The cry-it-out method is great for making you feel like a crappy mom

When my son was an infant, I felt it was imperative that I get him on a consistent sleep schedule. I took the baby books at their word, expecting my son to sleep through the night at 3 months old and to take two regular naps at a routine time. Of course, that never happened, and of course, it drove me crazy. I didn’t like to put him down to cry it out, preferring to rock him to sleep, so I felt it was my fault that we couldn’t seem to develop a “normal” sleep pattern.

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As a young mother, I felt my baby needed to fall into a perfect little box to prove I was doing things right. When he refused to sleep at regular intervals, it felt like I was being outed as not ready for motherhood. I was the youngest among my peers to have a child, and I knew many people thought I wasn’t prepared. In truth, no one really cared if my baby was sleeping through the night aside from my equally sleep-deprived husband, but at the time it felt like everyone was watching, waiting for a sign of failure.

My mother, who works as a day care provider, continually fed my anxiety that my son’s sleeping pattern wasn’t normal and that he should be sleeping way more. She suggested I try the cry-it-out method, and even though I had read controversial things about it, I took her advice. I was desperate for sleep, and I wanted so badly for him to follow a set routine.

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Moms are cheering the latest study out of Flinders University in Adelaide, Australia, that says letting babies cry themselves to sleep is safe and won’t cause long-term damage. But that’s to the baby. What about to the moms?

As soon as we started, I knew the cry-it-out method was disastrous.

It was the one thing that finally pushed me over the edge and made me feel like a total failure as a mother. I would go to my son at the allotted time intervals, and everything inside my heart told me this was the wrong thing to do. I felt like I was harming him — breaking his trust in me every time I came in and lay him back down, only to leave again. I could hear him screaming and imagined his face, panicked and scared in the dark of his room. The struggle went on for hours some nights, and many times I wasn’t able to bear it. I would rock him back to sleep and then be overwhelmed with guilt because I wasn’t being consistent enough with this horrible routine.

While the nights were horrible, the days became more difficult too. I was tired from the lack of sleep, and my baby was cranky. Getting through the day was a struggle, even when I dreaded reaching the end of the day and bedtime. I was reluctant to give up the cry-it-out method, though. I felt it was simply one more thing I was failing at.

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After months of back-and-forth and inconsistent sleep training, I finally decided to call it quits. I was in tears. My baby’s sleep pattern was getting worse. Sleep training was supposed to make my life easier, not harder, and that was not the case. The cry-it-out method wasn’t for us, and I wish I had seen that sooner. It simply wasn’t worth the toll it was taking on my mental health.

With my subsequent children, I have taken their lead with their sleep schedules rather than try to force some arbitrary notion of normal onto them. None of them is a good sleeper, but I’ve given up on trying to force them to sleep. We need rest when we can get it, and I’d rather save us from nightly battles that begin and end in tears. It doesn’t matter if they fall into that perfect little box, as long as everyone is happy and catching sleep as often as they can.

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breech birth
Image: Karyn Loftesness