The newborn days can be really dark days. Of course there is joy and love and so many other amazing emotions, but there can also be crushing sleep deprivation, postpartum anxiety and depression, and overwhelm. So much overwhelm. Many parents are understandably desperate for more sleep, and although “sleep training” may sound like a solution, I’m going to talk about why you shouldn’t let a newborn “cry it out”, and what you can do instead, to optimize their sleep. (And yours!)
I do want to first say that there can be a time and place for “cry it out”, it’s just not during the newborn phase, and it’s not for every baby. I am all about empowering parents with the knowledge and confidence to know how to meet their baby’s needs, create healthy sleep habits, and get better sleep. There are many different ways to achieve your sleep goals, and the most important piece is that you do it in a way that works for your family.
In this blog post, I am going to talk about the two main reasons why you shouldn’t let a newborn “cry it out”:
And then I’ll talk about:
Let’s dive in!
Crying is a form of communication for newborns
Newborns do 3 main things. They eat, sleep, and poop. But they also get gas, have difficulty orienting day and night, and do not have their circadian rhyme figured out.
Their only form of communication is crying. This is how they tell you they need something and then it is up to you to play detective to figure out what that need is.
Leaving your newborn to “cry it out” would be dangerous, as you could miss meeting a need. Here are a few examples of needs that could easily be missed if you let your newborn “cry it out”:
Newborns generally eat every 2-4 hours but they also tend to cluster feed. Your pediatrician will likely tell you that it’s important that you feed on demand, which means offering food when they show hunger cues. (Crying is actually a late hunger cue, and your baby will often show other signs like sucking on their hands or opening and closing their mouth before it turns to crying).
It takes a while before babies fall into a regular feeding pattern/schedule and are on a healthy growth trajectory, which is one reason why you shouldn’t leave them to cry.
Newborns can have up to 10 bowel movements a day. Yes, you read that right. And yes, now is the time to buy stocks in diapers.
So when your newborn is crying, it is fairly likely that they could have a wet or soiled diaper, and of course we don’t want to leave a baby in a soiled diaper.
As your little one gets older, they will most likely start having more predictable bowel movements so you know if you should expect one around bedtime or not.
Pain or Discomfort:
Newborns have very immature digestive systems. They are prone to gas and some have reflux. When your newborn is crying they may very well be in pain or discomfort, which is why you should respond and rule out potential needs. Always check with your pediatrician to rule out reflux, dietary intolerances, and tongue/lip ties.
If your baby is crying and they are not hungry and their diaper is dry, try these hacks for getting out tricky gas.
Newborns can’t self soothe yet
In order for “cry it out” to be effective, babies need to be able to self soothe, and many experts agree that newborns are not capable of self soothing.
Newborns rely on you to do the soothing for them. This can look like providing movement (e.g., rocking), swaddling, offering a pacifier, shushing, etc. Remember, you can’t spoil a newborn! As they get older, they will start to demonstrate self soothing behaviors. This can look like sucking on their hands, shaking their head side to side, moving their arms or legs in a repetitive manner, etc. Most babies start demonstrating the ability to self soothe around 4 months old.
So until your baby can self soothe, it doesn’t make sense to do any “cry it out”. It’s an unrealistic expectation to put on them, and there are other things you can do to optimize their sleep instead! (Keep reading!)
How to optimize your newborn’s sleep without using “cry it out”
So now that we have gone over the reasons why you shouldn’t let a newborn “cry it out” to improve sleep, what strategies CAN you use?
There are lots of ways to optimize your newborn’s sleep.
The first thing to start with is preventing overtiredness. This means ensuring wake windows are between 60-90 minutes, while also watching for sleepy cues to know the optimal time for YOUR baby to go to sleep.
Another big piece is getting in good full feeds. It’s totally fine to feed BEFORE sleep, but try your best to avoid feeding TO sleep. This is because your baby may not get a full feed in if they fall asleep part of the way into the feed, and then will wake up hungry when they could have had a longer stretch of sleep.
It’s also really important to help your newborn differentiate between day and night. You can do this by ensuring daytime is light and bright. Naps can be on the go, or even in a lighter sleep space with some background noise. NIghttime should be quiet and dark. Use a hushed tone if you are getting up in the night with them, and avoid turning on bright lights.
My newborn package is a super comprehensive and robust resource for everything you need to know to optimize your newborn’s sleep without doing any “cry it out”.
It comes with a video course and a guide pack, and goes into detail about getting solid naps, calming and soothing tricks, swaddling, navigating sleep regressions, protecting your postpartum mental health, and walks you through what to expect for each week/month of the newborn stage. Plus, so much more!
Recap on why you shouldn’t let a newborn “cry it out”
We always want to be supporting our little ones in their zone of proximal development, and using “cry it out” as a strategy with a newborn, is not doing that.
We want to be super responsive to our newborns and use the newborn stage to get to know them. Learn what their cries mean, learn their cues, get them onto a feeding schedule that works for THEM, and figure out how to optimize their sleep.
We also want to be laying the groundwork for solid independent sleep. That’s why optimizing your newborn’s sleep is so valuable. You are helping them fill their sleep tank now, but also making it so much easier for them to learn independent sleep skills once they are 4 months old. And if you decide then that “cry it out” is a strategy that would be effective in teaching these skills, then we are here to help you fine tune an approach that includes that strategy. And if you decide that “cry it out” would not be a good fit for your little one, we also have an approach to teaching independent sleep skills that doesn’t involve any “cry it out”.
Whatever your sleep goals are, we are here to support and empower you.