One question that I get asked all the time is whether or not Center for Pediatric Sleep Management teaches the Cry It Out method. Oh, do I have thoughts on this! In order to hear my views on this topic, you will have to tune in and listen to this episode.
This recording was originally filmed as a live video and shared inside our Becoming a Sleep Consultant Facebook group. The live generated so much conversation that I thought it would be beneficial to air it on the podcast. I hope you enjoy the show!
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One of the most commonly asked questions that I am asked, both on discovery calls and inside of our Becoming a Sleep Consultant Facebook Group, is whether or not I teach the Cry It Out Method, and whether or not I believe in the Cry It Out Method. I am to answer to this question I think so eloquently inside of our Facebook Group, Becoming a Sleep Consultant, that I thought I’d air it on the podcast. I hope you enjoy!
Jayne Havens: Good morning, everybody. I hope you all are having a fabulous week. I am coming live today to answer a question that I get very, very often from those that are entering this Facebook group, Becoming a Sleep Consultant. One of the questions that I get asked most frequently is, do you teach the Cry It Out Method? I understand that this is a controversial topic, and I wanted to address it head on for you.
Center for Pediatric Sleep Management teaches all sleep training techniques. We really strive to be a completely comprehensive program where you are going to learn everything without bias. There’s no agenda, other than safe sleep. We do teach safe sleep, and we do subscribe to the American Academy of Pediatrics’ Safe Sleep Guidelines. But other than that, there’s no agenda. We strive to meet families where they are and coach them through methods that align with their parenting style and that feels safe and comfortable for them.
What that means is that many of our clients come to us really seeking a very hands-on, parent-present approach. I hesitate to call them ‘gentle methods,’ because I personally find that some of these parent-present approaches to sleep training often actually yield far more crying than when you give an infant or a toddler a little bit of space to try to fall asleep independently.
I wanted to explain a few things. First of all, ‘cry it out’ means different things to different people. Some people think of the Cry it Out Method as any sleep training that involves crying, which, newsflash, is most sleep training techniques. Because when you make a change to the way an infant, or a toddler, or a preschooler falls asleep if they’re used to nursing to sleep, and then even if you just switch from nursing to rocking, that baby would likely still cry because they’re used to falling asleep on nursing. Some people think of the Cry it Out Method as Ferber. I would not call that cry it out. I would call that either Ferber or Check and Console or a graduated Extinction Method, where the baby is crying but you’re still checking in on them and providing comfort and reassurance at intervals.
When I think of Cry it Out, what I think of is the Extinction Method. The way Extinction works is you put your child to bed, and you come back in the morning. That’s Extinction. I personally would never recommend the Extinction Method for a baby that’s still feeding in the middle of the night. I want to make that clear. I personally don’t like to use that approach for a child that’s used to still eating. I guess this is a good time to remind everybody that sleep training and night weaning are not the same thing.
I define sleep training. Again, this is a controversial term. A lot of people are uncomfortable with the term ‘sleep training.’ I’m personally comfortable with it. I like to own it. None of us are insecure — I don’t think — about calling toilet training, potty training. That’s not a dirty word. In my mind, neither is sleep training. We’re just teaching an infant, or a toddler, or a preschooler to fall asleep independently. That’s sleep training. I would never use sleep training method, especially Extinction, to night wean. A baby that’s still hungry in the middle of the night, we’re going to work on night weaning separately. That’s completely different than teaching a baby to fall asleep independently.
Let’s assume that we’re working with a baby that is not eating in the middle of the night, has no need to eat in the middle of the night, and hasn’t eaten in the middle of the night for a while. This could be an infant. It could be an older. It could be a young toddler. Those babies and those children are capable of falling asleep independently without whatever aid they’re used to — whether it’s feeding to sleep, whether it’s being rocked to sleep, whether it’s a pacifier, whether it’s being patted and shushed and rub to sleep. Those babies are capable of falling asleep independently.
To implement the extinction method, you would go through a bedtime routine. Put them down and give them a kiss goodnight. Tell them that you love them, and let them fall asleep independently without any checks, without any physical presence from you. Then if they wake up in the middle of the night, same thing. They get themselves back to sleep in the middle of the night.
I should be clear that a majority of our clients — I speak for myself here, but I think I can also speak for my Center for Pediatric Sleep Management graduates — we’re not recommending the Extinction Method. I’m not ever recommending it. Not because I don’t believe in it, not because I don’t think it’s okay. I’m not recommending it to my clients, because people aren’t coming to sleep consultants for us to tell them to have their babies cry it out. People are hiring sleep consultants because they want a more middle-of-the-road option. They want something that feels more reasonable, something a little bit more hands-on so that they feel that they’re a part of the process and supporting their child, as their child learns this new skill to fall asleep and back to sleep independently. It’s very rare that I’m coaching parents through the Extinction Method.
That being said, I think it’s really important for those that are going to do this work professionally, that they understand the Extinction Method, how it works, when it’s appropriate to use, in what circumstances, et cetera, et cetera. So we do teach it. I want to tell you a story. This is one of my favorite sleep training stories. I’ve told it in this group before, but I couldn’t find the post to share it when somebody was asking me about the Extinction Method or Cry it Out. So I thought I would retell the story.
Not too long ago, it was less than a year ago, I worked with a family that had a 14-month-old little girl. She was in daycare during the day, fell asleep. No problem in daycare. It took her two naps without any help getting to sleep in daycare. At home, with her parents, she was not wanting to fall asleep independently. She was nursed at bedtime to fall asleep, and then she would wake up in the middle of the night. She would scream and cry and want to nurse over and over and over again. Mom didn’t think that the nursing was about nutrition. She just thought she was sort of suckling back to sleep. This would happen several times over the course of the middle of the night.
At some point, mom got too tired and would bring her 14-month-old into bed with the two parents. This was no longer feeling sustainable for either of the parents and, frankly, for the 14-month-old either. She was exhausted. They were really, really anxious about their child crying. Straight up, they were really anxious about it. They were really nervous. They had tried very, very hard to work on this using very parent-present approaches.
Mom had told me, before she hired me, she had spent the last two nights literally just holding her daughter, like rocking her to sleep or just holding her trying to teach her to fall asleep without the nursing just to gradually wean her from that dependency. That was leading to literally three hours of screaming and crying and hysterics throughout the night. This went on for several nights. All of the really parent-present, gentle or gradual strategies were not working for this family. They tried it. They tried it so hard, because the thought of “leaving their child to cry” was something that they were not at all comfortable with.
So they hired me. I think a lot of you guys know I coach parents through strategies that align with their parenting style and that feels safe and comfortable for them. I call it my client-led approach. I don’t have a one-size-fits-all approach to sleep training. I sent them a sleep plan that outlined three different sleep training techniques. Two of them were very hands-on, parent-present gradual approaches. One was the Check and Console Method which is Ferber, graduated extinction. And I let them decide.
They were both incredibly anxious, incredibly nervous but ultimately decided to go with Check and Console, because they felt that they had tried all of the parent-present stuff. They had been doing that for days, weeks, months, and that was not yielding any sort of progress. So they decided to implement Check and Console.
I walked them through a new bedtime routine. We fed her. She was nursed in a well-lit space in the living room. We brushed her teeth afterwards. This promotes both dental hygiene and sleep hygiene, because we were keeping her from nursing to sleep, but then also brushing your teeth which is just good for her mouth. She was fed in the living room with the lights on, the TV on, to keep her awake. We brushed her little teeth. We did a bedtime routine with a few stories and a song. She was put down in her crib calm and relaxed and totally awake.
Now, obviously she wasn’t relaxed for long because she’s used to be nurse to sleep, and she was put into her crib awake. So immediately, she started crying. Mom and dad left the room and watched carefully on the monitor. The plan was to check on her at the 10-minute mark if she hadn’t started to calm down. Well, about eight minutes in, she went from crazy crying to trying. She actually wasn’t standing at the corner of the crib. She wasn’t screaming bloody murder. She was sitting there and flopping down, and then sitting up and flopping down. She was trying to get herself to sleep. She wasn’t looking for her parents. She wasn’t panicked. She wasn’t traumatized. She was just trying to get herself to sleep within eight minutes.
This little girl fell asleep. So we reset the timer for another 10 minutes at that point, because it was clear that she was calm. She was relatively calm, and she was working on getting herself to sleep. She fell asleep before the next 10-minute timer. I think it was about — I don’t remember exactly because it was a while ago. But she was asleep in less than 20 minutes. It was like 14, 16, 18 minutes, something like that. And she was asleep. She slept through the entire night, 11 to 12 hours. Again, this was a while ago. I don’t remember specifics, but she slept the entire night for the first time in her life at 14 months through the night, while just given an opportunity to try.
The next night rolled around. Same thing. They did their new bedtime routine. They put her in, and she literally did not cry. She just went to sleep like a baby that knew how to go to sleep her whole life. She went to sleep, and she slept through the entire night. This was the case every single night for the two weeks that we worked together. This is a perfect illustration. There were no checks. We would have checked on her had she been really, really upset for a full 10 minutes. But she never was. This baby was a perfect example of a child that just needed to be given some space and an opportunity to try.
Not every single time that a child is crying does that mean that they need to be rescued. Sometimes they’re crying for other reasons. I think in this little girl’s case, that first night, she was crying because she was confused. She was a little nervous about trying to fall asleep in a new way. She was like, “Where’s my mom? Why is my mom not nursing me to sleep?” But then once she realized that she wasn’t going to be nursed to sleep, she changed from, “Why is my mom not nursing me,” to, “Okay. I’m going to try to get myself to fall asleep.” That’s exactly what happened.
I work with families all the time that have experiences like this. A lot of people think of Cry it Out and Extinction as being the baby or the toddler that cries all night long. It’s hours and hours of crying. Really, that is not my experience. That is not my experience at all. I think, to some degree, there’s a lot of fear mongering and mom shaming that comes along with sleep training using a traditional approach like the Ferber Method or Extinction. In reality, when a baby or a toddler is set up for success and is properly set up and has the right sleep environment and the right schedule and the right bedtime routine and is told “I love you, but you’re going to try and go to sleep on your own,” usually, it’s a pretty seamless process.
Anyway, I wanted to share a little bit about Extinction Method. If anybody is watching and has questions, please ask. I’m going to be cognizant to keep a mental note of some more of these stories. Because, seriously, they happen all the time on my watch. That one family sticks out in my mind, I think, because of how anxious they were going in. It was really something that seemed like not at all in line with the way that they parented, and it felt like such a huge jump from the way that they were parenting to what they decided to do in their own home.
Please understand that this did not happen because of pressure from me. Again, I proposed two approaches that were absolutely in line with their parenting style and their comfort level around the crying. They just, I think, got to a point where they realized something needed to be done, something more drastic needed to be done. They were so grateful that I came in with an option for them that was effective and safe, and that I was there to support them through the process.
Again, I love sharing these stories, and I would love to hear your thoughts on this. So please share. I’m going to quickly check. I don’t think anyone has commented, but sometimes there’s a delay. Let’s continue on this conversation. I’d love to talk about this. I know that it’s a really loaded and controversial topic, I think, again deeply rooted in mom shaming. That’s where I think this all comes from. I think that parents, moms in particular, are very, very hard on each other.
We all have a lot of guilt around the way that we parent our children. It’s with everything. Do you breastfeed or bottle feed? Do you sleep train or not? Do you feed your kids only organic foods, or do you let them eat cheese that’s off your living room floor? There are so many things. Do you let your kids have screen time or no? There are so many things. There’s so much pressure to be the perfect parent and to be on 100% of the time.
Actually, before I wrap up, that brings me to another point. One thing that I hear all the time from parents that are being judgmental about sleep training is that parents who choose to sleep train are not parenting in the middle of the night. That’s something I’ve heard a lot. You had this baby, but you’re not going to parent in the middle of the night. I’ve heard moms say that to one another. What I would say to that is, that couldn’t be further from the truth.
Parents who choose to sleep train their children are doing so because they feel strongly that they want to establish healthy and independent sleep hygiene for their children. It’s not a selfish decision. It’s not because they need to sleep through the night themselves. It’s because they see the value in their child being happy and well-rested and, frankly, a confident sleeper. So let’s continue on this conversation whether in the thread or if you’re more comfortable in DMs. I would love to talk to you about it. I hope this was helpful. Have an awesome day, everyone!
Outro: Thank you so much for listening to this episode of the Becoming a Sleep Consultant Podcast. If you enjoyed today’s episode, it would mean so much to me if you would rate, review, and subscribe. When you rate, review, and subscribe, this helps the podcast reach a greater audience. I am so grateful for your support.
If you would like to learn more about how you can become a certified sleep consultant, head over to my Facebook Group, Becoming a Sleep Consultant or to my website thecpsm.com. Thanks so much, and I hope you will tune in for the next episode.Cry It Out Method