Should I leave my baby to cry at bedtime?
By Andrea Grace, Sleep specialist
Opinions are forever changing about whether or not babies should be left alone to cry and sometimes, conflicting advice can leave us unsure about the best way to settle our babies.
Research from Philadelphia said that babies who are left to cry learn how to be better sleepers. This takes us right back to the idea that some of the “crying it out” methods, which had gone out of fashion, are in fact the best option for teaching babies how to sleep through the night.
Just a few months earlier, research from Texas suggested that babies who are left alone to cry become greatly stressed (as do their mothers) and that this stress has serious implications for babies’ development and health.
It is no wonder that parents feel confused, when on the one hand they are advised to leave their child alone to cry and yet on the other hand, they are told that it is dangerous to do so.
If you are not sure which is the right way, it might be helpful to consider some of the following points:
Some babies cry more than others
It’s a fact. You might have tried to leave your baby to settle alone at bed time and been shocked at the degree of crying. Of course, it might be a question of your own perception or tolerance levels (you might be particularly soft hearted) but equally, it might be true that your baby does get more upset than others do. Sometimes there are reasons such as colic, reflux or teething troubles but sometimes it’s just a question of temperament.
There are plenty of babies who will just have a little grizzle and groan before settling down for the night, and their parents can happily leave them alone. Not all babies are like that, though and if you have a baby who gets very distressed if they’re left alone, then letting them cry it out might not be an option for you.
Leaving your baby to cry to cry will disturb others
Especially if you have other children, leaving the baby to cry may not be possible as it could wake them up or even distress them. Lots of parents are familiar with the dreadful scenario of having two (or more) little ones awake and needing comfort in the night. The fear of this disruption may mean that you tend to “over help” your baby to settle to sleep.
Another reason for not leaving your baby to cry may be fear of disturbing you or your partner – especially if either of you has to be up for work in the morning.
And if all that is not enough to discourage you from leaving your baby to cry, there is always the fear of the neighbours banging on your bedroom wall!
The advice that you are most likely to listen to is that which reinforces your own parenting style
As a loving parent, you know which way feels the best when putting your baby to bed.
You might consider that it is best not to over handle your baby at bed time but to simply to bath, feed, pop them into the cot and then leave them to cry and self settle. For you, the advice that leaving a baby to cry is a good way of helping them to sleep well will make perfect sense.
However, if your instinct is to soothe your baby to sleep and not have them cry, then you are likely to feel comforted by the research that says not leaving them to cry is the best thing.
So the way that you approach being a parent is a very personal thing, very much influenced by the type of baby you have, your home circumstances and your own values.
Important: When it comes to helping babies to sleep through the night, it is not ALL about leaving them to cry or not
There are a few factors which will promote good sleep in almost all babies around the age of six months. Apart from the first one, they are not related to whether your baby cries or not. The factors are:
Not letting them fall asleep over the bed time feed or in your arms after it. It’s best to allow babies to self soothe at the start of the night.
Having your baby fall asleep in the place where they are going to stay for the night. (Don’t let them fall asleep in your bed and transfer them to the cot later.)
Avoiding any “rituals” happening during the night, such as unnecessary night feeds or transferring into your bed. If you have a night time ritual going on, your baby may wake up several times in the night in the anticipation of it.
Helping your baby to be clear about what is night time and what is day time. Let them experience day light and darkness and also give them simple visual clues like closing the curtains at bed time and then opening them again before getting them up for the day.
As with so many things in life, when it comes to leaving your baby to cry or not, the middle ground is where it’s at. No baby who is truly distressed should be left alone, and yet allowing them a bit of time and some fussing and grumbling as they settle to sleep, is one of the best ways to ensure that they sleep through the night.