Great debate: The crying game

Woman | Published:

Being a new parent can be tough. A screaming baby and sleep deprivation can take its toll. If you’re struggling with a baby crying at night, or who refuses to drop off at bedtime, controlled crying is one sleep training technique some mums try. But not all parents can resist the urge to pick up their crying baby, could you? Woman debates the issue. . .

Baby don't cry

It was worth the distress and angst, says Emily Bridgewater. . .

It’s a taboo subject in some mothers’s circles; a subject that’s only discussed in hushed whispers by a few brave souls. The question of whether you’d leave your baby to cry-it-out in the desperate quest for some shut-eye is as controversial as Trump’s immigration policy.

I fondly remember the first time my baby slept through the night. It was May 15, 2016; a date clearly etched on my brain. Aged just four months old, I couldn’t quite believe it. And I was right to be dubious – it was a fluke and she didn’t do it again for another five months, after intervention, by which I mean a regime of controlled crying.

I read somewhat obsessivley on the subject; there’s sod all else to do at 3am when it’s only you and your baby awake while the rest of the world is asleep. I scoured mum blogs and sleep training websites for a regime we felt comfortable with as a family; that was gentle for our little bundle of joy, but also had a reasonable (high) possibility of success.

The baby sleep training manual market is big business with everything from hardcore methods by Gina Ford or Dr Richard Ferber to more gentle techniques such as The Baby Whisperer. Somewhere in the middle, we opted for an action plan by Super Nanny Jo Frost; after all she’s good at putting toddlers on naughty steps on telly, right?

Our first issue was to tackle my daughter’s inability to fall asleep on her own. Up until then, I’d been feeding her to sleep, placing her gently in her cot while comatosed on milk. Being unable to ‘self-soothe’ was leading to repeated wake-ups in the night.

Without going into boring details, the routine involved putting her to bed awake and leaving her to cry for short periods of time – two minutes, then four minutes and so on.

The first night took about half an hour of crying, with intermittent visits to her room to provide loving reassurance, the following night less time. By night three she was able to get herself to sleep and, most importantly, stay that way. A few months later, when she was about eight months old, we revisited the technique to wean her off her night feed. It worked like a dream.


At nine months old she slept through the night and has done pretty much every night since. And as a result we’re a happier, more well-rested family.

Hearing my daughter cry for short spells for a couple of nights was a small sacrifice for which we’ve all benefitted.

Do it again? Absolutely!

I can’t bear to hear him cry all alone, says Heather Broome


Ahh, a good night’s sleep, remember that? It was great. I am not getting much any more thanks to my little one choosing to wake at inconvenient times. Before I get any deeper into this debate, though, a disclaimer: I do not judge any parent who takes the controlled crying route and I can totally understand why they do it. I don’t like the element of competition that stirs between some mothers – we are a shadow-eyed sisterhood and every child is different. What works for one might not work for another. If controlled crying works for you and your baby, that’s brilliant.

However, it won’t work for Baby Broome. I know because one night, at my wit’s end, I almost tried it. I lasted about two minutes before it was unbearable. There is nothing at all controlled, or controllable, about the way my little one cries. He’s 18 months old now and when he smiles or laughs, it is the most joyous thing to witness. My heart sings, the sun shines and I can almost picture those 1,000 ships setting sail from the harbour.

When something makes him laugh, he looks around at his mummy and daddy to check that we’re laughing too. He wants to share the fun with us. On the flip side, when he cries, it is miserable and distressing, even though I know that all babies cry and sometimes for no good reason. And, just as with his laughter, he wants to share it with us. It’s his way of communicating that something is wrong, and he doesn’t want to be ignored.

Imagine a pan that has been left on the boil. It boils and bubbles and will eventually boil over unless you take it off the heat. When Baby Broome starts up, his cry resembles a foghorn – and you ignore it at your peril. If left unchecked, his cries become more desperate to the point where he sounds like he’s choking. How can I leave him when he’s like that? I can’t, it is too stressful for the both of us.

When I pick him up and hold him, all that heat and rage and distress ebbs away. He simmers down so quickly, I can feel the relief running through him because it runs through me as well. Maybe I’ve made a rod for my own back but, coming to parenthood a little later than most, I find myself quite philosophical about these difficult times. He’s my only baby and it’s unlikely I’ll have any more, so in a warped way I am savouring the fact he needs my comfort and cuddles at such unsociable hours. It won’t be forever. One day he will pull away from me at the school gates as I try to hug him – ‘Gerroff, Mum, you’re embarrassing me!’

For now, he wants those cuddles from Mummy and I can’t help but provide them.


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