Letting our baby cry it out was much easier than I thought it would be. We were ready for it. Being ready had everything to do with our emotional perspective and nothing to do with our baby.
We had let Hailey cry it out for naps many times since around the age of 2.5 months. Last night was the first time we attempted this strategy for a middle of the night wakening.
I remember talking to a friend of mine who has 3 kids just over a week ago about letting our babies cry it out. She had used that method for a couple of her children with success. I explained to her that I wasn’t against that strategy but I wasn’t yet ready for it.
Since Hailey’s first tooth poked through about a month ago, I noticed a difference in her behaviour during our middle of the night feedings. I felt she was using me more as comfort rather than because she was hungry. I wanted to be sympathetic because she was getting teeth and I was ok with it as long as it was a quick feeding and she’d go back in the crib easily.
This week, she changed. She was no longer going back to sleep on her own. She wanted me to rock her to sleep.
Up until this point, we had both been ok with the middle of the night feedings. Now the scales had tipped and she wanted something from me that I was not ok with. Her happiness was starting to come at the expense of my own. Something needed to give.
At my breaking point yesterday, I took to my journal and started writing about what was going on. The beauty of journalling is that it’s an organic process and I could let my thoughts unravel as I was writing.
I discovered that my husband and I were both under the assumption that there were two outlooks when dealing with a crying baby.
1) Let them cry – By not picking up the baby, it tells them that they need to figure it out on their own. It forces them to understand that they can’t rely on anyone but themselves. Help is not on the way.
2) Pick them up – Soothing the baby when they are upset let’s them know that they are not alone and have other people to support them when they are upset. It teaches them to ask for help when they need it and that they don’t have to deal with problems on their own.
These are 2 completely opposite perspectives that we’ve been grappling with. By the end of my journalling session I discovered a third that enabled us to let Hailey “cry it out” last night without wondering if we were bad (or mean) parents.
3) Teach them to soothe themselves – By letting the baby settle themselves they develop the understanding that they are capable of being happy on their own. Their happiness is not conditional on outside forces such as mom and dad being there.
Now, you might be thinking to yourself that number 1 and number 3 are pretty much the same. You are correct. Both involve the baby crying it out. However, the difference is in our perspective as Hailey’s parents.
The first perspective of letting Hailey cry felt like we were trying to control her behaviour. It was more of an act of desperation and a last resort. When nothing else works, give up and let her cry.
There have literally been times where Hailey has been upstairs in her crib crying and I’ve been downstairs on the couch in tears praying for her to sleep. This is an example of how to know when you’re not ready to use the cry it out method!
The third perspective felt like we were helping her rather than punishing her. The feeling came from the happy, loving side of the emotional scale rather than the anxious, helpless (negative) side of the emotional scale.
That subtle shift made it much easier for us to listen to her cry. This was going to benefit all of us and make us all happier.
Here’s how we let her cry it out.
- Daddy was the one to go into the room to comfort her. We thought this would be easier for her because when mommy enters the room she usually gets milk. Just by seeing daddy, she knew that she would not be fed and that something different was going to happen.
- When she first started crying, daddy went in, picked her up and explained to her what was going to happen.
- While holding her, he offered her words of encouragement such as: she had control of her own happiness, being able to take care of herself and sleeping through the night were important skills she would want for the rest of her life, we would always be there for her when she needs us, we felt like she was ready and capable of putting herself to sleep, we love her very much.
- We decided in advance that daddy would go in every 10 minutes if she was still upset to comfort and reassure her. He picked her up and offered similar words of encouragement. Then put her back in the crib.
She calmed down as soon as he picked her up each time. Picking up your baby may not be the right approach for you. You know your baby best. For us, it would have pissed Hailey off even more to have daddy in the room and not be held. It wasn’t our goal to piss her off.
She cried the entire first 10 minutes. Then started to calm herself after about 5 minutes into the second interval. She got really quiet for a few minutes and then started crying again. Then daddy went back in and repeated the steps.
It took her 40 minutes to calm herself back to sleep. Of that time, I would say just over half of it was spent actually crying. She would cry for a few minutes and quiet herself for a few minutes. The entire time I was sending her encouraging thoughts and love from the other room.
The crying wasn’t difficult to listen to. My husband and I were both in the absolute perfect frame of mind for this. We knew it could take more than an hour of crying based on discussions we’ve had with other parents. We were mentally and emotionally prepared for it. We didn’t get frustrated that it took a while. And we chose a night where my husband didn’t have to work the next morning and we had no plans so it would be ok if we didn’t get much sleep.
We discovered that our frame of mind made all the difference in the world. We knew that letting her soothe herself would benefit all of us. We also believed without a doubt that she was capable of handling it and would be better off for it.