Cry It Out Sleep Training

cry it out sleep trainingCry It Out Sleep Training is not new to childcare and in fact, this method of sleep training can be traced back to 1895, when a paediatric and childcare specialist, Dr Holt discussed the immense advantages of CIO (Cry It Out) in his book, called “The Care and Feeding of Children”. His step by step training guide for CIO advised parents to allow babies to cry for a specific timed period, after which they were able to enter the room, comfort the baby, and leave the room. After each -intervention’ the period increased and the hope was that eventually the baby would -cry itself out’ and would learn how to self-soothe and in time, the baby would fall asleep without crying.

Dr Holt did not believe that this method would have any long-term adverse side effects on the infant, and as long as parents continually monitored the infant (at regular intervals); the baby was safe and was being cared for.

Sleep-deprived moms in the 1890s probably welcomed this expert advice with open arms and they no doubt experimented with this new revolutionary technique, with the anticipation that they would be able to -train’ their baby to fall asleep on cue. Let’s face it, in those early days, so-called childcare experts were in full agreement that mothers who spent their time cuddling and cooing over their babies were wrong – parents were criticised for -spoiling the baby’.


Ferber (a modern approach to the CIO technique)

100 years after the original CIO method was introduced, Dr Ferber, an expert on sleep disorders and sleep patterns, and a medical doctor, gave parents similar advice that Dr Holt offered almost a century ago.  Dr Ferber’s book, -Solve Your Child’s Sleep Problems was released in 1985 and became an overnight success and millions of modern day parents heeded the advice that was given. At the same time, dozens of paediatricians, parents and experts believed that the CIO technique (or Ferberization as it was later called) was potentially damaging and would almost certainly have long term effects on the child’s emotional development.


CIO – damaging or harmless?

It is important to remember that the Cry It Out technique (according to Dr Ferber) was not meant to be a one-size-fits-all approach. This level of seemingly harsh baby sleep training is not suited to all babies, nor is it suited to all mothers. Emotional health and development experts are unequivocally against this method of sleep training, many of whom state that CIO will permanently damage an infant. The argument that is given to support this claim is that infants who are left to cry themselves to sleep and who are trained in self-soothing techniques, are forced to believe that they are not lovable enough or not worthy of the comfort of their parents. The moment an infant stops crying (according to the experts), is the moment the infant believes that they have been abandoned and that their needs are not being tended to.  If these needs are appropriately responded to, the infant will feel secure and loved.

Babies who have undergone the CIO sleep training method often work themselves up to such an extent, that they vomit – for experts, this is yet another indication and a definite warning that this tough approach to sleeping training is damaging.

However, on the flip side of CIO, and as with all debates, there are those who advocate that Ferberization, or any other CIO method is not as damaging as childcare experts tend to make out, and they are supporting their claim that because CIO is controlled – for parents who are severely sleep-deprived, Dr Holt and his learned colleague, Dr Ferber offered welcome relief. Parents who have successfully used CIO as a method of sleep training  are, of course, in full support of CIO and swear by the controlled and methodical approach that is utilized to allow them and baby to enjoy a good night’s sleep.


CIO is not advocating neglect

Well-meaning childcare professionals have stated, in no uncertain terms that CIO will cause the infant to suffer from permanent and long-term side effects, including issues with attachment and bonding, later in life. Dr Ferber nor his predecessor Dr Holt, at any time advocated leaving an infant to cry for an indefinite period of time, and because parents will regularly enter the baby’s room, to soothe the infant – the infant will realise that its needs are being met.

The thought process behind the CIO method was to help a baby soothe itself at bedtime and rely on these same self-soothing skills when waking up in the middle of the night. Dr Ferber’s method may have been labelled as heartless and self-serving (for the parents) but Ferber’s methods are far from evil or sinister and for an exhausted couple who are at their wits end, such a controlled sleep training method may very well be their last resort.

Solve Your Child’s Sleep Problems (Dr Ferber’s bestselling book) was re-released in 2006 and it is made perfectly clear in the childcare care handbook that this method may not work for all parents and may not be the right technique for all babies.


Besides CIO there are other routines which have been suggested to help parents, and these include:

Positive routines with faded bedtime

This program simply involves a series of routines to prepare baby for bed and to help him feel sleepy. This routine does not promote an early bedtime but bedtime is decided by the baby. The thought pattern is that a baby will fall asleep a lot quicker if they associate certain predictable, positive and soothing routines with bedtime, such as a massage, a lullaby, etc. Here, later bedtimes are encouraged as a baby who is drowsy and relaxed will fall asleep faster.


Extinction with parental presence

This is another form of infant sleep training, and here parents put the baby to bed while he or she is still awake. The method then requires that mom or dad to lie down with the infant until he falls asleep, but each night, the parents pay less and less attention to the baby. For instance, parents may start by looking away, then progressing to sitting up instead of lying next to baby, then eventually the parents can move to a chair positioned alongside the bed, and each night, move the chair further away from the bed. The intention is to get the baby weaned from extensive parental soothing. A lot of time and patience is required for this sleep training method to be effective.


 – Kathy


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