Mother and Baby

How to manage controlled crying

Sleep is probably the biggest issue you face when you have a newborn.

You might be finding it hard to sleep yourself and are in desperate need of some sleep hacks or products to make it look like you have a solid eight hours.

However, normally the biggest issue is getting your baby to catch some zzz's.

You've probably bought all the sleep essentials on the market, tried light projectors, run out of lullabies to sing and exhausted all the online tips on how to get little ones to drift off.

If you are desperate to get your baby into a routine and you’ve decided to try the controlled crying technique with your baby, then we are here to help.

Let’s be honest. Using the controlled crying method can be seriously tough – it can be heartbreaking to listen to your baby crying their eyes out and it will probably make you feel like a horrendous mother. 

But the good news is that once it starts working (and you can usually see improvements within a week) your baby will know how to settle themselves, leaving you to catch up on your sleep – probably making you a better parent during the day.

What is controlled crying?

Controlled crying is an appealing quick fix. It helps your baby settle themselves without any significant harmful or long-term effects, experts and researchers have found.

Dr Richard Ferber proposed ‘controlled crying’ back in the 80s, as a way to teach a baby to fall asleep on their own. The method encourages your baby to settle themselves – so it is a bit of a tough love process but means that they won't rely on you to soothe them whenever they wake.

Controlled crying is an appealing quick fix. It helps your baby settle themselves without any significant harmful or long-term effects.

Make sure to wait until your baby’s six months old until you try this out because young babies often wake regularly as they need to be fed.

How to use the controlled crying method

As much as you want to rush to console your baby when they are crying, following the controlled method means exerting some serious self-control and leaving them to cry on their own for a few minutes.

Try to pass this time by rewarding yourself with a nice treat like a giant scoop of ice cream (after all, if you’re avoiding one temptation then it’s only fair you get another) before you give in and go and see your baby.

They will have got herself all worked up but resist the temptation to pick them up and cuddle them, and instead speak lovingly and softly to them so that they know everything is fine.

Stay just a few minutes and tear yourself away before they fall asleep.

Then repeat this process – extending the time that you leave them alone each time – until they fall asleep for the night.

The next night, do the same but lengthen the amount of time they spend on their own by a few minutes.

One night, as if by magic, they will fall asleep after just one period of crying. Be patient, it will happen.

Supernanny's Jo Frost highlights what to expect from this method:


Expand Image

1) Your child will start to cry and by the second minute will go up to 'full throttle' so you respond...

Expand Image

2) When you walk out of the room they will immediately cry and you will hear a peak in their crying and a temper cry that will be familiar

Expand Image

3) Your heart will beat faster, your adrenaline levels will increase, you will feel like you are screwing up your kid and immediately feel like you are being a bad parent because emotionally you are reacting, and your body is too

Expand Image

4) Expect lots of noise

Expand Image

5) Also expect the urge to go into the room right away

Expand Image

6) Know that you are not screwing your kid up you are not a bad parent and that you are being a parent that constructively, in a positive way is teaching their young one how to self soothe

Expand Image

7) Know that this will last no longer than 7 days

How controlled crying works

Your baby learns to fall asleep without you, without the shock of being completely abandoned, but with a reinforcing message that they must do it on their own.

There is some disagreement between experts on the question of whether or not you should stroke your baby.

Some experts think it could confuse a baby, giving them a mixed message that if they cry for long enough, it will give them some result.

Is controlled crying safe for your baby?

As long as you are sure that your baby is not hungry, thirsty or poorly before you put them to sleep, there is no proved harm in controlled crying.

However, some experts say that it may make children feel abandoned which would cause them problems in later life.

There has been no evidence to support this yet.

A follow-up study in 2012 from the Offical Journal Of The American Academy Of Paediatrics showed that controlled crying was a safe technique and did not cause long-lasting harm to the child, their relationship with their parent or their mother's health.

The NHS states that "Parents and health professionals can confidently use these techniques to reduce the short-to-medium-term burden of infant sleep problems and maternal depression."

How to manage controlled crying

While you’re supposed to keep at controlled crying every night for maximum effect, it’s just not worth trying if you’ve had the day from hell and feel like you’re going to explode.  

Make sure you’ve got the support of your partner or a good friend who will answer your calls or come round and restrain you when you feel like you’re about to cave in.

And have the comfort food or rom-coms at the ready!

How long does it take for controlled crying to work?

All children are different, and for some learning to drop off on their own is a matter of just a couple of evenings.

For most children that normally sleep well, it's about 4-5 days which is still not too bad. With children who struggle with sleep, it can be a hard one, lasting up to two weeks.

If it still doesn’t happen, you should stop using the method and perhaps switch to something more gradual.

Check out our step-by-step baby sleep guide that contains 13 tips to see if there are any other methods that might work for you...

Would you try the controlled crying method? Let us know on Facebook or Twitter!

Now read:

Ask Rachel: "Why won't my baby won't stop crying at night?"

Coping with crying in public 


You may also like
Related content: