Updated: Apr 5, 2020
If you are struggling with a baby crying at night, or who refuses to drop off at bedtime, controlled crying is one of several ‘sleep training’ techniques that you could try.
Put simply, when you use controlled crying, you resist the urge to immediately pick up your child when she cries. This helps her to move on from depending on you to rock, sing, stroke or feed her to sleep - to being able to self-soothe.
The idea of leaving a baby or toddler to cry is a controversial one – it goes against a mum’s instinct to pick up and comfort her baby. I admit that this technique isn’t for everyone.
Is controlled crying safe for your baby?
You shouldn’t use controlled crying with babies less than 6 months oldAlways make sure that your baby or toddler isn’t hungry, thirsty or ill before you put them to bed and use controlled crying
How to use the controlled crying technique
STEP 1: Put your baby in her cot awake, say goodnight to her, and then leave the room
STEP 2: If she cries, wait for 2 minutes before going in. Stay for a few minutes to reassure her, then say goodnight and leave the room.
STEP 3: If she’s still crying after 5 more minutes, go back in and repeat the process. This time, wait for 7 or 8 minutes before going back in, and extend the time between visits by 2 minutes until she falls asleep. You will be leaving your child to cry for a longer stretch each time.
So you can’t stay with your baby until she falls asleep?
No, the idea is that your baby learns to go to sleep by herself. Controlled crying frees you from the need to stay with her until she has dropped off. You could still initially use a soothing method to calm her – stroke her head or sing to her, perhaps. But then, say goodnight and leave while she is still awake.
What are the pros and cons of controlled crying?
Your child learns a new and useful skill: to get to sleep without helpOften this is a quick method of sleep training; it may only take a few evenings.
Some experts say that a crying baby not picked up may feel confused or abandoned, which may impact them negatively later in lifeYou may need to watch your child in considerable distress.Some toddlers will cry until they make themselves sickOther family members and even neighbours may be disturbed. You will need to be very determined to see this method through; it can be emotionally tough for you and hard on the ears for everyone.
How long does controlled crying take to work?
How many evenings it will take of using controlled crying before your child has learnt to drop off without giving a good yell varies from child to child. “With a baby who slept well and then suddenly starts to sleep badly, you will probably find that with using this method, in 4 or 5 nights, you’ve cracked it,” Rachel says. “But if your baby has never slept well, it might take longer – 2 weeks perhaps. Be persistent, and persevere.”
What other sleep training methods could I try?
-> The pick up, put down method (from birth)
This method of sleep training is taken from Tracy Hogg’s book, The Baby Whisperer.
The concept is to have sufficient contact with your baby for her to feel reassured and fall asleep. Each time she cries, pick her up, and soothe her with a “sshhh”.
-> Controlled comforting (from 6 months)
Controlled comforting is a gentler version of the controlled crying method of getting your baby to sleep. As with controlled crying, leave progressively longer periods between visits to your crying baby. When you go into her, soothe her with gentle pats before leaving again.