Crying it Out Advice

Archived Q&A and Reviews

Cry it Out worked but now I feel guilty

August 2005

Some background: My 11 mo has never been a good sleeper. On a good night, she woke up two or three times. On a bad night, she woke 6-8 times. I never imagined that I'd have to resort to the Ferber method (I read Dr. Ferber's book before starting), but my work life was becoming h*ll, and even going to the store rivaled climbing Mt. Everest in terms of effort. I couldn't carry a conversation and my marriage was reduced to stolen naps and grumpy grunts. Something had to give. I spoke to my ped, had my baby checked before we began the process, and then one evening I rocked her till she was drowsy, then put her down.

The crying was horrible. I sweated. I cried. My husband and I sat on the stairs with clock in hand, ready to time the intervals before going in to soothe her. We did this for four nights. On the third and fourth nights, our baby vomited. This was extremely traumatic for us. We spoke to our pediatrician who said that this happens sometimes, but that if we ever wanted to sleep again, we needed to follow through. (And by the way, we did clean her and the sheets, and soothe her briefly before putting her back.) Our ped also explained that babies have a quick gag reflex and to try not to project our own fears onto our child.

I feel terrible about this process, yet I really didn't see an alternative. Before I get flamed (and I've done enough self- flagellating to last a lifetime), let me say that we tried cosleeping, but our daughter hated it. She'd wake repeatedly and flip, kick, and sometimes cry because she didn't have enough space. I just didn't know what to do. She sleeps so much better now, and is much happier and as loving as can be, and yet I can't help feeling tremendous guilt about this process. Has anyone else had a similar experience? Or, has anyone used the Ferber method, and how did you feel about it afterwards? I guess I'm just looking for reassurance that I'm not Queen Drucilla of Bad Moms. Queen Platypus of Angst-Ridden Moms

Please stop beating yourself up. You have every right to want a good night's sleep -- it's not being selfish or a bad mom. In fact, you'll be a better mom well rested. As horrible as it is now, you and your child will both benefit from sleeping through the night. Your child will not remember crying to sleep nor be traumatized for life (despite the throwing up!). Really! Take Sears, et al that recommend co- sleeping and never letting your kid cry at night with a giant- sized grain of salt. Read instead The Sleep Book for Tired Parents. At the Kaiser Health Education Library. Hang in there. anon
Get over yourself!! There is nothing wrong with cry it out. Your baby will not hate you. She will be happier to go to bed, better rested in the morning, and better able to take on the day, learn new things, etc. You would have had an easier time had you done it sooner--but just think how lucky you are that you didn't wait longer! Crying is OK
I, too, had tremendous guilt about trying the Ferber method. I read every book I could get my hands on and talked to lots of other parents. Nothing worked. Everyone in our household, especially my nine month old baby, was completely exhausted from waking repeatedly EVERY night and completely stressed from the bedtime ''ritual'' which could literlly go on for hours. I think it took about a week (and yes, it was very stressful,I cried, and screamed at my husband if he was even a minute late going in to comfort the baby when it was his turn) but, low and behold, my baby became a terrific little sleeper! He is now two years old and is a very happy, very energetic, very bright little guy who loves his bedtime routine, goes to sleep usually without a fuss, and takes three hour naps. I am just amazed now when he trots off down the hall with his dad at bedtime and says ''Night Night Mom. I love you.'' If anything, now I feel guilty about not doing what needed to be done sooner so that the poor little guy could get some sleep! --Mom of a well rested toddler.
I also used cry-it-out with reluctance, and it was tough, but I look at it this way: as a terribly sleep-deprived person, I was depressed, cried a lot, felt impatient with my baby quite often, and had trouble maintaining interest in playing with him. Not the best basic for a good mother-baby relationship. Now that he is sleeping better (and so am I), I am cheerful, engaged, and have a wonderful time with him most of the time; when he is cranky, my reserves of patience are deep and can handle what he dishes out most of the time. There will always be compromises in mothering, because I am not Superwoman. I think I chose well for myself and my baby, in a compromise that had to be made one way or another. anonymous
Do not feel guilty. It was rough, but you followed through and taught your daughter how to self-soothe and now she's sleeping better. We never had a bad sleeper, but we have to renew the sleep training every few months or so. We never went full hog on the Ferber method, but we've spent quite a few nights sitting in the dark in the room while he works out his anxiety. He never liked cosleeping either. When it go to the point where he was not happy in bed with us, rocking, or in the crib, we decided he'd have to go in the crib and we hung in there with him. He's happy and adjusted. If your child is sleeping and everyone's doing much better you should not feel guilty. Feel proud that you stuck it out. Miss Snoozie
I just want to give you some support. We decided to let our child cry it out too. I felt some guilt, but I got over it because I realized that I am a MUCH better mother when I'm not exhausted. When I don't get to sleep through the night, I am a mean, crabby lady, and that wasn't good for my child! So I chose a few nights of crying (and yes, vomiting) over years of crabby, impatient mothering. It was the right thing for us.

My daughter is now 5 and is the most happy, well-adjusted child I know. (I'm biased, but I really do think this!) I certainly don't see any ill effects from crying it out now. Would she be this way if I had spent 2 or more years snapping at her, and not playing with her often, because I was tired and grumpy? No way to tell, but I expect not. anon

Your child is now sleeping through the night? I say pack in the guilt and get a good nights rest. Here's what I've found to be positive about Ferbering my son at 8 months: once he was sleep trained, if he cried in the night, I KNEW something was wrong, i.e. he was sick, or teething. He wasn't just waking from a disrupted sleep cycle. There was no extra layer of guess work, or trying to fix the wrong problem, just jump out of bed and find a solution.

You said you read Ferber, so you know that it's a disrupted sleep cycle that's the issue? You corrected it based on a reasonably humane plan. Continued night waking is not good for children, and if your baby was crying when she woke each time, think of the tears you've spared by teaching her to soothe herself back to sleep. I'm sorry your daughter vomitted, that must have been very, very traumatic, but I'm certain that over the course of her childhood, that's going to seem inconsequential. Forgive yourself and move on. Anon

Your baby is fine! If you want to feel better check Healthy Sleep Habits Healthy Child out from the library. Dr. Marc Weissbluth presents research showing the importance of good sleep for cognitive and emotional development. So many of the choices we make in parenting are tradeoffs. You chose to have a few very painful nights for you and your child instead of (if your child is like my first one) years of grumpiness and temper tantrums (for both of you if you are like me!) from sleep deprivation.

What you did was incredibly hard. Some people may tell you that it could have lasting harmful effects, but so can years of restless nights for both you. Having a tired and resentful parent and being a cranky and strung out child also have lasting harmful effects. People who chose the no cry route (like me with my first two---still can't steel myself with my third) may think that they are being kind, but I do know that my baby and I were both so much happier when she slept well and often (she slept through the night until recently). My older two daughters were cranky and unmanageable until we figured out how to get them to sleep through the night at around age three. Who knows what we lost over those years because we were all so exhausted and cranky. Anyway, you made a difficult choice and now your baby is happy and you are getting a good night's sleep. Beating yourself up doesn't help you or your child. Go forth and enjoy your days and your child's well-rested happiness! Sleepless in the South Bay

Seems like you are faced with a real problem, and your guilt is making it worse. You said you read Ferber before starting, and I hope you picked up on some of the compassion he had for both parents and children in his book. He's been so maligned, and I think unnecessarily so. If I recall correctly, Ferber is not telling you to torture your child, but he does say that it's not easy. And he says that you are teaching your child to self- sooth so that she can fall asleep by herself. It is natural to wake up several times each night--we ALL do it--but most of us have gotten so good at falling back asleep that we are not even aware that we've woken. However, for the child who has always fallen back asleep with the help fo a parent, it's hard to fall asleep alone. If you can see yourself as teaching your child something that will help her for the rest of her life, you might feel less guilt as she cries, not being used to it. I know it can be torture for a parent to hear her child cry, and that your response is not all together rational. But the lack of sleep you are all suffering is not helpful either. I know families where the husband sent the mother away for a night or two while the baby made the transition. I know other families where the mother cried harder than the child but stayed out of the room. For our family, what seemed to help was to set a plan before we fell asleep so that we did not need to make decisions at the most vulnerable point in the process. I recently read an exerpt from a different book called the No-Cry Method that has other approaches to the problem based on how you need to balance sleeplessness with tearfulness. You might check that out. But please remember that you are not a terrible mother; you are trying to teach your child something that is healthy and sound. For both of you. Veteran with Tear Stains
I just had to write and say, I am so sorry that you have been feeling guilty about doing something to help your child. As for ''crying it out'' . . . it sounds like your baby was crying a lot MORE before you used this sleep method. Now she is happy and well rested (and has more alert and energetic parents). Sometimes we have to decide what is best for our kids, even when they can't understand it right away. I think that most people who are rigidly against the Ferber method probably have not read the book, or else have babies who are better sleepers and just don't understand what it is like. Don't let anyone convince you that you were ''ignoring'' your child's communication; she was probably saying ''Please help me: I keep waking up and freaking out!'' And you responded by helping her overcome her unnecessary sleep anxiety. Ferber is not for everybody, but for some people, it is basically the only thing that works. I have loads of hippie friends who have done it, and my bay area pediatrician's office recommends it. My obstetrician told me that she regrets not doing it sooner, because her child has established poor sleep habits and is still waking up several times a night at age 2. You should feel good about teaching your baby to sleep. I'm sure it was harder on you than on her. Proud Ferber Mom
Feeling guilty is probably not helping you or your child. Sleep training is hard on everyone and it sounds like it was something you had to do. Honestly, what your child needs is parents who are sane and competent during the day as well as at night, and you can't be those things if you can't get any sleep. We ended up letting our daughter cry it out eventually as well, and she is a very happy, healthy, attached, loving and trusting 2.5 year old now (who still needs help going to sleep but sleeps through the night every night). Give yourself and your family the gift of letting this go. Sympathetic
YOU ARE NOT A BAD MOM!! You and your partner did what you needed to do, and it seems like your baby is happier now that she can sleep through. Parenting is not about always doing what your kid wants or thinks she needs - it's about doing what's best for your kid, and it seems like it's best to have you all sleeping well now. Not only that, but your baby can now get herself to sleep, which is a very important skill that becomes much harder to teach later.

By the way, we tried letting our son cry it out, and were never able to make it work - he did the same thing, cried for hours and vomited when he got too upset... we had tremendous guilt about even trying it, compounded when he got so upset he vomited. But I wish that we had tried earlier and stuck to it, because it would have meant much less frustration later. Now he is almost 3, and is just now starting to be able to be put down to bed in less than 1.5 hours. He still can't really put himself to sleep - we're working on it. anon

Just wanted to reassure you that you are not the world's worst mom. My son couldn't co-sleep with us either (he woke up every 45 minutes crying!). And just to let you know that there are things far worse than ''crying it out,'' during the time I was waking up many times a night, I was so tired that I got in a head-on collision with a city bus that I did not see.

I repeat, I was so tired that I did not see a city bus. Fortunately, my son was not in the car -- but can you imagine how horrible I'd have felt if he had been?

It is extremely important to get enough sleep, for your child's health and safety as well as for your sanity. It would be much worse had your daughter been injured because of your sleepiness. Have you heard the latest -- that someone who's been without sleep for 24 hours might as well be driving drunk?

You have done the right thing for your daughter. Let go of the guilt. Anyone who flames you doesn't have a clue. Karen

First of all stop feeling guilty. I know that's what moms do and all but you aren't doing anything bad here. Every family has to work this particular thing out for themselves. We co- slept for a long time- using a co-sleeper part of the time and then letting our son come into our bed at some point. We then moved the co-sleeper out and the crib in- so that he was right next to me at night but had his own space. When it was time for the toddler bed we took the crib out and replaced it with the little toddler bed. He slept there most of the night until we talked and decided as a family- our son included- that he could move into his own room. We then made a big deal about big boys sleeping in their own rooms in the own beds. He helped move the toddler bed in there and helped make the bed etc. This transitioning worked for us might not for everyone. I throw it out as an alternative to what seems to be a traumatic situation for your family. Sometimes finding a middle ground helps. Just a thought. Good luck. Juliette
Oh sweetheart! The fact that you care so much about your daughter's discomfort should be all the proof you need that you are a loving mom!! Showing love for your child does not mean that your child will always be happy, or always get exactly what she wants. She had short term discomfort, moving to a new way of sleeping and soothing herself. You did this so she could have long term success in sleeping, and that your family could have long term success in balancing everyone's need to sleep to function. Please please please don't feel guilty about that. It is completely natural to hate for your daughter to have any pain or sadness, however momentary it is (e.g. during a ''cry it out'' transition). So maybe you could let yourself feel SAD that this was necessary (because it was hard). But don't feel GUILTY. You were making the decision out of love for your daughter, and out of the goal to make an environment where everyone gets enough sleep so they can be the best for each other. Anyone who tells you differently (in my opinion) is being ridiculous -- for example, if your daughter was 10 and wanted the keys to the car because it would make her happy, would you give them to her? What if she cried about it for an hour? What if she cried about it every day after school for an hour for a week? The point is (obviously) that sometimes you need to set boundaries so that your child is safe and your family can function. A 10 yr old who wants the keys to the car is asking for something unreasonable. I think it is also fair to say that at some point, an older infant who requires mommy to be up multiple times a night is asking for something unreasonable. You sometimes have to say ''no,'' and set boundaries, in order to protect your child and help them learn to live in the world in a way that is positive. I really hope that you don't feel like anyone would ''flame'' you for your decision. I cannot imagine the audacity and silliness that would be involved in that kind of judgment. You are a good loving mom who is sad that it was hard for her daughter to learn to sleep through the night on her own. Nothing more, nothing less! You need sleep to love!
Dear Queenie,

Please do not feel guilty! I have also been a guilt/angst-ridden mom and it sucks! I have sleep trained both my children using variations on Ferber, Wessibluth. In the end it was the best thing for me and the kids because we all finally got the sleep we desparately needed.

I am slowly realizing that being a good mom is not about absolute self-sacrifice. You must take care of yourself as well. In the end, I believe you become a better mom.

On a larger scale, I wonder why we moms feel so guilty about so many things? I have felt ashamed to admit I sleep trained my kids, for fear of being judged (which I was) by other moms. What we really need to do is support each other to do what is best for us and our family- even if it is different for each family. I am sad that you had to ask not to get ''flamed,'' but not surprised. There is so much judgment in regards to parenting, especially in the supposedly ''progressive'' Bay Area- I actually find it ''oppressive'' when it comes to motherhood- how much judgment there is if you don't let your kids self-wean from breastfeeding, don't co-sleep, feed your kids sugar... I could go on and on.

I am reading a great book called ''Perfect Madness'' by Judith Warner on this very issue of guilt and mothering. How we self-sacrifice to the point of madness and in the end, it isn't necessarily what is best for our kids. weaning from my own guilt

I have no doubt you will get a lot of judgment on this issue, as it is such a sensitive and personal topic for so many. I made the same choice as you did, and went through a very rough week with my son at five months old. I was going through a divorce, needed to go back to work in a month, and the lack of sleep was causing me so much stress that I felt I couldn't parent unless he started sleeping for more than an hour and and a half at a time. Although that week was hell- a few times he cried in a rage for 20-30 minutes (one time was close to an hour) until he finally fell alseep. Several times he couldn't be soothed even when I would go back in, and it felt like torture for both of us. But I stayed consistent and within a week, the results were like magic. He fell alseep on his own with almost no crying.

Within 10 days, he started sleeping 9 hours straight, and two months later he was sleeping 11 hours. That week was the best investment in my mental health and personal sanity I ever made. Not only was I a happier, more energetic, and better mom for it, my son also transformed. Sleeping through the night made him less fussy during the day, and a better napper. Learning to soothe himself at night helped him to fall asleep easily during the day too, which freed up about an hour for me that I used to spend rocking him to sleep, and creeping out of his room hoping he wouldn't wake up (he usually did). Within 10 days, I had a routine for naps and at night. After his story, bath, song etc., I could set my son in the crib while he was still awake but sleepy, and he was out within three minutes, usually without a single cry. For the next two years, I could count on him sleeping without waking me up once for 11-12 hours. (Potty training and fear of the dark in toddlerhood created a new set of issues, but you have a long time to worry about those!) A lot of my friends who couldn't bear to let their child cry it out, or didn't believe in it, had children that didn't start sleeping through the night for years. My feeling is, let go of the guilt. It's hard for a week or so, but in the long run, not only is it necessary for you to be the best mom you can, it's better for your child too. Anon

I'm sure many many people will write to tell you: you have nothing to be guilty about. You did what you thought best for your baby, which not only includes helping her learn to sleep but also helping her have 2 functioning parents in her life! The only thing you did ''wrong'' in my perspective is sitting outside her door listening to her cries. For anyone who chooses this method, once you decide that it is the best thing to do, you don't have to punish yourself by listening closely to every cry. When we did it with our 1st baby, we went in another room and put on some music so we could just barely hear whether she was still crying or not. (BTW, now she is a loving, well-adjusted, good sleeping 6 year old with zero memory of the 3 nights she cried herself to sleep at 14 months.) Congratulations on having a better sleeping, happy, loving baby! --give yourself a break!
Of course you are not a bad mother. I know in the past this topic has sparked some heated and judgmental comments, and I hope you will only receive helpful advice.

Different things work for different people. I will just say that we were in the same situation with our (firstborn and only) daughter and finally did the cry-it-out thing at 14 months, after consulting with our pediatrician and reading several books (pedi recommended Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Baby). It was incredibly painful--our girl could literally scream for HOURS, and did, the first 3 or 4 nights. I was totally traumatized, but she was fine and happy in the morning. Looking back on it, I still can't believe we really did it; it was a measure of how desperate we were and the toll that sleep deprivation was taking on our marriage that we were willing to try it. It did work. By the end of the week she was sleeping through the night and continued to do so for the next 6 months, until we took her on a trip overseas and screwed everything up, but that's another story...

And for what it's worth, we know a wonderful, loving couple who told us (in our hour of need) that BOTH their children had gone through screaming so hard they threw up. Strong personalities, I guess. Many, many, many people have sleep problems with small children. I think it's unfortunately a large part of the price of parenthood, and you must do what you need to do to have a decent night. Feeling for You!

You're going to get a lot of responses! After agonizing, we decided to let our daughter cry it out, but earlier than you did--which I think made it easier for us. We did this for a few reasons: we knew several children who had terrible sleep patterns, both nap and nighttime, and they scared the bejeezus out of us. I also needed to work and I was a wreck. It was super hard and I had to leave the house a couple of times, my stomach hurt so much. Now, we usually manage to catch her when she's tired but not overtired, she sticks two fingers in her mouth, clutches her blankie, we turn on a little soft music, and out she goes (though at 7.5 mos she still up once a night to nurse then it's right back to sleep). It's not always this simple and there are tough nights. The morning after the first night I was sure she was going to be angry or hate me (projecting), but no, she greeted us with incredible smiles and was well rested. Huh! Basically, I just don't feel bad about a) having done it when or how we did, or b) her occasional crying anymore. A bad night is just that: a bad night. We help her through it and in the morning, smiles! Sleeping Better in Berkeley
You should NEVER feel guilty about doing this. I am currently going through it with my 4, almost 5, month old and he's doing beautifully. I also did it with my 4 year old daugther at aboutt he same age, and she is much better adjusted as a result. Hang in there! Traci
I am sure you will get A LOT of responses, but I just wanted to add my two cents. DON'T FEEL GUILTY. Your baby is sleeping better, her parents are sleeping better, her parents have a healthier marriage--the whole family is better off! Yes, the crying is hard. They are crying because they are frustrated that they don't know how to go to sleep on their own. Now she does and it is better for everyone!! We really struggled with this decision too and now we swear by it. A few nights of struggle and hardship for years of peaceful slumber seems like a good decision to me. I'd say you made the most responsible choice for your whole family. Good job!!!!!! Rebecca
Hi there, I don't know whether we really did Ferber by the book, but we did resort to sleep training when my daughter was about your daughter's age. We had had about 3 months away from home when she'd coslept with me and 'snacked' every two hours. By the end of it, I knew I couldn't physically do it anymore. We did the interval method (2, 5, 10 min, usually not longer than that, and not longer than a good hour, after which we'd abandon it for the night and do whatever to get her to sleep; then started the next night again). She screamed her head off the first two nights, then it became gradually easier and by about a week she was mostly fine (i.e. slept through with maybe one or two short wakings though no longer on a daily basis). She never vomited, though.

We have used it a few times again as needed. I don't like doing it and feel terrible every time we start, but for us it works. It usually doesn't take long for her to 'get it' again, and she is much happier when she sleeps. My thinking is that if I have to do it, better make it short and consistent rather than dragging it out. Don't beat yourself up. firm believer in maternal sanity