Babies cry as a form of communication, seeing as though they can’t exactly voice what they’re thinking or feeling. A lot of times, this crying happens just moments after the parent lays them down for sleep after a long day. At that point, the parent can be agitated or overtired, and the crying could lead the parent to feeling “stress, exhaustion, sleep deprivation, and depression,” according to Psychology Today.
For some parents, this is a consistent occurrence for which they desperately seek a solution for. Recent studies have explored the possible outcomes and effectiveness of letting the baby “cry it out”, which Psychology Today defines as, “an umbrella term used to refer to any method which involves putting the baby in a safe space such as a crib and leaving it alone for a while.” Although the results suggest not to simply let your baby cry without you doing anything to respond, or unmodified extinction, similar methods have proven to be effective in a short term sense.
Graduated Extinction Method
According to the Cleveland Clinic, “With this approach, you slowly increase how long you wait to respond to your crying baby. The concept fosters comforting and bonding as your child learns how to self-soothe and fall asleep on their own.”
Essentially, you gradually increase the time between when they start crying and when you move in to comfort them. For example, if you wait two minutes one day, then the next day maybe you wait four minutes the next day, and so on.
The graduated extinction method has seemed to be the most accepted method of letting your baby cry it out, however, limited studies have been done on the long-term effects it has on the baby.
One study, conducted in 2012, showed an association between the graduated extinction method and “a decrease in crying duration and night-waking while having no ill effects on the baby’s emotional and behavioral development and stress levels five years later,” per Psychology Today. However, several methodological issues were called to attention with the study, such as “high parental rejection rate for the treatment group” as well as parents involved being aware of the treatment, which “might influence parents’ behavior during the intervention, as well as their responses to outcome measures such as the measurement of emotional and behavioral problems of their children.”
To conclude, it seems that letting your baby “cry it out” at night before bed may be okay for the most part, as long as you follow the procedure of the gradual extinction method. However, limited studies have been done, so please do so at your own discretion.
As of now, no severe consequences have been recorded as far as long-term effects, but these studies are still relatively fresh. So, it may be a while longer before we have clearer, more conclusive evidence to support these methods in being both effective, and, most importantly, safe.