How Long Should I Let My Baby Cry?

Parents have long held differing views on how long to allow a baby to cry before tending to her. And the “experts” are no less diverse in their viewpoints. On the one extreme, some believe you should always let a baby “cry it out” because if you tend to them while they are crying, you teach them to cry for everything they want. At the other end of the spectrum are those who believe you should always rush to your baby every time he lets out so much as a whimper because failing to tend to your baby while he is crying could lead to emotional problems for your child.

Whichever end of the spectrum you find yourself endorsing, chances are you’ll do your baby no real harm as long as you see to it that their real needs are met. Most parents would be well advised to choose a spot somewhere in the middle. It is true that if you constantly tend to your child’s needs or wants every time they cry, you will eventually have to break them of the habit of crying for everything that they want. Rushing to meet their every need also deprives them of the chance to develop the ability to soothe themselves.

On the other hand, if your child is crying for prolonged periods of time, you probably should go check on her. Experts disagree about how long to allow a baby to cry before going to her, but it’s generally agreed that it should be no more than a few minutes. Many times babies cry because they have legitimate physical or emotional needs that need to be met. At the very least, parents should ensure that the baby has been recently fed and changed and is warm enough, without being too warm.

Very young infants should be tended to in short order, in either case. Newborns generally can only go 2-3 hours between feedings, and will likely wake up and cry a lot, needing to be fed. If you do choose to use the “let them cry it out” approach, start when your baby is about 3 months old and start with very short times, gradually lengthening the time you allow her to cry and attempt to soothe herself before you go to her. At first, times should be a minute or less, but you can gradually increase them as your baby shows an increasing ability to soothe herself most of the time.