I knew the cry it out method wasn't for us, but I was desperate for sleep, so I tried it. What I learned is that it still wasn't a good choice for us, but also that we shouldn't judge each other and instead should offer support.

What I Learned from Letting My Baby Cry It Out

I knew the cry it out method wasn't for us, but I was desperate for sleep, so I tried it. What I learned is that it still wasn't a good choice for us, but also that we shouldn't judge each other and instead should offer support.

By Megan Stonelake of empathicparentingcounseling.com

When my son was four months old, he stopped sleeping. That’s not entirely accurate; he still slept some, albeit in 45 minute increments. He would begin to wail minutes after I’d laid my head back down, long before I could fall back asleep. When my husband tried to relieve me, our baby would cry for hours. Our baby needed me, and no one else would do. This went on for weeks.

The pediatrician had no answers. The lactation consultant had no ideas. Night after night, a sense of dread would envelop me as bedtime approached. I’d brace myself for another sleepless night. Another night spent nursing and rocking. Another night not spent sleeping. On rare occasions I would get three hours of broken sleep. Many nights I’d get far fewer than that.

After six weeks of this, my mental health began to decline. I could feel myself going to a dark place. This darkness was born entirely of sleep deprivation, but that awareness didn’t make my depression any less oppressive. It sat on my chest like a weight. I knew something needed to change.

We went back to the pediatrician, who insisted there was only one solution — the same one she’d suggested at our last two visits. “He needs to cry it out.”

Cry it out. I never intended to let my baby cry it out. I knew in my gut that wasn’t the right choice for our family. Period.

Yet as the sleepless nights continued and my grip on reality became more tenuous, my resolve began to crumble. I was tired, emotional, and absolutely miserable. I didn’t know what else to do. I just knew I wasn’t okay anymore; I needed more sleep.

With great reluctance, we agreed to make a plan to cry it out. We’d put on the monitor and watch our favorite show. We’d put our tiny baby, who had spent his entire short life sleeping right next to me, in his own room. And then we’d let him cry.

At first I felt strong. I knew something needed to change, and we were prepared. Then came his first waking, 45 minutes after I’d put him down. He began to wail, and it escalated quickly. I had to hold myself back from going to him, and eventually my own sobs drowned out those of my inconsolable, and unconsoled, baby.

I knew on a visceral level that this wasn’t right. I fought against my instincts, certain that I was wrong and that our pediatrician knew what was best. It was a wretched lesson in trusting my gut and letting my mama heart guide the way.

The effects of letting our baby cry it out weren’t miraculous. We quickly abandoned the entire idea after two insufferable nights. And our boy continues to have sleep problems five years later. It did, however, break the cycle of the 45 minute wake ups. It did allow me to sleep more than two hours a night, and that in turn made me a better mama.

This fact helped me to see that nothing is as simple as it seems. I might peer into someone else’s life from the outside with a furrowed brow and wagging finger, judging their choices as I assure myself I know perfectly well what they “should” be doing.

But I know all too well that life only looks neat from a distance. It’s when we get close up that we see how messy it truly is. We can judge other parents for the choices they make. We might be justified in our assertion that they’re doing it “wrong.” But we can’t be too confident that we know of a better way for them, not unless we’re prepared to sit in on the hellish nights and miserable mornings. Until then, our energy is better spent extending a helping hand than a wagging finger.

I’d like to think we wouldn’t let our tiny baby cry it out if we had it to do over, but if I’m being honest, I’m not sure what I would do if I were back in that dark place. That’s not something I feel good about. But I know that when we’re desperate and feel as though we’ve run out of options, there’s no telling what we’ll do. We can make compromises we swore we’d never make, even if it means living with regret.

It makes me wonder how many other mamas are teetering on the brink of the abyss, too overwhelmed or ashamed or tired to even reach out for a lifeline. I wonder how many mamas are suffering in silence.

We all talk about wanting a village, but what that really requires is authenticity.  If we are to love each other well, we need to own our mistakes in order to support others through theirs. Parents might feel less defensive if they knew we are all figuring it out as we go along. We all might be more open to growth if only we saw other parents messing up and learning from their mistakes. And we might be more supportive if we stopped judging from the outside and instead joined each other inside where life is messy and complicated. If we’re all in this together, we need to show humility, even as we’re challenging each other to grow.

I’m just trying my best to be a good mom. Every day begins with the fresh resolve to get it right. Some nights I lay my head down and feel like I can be proud of how I loved the little person in my care. Other days end with a running list of all the ways I screwed up. In the coming years of parenting, I expect to get it wrong countless times. I’ll say the wrong thing or ask the wrong question. I may once again go against my gut and regret it. I’ll make choices that I’d judge other parents for making.

My hope is that more often than not, I’ll follow my son’s lead. As much as I’m able, I plan to trust my intuition to guide me. And I hope that when I see a parent acting out of desperation, I will have the urge to help rather than judge — that I’ll feel compelled to ease suffering rather than heap it on.


About the Author

Megan Stonelake is a parent coach, writer, and mama. She’s passionate about supporting happily imperfect families. You can sign up for her newsletter (https://empathicparentingcounseling.com/optin-page/) to receive monthly encouragement and information you can use. You can also follow her on Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/EmpathicParentingCounseling) and Twitter (https://twitter.com/EmpathicParent).