Let them cry or rock-a-bye?

Answers to parents’ common sleep concerns

It’s 2am and baby is up. Again. Do you let her cry it out? Or soothe her? Here’s what three baby experts have to say about parents’ common concerns with night waking and getting baby back to sleep:

Why can’t my baby fall back to sleep?

The typical reasons behind why babies wake at night vary from separation anxiety, and illness, to increased developmental growth or normal sleep cycles. But how babies get themselves back to sleep on a regular basis may depend on the way a parent has responded to their waking in the past.

“Everyone has sleep associations. You might sleep on a pillow, some people need a sheet, maybe you need to watch the news. In the case of a baby, they may have an association that involves the parent,” says Nicole Johnson, baby sleep coach and creator of The Baby Sleep Site. “Everybody goes through sleep cycles, your baby wakes up every two to three hours, and they may not know how to go back to sleep without their sleep associations.”

A baby can form sleep associations with a parent’s soothing mechanisms very early on. And while some parents find rocking or singing their child back to sleep a positive experience, others find themselves in a predicament when they are ready to stop waking up to soothe baby.

When should I start sleep training?

If babies are not doing well at self-soothing and parents are looking to try sleep training, the earliest they should start trying is when baby is four to six months, according to Johnson. “Some parents have luck at three months. In my experience it is a little young,” says Johnson.
Additionally, babies go through developmental spurts that may cause a “good” sleeper to suddenly start waking up at night when they are older babies. So parents should expect setbacks.

According to Brett Macaluso, MD, of Pine Street Pediatrics in both Highland and Kingston, during the first two to three months, parent soothing is fine and appropriate. But if the child doesn’t learned to self-sooth after that point he encourages parents to go through the normal nighttime routine and put the baby down a little awake so they can start learn to get themselves to sleep unassisted.
Depending on the age of the baby, temperament and extent to which sleep associations have been formed, some babies will easily transition to self-soothing while others will cry to varying degrees. A parent’s response to their baby’s crying is at the crux of the sleep training debate.

Let them cry?

“I find it ironic when people say that crying it out is taking the easy way out. No one likes their baby to cry,” says Johnson. “You can still feed your baby at night or go to them when they’re sick. It’s about changing associations so they know how to sleep. (Cry-it-out) doesn’t mean you stop parenting.”

Many parents worry that taking the cry-it-out approach may cause harm to their baby.

However, according to Macaluso, babies will not hurt themselves from crying and they are not going to remember it. He does point out that some families can’t bear to have their child upset and crying. And some kids will get so upset that they can’t seem to stop crying.

“For those kids, you may have to be a little bit less aggressive with doing it on their own,” says Macaluso. “But that child may not get to the point of self soothing and sleeping on their own until they are one or two years old.”
Macaluso says that a small percentage of kids are inconsolable and difficult sleepers, who are not easily trained. He suggests talking to your pediatrician if that’s the case so developmental issues can be ruled out.

Or rock-a-bye?

“Personally, with my own two children we let them cry,” says Paul Baker, MD, of Hudson Valley Pediatrics in Middletown. “But if a family feels they are doing something bad to their child, and abandoning them, there is nothing wrong with being up five times a night.”

Attachment parenting advocates often recommend a no-cry, parent soothing solution. They say that not responding to a baby’s nighttime crying undermines the baby’s trust, prevents parents from working at a nighttime parenting style and may leave medical problems undiscovered. As a child may continue to rely on parent soothing, some parents may wonder if their baby is getting enough sleep.


“Kids vary in their needs,” says Baker. “If (they) seem bright and bushy tailed, then they are fine.” Baker adds that while there is nothing medically wrong with a parent soothing a baby during the night, he sees parents who can hardly hold up their head from being so tired from night waking.

What method should I chose?


“Each family has unique situations,” says Johnson. “So I don’t think there is one solution for everybody.” Johnson says to consider your own parenting philosophy, level of patience and baby’s temperament when deciding how to approach night waking. Overall family needs are also important.

“For the most part, most people say they don’t want to do cry it out. But then, parents can spend a lot of tears and time on no cry methods,” says Johnson. “So I take it step by step, and see how the parent does and how the baby does.”
If one method is not working for the family’s situation, parents should consider why and look for other options.

“Parents have to give the kids the opportunity to learn how to put themselves to sleep,” says Baker. “A lot of times, it doesn’t take long. Then I think everyone is better off, baby and parents.”’ All three of these baby experts agree that finding the solution is important. As Baker points out, “You’re going to be a better mommy or daddy when you get more sleep.”


Janine Boldrin is a freelance writer who lives in West Point with her family.