Should you let your baby cry it out by Dr. Orlena Kerek

13 Sep

When you have your first baby, your world is turned upside down. You stop being able to do what you want to do, when you want to and are now in charge of this tiny being. To begin with, the tiny being only has a handful of needs, that is, to be fed, changed, entertained, washed and to sleep. They only have one way to communicate with you. To cry. A cry means that they want something. Your job is to figure out what. Sometimes a cry means that they are in pain. Your job is to figure out if that is the case or not; but should you let your baby cry?

baby crying in crib

As children get older, they develop different ways of communicating with us, smiling, laughing, eventually talking. But it takes a while for them to stop using crying as a means of communication as well. My 5 year old (and his school friends) often cries if something doesn’t go his way. I’m not talking about if something is seriously wrong, but something seemingly trivial, like not getting a yellow cup at lunchtime. To him, it’s important and he expresses his frustration by crying, especially when he’s tired.

A cry means that the child wants something. Clearly that something is important to them, otherwise they wouldn’t bother crying. It might not be so important, or rather desperate, to parents. Today, as I was getting dinner ready, my 15 month old twins were playing in the garden. Celeste started crying so I looked out, thinking something terrible had happened, clearly she’d fallen over or got stuck. Actually, she wanted to be pushed on her bike and she was expressing her frustration. She wanted to be pushed right now. As happy as I am to push her on her bike, I felt no great tragedy would occur if she had to wait 5 minutes. (Luckily for her daddy arrived so she didn’t have to wait 5 whole minutes.)

As a new mother, or even a not so new mother, it’s really really difficult to let your baby cry (for whatever reason) without going to them. It is a baby’s way of communicating that is directly picked up by their mother. Thousands of years of evolution are working against the mother who intends to ignore her baby’s plaintiff sounds.

I’m not suggesting that you should ignore your baby’s cry. But I think it’s important not to be afraid of it. The concept of training your child to sleep through the night by allowing them to cry for hours or ‘cry it out’ has gotten a bad name in the press these days. And now, I think people are afraid to let their child cry at all. If your baby is fine, comfortable, is fed, has a clean nappy, but is having problems falling asleep at bedtime, there is no harm in allowing him to cry before he falls asleep. All babies are different and there are some that like to cry before they go to sleep. It’s as if it’s their way of shutting out the world and falling asleep.

My youngest son was like that, he always used to cry for around 10 minutes before he feel asleep. That was fine if he was in his cot, but on the few occasions that we were in the car at nap time, braving the 4 hour drive to my mum’s, it was awful. When he was sat next to me, I couldn’t bear to let him cry. So I’d distract him and he’d stop crying. The problem was he was used to crying before he went to sleep. Eventually I had to allow him to cry for a bit. He would be asleep before 5 minutes was out, but it felt like hours for me, making sure I didn’t look at him or soothe him.

little baby girl sitting in grass crying

The problem that many new parents face, is knowing when a cry means “I’m tired and want to be asleep” or when it means something else. Babies do have different cries. After a while, you will be able to distinguish different ones. I don’t believe it’s as easy or as fool proof as people say but there are some that stand out. Like the ‘actually something is really wrong’ cry.

I’m also not suggesting that you have to leave your baby to cry for hours and hours on end. Or if they get really cross. But, it’s really difficult to avoid crying altogether. And indeed you shouldn’t try to. (Having said that, most very new babies don’t actually cry that much, generally they’re quite sleepy and fall asleep easily. It’s a few weeks in that the problems being to arise around nap and bedtimes.)

People argue that letting your child cry emotionally scars them but there is evidence that that is not true. I think that the image that people conjure of parents who allow their baby to cry as callouss, uncaring, negligent people is unjustified. There are so many different ways to parent, and to help your child go to sleep. None of them is ‘the right’ answer. Most people just want to do what is best for them and their child.

So please do what you feel is best for your child and please allow other people to do what they think is best for their child. If you’re not happy letting them cry, there are people and books to help you. If you’re not sure, or want help, you can get a free copy of My Baby’s Sleep when you sign up to my fabulous newsletter.

Dr Orlena Kerek is a pediatric doctor and mother of 4 young children living in Spain. She writes about what to do when dr orlena kerekyour baby is unwell at and blogs about raising healthy, happy children at How to eat healthily, sleep healthily and play healthily. Please feel free to pop over and say hello. 

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