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Mothering › Baby Articles › Who The Heck First Thought Up The Cry It Out Approach

Who the Heck First Thought Up the Cry it Out Approach?


What is Cry It Out? I’ll tell you, but first I have to climb into the nook under my staircase so no one knows what we’re discussing.


Cry It Out is an approach to getting babies to sleep. It was first proposed by Dr. Emmett Holt in 1895 in The Care and Feeding of Children. Holt is considered to be the father of pediatric medicine, though I suspect midwives might propose that medical care for children has been around a bit longer. In fact, with his designation as the pioneer of pediatric medicine, I suspect thousands of years of doctors, shamans, medicine men, witches, and midwives are turning in their graves, saying, “So, what about me? What am I? Chopped liver?”


As the father of the Cry It Out approach to sleep training, Holt is the most hated bulls-eye on the dartboard of the Attachment Parenting movement. Though, interestingly, much of Holt’s pamphlet is not that bad. Holistic and insightful even. He says very sensible things like, fresh air “is required to renew and purify the blood” and “is just as necessary for health and growth as proper food.” Holt recommends nursing until nine or ten months, not too shabby by current mainstream standards, and he recommends introducing a potty at three months old (he’s a regular ECer!).


But then Holt prepares himself for his place in history as the bad boy of sleep training with the following Q and A in the pamphlet:


Q: How is an infant to be managed that cries from temper or to be indulged?


A: It should simply be allowed to cry it out. A second struggle is rarely necessary.


And there you have it. Cry It Out is born. Before that people loved their babies, but thanks to Dr. Holt, father of caring for babies, we’re leaving them for dead. Well done, sir.


I hardly have the spirit to bring this up, but it does get worse. Much. In the follow-up question, the pamphlet inquires, “Is it likely that rupture wilt be caused from [this] crying?”


Do you understand what this is asking? If the baby will rupture from crying so much. I can’t believe we are even discussing this. Wouldn’t you think when rupture is a possibility, we’d move on to the next approach? Like Holt and his buddies are writing their book and brainstorming, and when Cry It Out is brought up and there’s the possibility of rupture, someone, anyone, says, “Oh, OK. Hmm, rupture. Well, we’ll have to cross that approach off the list.”


Holt popularized Cry It Out in 1895, and it is my theory that the method caused both World Wars, twenty and forty years later, when these very pissed off babies became adults.


In the Q & A above, regarding letting a baby cry it out, Holt says, “A second struggle is rarely necessary.” Jean Liedloff, author of The Continuum Concept and a founder of the Attachment Parenting movement, would say that a second struggle is unnecessary because the baby’s tiny will and heart have been broken. The baby no longer expects to be comforted after crying. She no longer expects her needs to be met.


You can write this off as touchy-feely hoo-ha, but think about it. Don’t you actually feel this way? I do. I think we all do to some extent. And what if, in fact, our feelings of distrust and unworthiness are related to this very thing, to this early abandonment when we could not care for ourselves. We were telling our care givers with all our tiny crying might that we needed them and they ignored us and we cried until we broke and stopped expecting we’d get it. Stopped feeling, perhaps, that we deserved it.


OK, now I’m crying.




About Brian Leaf


Brian Leaf is author of forthcoming parenting memoir, Misadventures of a Parenting Yogi: Cloth Diapers, Cosleeping, and My (Sometimes Successful) Quest for Conscious Parenting. You can find him online at www.misadventures-of-a-yogi.com.

Comments (20)

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I had concidered, pre-kiddo, that my trouble trusting my parents today came from how they treated me when I was very small - I had good parents - but, deep down, I don't trust that they'd do anything for me - that they've always got / had my back. Having a child convinced me that this is the case. We are dedicated to parenting differently. My Dad looks back now and calls his approach child abuse - strong words from a loving father. We parent our son differently - because that is what felt right to us - and to change my parent's minds about their own parenting style is pretty powerfully suggestive that their meathod of parenting never felt right to them - because believe me - if it felt right to them, they certainly wouldn't think my different parenting technique (like sleeping with my son) was a good idea. I am sure your parents are the same ... :-)
Liz it is amazing that your father has the courage to call his previous parenting techniques abuse. Most won't even admit that they were wrong, often the best you get is to agree to disagree.
CIO caused WWI and WWII?
What caused all the wars before that?
Not a proponent of CIO, didn't do it with my kids, wouldn't recommend it to anyone.
But you weaken the argument when you make tenuous connections.  Children born in 1895 would have been 19 in 1914, when WWI began.  The war was started by the mostly middle aged adults ruling Europe at the time; all of the major players were born in the late 1850s and early 1860s.  Further, people were practicing CIO around the world well before Holt's book.  Many Native American nations ignored crying babies to teach them NOT to cry.  And it would be naive to think that medieval and renaissance European peasants, with no reliable birth control and usually many children, had the resources to ignore everything that had to be done in order to tend to crying babies.
Argue against CIO using the facts and modern research.  That should be strong enough to convince parents not to use it.
I took the WWI and WWII comment as a joke and I laughed out loud.  :) 
I never had any preconceived notions of how parenting would be or how I wanted to raise my kiddos and I didn't pick up a parenting book until my oldest hit 3 and then Love and Logic saved my life, I just did what felt right to me.  And letting my babies cry felt like complete torture to me, I can't imagine what they would have felt.  All along we just did what felt right and we accidentally became attachment parents in so many ways and it works for us.  
it is a mystery to me.... thanks for writing this!
people  will let their helpless infants cry it out, but once they enter school even a simple game of tag is forbidden, just so no one gets hurt
what a messed up world we have created!
I am a children's sleep consultant who doesn't use CIO. There are so many other more hands on sleep training techniques.
I have a 1915 copy of the book. The question about crying is absent. 
The only mention of falling asleep is " How should my baby be put to sleep? The room should be darkened and quiet, the child's hunger satisfied, and the child made generally comfortable and laid in it's crib while awake"
The next question is about rocking.
I'm not sure we can blame the world wars on CIO. World war 1 certainly wasn't caused by teenagers!
I can't be sure, but I would think that causing the baby to "rupture" would mean to cause him to vomit.
In the 1907 version of the book has changed a little.
How is an infant to be managed that cries from temper, habit, or to be indulged?
It should simply be allowed to "cry it out." This often requires an hour, and in extreme cases, two or three hours. A second struggle will seldom last more than ten or fifteen minutes, and a third will rarely be necessary. Such discipline is not to be carried out unless one is sure as to the cause of the habitual crying.
Is it likely that rupture will be caused from crying?
Not in young infants if the abdominal band is properly applied, and not after a year under any circumstances.
I am trying to see if I can find out what the 'rupture' is.
* tears - I know my own emotional needs were not met by my mother, father and family. and i know i have nearly committed suicide as an adult. and that i was sexually abused by a male professor at 18.  and i know my partner remembers being left to cry. and other times threatened to be hit if she did not stop. she nearly killed herself as a teen.  her arms are covevered with scars from self harm also as a teen.  that much i know. by the way we receive many letters from suicidal teens.  a common characteristic is that they often cried themselves to sleep, alone, even into their teen years. they also did not receive hugs. often their fathers never hugged them and never said  i love you.  Causation or correlation? You decide.
I agree. The few times I even tried to slyly try cry it out I came in the room after a few minutes to find something was genuinely wrong and my kid was crying out for me to come fix it or just crying because he wasn't quite ready to sleep yet. I think the fact that we have been so attentive to our now 8 month old is the reason why he is such a nice kid and great sleeper. I understand that some parents have strict 9 - 5s and are doing what they can to hold it all together, but my husband and I are blessed with flexible schedules such that we have been able to go at baby's pace. I just feel like I didn't go through all this just to wage war on the guy! 
Rupture=umbilical hernia from the sound of abdominal band...
We are still co-sleeping with our 13 months old and a lot of people are judging us in doing so. So 2 grown-ups that love each others very much (but not blood-related... Hoping so anyway) need to sleep in the same bed but a little baby should be left alone in a separate bed, to cry his lil ass off? Doesn't make any sense.
In all fairness, some of my favorite sleep techniques and ideas came from CIO books and articles--I just use them differently. 
I also have a 15 minute window if nothing else is working and I'm going out of my mind.  If my baby hasn't fallen asleep in 15 of crying... she ain't going down. 
I love this article, Brian! Just one correction...
The Continuum Concept by Jean Liedloff inspired the Attachment Parenting movement, but she was not the "founder" of Attachment Parenting, per se. She didn't like the term "attachment parenting," which was coined by William Sears around the time he stopped using the term "continuum concept."
The Continuum Concept was Jean's revolutionary treatise on human nature, which she never intended to be a parenting manual. But she was very grateful that so many open-minded parents embraced the concept and aligned their nurturing with it. Collectively, those pioneering parents deserve credit for starting a movement as much as Jean.
Scott Noelle / www.continuum-concept.org
When I had my second child and was in the midst of postpartum depression, and was busy with cooking, caring for my first child, etc. I often did resort to letting my secondborn baby cry it out. Neither of us liked it but I would like to assure you that he is one of my most strong-willed children today, out of four children so far.
I could have answered that with no research what so ever.  A firstborn child who was desperately tired in the middle of the night and decided her/his baby needed a sane parent.  So they let the baby cry it out.  What happened after it worked that once is where this article is so helpful.
 I'm more of a happy medium person myself: I baby carry whenever I get the chance.  But if bitty baby mine is fussing I try putting her down, closing the door, and letting her cry it out for 15 minutes and see if that ends up in sleep.  
My guess is that whatever the trend of parenting techniques is at the time, most parents have always and will always follow their instincts and do what they believe is best for their children. And in those times when a parent feels vulnerable or is doubting their intuition, the last thing they need is an unsupportive doctor, some baseless study, or a self righteous dad blogger to bully them into thinking they are ruining their their kids or worse, that they dont love them. Please stop, be happy with your choices and trust that the rest of us parents who do love our kids know what is best for ours. These assaults on parents who dare to stray from the "Mothering way" are why I no longer read Mothering Magazine. 
I personally don't know how you can put a baby down to cry and walk away just listening to the first 30 seconds cause stress.
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