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  • Cry It Out Method: The Dangers of Letting Your Baby Cry Himself to Sleep

    Dr. Richard Ferber’s "cry it out" method doesn't always work if you're thinking of sleep training.
    by Gabrielle Weil .
Cry It Out Method: The Dangers of Letting Your Baby Cry Himself to Sleep
  • In a previous article, I introduced history behind sleep training, an explanation of what is considered extended crying when referring to the Ferber method of baby sleep training and why French families don’t need to sleep train. (You can find it here.) Today I am continuing with the topic, helping to highlight where Dr. Richard Ferber’s "cry it out" (CIO) method for sleep disturbances should not be used and why. I will also share a little more on how I help families turn their sleep situations into positive family bonding.

    Ferber method is NOT for babies under 6 months of age.

    Researchers are very clear on this one: Ferber's "crying baby" theory is NOT for babies under 6 months. I have come close to a combination of disgusted and dismay when parents who are friends of friends of mine or who I begin to work with have tried Dr. Ferber’s method on babies as young as 3.5 months. The only thing that comes to mind is a desperate WHY? 

    I would like to say that no matter what the age of the baby, CIO does not get to the root of the sleep difficulties that you may be experiencing. Which leads me to my next point.

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    Ferber method does not teach babies how to fall asleep.

    Yes, that’s right, you read that correctly. Dr. Ferber himself clarified this for the second edition of his book 20 years after its initial release.

    Circadian rhythms and hormones are what teach our bodies how to fall asleep, not leaving your baby to be in distress. Sleep aids — using an exercise ball, feeding her milk to sleep, rocking your child in your arms — do not "put" your baby to sleep any more than a baby being left in a dark room to cry without you.

    You cannot force a baby to fall asleep any more than you can force an adult to fall asleep.

    Your baby does need to see you and to be reassured. But they also need to be taught how to navigate through a new situation like sleep. They will need to know that when they call out their primary caregiver is near.

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    Sleep is not something we control, and if we look at it biologically, this would be clear. Sleep in the human body is regulated by hormones and nature. It is our role as parents to help guide our littlest members of the family into these natural cycles that will help them fall and stay asleep.

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    I always highlight to families I am working with the importance of the sunrise and sunset, night versus day. Naps in a dark room are no more helpful than keeping lights on at night. Both affect how sleep is achieved so for best results, always take a closer look at nature to help guide you as to the optimal moments that your baby’s body will be ready to wake and sleep.

    Ferber’s sleep method will not help with separation anxiety.

    I cannot stress this point more strongly: if your child has any kind of separation anxiety, which can also manifest in being fearful of the night, don’t ever try the CIO method to sleep train. In fact, don’t try to sleep train at all because what your child needs is help in understanding what is making him insecure with their day first. What are they seeking out? What are they missing from you? Look deeper at your child’s day today and get to the root of the problem before you start to try to work on sleep.

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    Cry-it-out method is not appropriate for any sleep-related or affecting medical conditions.

    Snoring, sleep apnea and reflux are a few of the most common examples of sleep disorders in babies that can cause highly erratic sleep behavior. These can be brought to the attention of your trusted doctor before deciding on how to approach sleep guidance and to rule out any potentially severe medical conditions.

    Ferber himself does not advocate using cry-it-out method to cure night terrors.

    This is known as a sleeping disorder, but it is directly linked to an overtired child and genetics. If a parent is prone to it, their child has a 50 percent chance the gene can be passed on, says Dr. Alex Clerk of Stanford Sleep Research Center. Boys are also four times more prone to it. 

    During a night terror episode, you are unlikely to be able to wake your child up even though they may be screaming, thrashing, sitting up or standing. Ferber did highlight in his 2006 book Helping Your Child Sleep Through The Night that the best practice during this moment is to turn on a light, try to hold your child close to avoid them hurting themselves and use a cool washcloth on his forehead. He also advises calm because should your child wake up and find you super stressed by the situation, it can completely scare them. Ferber also is clear that a parent should stay with their child until they are happily back to a calm state of sleep.


    I agree entirely with Dr. Ferber here. When your child is in need, no matter what, always support them through the turbulent journey. Night terrors are one of those journeys.

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    Using the cry-it-out method when there are scheduling issues can make things worse.

    If you are already struggling with scheduling inconsistencies, where bedtimes are too late or wake-ups too early, together with unpredictable naps and nights, using the CIO sleep training practice to put some order into your day will not bring you success. A child whose day is out of rhythm will not accept sleep any more than you attempting to ‘put’ them to sleep. Make a calm, trusted environment together by strengthening the bond that exists between you and your little one, AND then take the time to look at sleep.

    In essence, I do not ‘train’ babies how to sleep. I guide parents on what their baby ‘needs’ from them and from their day to truly learn how to fall asleep, and more importantly, how to stay asleep, wake up happy, love their room, love their bed and LOVE their sleep. 


    It is why prefer the term "sleep coach" but not a "trainer." I look out for your baby, making sure that you are always there to support them through the changes and how to do this most effectively.

    Yes, there will be crying, there will be protests — change is never accepted by any of us (adults included) silently.

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    Grown-ups get to express their discontent and be socially acceptable at the same time. But you can't expect emotional control from your tiny tot when you change things up on them and their sleep — this is not realistic or developmentally appropriate for many years to come if ever! It’s always important to have realistic expectations to change and how those take place when looking to improve your child’s sleep. 

    If you choose to try the CIO method without looking at the bigger picture, it can work, but it results in a temporary solution that needs to be fixed again, perhaps in a much bigger way down the road. Emotions need tending for them to grow healthy. 


    Sleep is a beautiful thing, a magical thing, when you remember where it comes from: respecting nature, emotional connections and creating a secure attachment, especially during that first year. 

    Sleep coach Gabrielle trained with two UK based sleep trainers using various methods prior to gaining her certification in London. She specialises in the most up-to-date, respectful parenting strategies, 360-degree understanding of the factors affecting pediatric sleep, and how to help families with more complex cases. Coach Gabrielle is also a certified Baby Listening™ Instructor for newborns with the Baby Language Institute Sydney Australia You may reach her at www.babesofbliss.org and Instagram @babysleepbliss

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