentioned in the title of this article are different approaches to getting you baby or toddler to sleep. They are by no means the only two methods but they are similar approaches since they both involve letting your child cry when you put them down to sleep.

These methods are not so much about getting your baby to sleep through the night, as they should be doing that by this point, they are more about getting your baby to go to sleep on their own without a nightly ritual that lasts half the evening.

Some parents will be against any method where you leave your baby to cry but this article is for those parents who recognize the benefits of letting your child cry in order to train them to sleep happily and independently.


The Cry it Out Method

This method is often confused for the Feber method, named after Dr Richard Feber, however feberizing is more similar to controlled crying.. The method should not be used on babies younger than 4 months and roughly speaking the method should take as many nights as the baby is months old to work. So for instance a 4 month old should take 4 nights to respond to Cry it Out, whereas a 7 month old would take a whole week. From this point of view it is important to instigate the method as soon as you feel your baby is ready but not really earlier than 4 months.

For the cry it out method you should have a nightly bedtime routine whereby your baby is relaxed and enjoys some quality time with you winding down before they go to bed. It is very important that you put your baby down while they are tired and relaxed but still awake. Remember you are trying to encourage them to be able to sleep independently.

Once you leave your baby to sleep if they cry you simply leave them to cry it out. You don't go back in to comfort them and eventually they will cry themselves to sleep. It is recommended that you don't go back into their rooms as this will prolong their crying and give them a false sense of hope that you are going to pick them up and comfort them. Once you make the decision to try cry it out you must stick to it or it simply won't work.

You can expect your baby to cry for up to an hour on the first night but as the nights go on they should cry for shorter and shorter periods of time until they finally start going to sleep peacefully on their own.

The Controlled Crying Method

The second method is a slightly less drastic than cry it out since you return to your child and comfort them at regular intervals so you are not actually leaving your baby to cry non-stop.

With controlled crying you do a similar thing to cry it out insofar as you have a relaxing and loving bedtime ritual and then put your baby down to sleep awake. However with this method you only leave your baby to cry for five minutes. If they are still crying after this time you return to their room and comfort them. To comfort your child you do not pick them up or speak to them but simply pat them or stroke them and 'shh' them . As soon as your baby is soothed you leave the room again and this time let them cry for ten minutes. You repeat this process each time doubling the amount of time you let your baby cry until they eventually fall asleep.

It is important to note that which both methods you should not leave your baby to cry if you believe them to be ill or if you think there is something genuinely wrong with them. For example you shouldn't leave a baby to cry with a sodden or dirty nappy.

So Which Method is Better?

I have used both these methods. With my eldest I used the cry it out method. I did it when she was six months old at around the same time she went into her cot in her own room. It made sense to do it then as we'd have done it before chances are we would have had to do it again when we moved her. The cry it out method took four nights and ever since she has gone to sleep perfectly happily on her own with no tears and no bother. So this method definitely works.

With my youngest I did controlled crying. The reason I used this method instead of cry it out was because we had an older baby and it wouldn't have been fair on her to have to lie listening to her little brother crying for up to an hour. My son now goes to sleep on his own with no bother but it did take longer for him to get to this stage. He was crying for up to 15 minutes for quite a few months before we got to no tears at all at bedtime.

So both methods work but cry it out works faster. The method you choose therefore really depends on what you feel comfortable with.

Here are a few pros and cons to both methods:

Cry it Out

Pros-

  • Works fast
  • You don't have to keep going upstairs and comforting your baby
  • Your baby will wake up happy and will not be 'angry' with you for leaving them to cry

Cons-

  • Seems a bit mean
  • You have to endure listening to your little baby crying for up to an hour
  • Some babies make themselves vomit from crying so much so you may have to change their sheets

Controlled Crying

Pros-

  • Works but slowly
  • You get to keep checking on your baby and make sure they are alright
  • Easier on other children in the house as there is less prolonged crying
  • Easier on your conscience as a parent

Cons-

  • Much slower to reach the desired result of no tears at bedtime
  • Your baby may actually cry for longer altogether with this method than if you had just left them to cry it out
  • Some babies may actually get more worked up if you keep returning to their room and leaving them again
  • You have to keep walking upstairs to comfort your baby

Which Method

What Method is better: Cry it Out or Controlled Crying?

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    • Meg Moon profile image
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      Meg Moon 4 years ago from United Kingdom

      My youngest is now 13 months and he has only just started sleeping through at about 12 months but it was mainly because he waking due to teething but I was just breastfeeding him to get him to sleep. Once I stopped offering a feed he soon stopped waking regularly. If he ever wakes up now it is for teething and I give him the nelsons powder a quick cuddle then leave him to go back to sleep. I would definitely recommend the nelsons. Hope it all works out for you but I'm sure it will- 4 months is a long time in baby development.

    • profile image

      Marie Pellizzon 4 years ago

      I have tried most methods but only CIO worked for my son around 6 months of age (now 10 months old). The first night took around 30 mins, and I think I cried more than he did! I kept thinking this is one of the most important skills for him to learn to go to sleep by himself. The 2nd night took around 15 mins, the 3rd night 5 mins and then every night since he went to sleep with only a few murmers and slept for much longer (usually from 7pm until 10pm for his night feed, which he woke up for, then from 10pm until 7am). This also made day napping much easier, as didn't have to rock him to sleep anymore. However: when my son is unwell he likes to be rocked to sleep, he's such a cuddly baby and if he's teething/cough/cold, he doesn't settle well alone and prefers to be cuddled to sleep. He then gets used to being rocked and I find that after we have to re-train him (using CIO method). His teething is obviously ongoing, but he does seem to get a cough/cold quite a lot (maybe related to teething/lots of mucus) and I seem to be eternally rocking him to sleep now, resulting in his waking a couple of times in the night. A little bit worried as I'm pregnant and new baby due in 4 months (September). I hope my son will eventually sleep through the night before new baby arrives! I might try the nelsons herbal powder! Any help appreciated!

    • Meg Moon profile image
      Author

      Meg Moon 4 years ago from United Kingdom

      Keep at it- it really works you won't regret it

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      Natasha 4 years ago

      Hi we just started using CIO for my six and a half month old. This is a last resort as I have returned to work and can't cope. Gosh this is difficult and it's only been one day! I have tried everything and CIO is a last resort. So I deinately agree, it depends on your baby.

    • Meg Moon profile image
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      Meg Moon 4 years ago from United Kingdom

      Isn't it crazy that you have to do stuff in secret- people are so judgmental when it comes to parenting. Glad it worked for you

    • ExpectGreatThings profile image

      ExpectGreatThings 4 years ago from Illinois

      Kudos to you for writing on such a controversial subject. We did CIO with our oldest, but we did it secretly because none of our friends would have approved :) She still woke up every morning with a sweet smile on her face and completely satisfied with us. And we enjoyed a great night's sleep long before our friends did! I definitely never saw any damage in using this method.

    • Meg Moon profile image
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      Meg Moon 4 years ago from United Kingdom

      Glad it worked for you. I'm not sure I agree with you on leaving it til 9/10 months though as usually the method works quicker the earlier you start but obviously I wouldn't advise it from before 5/6 months and also never when they are ill or going through a growth spurt.

      Thanks for stopping by!

    • Anna Evanswood profile image

      Anna Evanswood 4 years ago from Malaysia

      I finally did controlled comforting( controlled crying) at 18 months with my baby. The first night was the worst it took 15 mins. second night 10 mins, third night 5 minutes. Then no more 5 minute visits. I use this method if she wakes in the middle of the night and it works. It also works for naps in the day. We have had her STTN for 6 months now.

      I don't like the crying out method as I think that its cruel as its basically giving the message at night no matter what happens, no one will come to you. If your child is so distressed they vomit from crying I think you need a new method.

      I also think that trying these methods before about 9/10 months is cruel. Your child needs to know that if they require help, they will get some.

    • Meg Moon profile image
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      Meg Moon 4 years ago from United Kingdom

      Wow - you sound like me- Mine are 3.5, 2 and 7 months. My youngest has also been the worst sleeper but he is good now- I did CIO with him at 5 months cos I couldn't take anymore and he responded really well to it really quickly. Good luck with it all x

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      Mikaela 4 years ago

      Crying it out has worked for me I have 3 children oldest is 3 years then 2 years then 9 months I'm going through this again with my 9 month old as my partner disturbed her quite a bit a tried the controlled crying. My 2 oldest go to bed at 6pm after baths and that's it they don't wake till between 7 and 8am my youngest is the more difficult she is in our room still and will wake up at about 2 or 3am we try to settle her but after weeks of no change we have decided to let her cry it out and sleep downstairs till she realises she needs to sleep for the last few weeks we take a bottle to bed but she is not interested and checked her bum there is nothing wrong with her seemingly she sees us in the room and wants to get up and play, hoping for the same results soon x

    • Meg Moon profile image
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      Meg Moon 5 years ago from United Kingdom

      OK Firstly I'm not an expert I'm just writing from my own experience of being a Mum. The only time my children have done this has been teething related- I have used the cry it out method and controlled crying for getting them to sleep but haven't used it as much for nighttime waking as I think 1) it is harder to leave them to cry in the middle of the night and 2) in the middle of the night they might have a genuine need that needs meeting rather than just not wanting to go to sleep. If you think it might be teething related have you tried the homeopathic teething sachets- we have a brand called Nelsons in the UK and they contain chamomile- they work a treat.

      In answer to your question will she grow out of it I would say so but how you handle it will alter how quickly she grows out of it. You are doing the right thing keeping her in the crib to comfort her however you might want to stop rocking her to sleep as she will grow used to that and you wont be able to do it forever- she should be awake but relaxed, calm and sleepy when you put her down. If you want to try controlled crying layout some quilts etc in case she does manage to throw herself out of her crib- I wouldn't get a camera unless you feel you absolutely have to as it will probably make you cave in. Instead you may want to try soothing your daughter in her crib (when she wakes in the night) attending quietly to any needs she has- e.g. teething pain- then sitting on the floor with her in the dark- no talking and then gradually move closer and closer to the door I have done this with my son when he has been really worked up and it seems to work. Good luck let me know how you get on.

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      Livianasmommy 5 years ago

      My daughter is 9 months old and was always a wonderful sleeper until recently. Around 7 months she started waking up during the night but a snack an hour and a half before bed easily fixed that. Now it seems nothing will work. She can now crawl and stand up. I rock her to bed for about 5 minutes as part of our bedtime routine and she will sleep in her crib from 830 to 1 or 3. Then she wakes up and stands up in her crib crying for her mommy. I go up lay her back down, try to comfort her without taking her out of the crib and as soon as I leave she gets up and stands in her crib and cries. I feel that allowing her to cry goes against everything I believe in. Her cry breaks my heart. I am also worried that she will fall in her crib and hit the rails and hurt herself. I am also afraid allowing her to cry is emotionally and physically not safe short-term and long-term. Is this just a phase? Separation anxiety? Molars as she has all 8 of her teeth already? Growth spurt/development? Will she grow out of it? If I continue to comfort her when she wakes by rocking her as long as needs before laying her down will she always expect this or will she grow out of this phase on her own? If I decide to try one of the above methods would a camera monitor be beneficial so I can see that she is okay? or would this make it worse on myself?

    • Meg Moon profile image
      Author

      Meg Moon 5 years ago from United Kingdom

      Wow- I'd be interested to hear how successful CC is after 11 months of co-sleeping but I think it should work - even if it takes a bit longer and I promise you you wont regret it! Let me know how you get on, Good Luck

    • profile image

      Sleepymumma 5 years ago

      Great post. I'm trying Cc with my 11 month old after having co slept with her since birth. I think she'll benefit from not waking up every hour or so after a boob falls out of her mouth! At least I have to keep telling myself that! Persistence is key.

    • Meg Moon profile image
      Author

      Meg Moon 5 years ago from United Kingdom

      Thanks for the feedback- I think you're right about the different babies... I'm expecting our third so I just hope one of these will work with him!

    • KoffeeKlatch Gals profile image

      Susan Haze 5 years ago from Sunny Florida

      I couldn't vote for either method. I have tried both. With my oldest nothing worked. With my middle the controlled crying worked. With the youngest the cry it out worked. I came to the conclusion that it depends on the baby - at least in my case. Very well written. I liked the way you wrote the pros and cons. You did a terrific job. I do agree, the cry it out worked faster. Up, useful, and very interesting.