Midwife explains everything you need to know about controlled crying


When it comes to bedtime routines and baby sleeping methods such as controlled crying – we believe it is up to the individual parent/s to decide what works for them and their baby. This blog/article is not intended to argue for or against certain sleeping methods. Instead it is to shed light on an experts opinion, exisiting health literature and current findings. 

Midwife, Lactation consultant (IBCLC), Child and Family Health Nurse, baby wearing consultant and mum-of-two, Bel Moore, explains everything you need to know about controlled crying.

Night-time parenting can be a real challenge for some. A combination of your baby’s fast metabolism, small stomach and easily digested milk means frequent feeds, separation anxiety, shorter sleep cycles and the need for parental help to link the cycles often means night-time sleep can be very fragmented for both infants and their caregivers.

Throw in returning to work, other children and the need to function at a high level to undertake tasks like driving, parents get pretty desperate to get some shut eye!


Midwife explains everything you need to know controlled crying

The most common solutions given for infant ‘sleep problems’ e.g. infant sleep behaviour that is disturbing their parents is Cry It Out (CIO) or Controlled Crying (CC).

Although usually used interchangeably they are slightly different methods as CIO is an extinction method, where the baby is put to bed awake and left alone, with the caregiver completely ignoring their cries while CC is a graduated extinction method, where a baby is put to bed awake and left alone but the parents attends to them when a certain level of crying or a time period has been reached.

The aim of CIO and CC is to teach babies to ‘self settle’ and stop crying or calling out during the night.

In recent years, more research and commentary has been released on the detrimental effects of CIO, CC and other extinction type sleep methods.

You may be confused with the differing advise from health professionals, fellow parents or the older generation about the safety of CIO and CC.

Mother holding her crying newborn baby in hands

To help make an informed decision on what’s best for your baby, here is a quick run down of important and interesting facts from the position paper on cry it out by the Australian Association for Infant Mental Health’s (AAIMHI):

  • Crying is a baby’s way of signally psychological or physical distress or discomfort to their caregiver.
  • Sleep problems can occur when a parent has unrealistic expectations of infant sleeping and crying, caregivers suffers from stress, mental health issues or physical health concerns.
  • AAIMHI main concern is that CIO and CC techniques are not consistent with infants and toddlers needs and may have unintended negative consequences.
  • Crying peaks around 6-8 weeks and generally settles by 3-4 months of age.
  • Unexplained and sometimes difficult to sooth crying does exist.
  • Infants will experience differing degree/s of anxiety when separated from their caregivers. Crying at this separation may mean the child is struggling with the process and needs reassurance.
  • If a parent responds promptly and empathetically to a child crying, they become secure knowing that their needs for emotional comfort will be met. They have a core understanding that their parent will return and that they are safe.
  • Most children grow out of the need to wake at night by 3-4 years of age.
  • Children may need more assistance to settle at different times in development such as illness, family events, major changes or stresses.
  • Although CIO or CC may stop infants and toddlers from crying out for help, it may teach them not to seek or expect support despite remaining internally distressed.
  • Prolonged crying increases cortisol (a stress hormone) levels and these level remain high even once the child has fallen to sleep. The effect these levels have on the still developed brain has yet to be fully researched.
  • Responding to an infant’s needs or crying will not cause a lasting ‘habits’ but does contribute to the infant’s sense of security and their attachment.
  • If a parent decided to use controlled crying, the infant must have a real understanding of the parent’s words, need to know that the parent will return and to be able to feel safe when the parent is absent.

Always speak to your trusted health care professional if you are struggling with sleeping issues to find some solutions that work best for your family.

Meanwhile, check out how these 5 mums got their baby to sleep with their amazing advice.


At the Healthy Mummy we understand what it is like to be a mum, as we are mums, too.  That’s why we offer a supportive community from pregnancy, birth, early motherhood and beyond.

With eight community groups, including a NEW MUM SUPPORT GROUP, there are THOUSANDS of like-minded mums who can offer daily support to the Healthy Mummy members.  All groups are moderated regularly by our professional staff, to ensure a safe and non-judgemental environment.

To find out more on our communities, click here.


Be part of our friendly and supportive community


Daily Healthy Recipe Newsletter

Delicious recipe ideas plus fitness tips and support, delivered to your inbox.

Subscribe now to get a Free Family Friendly Recipe Pack.