Crying it Out vs Allowing Crying – A Big Difference

Crying it out vs. Allowed crying

The issue of sleep has been at the forefront of my mind for some time now… this is unsurprising really, since my youngest son hit a sleep regression two months ago.

Anyone who reads my blog on a regular basis will know how I feel about baby sleep training. I have always had very strong opinions on the subject and although that still stands, since The Squishmeister decided that sleep is for losers I have felt a lot more understanding of parents who resort to it. I no longer view them as cruel, selfish parents – they are human beings, like we all are, simply trying to do what is best for their families. I may not agree with their methods but I certainly understand their motivation.

Over the past two months we have had maybe two or three nights that have been okay, but on the whole Squishy’s sleep has been atrocious. I’ve been lucky to get an hour at a time out of him, and it takes double that to re-settle him each time. As a result I have been an absolute wreck; crying or shouting or losing my temper at the drop of a hat. I have not been present with them, and I have not been providing a nourishing environment for them.

I have not been the kind of mother I want to be; the mother that my beautiful, amazing children deserve.

So what are you supposed to do when your kid(s) won’t sleep, you (like me at the moment) are unable to co-sleep and you don’t agree with CIO and CC (Controlled Crying)? I felt helpless, utterly helpless. I was stumped. How on earth could I carry on like this? I’d reached the point where I was wondering if sleep training was the lesser of evils, in comparison to my poor children having to endure a mother who was bordering on sleep deprivation-induced insanity.

Then I stumbled across an article or three about sleep from the lovely Suchada at one of my most favourite blogs ever, Mama Eve. She wrote about the issues she faced as an attached, respectful and horrendously sleep-deprived mama of two young ‘uns and suddenly I felt less alone.

She wrote about how she gently and kindly helped her children to learn to sleep, and I knew I wanted to know more. I wrote to her after a twitter conversation one long sleepless night, and she responded to my email in a blog post, which you can read here.. She explained about how she implemented a flexible daytime (and night time) routine, and how she supported her children through their frustration over the changes – never once leaving them feeling abandoned.
crying it out vs allowing crying

What I have learnt from Suchada’s experiences and from my own reading since is that crying doesn’t necessarily equal crying it out. To implement a CIO sleep training technique requires you to desensitise yourself to the noisy pleas of your children. It goes against every instinct you have as a mother. Allowing your children to express their frustration and anger whilst still supporting them – physically and emotionally – is completely different. It actually helps you connect with your child on a totally new level. It’s easy to meet your child’s needs and to give them what they want, but it’s not easy to allow them to feel the ‘negative’ feelings that we so want to protect them from.

I always felt like, as an attached parent, I had to ignore my own needs. I was trying to pull patience and energy out of the bag when I had none to give, and therefore was feeling like an utter failure as a mother. I felt like I was missing something that the other gentle mothers had all discovered. However, there is no way to summon energy when you have none. You simply cannot give when there is nothing left. Despite what many online parenting communities would have me believe, I am not a bad mother for needing to get some god-damned sleep.

So thank you, Suchada, for helping me realise that there is a middle ground. At present I feel that Squish is still too young for any kind of night-time guidance, so for now we will persevere with implementing a flexible daytime schedule (following his natural rhythm, of course) and bedtime routine – this will be harder on me than it will be on him.

A huge part of attached parenting is respecting your own child’s individual needs. This is why, in my opinion, sleep-training programs are no good for babies. You have to be creative, and figure out solutions based on what you know your children can handle – and of course what you can handle too. I’m not expecting my 6-month-old child to sleep right through the night; he still needs to nurse. All I am asking for is 3-4 hour stretches – and to still be able to look him in the eye come morning. And I now feel like that is possible.

There is a light at the end of the sleep-deprived tunnel! I will keep you updated on our progress.


Image courtesy of o5com @ flickr


  1. says

    Hi hun, you know from our conversations on facebook how I totally understand what you’re going through. I’ve been through this with my son for the better part of 4 months now and somehow I still manage to keep going. I hope you don’t have to endure the harsh sleepless nights for so long, but trust in yourself to get through it – I never imagined I’d survive this long and not give in to CIO, but here I am. The hardest part for me is hearing other people insist I should be sleep training at this age, even my HV said things will only get worse if I don’t sort it out now.

    Luckily, the last few nights have been better (up to 3 hours sleep at a time!) so I’m feeling more confident that I can ride this out and that my son will sleep better all by himself. I imagine things will improve drastically when this teething business is over too!

    As for daytime ‘routines’, my son has fallen into a rough one with no enforcement by myself. We did start a bedtime routine when he was very young, but it was very flexible and if he wasn’t ready for bath/bed/etc we delayed or skipped it. He currently has two naps a day, not at strictly defined times but he gets tired within the same window each day. In the evening we do dinner, bedtime hour (recorded so he can watch it when he’s ready), bath and bed. Bedtime used to be around 8pm, but it’s now closer to 10pm – this is what’s comfortable for him at this time. I don’t know if there’s such a thing as baby-led schedules, but if there is then that’s what we’re doing lol.

    • says

      Baby-led schedules, lol, that sounds like what we do too!

      You should be proud of having rode this out for this long hun. I look to you as an inspiration, really! I haven’t got it in me to let little dude cry it out or to ‘train’ him, but when i feel he is ready i will certainly start giving him a nudge in the right direction. I refuse to ever let a baby of mine cry alone at night.

      • says

        Thanks hun (cant seen to reply directly to your comment), I’m so glad I’ve given you some inspiration. I’ve never thought of myself as the inspiring type lol. Seriously though, had anyone told me it would be this hard before I gave birth, I’d never have believed them and I’d certainly never have imagined I’d have the stamina to get through it.

        When I look at my baby’s little face peacefully slumbering, I know every single moment is worth the pain. He is such a happy boy and I know it’s because I attend to his needs on demand and he feels secure and safe. Thinking about these things keeps me going and the longer the difficult periods last, the prouder I am for riding them out. It’s lucky that I’m quite a stubborn person who doesn’t like to give up easily.

        It’s amazing just how well your body can cope on lack of sleep, even over the long term. I used to swear blind that I’d never survive on less than eight solid hours at night, now I know I can manage on three or four broken ones.

        You’re going to get though this hun, you’ve got this far and I don’t think you’re the type to quit either. There will be days when you’re the crankiest bitch on the planet lol, but don’t ever fear that you’ll truly upset your little boys because of it, the parental instinct to protect them always wins. Can’t guarantee that your other half will be so lucky though, mine tends to take the brunt of my bad moods.

  2. says

    Imogen, I’m so glad you know you’re not the only one who goes through this. I came to AP because it was the first parenting philosophy I’d heard of that encourages you to love your child openly, without restraint. It spoke to me on so many levels and called to need *I* had to be loved unconditionally.

    What I find is missing from many AP discussion is how to lovingly and honestly set boundaries with our children, and that’s what leads some of us to give too much of ourselves. I know you’ll find your way out of this. I’m honored you reached out to me and found my experience helpful.

  3. Sylvia says

    I recently came across this and the Mama Eve blogs. I’m so happy to have found some other AP moms who actively seek balance. Actually, I am quite disappointed that so many followers of AP forget that “balance” IS one of the 8 AP principles! Sleep is such a hot topic, especially for those of us so opposed to baby training. My son is now 15 months old and we have been through the gauntlet with sleep troubles so I genuinely understand your woes! For us, episodes of not sleeping have been cyclical. It might be the case for you also, that this period of sleeplessness will pass. Teething, new foods, new activities, and growth spurts can all interfere with sleep. I know that won’t help you get sleep NOW, but “this is only temporary” has been one of my saving mantras! I would still try to implement whatever changes will help you get more sleep in general. For us, the bedtime routine made a big difference. We still have rough nights, but they are not as bad or as frequent. Hang in there, you will find your way. And thanks for sharing!

  4. says

    Oh my goodness! I just found your post and have been reading some from Mama Eve’s blog as well, and I am so glad to have found them!! Almost in tears, glad. Attachment parenting with balance – that is what I am searching for, and lately I have been feeling like I have no idea what I’m doing (but then, don’t all mamas feel that way a lot of the time?) My daughter is 7 months old and a terrible sleeper. We have been trying a lot of different ideas for the past few months and with what seems like very little success. I am really opposed to the principles of CIO, but there are times when I feel desperate, unsure if it will ever get better. I still don’t know what I will do in practical terms, but I feel like, “Ah, maybe there is a balanced way to deal with this…setting boundaries, realizing I have limits, but not sacrificing my baby’s well-being either.” Thank you for the encouragement and know you are not the only one going through the same struggle!

    • says

      I’m so glad that you have found comfort in these posts, Ruth! I can completely empathise with those feelings of desperation. When we discount CIO as an option it can make you feel like you have no option at all, other than to suck it up and get through it. I don’t know about you, but it made me feel helpless. Isn’t it wonderful when you realise that there *is* a middle ground? The fact is that this middle ground isn’t spelt out in any sleep training book, it’s something you have to figure out for yourself. I hope your sleep problems are resolved soon, I completely understand how exhausting it can be! Good luck mama, and thanks for stopping by :)

  5. lalla says

    ive had a bad experience with cio, i had to go out to peg out washing, and instead of picking our DD up, her daddy decided she could cry it out. well, she became a super glue baby for the next 3 weeks, and became hell to put to bed, as she was just so fearful i was going to desert her! given that she was only 6 months at the time, i can understand her view, as she is just so vulnerable. it took me weeks to get her to go to sleep without screaming for half an hour again!

    with her i will do what i did with her bib sis, when she is abouta yr old, start putting her to bed half asleep, and holding her hand til she nods off, then progressing slowly from there :) it worked wonderfully for her big sis who has been going to bed no tears, going to sleep on her own since 18 months old! :)

    but, as you said, we all have to do it how it works for us, no 2 babies are the same, and no 2 mums are the same, what i dislike is mothers adopting the cio method from word go because someone says its the “right way”. quick way to make your baby distrust their own emotional needs. not like they dont grow up so fast anyhow, n soon they will be wishing they had made the most of it! its even well documented by the sears dr’s and infant psychologists that cio is bad for a babies development(i think that refers to as i said small babies)! still, good article, im glad you found a way that works for you and bub :)

  6. says

    Thank you for this….I have been searching for weeks now for something that I could possibly do to help my night time situation…I’m 11 weeks pregnant and my body is begging me for change. Our 10 month old co-sleeps with us and is still breastfeeding at night and I cannot physically handle it anymore, and something needs to change. So thank you for this…I’ll be reading Mama Eve’s blog, and hopefully find a solution to help us both get the best sleep we possibly can.

    • says

      Hi Kimberly! So sorry to hear that you are having a hard time with sleep :( I can only imagine how exhausted you must be! Good luck with finding a solution that works for you, and congratulations on your pregnancy!

  7. J.Y. says

    I am so grateful to have come across this post tonight. Moments ago I was sitting here in bed, with my little one sleeping peacefully on my chest (finally!), wondering how the hell I became such a shoddy mama. My husband recently deployed and I have been desperately trying to maintain every AP practice I had been doing before he left. With no family living close and not many friends who share my AP philosophies, I have little to no help on a daily basis. On top of that I was blessed with a sweet boy who wants to be close to me almost always and doesn’t nap by himself during the day. I reached my breaking point today after a restless night, several missed meals, and a back-breaking day of babywearing. I sat bouncing on our stupid yoga ball with Liam in my arms thinking, “Something has to change if I’m going to survive this on my own.”

    And then I read your post…and I feel like I can breathe again. This was a fantastic reminder that I must consider my well-being while taking care of my baby. If I’m not happy how can he be happy? Boundaries – that’s my new focus. Boundaries, support, love, and patience.

    Thank you, Imogen, for so graciously sharing your personal story. Know that you’ve just saved this mama a lot of stress and heartache. :)

  8. Jamie says

    I am a mom lucky enough to be “blessed” with high needs twin girls.

    When they were between 2 and 3 months old, they began sleeping for longer stretches at night (hooray for 3 or 4 hours!!), but they had to be right next to me. By the time they hit 12 weeks, they were sleeping for a 5-7 hour stretch every night. This lasted for two weeks, after which I finally gave in and decided to let my dad and stepmom take the girls overnight, confident that they would sleep just fine for them. (Btw I cried when it came time to go to sleep in my empty bed, never again will I let someone take my babies overnight until they are no longer sleeping with me.)

    But they didn’t. They were up all night tag teaming my parents. And for almost every single night after that, they would not sleep for longer than 3 hours. It was most typical for them to wake up on average every two hours. So I had one wake up, nursed her back to sleep. Then within an hour the next would wake up. It continued like that all night. Back and forth. Not only that, but they continued this until they were TEN MONTHS OLD. At this point I was two months pregnant with my third child. My boobs were sore, milk production was down, I felt like crap, and I could not take no sleep anymore. I tried everything I could think of based on what I know about my babies. Nothing worked. Night after night they woke up 2-5 times per night each, crawled over to me, and cried for me to nurse them.

    It got to the point where I would be angry to have to nurse them. I don’t know if any of you have “angrily nursed” your baby, but it is not a good feeling…to be boiling mad while doing something that should be loving, but the alternative means no sleep (and more anger), so you feel frustrated and helpless at the same time.

    It then occurred to me that there was something I would never think of doing, but that might get me some sanity…could end well…

    I decided to cold turkey night-wean them. They could nurse to sleep before bed and were allowed to nurse as soon as the sun came up. Any time between those times, no booby!

    At first it was difficult. They protested. They really wanted to nurse. But I persisted. I would lay them back down in their spot, rub their back for a little while, and if that didn’t work, I let them cry for a while, patting them now and then. Sometimes I would lay them next to me (against me) and rub them.

    This made my husband go insane (and sometimes resort to sleeping in the other room) because instead of the sleep he normally got, he was now helping me rub baby backs, rock babies back to sleep, and listening to them cry when nothing else worked. I had complained so much to him before about not getting any sleep, and he kept telling me I should do something about it, but I refused to stop nursing them on demand at that point. Now that I was taking his advice (which I angrily told him I was doing when he bitched at me to just nurse them), he didn’t like it. I explained to him that it wasn’t going to be easy at first, but that I had to do SOMETHING about all of this ridiculous night waking, because this preggo needed her sleep to be able to function and take care of our children.

    Anyway, sometimes they would cry for a while, maybe 10 minutes, but they would inevitably give up and fall asleep. After a few days they were waking up much less. Now, about 6 weeks after night-weaning, they are sleeping through the night! There is no reason to let them cry out their frustration of not being able to nurse. Now if they wake up and won’t go back to sleep right away, there is a legitimate reason for them being awake.

    So point of my story…sometimes you have to go against what you think is “good parenting.” I never thought I’d let my children cry themselves to sleep (but thinking about it now, we were still there beside them, offering support), and I never in a million years thought I’d have to implement something “forceful” to get my kids to sleep or something. I never intended to wean them in any way except BLW. But night weaning and letting them be frustrated in those first couple of days has saved my freaking life.

    • says

      Wow, what a story! That must have been exhausting. And yes, I am very familiar with the angry nursing you speak of. Not pleasant at all :( I’m glad you found a system that worked for your family. It certainly takes a certain kind of experience as a mother to realise that every baby really is different. I know when my oldest was a little baby, I abhorred the idea of letting him cry -at all-, even in arms. I never did any kind of sleep training with him even though he was a terrible, terrible sleeper and looking back, I kind of wish I had. It probably would have been kinder than losing my temper every night :/

  9. says

    I just found your post, and I am so glad to have found it! Almost in tears, glad. Attachment parenting with balance – that is what I am searching for, and lately I have been feeling like I have no idea what I’m doing (but then, don’t all mamas feel that way a lot of the time?) My daughter is 7 months old and a terrible sleeper. We have been trying a lot of different ideas for the past few months and with what seems like very little success.


  1. [...] remembered reading a post over on Alternative Mama’s site called “Crying It Out Vs Allowing Crying“, which ultimately led me to Janet Lansbury’s blog. I learned about the concept of letting [...]

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