The Truth About ‘Controlled Crying’

Let’s stop blaming parents who choose to use ‘controlled crying’, and start educating on the truth about controlled crying.

As a new parent, one of the biggest challenges you are likely to face is sleep. Helping your baby learn to sleep. Getting enough sleep yourself. Dealing with everybody’s well-meaning questions about sleep. It will become one of the biggest focuses in your life.

And for many parents, this stage can be overwhelmingly hard. There’s a reason why sleep deprivation is used as a form of torture. This can lead you to investigating various strategies to help your baby – and therefore you – get more sleep.

You might have heard lots of negative things about so-called ‘controlled crying’. It is a very divisive topic, there’s no doubt about that. Yet, what you really need is factual information and support that empowers you to make whatever decisions are right for your baby and you family, vs. opinions.

So, what is controlled crying. . .

The definition widely used by baby health professionals for controlled crying is: “A technique for training young children to fall asleep on their own, in which the child is left to cry for gradually increasing periods of time before being comforted.”

It’s really important to understand that not all settling techniques which involve some fussing or crying is ‘controlled crying.’ The slightest mention of the word ‘cry’ within any settling technique suggested by health professionals seems to get automatically labelled as ‘controlled crying.’

In the Wot Baby app, it is true that some of the settling options – and they are just that, options for you to try as you figure out an approach that suits you and your baby – involve some crying. However, I do not believe that these methods constitute ‘controlled crying.’

I choose to empower parents with education and helpful information. Putting a well fed, played with, much loved, clean, dry and tired baby to bed while awake, and then helping them through the process of settling into a healthy deep sleep, is not (in my opinion) controlled crying.  It is accepting that it’s normal baby behaviour for them not to know how to put themselves to sleep at first and you will assist them when they are finding it hard, but also know when to give them space to settle without distraction.

You are always actively helping your baby. . .

Using the Wot Baby app settling options, you don’t just leave your baby to work out how to get to sleep by themselves. You help them, guide them and love them though the process.

The settling guidelines also make it clear that your baby is not a robot. You cannot make your baby sleep if they do not want to. If after encouraging your little one for an appropriate amount of time and they don’t go to sleep, you need to stop and move onto some up time or more feeding. For example, you would only encourage a four month old baby to settle for around 45 mins if they were unsettled.

It’s really important to recognise that crying is a normal part of the settling process for babies – with or without parental help. Letting your baby have a little grizzle whilst settling is perfectly healthy and you would be hard-pressed to find a normal, healthy baby that– even with all of his/her needs met – doesn’t cry when settling.

After 30 years of hands on experience (literally helping parents with thousands of babies) and lovingly teaching my own children to sleep, I have only seen positive things from helping babies learn to self-settle.

It’s not about how long you leave your baby to cry for. . .

Far more important than how long your baby is left to cry for, is what you do when you return to your baby. This is where parents need education on how to respond to baby.

Your baby will cry less if you are positive and aware of what you are doing. There is no point in leaving your baby to cry for 10 minutes if when you return, you look into their eyes and give them a long, emotional stare of sympathy before leaving again. This is just confusing to your baby, and they’ll think that you want to play or get them up, creating more distress when being left for longer and longer periods under the traditional ‘controlled crying’ method. They’ll cry just to get that interlude – no matter how short – with mummy or daddy.

You can avoid ever needing to resort to controlled crying. . .

If as parents you are educated and empowered with information that will help you make decisions that are right for you and your baby, you can avoid ever needing to resort to extreme controlled crying methods.

Starting to gently and consistently encourage your baby to self-settle (with your help until they get the hang of it) from an early age will help to form good sleep habits. Babies are creatures of habit and they learn extremely quickly. If you gently guide them into the learnt behaviours you want them to have, rather than teaching them one way and then dramatically changing it when you are ready, you can avoid future distress.

Important points to remember. . .

  • Babies are effected by stimulation and need time to wind down from that and switch off before they are able to achieve healthy sleep
  • Most humans rarely go instantly straight to sleep
  • We all learn our own going off to sleep routine
  • Sleep is a learnt behaviour that does not become consistent until your baby is at the appropriate development stage, typically around 4 months
  • Crying is a normal baby behaviour and you need to learn to distinguish the difference between distressed crying and a settling cry
  • The settling process for babies changes as they move through different stages of development. Understanding these changes will help you to stay confident
  • Always make sure you work through a process of elimination to ensure all of your baby’s needs are met before starting the settling process
  • You cannot force your baby to sleep – they are unlikely to settle every time
  • Consistency is key. Even when things don’t go to plan, try again the next time, the same way. Babies learn!

Are you ready to help your baby learn to sleep?

Every baby is different – your baby will have its own unique spirit, genetic make-up, temperament and feeding patterns. Likewise, every parent and family is different, with various lifestyles, feelings about leaving babies to cry, responses to their baby’s crying, stresses, and needs for sleep and routine.

All of these factors will help you to decide what form of sleep training, if any, is right for you and your family. Whatever choice you make, it’s important to remember that no form of self-settling, controlled crying or sleep training will work at any age, unless:

  • You are ready to make the changes necessary
  • You are aware that your baby is struggling with a lack of sleep or that their inability to sleep is negatively effecting other areas of importance, like feeding, playing and healthy development
  • You are aware that the process will no doubt make you feel a little uncomfortable but you are aware that it’s best for your baby
  • You are aware that it is a process and that it’s more than likely not going to work straight away. It takes time and consistency
  • You are positive regarding the reasons you want to make the changes
  • You are armed with the right information to assist you in making the changes appropriate for your family
  • You fully understand your baby’s needs (such as amount of feeds, amount of sleep, amount of up time) in relation to his/her age and stage of development

It’s really important to remember that you as a parent always have the choice to decide what works best for you and your baby. Yes, the Wot Baby app does suggest methods for helping your baby learn to self-settle, which may involve some crying. But other options are always presented also and my biggest message is that consistency in your choices is the single most significant factor in how successful you will be. At no point do we recommend leaving your baby in distress. Each step of the process, you will be lovingly there to guide and support your baby.

It is not okay to judge parents who want and need their baby to sleep. Quality sleep is important for everyone and a well-rested baby is a happy and content baby. And that leads to happy and content families.

Education and support for whatever choices parents decide are right for their family is the key.