Mother and Baby

How to manage controlled crying

When you become a mum, it can feel like your life completely revolves around sleep, whether that's struggling to sleep yourself or convincing 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 your struggling to get your baby to get some shut-eye or are desperate to get her into a routine, the controlled crying technique may be worth considering. Using the controlled crying method can be seriously tough – it can be heartbreaking to listen to your baby crying and it will probably make you feel like like you're a bad mum. 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 and that's good for everyone. 

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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 she won't rely on you to soothe them whenever she wakes. You'll need 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

When it's time for you baby to go to bed, pop your youngster in her cot, say goodnight and leave the room while she is still awake. If she doesn't cry – great! However it's likely that she will and as much as you want to rush to console your baby when she is crying, following the controlled method means exerting some serious self-control and leaving her to cry on her 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. She may have got herself all worked up but resist the temptation to pick her up for a cuddle  and instead speak lovingly and softly to her so that she know everything is fine. Stay just a few minutes and tear yourself away before she falls asleep.

Then repeat this process – extending the time that you leave your tot alone each time – until she fall asleep for the night. The next night, do the same but lengthen the amount of time your baby spends on her own by a few minutes. One night, as if by magic, your baby 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:


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

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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

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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

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4) Expect lots of noise

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

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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

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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 she must do it on their own. There is some disagreement between experts on the question of whether or not you should stroke your baby but it's entirely up to you. Some experts think it could confuse a baby, giving her a mixed message that if she cries for long enough, it will give her 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 proven harm in controlled crying. However, some experts say that it may make children feel abandoned which would cause them problems in later life however 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

Ideally you should try to keep at controlled crying every night for maximum effect but 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 feel-good films at the ready! It's tough, mama but it will be worth it. 

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.

If you find controlled crying just isn't for you and your baby, there are plenty of other sleep training techniques you might want to give a girl. 

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


  • Author: Emily Thorpe Emily Thorpe
  • Job Title: Digital Writer

Having worked for Mother&Baby magazine for four years where she wrote news and product pages, features and  interviewed celebrities such as Paloma Faith, Fearne Cotton and Alex Jones, Emily now works as Digital Writer for Mother&Baby online.

A fondness for travel, chocolate and her sausage dog Luna, in her spare time. Emily also runs the lifestyle blog, Musings & More.


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