Controlled Crying: The Pros And Cons Of This Baby Sleep Training Method

This parenting technique isn’t for the faint hearted. It’s a tough method that can be emotionally trying – but it will give results. And quickly, too

Also known as ‘crying it out’, controlled crying is a sleep training method that’s popular with a lot of parents. It’s no-nonsense, disciplined and effective. In fact, there probably isn’t a more easy-to-follow, and structured, routine out there.

But that doesn’t mean it doesn’t have any downsides. The main one being that it’s seriously tough to listen to your baby crying his eyes out and not being able to pick him up for a cuddle.

The controlled crying technique should have your baby snoozing soundly in a matter of days [Rex]
The controlled crying technique should have your baby snoozing soundly in a matter of days [Rex]

Established by Dr Richard Feber in the 80s, the idea behind controlled crying is that you leave your baby to self-soothe and learn to settle himself without your help.

And if you’re sleepless night away from madness then this could be a lifesaver. Mastering controlled crying could have your baby sleeping through the night in as little as seven to 10 days.

How’s that for a result?

The Method
Before starting controlled crying, make sure that your baby is healthy – and over six to eight months old. Up until this point, your child may be waking simply because he needs to be fed.

“Check that there are no other issues such as teething or environmental factors (i.e. he’s too hot) that could be responsible for your child waking in the night,” says Mandy Gurney, founder of Millpond Children’s Sleep Clinic.

If your little one appears to be fine, but unable to settle himself, then you can following this step-by-step guide...

Step 1: After following your usual bath-story-sleep bedtime routine, place your baby in his cot and leave the room.

Step 2: Return a minute later to quickly check on he’s OK and to reassure him that you’re there. Try not to go right up to him. Instead, tell him sympathetically but firmly to go to sleep and that you’ll see him in the morning.  

“The key to this technique isn’t to cuddle, pat or pick up your child,” says Mandy. “The idea is to increase the intervals between visits by one minute each time.”

Step 3: Gradually increase the time between each check-up until you reach five minutes. “If you apply the rule properly, your child should not cry for much more than an hour on the first night – but be prepared for more, just in case,” says Mandy.  

Step 4: Repeat the procedure every time your child wakes in the night – starting at the minimum waiting time and building up to the maximum, until waking up time in the morning.  

“If your child starts to quieten to any degree while you’re out of the room, wait to see if he is starting to settle to sleep,” says Mandy. “If you go back in too quickly you may disturb his settling process. If he starts to cry loudly again, resume your checking.”

Step 5: On the second night, start by leaving two minutes gaps between each time you check on your baby. Increase the gap between each check-up a maximum of six minutes. Repeat this pattern throughout the week.

It’s a good idea to keep a sleep diary throughout so you can monitor your child’s sleep patterns. “What you’ll find is the length of time it takes your child to fall asleep will shorten over a few days until he stops waking in the night completely,” says Mandy.

“Once you start to see progress with the night time sleep then you can apply this same procedure to daytime naps.”

When your baby sleeps better, you'll sleep better, too [Rex]
When your baby sleeps better, you'll sleep better, too [Rex]

Pros Of Controlled Crying
From giving quick results to making you a better parent, controlled crying has plenty of benefits – which outweigh your baby’s discomfort. And it has no long-term effects on him, experts have found.

1. It’s a quick fix
As the speediest training method, you can expect your tot to start to sleep through the night within as little as seven to 10 days.

2. It’s straightforward
This is the most clear-cut technique. “It leaves you in no doubt as to what you need to do and how to do it,” says Mandy.

3. It’s simple
It’s one of the easiest techniques to reapply after minor disruptions to sleep patterns.

4. It can be resurfaced
Once you’ve used controlled crying with your baby, you can reapply it later on if he’s started waking again. But be aware that this sleep training method is only advised to be used until your child’s three years old.

5. It means more sleep!
Not just for your baby, but for you, too. Which is bound to make you a more pleasant person to be around.

Cons Of Controlled Crying
It’s not for everyone, and some parents struggle emotionally with this sleep method.  

1. It can be upsetting
Prepare yourself – controlled crying is gruelling. “It’s counter-intuitive to parents to leave their child to cry,” says Mandy. “It might be best for you to consider a different technique if hearing your child cry makes you feel anxious.”

2. It can have side effects
On rare occasions, babies can cry so much that they make themselves sick. “This can be distressing for you as a parent, but is unlikely to happen more than once or twice,” says Mandy.

How To Manage Controlled Crying
If you’ve had an awful day and are already on the edge of tears yourself, it might be worth giving it a miss for just one night. Although it’s a method you’re meant to be consistent with, it’s not going to help anyone if you have a melt down.

Make sure you drum up some support from your partner or friends who’s tried the training method to help you maintain your self-control when you’re about to cave and give your baby a big cuddle.  

Last of all, take comfort in the fact that although your baby’s tears are hard to take, controlled crying is harder on the parent than the child.

[New Mummy Blog: How I Managed To Finally Get A Full Night's Sleep]

[10 Tried And Tested Sleep Tricks UK Parents Use At Bedtime]

Have you tried controlled crying? Share your experience below.