(Un) controlled crying

Up until she was 9 months old or so, Abigail did things by the book.

Before she was born I was adamant that I would not have a maternity nurse. Everyone manages with a newborn – I will, too, I said. After all, I am a Competent Person.

2 weeks in and what did I do? I called an amazing  maternity nurse who a friend had recommended to me to help me out.

Hey, I’m not ashamed. On the contrary, I am proud. I am proud that I was able to admit I needed help, proud that I sought it, and most of all happy to say that it turned out to be the best decision ever.

Our maternity nurse taught us how to put Abigail in a routine, how to structure our days, how to identify her cries and better understand her, how to teach her to settle and re-settle herself. I really believe that Abigail thrived on the routine, she knew what to expect and when and she was just the happiest baby – everyone commented on it. What can I say, it just worked.

People would ask how I was sleeping and the answer would always be ‘great’. I couldn’t imagine it any other way.

That is, until a few weeks ago. A few unfortunate things happened pretty much all at once: Abigail got a fever, struggled with teething, was taken away with us on holiday, started nursery and seemed to develop a mild dose of separation anxiety. All of these things together conspired against us and she would wake up hysterically crying 5 plus times a night. We relied on the dummy too much, picked her up too much and it seems that all the good habits were quickly unlearned.

After three weeks of this we decided to contact our maternity nurse again to see what she would recommend. And you know what’s coming, don’t you: controlled crying. Or in this case, uncontrolled crying. She basically told us that if we could positively eliminate all the potential objective causes for crying (ear infection, teething etc) and could be sure that it was just her need for comfort (we were pretty sure of this as the moment we would pick her up she’d stop crying) then we should leave her to cry. For as long as it takes. Gulp.

My head tells me that that is probably right… and research has shown that babies are not adversely affected by controlled crying. But my heart feels differently. I hate hearing her cry and cry. A part of me thinks that she won’t need or want me forever – not for long at all – and I will miss the times when I could make things better for her with a cuddle. But I can’t go to her multiple times a night and function in the day. I just can’t. So I may have to give this controlled crying thing a go… if I can stomach it.

What do you think about controlled crying? Have any of you tried it? Hoping for some zzzzz’s soon.


  1. Just cuddle her Vanessa. She’s still so tiny and precious and she really won’t need you like this forever. You’re not supposed to be able to ignore crying – it’s the only way they have to communicate distress. Honestly, if I was out of routine and had just started nursery and was possibly feeling unwell, I’d also need a cuddle 5x a night. If she was communicating using words rather than cries would you still be considering using (un)controlled crying? For example “please mummy, I’m scared and alone and I feel all out of whack. I keep waking up and I can’t get back to sleep even though I really want to. Please help me, I need you right now” – then would it seem reasonable to let her cry? We can’t always fix the source of our children’s problems, but we can communicate that we are here, we are listening, we care and we’ll try to help however we can, no matter how tiring. As far as I can tell, controlled crying teaches a child that sometimes (night times) we will not respond to their signals so there’s no point communicating their needs (which are emotional as well as physical), so they eventually just give up. Children thrive because they are resilient, and they love us because we are their parents, and in their eyes we are wonderful. I think we abuse that sometimes. As a parent, your instincts count the most – you get to make the call on whether controlled crying is right for your family.

  2. Vanessa says:

    Thanks for the thoughtful comment, Avi, I really appreciate it and it really made me think. Hope you are all well, sending lots of love xxx

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