Wait it Out (WIO) or Cry it Out (CIO): Is This Really the Best We Can Do?

2:07 pm |

Wait it Out (WIO) or Cry it Out (CIO): Crying baby

If you’ve been a reader of my blog for a while, there’s a good chance you already know my views on the whole sleep training issue (I could use the word debate here, but I’m purposely choosing not to…this only further promotes the ‘mommy wars’).

I like to think of myself as ‘pro sleep’, rather than ‘pro sleep training’, but I guess the two can be pretty similar, for all intents and purposes.

I guess when you have a history of two non-sleeping babies (one in terms of naps, the other nights), coupled with talking with parents day in and day out over the course of 7 years, you have a pretty good idea what parents go through.

You hear stories of parents of one year old babies who haven’t slept for more than an hour or two at a stretch since birth; of moms who are dealing with postpartum depression or anxiety and a chronically fussy baby; of parents who are so sleep-deprived they have lost perspective, and in extreme cases, have lost touch with reality.

So, yes, in these cases (and others) I guess I am pro-sleep training when it comes down to it.

(for more on my personal opinion regarding sleep training, see my post Sometimes It’s About the Less Bad Option).

The Blog Post That Inspired Me to Write This Post: The WIO (Wait it Out) Method of Sleep Training

So, on with the show.

Recently, a mom on our Facebook group posted a link to a blog post called The WIO (Wait It Out) Method of Sleep Training.

Intrigued by the title, I clicked through and starting reading. At first, I enjoyed the post. It’s written with a fair bit of compassion and understanding for sleep-deprived parents, and I could definitely see how some parents of young babies could feel affirmed by it.

The basic gist of the post is this: Babies cry. We don’t always know why they cry. And because we don’t always know why babies cry, our best bet is to hold and comfort them, and simply be with them until the crying passes. That they will eventually learn to sleep on their own, as we set the foundation for sleep in their early months and years.

(Keep in mind that this this post is written in the first person, as a note to her baby. In this way it could be argued the author is simply being descriptive, not prescriptive.)

Here were a few quotes I appreciated.

With your oldest brother I became anxious and felt like I was doing “nothing” to help him learn to sleep. With you, I smile peacefully when offered advice about getting you to sleep. I know that I’m not doing “nothing”, I’m laying the foundation slowly and gently.

I love the fact that this mom was able to let go of the ‘shoulds‘ that come so often in parenting (whether from others or from ourselves). To be able to let go a bit, relax and enjoy her little one.

This is a lesson that most of us – regardless of our child’s age – could probably do better (I’m still working on this).

I also think the reminder, particularly in the first 3-4 months, that establishing healthy nap and bedtime routines and comforting and soothing your baby to sleep isn’t nothing…that it’s SOMETHING. That it’s laying the foundation, slowly and gently, for healthy sleep habits later on.

Since you have no words, I do not know the meaning behind your cries. And since you are an infant, I do not choose to attribute malice or aforethought to your cries that soothe as soon as I pick you up. I do not view you as a cunning little creature that wishes to interfere with my life by insisting on being near me.

I think it can be easy, particularly with a fussy/high need/colicky baby to get into the mindset that they are doing this TO you.

If we’re able, it’s probably far more helpful to think about their crying and fussing as coming from a place of total helplessness. And I know that most of us know this, but consciously having this thought when our baby is crying is probably a helpful practice to get into.

So…these are the points I agreed with 🙂

As I kept reading however, something wasn’t sitting right with me. I couldn’t quite put my finger on it, but it’s been just beneath the surface of my thoughts for several weeks now.

Shortly after I first read this post, one of the moms on our Facebook group posted this in response:

Fussy Baby Site Facebook Response About WAI

Yes…this is definitely part of why I’m uncomfortable with this post.

First, let me say that I have no issues with the mom who wrote this post. She is obviously writing from the heart, and I don’t think she had any kind of negative agenda when she wrote it.

That said, I also feel the need to speak up for moms and dads of babies for whom nothing else is working. Babies or kids who are chronically overtired, who have gotten caught up in a cycle of sleeplessness, and whose fussiness is exacerbated by the lack of sleep.

I need to speak up for parents who would love to co-sleep, but who either find THEY can’t sleep that way, or whose BABIES can’t sleep that way (I had one of those babies).

I need to speak up for parents whose babies don’t like to cuddle, or who never seem content or satisfied, whether in their crib, swing or in their mother’s arms.

Nobody ever said that helping a baby learn to sleep was easy (on the parents or the child). And most people wouldn’t say they enjoy it, or that they relish the experience.

She goes on to write:

I cannot think of any reason why I should feel okay letting you lay there screaming. Yes, I need sleep. Of course I need sleep. And I snatch that sleep where I can. Yes, I like sleep. I love sleep. I’ve acquired that taste for lazy days of lounging around in bed. Lazy days that I can’t remember the last of. I have words to vocalize these needs of mine. I have people that I can speak with, and I can even make a stab at  saying it eloquently. “I need sleep.” Sometimes I’m so tired that I could cry with that need for sleep.

I am grown. I am strong. I understand the passage of time and that THIS will pass. You will sleep. Your infancy is the briefest part of the brief time that you are a child in need of my arms.

I can wait it out so that you don’t have to cry it out.

THIS. This is  the part that really, really bothers me. There are 3 assumptions here that really irk me.

1. That parents who sleep train do so for themselves. That they themselves are tired of getting up all the time. That they love their sleep SO much that they plop their baby in the crib and let them cry.  I’m not saying this never happens, but I also don’t believe it’s the norm.

Most people I know who sleep train do it because EVERYONE is happier when they are rested, baby included. Sleep training isn’t automatically a selfish act. That assumption is one that really rubs me the wrong way.

2. That parents who sleep train don’t understand that this will pass. That they are so short-sighted that they give into their selfish desires for sleep while failing to look at the big picture.

I think that for many parents, sleep training is a last resort. While they know their baby is only young for such a short time, they also see that their little one’s fussiness is being exacerbated by the lack of sleep.

To put it simply, they feel they have run out of options.

For instance, my daughter stopped being able to fall asleep with me anywhere near her. She wouldn’t sleep in my arms, in my bed, in her stroller, in the car. I rocked her and carried her until my arms were ready to fall off, and yet she still wouldn’t close her little eyes. For her, sleep training wasn’t the option I chose, it was the ONLY option I had.

3. That sleep training = leaving your baby to cry in a crib alone. 

While the post doesn’t explicitly state this, I would say it’s heavily implied. This is a misconception that is widespread, and I think it’s extremely harmful, particularly for this reason: It puts all methods of sleep training in one basket, labels it as ‘Cry it Out’, and positions it directly against ‘Wait it Out’.

To be clear, I’m not an advocate of leaving your baby to cry alone for hours in his or her bed. Not because I believe it damages the baby, but because I believe there are more effective, less stressful ways to guide a baby to healthy sleep (this is particularly true when we’re talking about high need babies).

So, in my opinion, full-on CIO isn’t the ideal solution.

The blog post ends with this:

I can savor bedtime and wait it out, because this will not last forever. You are a little creature that is bent on independence. All I need to do is help you see sleep for what it is. Safe, comfortable, and lovely.”

This sounds idyllic, doesn’t it? Baby drifting off to sleep in your arms, a smile on her face. All it takes is a little holding and cuddling for the first year, and baby will learn how safe, comfortable and lovely sleep is.

The problem is, I’ve talked with more than a few parents who have waited it out, and generally speaking this is not their experience. Their little one generally doesn’t drift off to sleep in their arms – I for one, would have been thrilled had either of my babies done this.

For many parents of fussy or high need babies, bedtime isn’t something to be savoured. Baby doesn’t drift off to sleep in their arms, but rather fights and kicks and screams, until finally, in a moment of utter exhaustion, he falls asleep (only to wake up 45 minutes later to do the whole thing again).

For some parents, waiting it out ceases to become an option. And hearing that waiting it out is the only ‘gentle’ or ‘natural’ solution, or that it’s somehow the ideal solution, is very hurtful for these parents.

When your baby is chronically fussy, in large part due to lack of sleep, she isn’t learning how safe, comfortable and lovely sleep is.

So, in my mind simply ‘waiting it out’ often isn’t the ideal solution either. 

Option #3: Think it Out (TIO)

Here’s what I’d like to propose. A third alternative that is neither CIO or WIO. If I were going to name it, I’d call it the TIO (Think it Out) method, but that would be cheesy, so I won’t.

But here’s what it would look like:

Respect and understand that your baby needs you. Expect to spend lots of time cuddling, soothing, bouncing and/or feeding your baby.

Know that babies – particularly fussy, colicky or high need babies – will need extra help with soothing and falling asleep, especially over the first few months.

Also respect the fact that he or she needs sleep in order to be healthy. That you need sleep in order to be healthy. Years ago, moms and grandmas, aunts and friends would form a community around new moms, allowing everyone to share the work and the sleepless nights. This is generally not the case anymore.

If your baby’s sleep is severely disturbed, consider not just waiting it out, but thinking about how you can gently guide your baby towards better sleep habits.

This doesn’t mean letting him CIO. It may be as simple as establishing a consistent bedtime routine (which would be part of waiting it out), or it may mean camping out in your baby’s room, holding his hand while he gets used to sleeping in his crib.

It may mean co-sleeping, if that works for your family.

It may mean hiring an infant sleep consultant.

It may involve some crying. And you shouldn’t feel guilty if it does.

It may mean any number of other methods or strategies for helping your baby get the sleep he needs.

It means researching how much sleep babies need. It means carefully considering your baby’s unique sleep patterns and habits.

It means reading books and talking to friends. It means thinking about your values and needs.

It means learning about what’s ‘normal’ in terms of babies and sleep (and therefore which behaviours you can ‘wait out’), and what’s problematic and needs fixing.

(By the way, just found this great post today if you’re wondering about normal versus abnormal infant sleep.)

It means using everything you’ve learned, and helping your baby get the best sleep possible.

This may look different from baby to baby, and family to family.

All I ask, is that whatever you do, you don’t do it blindly. This means you don’t jump into sleep training without understanding what it’s going to look like from beginning to end. It also means you don’t just wait for serious sleep issues to resolve themselves, in the hopes that your baby will eventually figure it out

Neither of these options seem ideal, at least to me.

I’m not going to quote research here – research that’s often used to scare parents into one option or the other. It only takes a few minutes and a quick Google search to find articles from credible sources that seem to give undeniable proof that one option is better than the other.

For instance, here are a few headlines I pulled after spending 30 seconds on Google:

Let Crying Babies Lie: Study Supports Notion of Letting Babies Cry Themselves Back to Sleep

Proving the Risk of Harm in Early Sleep Training

Baby Sleep Training Methods Safe for Infants (STUDY)

Latest Sleep Training Findings Show it’s Just a Form of Torture

Anyone can point to numerous studies and surveys that support their point. And that’s the point.

There is no one, single ‘right’ answer.

Learn what’s normal in terms of baby sleep, and what’s not. Learn what’s normal for your baby, and then help him with the things that need fixing.

Think it through.

Then do what’s best for your baby and your family.


What are your thoughts on CIO versus WIO? Do you think there’s a viable in-between option? Respectful comments only, please!

Holly Klaassen has been running The Fussy Baby Site since 2007. Inspired to start the site after giving birth to her second child, the site aims to provide support and information to parents of fussy, colicky, high need or 'spirited' babies and kids. The main message of this site? You are not alone! When Holly isn't writing for The Fussy Baby Site, she can be found writing for other businesses on topics related to digital marketing, social media, business, and of course, parenting.

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Category: Sleep

Comments (18)

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  1. Mandy Whiley says:

    Elizabeth Pantley's book "The No Cry Sleep Solution" is great. Beware, she believes cio is wrong and i'm not that black and white. But i know my fussy baby would just cry all night long. He is really persistent. She has good ideas for sleep training that involve some work and some are just common sense but in our sleep deprived state we don't think of them. I really am not sure if they would work on all babies. My ten-month-old is becoming more of a typical baby now than a fussy baby although he still doesn't sleep great he rarely wakes up every 45 minutes. And when i say he still doesn't sleep great we are just in the very beginning of trying the methods in the book. But i completely agree with this post. We have to do what works

    • Holly says:

      Thanks for your comment Mandy! I agree with doing what works…especially with high need babies! Sleep is just too precious a commodity 🙂

  2. Julia Wells says:

    Totally agree with everything you said. Nicely done.

  3. Stephanie Brough-Vineyard says:

    If you would go back and read the rest of the WIO posts from her blog, you'd see that she suggests a very similar approach to your "think it out" approach. WIO follows a toolkit method, where you search for "tools" to help your baby learn to sleep. It's true, most WIO parents do not use CIO methods as a tool, but that doesn't mean they (we) just sit back passively until our babies finally sleep on their own. Your understanding of WIO is flawed from lack of research; I suggest you go read more, maybe even join a WIO forum, and then see what you think. Because it's so much more than just waiting.

    • Holly says:

      Thanks for your comment Stephanie…my reaction was based solely on what I read in this post. I’m glad to hear wait it out is more than just waiting! I just hope other parents who read that post know that as well 🙂

  4. Lashonda Jones Neal says:

    I think you should get more information on WIO before citing why it bothers you. It IS to help you guide your baby to healthy sleep habits. And it's much needed for moms of a CIO society who know something just doesn't feel natural about leaving an infant in distress but don't know what to do because everyone tells them they have to teach baby to sleep. WIO doesn't propose you hold baby and all will be perfect. Taking one mother's experience with one child and picking it apart is irresponsible and unfair. I would love to see moms get back to trusting themselves and their instincts. There's no book that can teach that.

    • Holly says:

      Hi Lashonda, I’m sorry you feel that way. My reaction was to this post, but it’s also to the idea of as a whole…the idea that ‘babies will sleep when they’re ready’. While I agree with that to some extent, I do feel sad for the many parents who hold onto that for years, without seeing any improvement. I just want parents to feel empowered to seek out solutions if sleep is causing unnecessary fussiness. I totally agree with you 100% that parents should trust their instincts 🙂

  5. Janae Gold says:

    You clearly do not understand the WIO method. Before making so many assumptions about what that mother was implying in her letter to her daughter (you devoted your entire post to what you assumed she implied WIO was) you should read more of that mother's blog, join the WIO online community and understand that WIO means so much more than doing nothing. As mention, WIO is a toolkit method, it is about using what works for the particular baby and particular family. In fact the WIO method looks very similar to your TIO method.

  6. Karen Godfrey says:

    Erm, i think you've missed the point of wio! Maybe if you're going to critique something it would be useful to do your research and find out what it is, its about using gentle tools to help your baby sleep, respecting your baby and their normal behaviour. It is very welcome to me and a lot of parents when so many of us are being told to just let our babies cry, or toughen up. You end up making a lot of suggestions promoted by sarah so maybe you have actually read more on wio than you claim, but it made a better article for you to dismiss it 😉

  7. Jennie says:

    WIO is so much more than you have described, you are missing the point completely here.

  8. Amanda says:

    And this is exactly the problem. I dont understand why people take other parenting styles so personally. You really should research the topic you have decided to slate. There is so much more to wait it out and as always someone wants to blanket cover it as another parenting technique. Wio just lets people know parenting with instincts is ok and how to gently work at it. Its easy for parents to be bullied into accepting societys views on children, and many first time parents do get confused when all these sociatal ideals arent reached ie sleeping in the night and the solution they are told is to leave their baby to violently throw up and cry to sleep. I understand you are not promoting this, but unfortunately a lot of everyday people are and I think nurshable offers and alternative but also helps people not feel alone in the parenting choices especially when everyone in real life can be so judgemental and unsupportive.

  9. Brynna says:

    Regardless of whether there’s more to the WIO method or not (eh hem, commenters on this post!) I’m tired of parents believing ANY method is best OR is worst for all babies across the board.

    FWIW, I give my hearty seal of approval to your “TIO” method. Thank you for the affirmation.

    Amanda, when you say “I don’t understand why people take other parenting styles so personally” — that (in my estimation) is exactly what Holly was critiquing about this WIO post. What is WIO, if not a reaction against CIO methods?

    I agree that parents can be “judgmental and unsupportive,” as you say, about parenting choices. So please understand that by using loaded emotional language like the phrase “leave their baby to violently throw up and cry to sleep” it seems YOU are taking other people’s choices personally and being judgmental and unsupportive of people who choose a way that’s different from yours.

  10. Kim says:

    In the end I personally believe there is no “method”, but I do believe it’s very important that parents learn to trust their instincts. It is so hard to read anything on sleep and not let it affect you, whether it is this post, a blog about WIO or something about CIO.. We as humans tend to read something and apply it to our own situation. Being a parent is something I personally find very difficult, mostly because of all the insecurities. Reading anything about babies and sleep was hard on me during the time we struggled with this ourselves. Somehow I was able to find something I did “wrong” in every single opinion anyone stated, because there was always a slight difference with what I did myself. It took a lot of effort and work to finally be able to let go of anyones opinion and to trust my own instinct. Now, looking back and knowing what I know now, I wish I wouldn’t have worried so much, wouldn’t have blamed myself so much, would have trusted myself more.

    I wish as parents we would all support each other more, without judgement. I really needed it back then, because the hardest thing was feeling all alone in all of this. We could all change that for each other, by listening when a parent is struggling, by only giving advice when being asked for it, by letting each other know that it’s okay to be struggling and by allowing each other to all have our own experience.

    Somehow this blog post also makes me uncomfortable. I can’t really put my finger on it. I just wish we could all stop criticizing one another, in any way, and to separate our own experience from other peoples experiences. And to allow each other to have an experience and feelings and thoughts to go with those experiences, without taking it as judgement of our own experience. Because it is simply impossible to understand, feel and know what somebody else goes through.

  11. Holly says:

    Thank you all for your comments! I appreciate them, Even if they hold views different than my own. My intention isn’t to imply that WIO is bad or wrong; only that it does position itself against CIO, and in my opinion, any kind of sleep training (correct me if I’m wrong). If I was reading that post as a sleep deprived mom who was doing sleep training, I fear it would make me feel pretty bad and pretty judged. “I will wait it out so you don’t have to cry it out”…the website says WIO isn’t a reaction or response to CIO, but this statement certainly makes it seem that way.

  12. Katie Huber Welty says:

    I want to hug you.

  13. What if nothing works? I have an 18 month old, I have anxiety about bedtime every single day! We CIO for naps, he is asleep within 10 minutes. He always cries, has not gotten better but he will sleep. I try CIO at night he throws up and WILL NOT GIVE UP. He would cry for 8 hours, I stop him at an hour. He wakes at least once at night (takes an hour to get him back down) lately he is waking 2x and then being up for the day 5am. I don't know what to do. I was willing to rock him to sleep when it took 20 minutes. I was willing to wake up with him once when it took 40 minutes or less. He would sleep until 7:20 or so. I just don't know what to do now. I don't have money to hire sleep coaches or babysitters. My Doctor is no help, CIO is what they say. Why does CIO work for naps, but not night? How am I going to survive and be a parent to my other child and present in my own life? I am drowning and feel slowly dying.