Teaching Self-Soothing: The Cry It Out Method

When you hear a baby cry, your first instinct is to spring into action. You will likely keep an ear out for it. It can be tough to listen to your child cry, but sometimes it can lead to good things. Among those things is sleep for you and your infant! This can be achieved with a self-soothing technique called the cry it out (CIO) method.

crying baby laying downWhat is the CIO Method?

Some babies and toddlers just doze off with no issue. Others protest sleep, no matter how tired they are. They protest by crying, one of the few communication methods very young children have. Parents can combat this behavior with the CIO method. Also called controlled crying, this is a method of teaching babies to sleep on their own. While almost all babies, especially newborns, have trouble sleeping away from their moms, they have the equal capability to calm themselves.

The CIO method has been shown to have upsides such as better sleep patterns, increased resiliency, improved stress resilience, and independence. It also means parents can get more rest, which is much needed to take optimal care of a child. While your baby might endure short-term stress while crying, adapting the CIO method can lead to long-term benefits. Here are the six steps to introducing this technique.

Related:  How to Get a Baby to Sleep Through the Night

Develop a Designated Bedtime Routine

The first step to getting your little one to stop resisting bedtime is to help his/her brain recognize it. Once a person has the cognitive skills, they realize when it is time to sleep. A baby’s brain is not developed enough to understand this. To create the sense, parents must develop a designated bedtime routine and stick to it like clockwork. Some effective tasks in this routine are baths, feeding, massages, stories, singing, dim lights, white noise, or relaxing music. You can also have an evening sequence where different tasks are performed at other times.

Put Your Baby on its Crib

As the CIO method requires you not to tend to your baby, establishing safe sleeping practices is a must. This way, you can rest assured that the crying is not due to your child being in danger. To mitigate risks, do not leave excess blankets in the crib as it is a smothering and overheating risk. Remove all toys and stuffed animals as this could be a choking hazard and another smothering risk. Make sure your child is not swaddled and can move about freely.

The Waiting Game

This is probably the most challenging step because a parent cannot respond to their child’s crying. This is also when a baby will get fussy. Before walking away, look for any signs of hunger, illness, injury, or discomfort. Using a baby monitor, you can still keep your eyes and ears out. If the cries take on a different pitch, act accordingly, especially if you recognize a cry of distress.

wailing infant girl


Soothe Without Lingering

When the time comes, soothe your baby for just a few minutes. You can pick him or her up, especially if this is effective. As soon as your infant seems calm, leave the room. Do not linger because this will make it harder for your baby to fall asleep. The infant’s young mind needs to understand that it’s time to sleep. Lingering will cause confusion, and your little one already has enough of that!

Related:  Where Should My Newborn Sleep?

Why is Your Baby Crying?

Baby wails are a language in themselves. A different cry pitch can mean an infant is too hot/cold, hungry, teething, needs to be changed, or is sick. If you recognize any of these pitches, by all means, take the necessary action to make your child comfortable. Yet, no matter how difficult it is, do not go into the room if it is the attention-grabbing cry. While babies do crave attention and human contact, this has to be limited during the self-soothing phase because your child must learn how to go to sleep. If you give in to the demands for cuddles, you will keep your baby awake, thus making the CIO process longer.

Did you know that white noise can help babies sleep? Learn how to utilize this technique here.

Be Consistent

Consistency is critical when teaching self-soothing. Yes, this method can be tough initially, but consistency will expedite the process. It's suitable for parents because they can fit the CIO method into their new routines when caring for an infant.

The Top Methods

There are five established CIO methods. Experts suggest waiting until a baby is 3-4 months old before trying this process. The infant’s feeding schedule will determine the best time to start teaching CIO. Remember, newborns need to eat several times a night. Consider this schedule when choosing which CIO sub-method is the best option for you and your baby.


This method can be used with babies at least four months old. Designed by Heidi Murkoff, it moves infants away from night feedings so they can sleep for more extended periods. The training involves graduated extinction, a technique where one allows a baby to cry for a few moments and then comforts it for just a moment or two before leaving the room. The principal is to gradually increase the amount of time an infant is alone before falling asleep. Murkoff also focuses on scheduled wakings and sleep rhythms.


Marc Weissbluth suggests starting an evening routine early in a baby’s life and giving them 10-20 minutes to cry before checking in. He recommends that CIO training begin at four months but advises parents to use the “full extinction” method. This means letting your child cry until they fall asleep with no interaction.

close-up of crying infant



This is the most widely recognized and used CIO method. Developed by Dr. Richard Ferber, this incorporates graduated extinction that begins when a baby is six months old. Ferber instructs adults to put a baby to bed while it is awake but drowsy. When the infant starts to cry, wait five minutes, then check on it. Increase the intervals of time each night.

Is your baby especially restless or fussy? Try the 5 S's to soothe your little one.

Hogg & Blau

This method can be used on infants as young as six weeks. It involves cluster and dream feeding in the evenings. Cluster feeding is when very young babies want to eat constantly or frequently over short periods. Dream feeding consists of feeding your baby while it is semi-sleeping and usually happens an hour or two after the child has been put to bed. This method helps parents get some much-needed sleep. The CIO training takes place by soothing a baby (by picking it up) when it cries and leaving immediately after it stops.

Bucknam & Ezzo

This method can be used when a baby is 7-9 weeks old. Robert Bucknam & Gary Ezzo instruct parents to let a baby cry for 15-20 minutes before falling asleep. Unlike the other methods, this one includes scheduling daytime sleep.

Related: How to Teach Babies to Sleep on Their Own

Closing Thoughts

The point of cry it out is to let your baby cry itself to sleep. It’s difficult, but most parents report it getting easier after night three. Bottom line, you decide when to check on your baby as you know when something is wrong. Ferber’s method might be a good choice if you struggle with this because it allows for extended transition periods. It might be tough not to let your baby fall asleep in your arms, but as brutal as this process can be, comfort yourself with the benefits that come from it.

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