Cry it out method: The pros and cons of much disputed way to sleep train your baby

It involves putting your baby down to sleep while they're awake and letting them nod off with no intervention or comforting - even if they cry.

cry it out method baby sleep training
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Parenting is never easy, and when it comes to babies, there always seems to be someone with a different opinion of the best way to do things. But there is one particular area of baby care that can really divide opinion - do you comfort them until they sleep, or simply let them cry it out and fall asleep on their own?

Women's Health asked Eve Squires, a mum-of-four, and the founder of Calm & Bright Sleep Support for her expert take on this very tricky question. A certified sleep consultant, she was inspired to start Calm & Bright after being caught up in a fatigue-induced car accident.

She works alongside her sister Gemma Fryer, a paediatric nurse of 18 years, and fellow mum-of-four. Between them they know a thing or two about bedtimes!

Eve writes...

eve squires cry it out method baby sleep training
Eve Squires writes for Women’s Health UK
Eve Squires

Four decades since its birth, cry it out remains one of the most contentious parenting topics of all time. The debate dominates endless air time on parenting forums and occupies many a tired parent’s mind.

CIO, also known as the extinction method, is when a baby is put into their cot awake and allowed to fall asleep by themselves without any intervention, reassurance or support from the parent.

The approach has received some pretty poor press over the years, all centred around whether it’s cruel and whether it will negatively impact a child’s emotional security and development. Critics have called parents who sleep train selfish and neglectful. This results in feelings of parental guilt and shame.

"From 6 months of age, 11 to 12 solid hours of sleep is totally within reach."

Advocates of the cry it out method argue that it is quick, effective and long-lasting. They point out that sleep is a key human need and that attachment is enhanced when a family is getting the sleep they need. They reason that rested parents are more calm, energised, happy and responsive to their baby’s needs.

Researchers have noted that the only evidence that crying can be detrimental to infant development is based on long-term abuse and neglect, not a handful of nights of sleep teaching in a loving family home.

Whilst there’s no evidence of negative consequences of cry it out, there’s a whole host of evidence that sleep deprivation has negative, long-term consequences such as maternal depression, weakened immune and brain function, high blood pressure, memory loss, Alzheimer’s, diabetes and lower fertility, to name a few.

"That may involve staying and supporting their baby to sleep or visiting them when they see fit."

So is there any hope for parents who want in on the benefits of a full nights sleep but don’t wish to practice CIO? There most certainly is. Struggling on isn’t the only option for weary parents. From 6 months of age, 11 to 12 solid hours of sleep is totally within reach, often within a handful of days.

How parents go about enabling that sleep is entirely up to them. There are a number of approaches out there that offer a gentle, responsive approach, allowing parents to carve out their own plan. That may involve staying and supporting their baby to sleep or visiting them when they see fit. Or a minute of both. This middle ground approach allows parents to confidently harness the power of solid sleep whilst remaining need-meeting and responsive.

"What matters most is that you find an approach that feels good and right to you."

But how to know who to trust? Sleep support is currently an unregulated industry so parents must select who feels most suited to them and their own parenting approach. Parents may like to consider compassion, empathy and kindness equally as important as the appropriate qualifications and testimonials.

A great place for parents to start is to ensure that they feel heard, nurtured and understood from the very first point of contact.

Ultimately, it matters not how sleep happens, whether it is as a result of co-sleeping, feeding, rocking, responsive sleep teaching or cry it out. What matters most is that you find an approach that feels good and right to you so that you can live your one life to the fullest. Rest really is best.

Gem & Eve, Founders of Calm and Bright Sleep Support @calmandbrightsleepsupport are speakers at The Baby Show, which is celebrating its 21st year and returning to Olympia London from 21-23 October 2022.

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