Sleep Training Your Baby: The Cry it Out Method

The cry-it-out method is a way to teach babies to sleep on their own.

You want to jump out of your seat when you hear a whimper from your baby’s crib. It’s hard to listen to your baby cry. What if something is wrong? What would happen if I didn’t respond?

There are good reasons to respond to your baby when you hear him cry. But bedtime can be a different story. What child wants to go to bed? He could be yawning, rubbing his eyes, and falling asleep in his swing. And he’ll still protest by crying. 

To combat this, the mother often applies the cry it out method. 

Let’s take a closer look at the cry it out method so you and your baby can start sleeping better.

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What is the Cry it Out (CIO) Method?

The cry-it-out method, also called controlled crying, is a way to teach babies to sleep on their own.

Babies of all ages often have difficulty sleeping away from their mothers, especially newborns. The idea of the cry it out method is to have a baby soothe itself instead of relying on a parent.

How Does the CIO Method Work?

Studies show that letting your baby CIO can benefit his long-term sleep patterns and ultimate stress resiliency. It teaches a baby independence. Not to mention, it allows parents to rest well and offer their full attention when baby is awake.

The CIO method allows your baby to experience short-term stress for long-term benefits. 

There are six basic steps involved with the CIO method. 

Step 1: Develop a predictable nighttime routine

Like how adults perceive bedtime, establishing a predictable nighttime routine helps your baby’s brain recognize bedtime. A few of our favorite routine tasks are: 

  • Relaxing music or white noise
  • Dimming the lights
  • Storytime
  • Bathtime
  • Baby massages
  • Feeding


Related: Where Should My Newborn Baby Sleep?

Step 2: Put your baby down in their crib

Practice safe sleep practices so you know that when you’re baby cries, it’s not out of danger. Safe sleeping practices include:

    • Don’t leave your baby swaddled
    • Don’t leave any toys or stuffed animals in the crib
  • Don’t leave a baby on his/her back
    • Remove excess blankets from the crib

    Step 3: Watch and wait

    This step is the hardest step because this is when your baby will fuss. How you respond will depend on your method (more on that below). Continue to monitor for illness, injury, hunger, and other distress. You can still listen to, or watch, a baby monitor to observe any of these signs.

    Step 4: Soothe, but don’t linger

    When it is time, soothe your baby for a couple of minutes (you can pick baby up or not), then leave. Don’t linger for several minutes keeping your baby awake. 

    Step 5: Consider other causes for crying

    Understanding why babies cry is difficult because babies cry about everything. Do some parental investigation in this step by asking some of the following questions:

    • Is your baby hot or cold?
    • Is your baby hungry?
    • Is your baby teething?
    • Is the diaper dirty?

    Step 6: Be consistent with your approach

    Whatever method you choose, be consistent. The CIO method is hard at first. But consistency is less confusing for your baby.

    Related: How To Get Your Baby To Sleep Through The Night

    Experts suggest waiting until your baby is 4 months old to try the CIO method.

    The Top Six CIO Methods

    Experts suggest waiting until your baby is 4 months old to try the CIO method, although some parents can start as early as 3 months old. 

    Ultimately, the feeding schedule determines a baby’s appropriate time to start CIO. A newborn baby needs to feed multiple times in the night. Going without food for 4 hours looks very different for a newborn compared to a 6-month-old baby.

    The cry-it-out method has several sub-methods to try. Each plan starts at different ages. 

    Murkoff’s CIO Method

    Heidi Murkoff states that babies around 4-months-old (11 lbs) transition away from night feedings, allowing for longer periods of sleep. Sleep training begins at 4-months-old and involves graduated extinction, scheduled awakenings, and reinforced sleep rhythms. 

    Weissbluth’s CIO Method

    Dr. Marc Weissbluth’s method suggests starting a predictable evening routine early and letting babies cry for 10-20 minutes before checking on them. When babies reach 4-months-old, parents should implement “full-extinction” and let their children cry until they fall asleep. 

    Ferber’s CIO Method

    Created by Dr. Richard Ferber, this CIO method is the most widely known and used. The Ferber method “uses graduated extinction” when babies are 6-months old. Put your baby to bed when he is drowsy but still awake. Check on your baby after 5 minutes of crying. Increase the interval between each night. 

    Hogg and Blau’s CIO MEthod

    The Hogg and Blau method begins when your baby is 6 weeks (10 lbs). Cluster feed your baby in the evening and dream feed. The CIO portion includes the pick-up-put-down method. Parents soothe their baby when it cries, but immediately leave after it settles.

    Bucknam and Ezzo’s CIO Method

    Dr. Robert Bucknam and Gary Ezzo suggest starting this method around 7 to 9 weeks. Allow your baby to cry for 15 to 20 minutes before falling asleep while incorporating scheduled daytime sleep.

    The point of the CIO is for your baby to fuss until he soothes himself asleep.

    How Long is Too Long When Your Baby is Crying?

    The point of the CIO is for your baby to fuss until he soothes himself asleep. This could take several minutes, even up to an hour, for some babies— parents trying the CIO method report that it gets easier after the third night. 

    But your baby may actually need your attention for something at some point. It’s okay to check on your baby to ensure he is safe.

    Ultimately, you decide how long is too long. If you struggle with going several minutes without checking on your baby, choose a CIO method like Ferber’s method that allows both of you to transition into longer periods of CIO.

    Related: What To Do When Your Baby Doesn’t Sleep Unless Held

    Tips For Letting Your Baby Cry it Out

    To help you further, review these tips for a smoother sleep training session. 

  • Look for signs of sleepiness: Red eyes, rubbing of the eyes, yawning, fussiness.
  • Have a bedtime routine: Do the same thing every night so your baby learns when it’s bedtime. Use the crib as a sign for bedtime.

  • Put baby down while she’s awake: Falling asleep on her own teaches your baby to self-soothe instead of falling asleep in your arms.

  • Expect your baby to cry: Your baby will cry, so prepare!

  • Don’t respond: It’s hard. We know! Remember, it’s about short-term discomfort for long-term benefits. 

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