Love it or hate it, controlled crying is a commonly used sleep training technique by parents and experts alike. Here’s what the controversial method involves …
Many parents and experts believe controlled crying is the key to laying down good sleep habits for babies of six months and older.
Controlled crying can be very effective, but it may not be suitable for all babies – or all parents. If you’re considering trying controlled crying to help your baby settle himself, take a look at our guide, and see if it’s right for you both.
What is controlled crying?
The controlled crying approach involves putting your baby to bed awake, and you leaving the room for a short period, returning if the baby is crying, but leaving again for progressively longer periods until the baby falls asleep.
This approach suits those who believe babies need routines and boundaries. The use of controlled crying can be traced back over 100 years, and was a baby sleep method first popularized in the mid 1980s.
Also known as the Ferber method, American mums refer to ‘Ferberizing’ their babies when they do controlled crying.
Is controlled crying safe?
Over the years, a lot of parents have used controlled crying successfully. A study carried out by researchers from the University of Melbourne, Australia and the University of Exeter, UK, in 2010, concluded that behavioural sleep techniques do not cause long-lasting harms or benefits to the child, their relationship with their parents or their mother’s health.
‘For parents who are looking for help, techniques like controlled comforting and camping out [where one or both parents stay in the room with an upset baby to provide reassurance but the baby is not picked up] do work and are safe to use,’ said lead researcher, Dr Anna Price.
However, the study did have some limits and Dr Price also noted that parents shouldn’t think this means letting babies cry all night.
Instead, it reiterated that controlled crying is a technique that needs to be used with care.
- Never begin a controlled crying regime if your child is ill.
- Do seek advice when using controlled crying if you have any health concerns with your baby.
- This method may not be suitable of your child has significant separation anxiety issues.
- Controlled crying should never be used for babies younger than six months old.
Why is controlled crying recommended for babies over six months?
Research has shown that when young babies become upset, this increases the stress hormone, cortisol, which can be harmful to the developing emotional brain. This affects the strength and speed of the brain’s connections and pathways.
Some experts believe controlled crying should be left even later than six months, as the creation of pathways which help modulate the stress response reaches a peak at about seven to eight months of age. If the stress experience is intense, it could undermine the ability of the brain to manage stress and social situations accurately as an adult.
NHS guidelines regarding sleep training techniques recommends that controlled crying should not be used for babies under six months of age.
How long does controlled crying take?
According to baby sleep expert Mandy Gurney, director of the Millpond Sleep Clinic, controlled crying should only take a maximum of a week to work:
‘But be warned: it will be a tough week! You need to be completely committed to seeing it though. If you stop and start when using controlled crying, your baby many become confused and any distress may get unnecessarily drawn out,’ says Mandy.