About Me


  • MoxieTopics
    Short PDF ebooks on specific parenting topics, in-depth and focused

Coaching and Workshops

Click through to Amazon.com

Moxie's reading

The 10-year-old's reading


  • MoxieTopics
    Short PDF ebooks on specific parenting topics, in-depth and focused

« Q&A: night terrors | Main | Q&A: getting back to normal "down there" »



Well, if this is true, I hope that my kids are all "tension releasers," or this family is in for a world of trouble b/c I CAN NOT STAND to rock/pat/jiggle infants past a certain age to sleep. Repeat: CAN NOT STAND. I even get paid to do it, and I still dont like it! Im more of a, "Look, youve been sleeping every day since you were born, you know how to sleep, so close your eyes AND GO TO SLEEP," type of person. Man, I cant wait to be a mom ^_^ b


Great advice as always, Moxie. I'd only add that it's possible for a previously "increases tension when crying" baby to turn into a "needs to fuss a little" toddler. Our daughter was in the first camp until she was 13 months old, and then, suddenly, all my previous tricks to put her to sleep (rocking, nursing, singing) just seemed to upset her more. After a few weeks of intense frustration, I figured it out and let her whimper/fuss a little before she fell asleep. Now, at 16 months, she finally goes to sleep on her own without a sound -- something I never thought possible.


Tee hee! It is great that we were both on this vibe on the same day.

I'm not sure I would have defined my daughter as needing to release tension, but that may be part of it. When she's well-rested and in general good health, she often sleeps without a peep. Or she'll fake cry until the door shuts and she knows I'm not buying what she's selling.

But when she's out of sorts or just overtired, I think the tension release does come into play. She can be rocked or nursed to sleep, but it wouldn't be a lasting sleep in those instances.

I'm so glad to learn that what I thought was a differing opinion about CIO is really more a matter of semantics. I can't imagine continuing to let a child cry if it clearly wasn't effective or helpful. But it wouldn't be the first time I'd been disappointed by some of the parenting out there.

Thanks for the input, as usual, and let us know about the new book.


Foster, what parents have been doing for time immemorial is singing lullabies with poisonous words while rocking. "Go to sleep, go to sleep, go to sleep you little asshole..." That sort of thing. I also think that's why many grandparents don't offer much sympathy when your kids won't sleep--they're laughing inside at the payback.

Wood, you're totally right. And I also think some kids turn from tension releasers into tension increasers right around the 18-month mark and then go back again.

Julia, from what you write, the Banana absolutely sounds like a tension releaser. Even releasers sometimes go down with no problem. It's just if they're tired or cranky or you miss their exact bedtime or there's some thing in their little baby craws....


Thank you, thank you, thank you for posting this today. I spent TWO HOURS this afternoon trying to rock, nurse, sing, etc. my 10-month-old to sleep. Even if I'm holding her, the last few days she will throw herself around, cry, and slap me while she's falling asleep.

It's so frustrating, though, because I don't think she's one or the other. Some days she needs to cry a little, and other days she just gets more and more worked up (whether we're in the room with her or not). Some days neither one seems to work.

I don't really know what to do, since no one method seems to work for more than a week or a few days at a time.

I keep thinking I need to pick one thing and stick with it, and that maybe my inconsistency is what's messing up her sleep, but sometimes she needs to cry and sometimes I need to get her back up again because she's just not settling down. Is it ok to flip-flop constantly between different methods, or am I doing something wrong?

Of course, she is cutting SIX teeth at the moment, and she just got over being sick . . .


Forgot to say that during that 2 hours this afternoon I also did try putting her in her crib and letting her cry, but that didn't work either. And I gave her teething tablets and Ibuprofen, with no success either. But she did eventually go into her crib, fuss for a few minutes, and then play with a toy until she fell asleep.

I think part of the problem might have been that even though she was obviously tired and overdue for a nap, I may have waited too long to try to put her down because I tried all the nursing/rocking/singing stuff for a long time first. Because yesterday when I tried to let her cry she was definitely just getting worked up and not releasing tension at all.

I just don't know what to do with this child. We haven't slept much in the whole 10 months since she was born, with few exceptions.

Cat, Galloping

I thought I would just add that my baby is a tension releaser at night and an energy increaser during the day.

At night he will sometimes fuss and even occasionally cry for a few seconds to a few minutes when we put him down awake (though 75% of the time he is quiet right away). But for naps, my husband has to walk him to sleep or his nanny has to sit next to him in his bouncy seat*. Putting him down awake has never ever worked and crying only escalates so I've left him five minutes or so a couple of times but I give up.

Thanks for confirming my instincts on this were right for my child.

*What's that you ask? My husband and a nanny have methods for naps and what's mine? The answer is I'm a complete and utter failure at naps and left alone with me for the day, he pretty much won't sleep. Luckily he's almost never left alone with me for an entire day...


We didn't have sleep issues with my firstborn until later in her life. But with my second, it would take forever to nurse/bounce/pat her to sleep. The trial of trying to get her to sleep was taking a toll on our whole family. Finally, one evening when she was five months old, I had simply had enough. I nursed her on both sides, and like Moxie said, instead of calming her, she seemed amped up, flailing around on the bed and punching my chest. When I picked her up she was pushing off my body as per usual, and I said, 'that's it, into the crib you go.'

After an initial burst of angry crying, she fell asleep. It was almost as if she was asking me to put her down. It made me feel so much better about the method, and employing it at such a young age. Most of the time, I can put her down at night and for naps drowsy but awake. Sometimes she cries for longer than expected, and if she does, me or DH go in and comfort briefly, or get her out of the corner she's somehow sidled into.

Usually, she will fuss for a few minutes, and that's it.

Unfortunately, it didn't change her nightwaking, except that I stopped patting/bouncing her at night after a feeding. She still wakes on average 4 times a night. (Sigh....when will I get a decent stretch of sleep???)

I don't want to overstep here, Purple Kangaroo, but one thing that worked for us with our older daughter was the Sleep Lady's Method. I think her method is very humane and gentle, though some of her breastfeeding advice seems off to me. We used it when DD was 12 months old and could understand us a lot more.

I'm doing alright with number two as far as naps and going to sleep at bedtime, and I'm not going to try to nightwean her until after 12 months, but I might use that method when we do. I hear you though. Each night I wonder, will this be the night Lillian sleeps a 6 hour stretch? And each night the answer is a resounding NO!


Cat, I've got no methods either. My husband has this whole bags of tricks, but I've got basically nothing beyond feeding.

Purple Kangaroo, there's nothing you can do while they're teething until the morphine drip for infants is legalized. And it's not your fault at all that she won't sleep. She will some day. But probably not until she's over a year old. Some kids just seem to be like that.

If she working on a new movement skill she'll have problems sleeping, too. Have you talked to her about it? I mean kind of narrating what's going to happen, "And then after we nurse you're going to fall asleep and take a nap..." Or telling her how easy it's going to be to fall asleep, and that when she wakes up she can just go right back to sleep.

Other than that, my main suggestion is to split up the nights so you and your partner each take a shift. That way each of you at least gets 4-5 hours in a row while the other one deals with the wake-ups.


You know, I might blame the whole "tension release vs tension build-up" thing on parents if I hadn't had 2 kids at the same time and if they weren't one of each.

I remember feeling a bit guilty early on because L would drop off easily with a bit of fussing and E slept in my armpit for months.


I guess my little monster, who is almost twelve months old, is a tension increaser. She's been in bed with me, fairly easily nursed to sleep, but generally not sleeping well until I go to bed. So last week, desperate for a few hours of peace in the evening, we tried the Moxie approved method of me nursing her to sleep, then putting her in her (totally unused) crib, and then letting my husband sit with her if she cried until she fell back asleep (instead of me nursing her back to sleep).

Someday this child will be an excellent undercover agent because she is able to completely resist torture. Although, really, I think we were the ones being tortured. The kid started screaming as soon as she was set in the crib and then continued screaming for an hour or two, even though my husband was next to her the whole time. The same man she is alone with three days a week while I'm at work. She would finally fall asleep and then wake up again and scream for another hour. I would wait to go to bed until she was actually asleep, but she would usually wake up within the next hour and I'd bring her into bed with me and nurse her back to sleep.

We were thorough and consistent for five nights (thinking three to five nights, three to five nights, any baby will give in after three to five nights). Then on night six, when the screaming started again, I told the husband I couldn't take much more of this, and the usually stoic man turned into a marshmallow and agreed with me. So we gave up for now.

She back in bed with me, and we're going to get a bigger bed so that the husband can fit in with both of us again, but still, I would really like a method for dealing with her constant waking to nurse until I join her for the rest of the night.

Moxie, I really appreciate all your emailed help. I blame the kid. She's sweet and lovely during the day, but turns into Baby Hyde at night. I swear she was developing strategies to resist our method. She would seem very tired, I'd try to nurse her to sleep and then she'd pop up wide awake and playful as if she knew I would only put her in the crib if she were sleeping. Argh.


"will cry and cry, increasing in intensity until the child goes hoarse or throws up.."
That is Polly to a T, except, except...She throws up if she cries for more than ten minutes, but once she does she immediately becomes smiley and happy, and falls asleep (often with bottle, but on two occasions without) in less than ten minutes. She sleeps for 10 hours straight and wakes up smiling the next morning.
We've tried CIO seven times (the last time was last night) and the same thing happens every single time.
So she seems to gain tension, but once it climaxes she seems to let everything go. We're a bit stumped, except we agree on the avoiding the throwing-up part. I guess our only problem is that D took Polly to the pediatrician by himself last night and she stressed the importance of Polly learning to go to sleep on her own and self-soothing, so now he feels like periodically we have to give it a shot. But it is awful, for all three of us.


So it's possible to have a second child who is a tension-releaser after having a first child who could have written a book about being a tension-builder?

This gives me hope.

Anyway, while we're on the subject of CIO, Moxie: is your stance that it's only CIO if the child is alone? I'm asking specifically in terms of the damage that might be done to a tension-building baby is he/she is allowed to cry but with a parent lying in the same bed. Damaging? I'm undecided on this myself, which is why I'm curious about your opinion.


Have you considered doing a post on temperment? Based on the Chess' categories? That may also be a way for paretns to get some clues about what kind of soothing their child needs. This was a great post, and fits very nicly with Julia's--she wrote the case study version of the fuss it out kid.


Dani, I'm curious about that, too ("damage that might be done.... if allowed to cry but with a parent lying in the same bed"). On the sixth night of sleep experiment, when I put her in her crib (next to her father) and she was shaking with anger, it just felt wrong to me. Also, on one of the earlier nights, her crying wasn't scared or angry, but seemed sad, and that was very upsetting. Or maybe I'm projecting.

On the other hand, other than her sleep being totally screwed up last week, she seems fine and quite cheerful, if completely mommy-focused. She will scream at night if forced to spend even five minutes alone with her father, say, while I'm reading to our other kid, or brushing my teeth, but then she did that prior to our crib experiment.


Very well put, all of it. As you know, Jamie is a tension increaser (love that term). I remember months ago realizing that it doesn't matter how he goes to sleep, as long as he goes to sleep gently (not always possible, alas). Gentle drifting off usually results in better sleep.

For us, the key is how he's responded to once he wakes, and what works has changed several times over the past 20 months. Little booger.


Both my kids are tension release kids. They both go to bed a little fussy (if they did not fall asleep nursing when they were still nursing). My 13 month old jumps out of my arms into bed just as his older sister did. Now my 3.5 year old wants a book in bed even after we read bedtime stories. Within minutes I hear the book fall to the floor and she is out shortly after as if it is her way to unwind just as my 13 month fusses a little at bed and nap. However, with the 3.5 up at night wet a few times I'm not sure she is getting enough sleep. She often comes to our bed and I know she is still wide awake for a while (my husband does not sleep well so maybe he is to blame). She still takes an afternoon nap 1-2 hours a day. As for my 13 month, he has only woke happy twice in his life. I try to get to him as soon as I hear him wake but I'm usually just getting out of the shower. Getting up any early than I do now to get myself ready and stand at and his door ready to step in to stop a bad day is not an option. He still nursing first thing and then he is much happier. Maybe he is a tension build-up upon waking?


I had rationalized this in terms of "some babies need contact to relax, especially when they are little and for others, specially todlers, contact is stimulating and need to be alone for some minutes to unwind". I needed a theory to convince myself to let my eleven months old daughter to cry a little. It worked like magic in two days, ten minutes.


Okay, so this morning she was ready for a nap, so I nursed her. She fell asleep briefly (2 minutes, maybe) while nursing, then woke up as soon as I laid her down. I got her up again, fed her on the other side, and laid her down again. She fussed for a few minutes and then started playing in her crib. She played for almost an hour, then started crying to get out. She still seems tired.

At this point I got her up and fed her solids. Would you recommend trying to put her down again after that, since she never had her morning nap, or keeping her up another hour or two until it's time for the afternoon nap?


Moxie, you are a genius. Thank you for this well-timed post.

My Sophia is clearly a tension increaser, but I babysit for a tension releaser and was feeling really weird about putting her down for naps fussy, even though she cries for exactly 2 minutes and then falls asleep. Which gives me a free half hour to devote to putting Sophia to sleep...


Thank you for posting this. My first baby was a tension-releaser, but I have been feeling guilty about doing CIO. I realize now that's not really what we did -- we let her fuss, but never for more than a few minutes.

With #2 and #3 (TWINS, Heaven help me) due in September, this post will give me some food for thought about each one's sleep personality....


Hey Purple Kangaroo, have you tried changing the sheets in her crib to either flannel (if it's winter there) or to jersey-knit (if it's summer there)? (The jersey knit ones are basically a t-shirt knit.) Both are really soft, don't get cold at room temperature and feel like Mommy's shirt. It's what did the trick for my sleep-like-an-angel-in-Mommy's-arms-but-wake-up-like-a-rocket-when-put-in-a-crib kid...


Moxie, thank you for the recommendation to tell Baby E in advance what we're going to do. I've been trying to make a point to do that with her. While I'm not sure it's helping with sleep, it definitely seems to cut down on the tantrums. The last few days she's made leaps and bounds in communication, and she hates being dragged away from whatever she's doing with no explanation.

She is, as you guessed, learning tons of new skills right now. She's working on standing without support, adding many words and hand signs, and she pooped in the toilet yesterday. So all that could definitely be affecting her sleep, along with the teething.

Kelly, where can I find out about this "Sleep Lady?"

ValleyGal, I had noticed that about the sheets before. I thought I had jersey sheets on the bed, but when I went to lay her down just now I realized that they are indeed a cotton woven. I'll definitely change them when I get her up.

She did go down very smoothly just now, though. I made sure her tummy was full and her bottom dry, explained what we would be doing ahead of time and then nursed her and laid her down. I don't know if it was the skipped nap earlier making her extra-tired, but she went down without a peep.


I'm not a fan of CIO in general, and I agree with your post. However, I'm also a big fan of good science, and I take exception to your characterization of the results of the Harvard study you refer to in your post. The brain change argument has not been proven - if you read the article, you'll see it's a theory they have, but the actual evidence they present is looking at cultural differences in responses to baby's crying, and they provide no evidence of their theory that CIO leads to a future senstivity to trauma. The summary of their work presented in the Harvard Gazette is extremely misleading if you read the actual journal article.

In addition, I can't find anything by Sunderland (the Brit) that has been published and peer-reviewed. I may be searching the wrong databases, however.


I'm glad you wrote this, Moxie - as you know already, I have a tension-increaser. We were going to do CIO out of desperation as he refuses to STAY asleep but decided against it when we realized how quickly he escalates once crying commences. It's not long before he's choking and coughing and close to vomiting. I don't need to read books to know CIO is just not right for my son.

I would, however, LOVE to find some way to get him to sleep through the night and self-soothe. He has finally started eating solids (a whole nuther battle) and twice a day, even - I was hopeful that he would sleep better but that didn't materialize last night. Maybe tonight will be better?

Anyway, any thoughts you may have on helping him stay asleep or self-soothing back to sleep, particularly without feeding bottle or boob? I am truly exhausted after nearly 8 months without a good night's sleep - and at 3 am I give in and bring him back to my bed. Where he sucks tit for the rest of the night ... *sigh*


Purple Kangaroo, the book we used was called 'Goodnight, Sleep Tight: The Sleep Lady's Gentle Guide to Helping Your Child Fall Asleep...'

I found it to be a happy medium to all the sleep books out there. We had tried 'No-Cry Sleep Solution' to no avail. (And we really did it for several weeks, sleep journals and all.)

Essentially, The Sleep Lady's method is a modified CIO, where you gradually lengthen the proximity between you and your child, weaning yourself out of her room. After explaining to your little one what is happening, and after a solid bedtime routine, you put her in her crib, or to bed, drowsy but awake. Then you sit by her side, comforting her verbally and physically (without picking her up) until she falls asleep. In three days, you move your chair to the middle of her room, but continue to verbally soothe. In another three days, you move the chair to the doorway. In the final three days, out into the hallway or somewhere just out of the line of sight where she can hear but not see you. After that, you should be able to, most of the time, put her to bed awake with very little fussing. You're supposed to do this bedtime and nightwakings. And then work on tackling naps at a later date when things are going better at night.

It worked like a charm with our firstborn at 12 months. She had another sleep regression at 16 months and after another go with the No-Cry Sleep Solution, we reverted back to the Sleep Lady, again with success.

My daughter cried. Loudly. Even with me sitting right next to her crib. She screamed in anger at times. But I felt that what I was doing was important to my sanity and to my daughter's well-being. She and I were woefully sleep-deprived. And I never felt as if I were abandoning her to sort things out for herself. Therein, for me, lies the happy medium.

Best of luck to you.


It's relatively late (well, for a mom who gets woken every few hours all night long) so I may not be eloquent, but I have to say that I really respect you. I think you have a very wise and balanced way of presenting your opinions and advice.

Something I take away from the "Moxie" philosophy is that Every Child Is Different. And it's so true. My children are all different people! How could the same solution fit them each? My boys are 11, 4 and 1- and it's almost like doing it all over with each one. Almost, you do learn a few tricks along the way.

ok! starting to babble now! Anyhow, you're cool!


Moxie, O.M.G. You have unlocked a huge mystery for me (namely, why CIO apparently works so easily for some kids and apparently causes intense trauma for others and sometimes never 'works' - I have read horror stories online and I just feel so bad for the poor babies). This is the most brilliant thing I have EVER read on the CIO debate. I definitely, definitely have a child for whom crying increases tension. Your profile describes her to a T. There is NO WAY IN HELL I could ever let her CIO even if I could stand to hear her cry, which I can't. It. Would. Not. Work. It would be simply beyond cruel. I always assumed (since she's my first) that most kids were more or less like her or else that they were the mythical babe that goes down to sleep "drowsy and awake" and somehow DOESN'T cry. So I really have always been vehemently anti-CIO, even for short periods, figuring that every baby would react like my daughter if left to cry - I swear, if she wakes up from a nap and I'm in the bathroom, by the time I yank up my pants and RUN to her she is about to hyperventilate. I never realized there was a whole other class of baby out there who cries to release tension...but it makes perfect sense...now I'm revising my view of what various people have told me about their babies' sleep habits etc. in light of this new perspective. Thanks for this post!


"Awake but drowsy" - that's the bit we can't do! My six month old is NEVER drowsy, as far as i can see - it's from awake and bouncing/yelling to fast asleep in 5 seconds. Preferably bound tight in my arms with a pacifier/dummy crammed into his mouth. I have no idea how to change this.


I just wanted to say thank you for such a wonderful post. My daughter is definitely a tension increaser and it's so reassuring to know this. Moxie, you are my hero. I check your site every day and you never fail to amaze me with your insight and no-nonsense approach to parenting.


My daughter was a tension-increaser. So much so that I used to twitch in her direction at any sound on the monitor, because if she made it to full-fledged crying it was at least an hour to calm her down. I read the Baby Whisperer and, while I don't agree with everything in the book, the stuff on sleep and discovering what type of baby you had DEFINITELY worked for us. I forget what the different types were, but the advice for my daughter's type (high needs?)was to strip all stimulating stuff out of her sleep area (mobiles, etc.)and comfort her only as much as needed to calm down, using the pick up/put down method. Getting the mobile and stuff out of her crib worked wonders immediately, I hadn't realized for some babies that stuff will keep them awake. Doh!


Two things:

#1: Some time back you wrote about the difference between crying it out and fussing it out. That little nugget was invaluable to me, because I've got a little fusser. He invariably will fuss, fuss, fuss, as I rock, rock, rock, until suddenly, BOOM. Lights out. Also, he'll often wake up and fuss a little before going back to sleep. I'll never do CIO, but I don't feel bad about letting him fuss a bit.

#2: JUST THIS MORNING, as I rocked and he fussed and squirmed toward the first nap of the day I decided that next nap, I'll kiss him, say night-night and lay him down and just see what happens.

Thanks for the extra motivation.


Wow, this makes so much sense to me.

My daughter was definitely the type who released tension with crying. It was frustrating to me, but I accepted it after so many tries of rocking and feeding to sleep. It would never work. She got more and more worked up when we tried that.

My son though was much different. He didn't cry himself to sleep at all. He'd lay down in bed and go to sleep, maybe babble and coo. That simple. Of course, when he woke up in the night it seemed wrong to let him cry given that he was always able to go to sleep without crying at the beginning of the night.

So common sense. I love it.


I'm so glad you posted this. 15 years ago I listened to all the people who told me you had to let them cry it out. Every night was torture for at least a year, maybe 18 months. I look back and want to kick myself. Why did I put all of us through that torture? The upside is that my 15 year old has good sleep habits(but, believe me, it wasn't from CIO).


Great essay!

Yes, I agree. Fully.

I had three kids that went down the rocking nursing way. The tools in my toolbox worked!

Then came my Jadie. She was SO easily overstimulated. She needed a dark, quiet room to decompress. She was a little head-banger (loved the rhythmic rocking thing and would hit her head on the cushioned side of her crib or carseat). To this day she has sensory issues. She HATES being overstimulated. She's never co-slept, needs her space.

I know I was MEETING her needs with what I ultimately learned to do for her. I know it. While I dealt with my own feelings of insufficiency ("What? I can't adequately comfort my own child?") I got over it and did what she needed me to do for her.

I'll come back here and let you know if she takes Grandpa's shotgun into a clocktower when she's older or something, OK? ;)


i think this is a great post, and the way you describe the "tension-releaser" makes a lot of sense--although my son could not sleep with being rocked, held, anything. When we finally went to CIO it was not the automatic "fuss/cry for 10 minutes and then fall asleep"--when we first did it, he cried for a lot longer (sometimes over an hour in the first month). But he was sleep deproved (exhausted, hyper and wired) and nothing else could soothe him. But he learned to sleep, is now a still a great sleeper at 3.5. Have we endangered him to brain damage? I don't think so, but if I had come across the study you mention above I think I would have scared myself into avoiding the strategy that eventually worked so well for my son.

i would echo the caution abut quoting unresearched studies like the above though--especially without balancing with the many, many actual research studies that show that CIO has no ill effects whatsoever, in fact the opposite. Many of our attitudes toards the issue are culturally based--Dr. Sears refers to CIO as a way of enforcing "learned helplessness" but this is a term he coins himself that has no academic/research basis. It's semantics. One parent's "learned helplessness" can be another's "fostered independence."

that said, I always appreciate the balanced and down-to-earth advice you give on these topics, so I hope you won't take offense at my comment. It is intended in the spirit of good-natured debate. thanks!:)


WOW. Max has always kicked and cried as we rocked him to sleep. And the last couple of nights, he's been fighting so badly, that an hour into trying to get him down, we've put him in his crib so we can all cool down a bit - and the kid's been asleep within minutes. It's just as you said - he cries for like 45 seconds and that's it.

So now I'm getting that he's a tension releaser. You can't imagine how badly I needed to read this - I've been feeling like shit because I'm against CIO and felt like I was doing it and oh no, now I'm a bad mom who's teaching her son she can't be trusted is all I've been thinking and hating myself for.



Could I respectfully add, for those desperate Moms with Tension Increasers and who are now feeling completely guilty and at a loss after reading this...if you are not coping with the lack of sleep, if you are on the edge, if you feel like you can't survive another day of the hourly rocking...you MAY need to consider sleep training in one of its forms. I think if Mom is not coping this will transfer a lot of stress to the baby. Maybe more than a few nights crying. I had a tension increaser but controlled crying did work, with no long term effects. I'm not recommending it for everyone, but we can't cut off all avenues for Moms who aren't coping and feel guilty about letting their babies cry to sleep.


CeeCee, this is a good point, but I'd hope that it wouldn't be just the moms dealing with the baby. I hope people with partners are able to share the nighttime parenting, and that single moms have a support system that they could get overnight help from to get through the rough patches.


Moxie! Thank you so much! My daughter was a natural sleeper; sleeping through the night by two months old, all on her own (she was also a VERY routine child, again on her own). My son - total opposite - at 3 1/2 yrs old STILL does not sleep through the night. I have been walking around for 3 years with GUILT GUILT GUILT (I am actually crying now) because I had so many people tell me to let him cry it out. He loves to be held and rocked, hates to be left alone, and builds tension when he cries (still!). It killed me to hear him cry, because he would get louder and louder and louder. I fought with my husband, my MIL, my mother and myself. I was told I was spoiling him by going to him. I can't thank you enough for allowing me to realize that I wasn't doing anything wrong. I know deep down that I won't have a college son needing to be rocked to sleep, but it's been an upward battle for 3 1/2 years! Maybe I can let this guilt go finally. Thank you.


Wow - this is really well presented. I had our triplets sleeping through the night (8++ hours) by the time they were 15-weeks old. I'd be lying if I said there was never any crying involved. But, I (usually) couldn't let them go for more than 5-10 minutes w/o checking on them. I found that if they got themself in to a frenzy - it was impossible for them to self soothe. I never let it get that far. I'd give them a few minutes to see if they'd settle down, and if not, I'd go in and hold them. My DH and I would call that "reset" = because usually, right after that, they'd fall to sleep. It got to the point where we'd put them down to bed, and they'd be asleep before we left the room. No kidding.

It's extremely difficult with multiples (especially triplets - I only have 2 arms and 2 boobs!), to not do any form of CIO. We had zero outside help, so it was me and DH. And 3 babies. We were outnumbered.

We absolutely HAD to live by a schedule in our house - and sleep was the foundation of that schedule. As a result of the routine we instituted in the early days - our kids grew in to incredible sleepers. I honestly don't know if I would have been so "lucky" if I'd had a singleton. I doubt I would have ever let my baby cry!

Good post. Very thought provoking and insightful!


Hi. Coming over from Parent Hacks and I loved your post. I wrote my post before reading your post, but yes my child was a tension building cryer. Even when he nursed. And I thought I was doing something wrong. I was so sleep deprived it hurt him and me. So I was prepared to fuss it out, not CIO and he went to sleep in five minutes. I cried a little because he could have been going to sleep for months now and I was ruining it.

Anyways, great post.


For cryin' out loud - why have I not been reading you earlier?? I have seen you commenting here and there on other blogs I read. Damn. I could have you used you AGES ago. Thank you for this post. I am printing it out and keeping it for future support. I may laminate it so that *I* can sleep with it because I love this post. I want to marry it.

You hit the freakin' nail on the whole "figure out what your child needs" first, then adjust your method accordingly. I think all these baby books create an atmosphere that tells mothers that they decide the rules and they must make their babies "fit" into said rules. I quickly figured out that CIO will not work with our now 8 month old baby. However, kind, helpful people acted like we were spoiling our precious progeny by picking him up and letting him sleep with us. However, he sleeps like a ROCK with us. I can get him to nap in his crib during the day, but he still sleeps best with us at night. Why mess with that? I am now unapologetic about the fact that I won't let my baby cry for more than 20 minutes or so. I know FROM EXPERIENCE that doing the CIO will do nothing but leave with me with a shaky, overworked baby that certainly won't be going to sleep anytime soon BECAUSE he is so shaken.

I am determined to just let my baby "make the rules" for awhile and I am FINE with that. I don't think I am spoiling him, but rather am following his lead as to how he sleeps best. After all, my husband and I are very different sleepers than each other and also had to figure out our sleep habits were going to mesh when we got married. Why wouldn't we have to do that now that we have a new member in our family? Anyway, I have to hold tight to the belief that he will eventually head off to college able to sleep on his own.

Note - my belief on "make the rules" applies to SLEEP which is a biological function/need. It doesn't mean our kid is going to be allowed to do whatever he wants! In that vein, as I see the Toddlerhood looming in my future, I will definitely be scouring your archives on discipline.


Hey Moxie, thanks for your reply! In an ideal world women would have a supportive partner, or a support network. But unfotunately in these times there are loads of single moms, geographically isolated moms (me) and moms with absent partners (mine is in the military). In these situations, continued lack of sleep can be absolutely devastating to the whole family. I always felt so guilty trying to be the perfect Mom, I rose to each cry and rocked and fed my daughter back to sleep. But it really took its toll. I became tired and grumpy with my kids, all the time. I used to be a fun, happy mom. After the controlled crying (which started with me lying on my daughter's floor so I was there, but not holding her) our world came back and I started to enjoy my kids again. I love what you're saying, and think it's a great essay, but there isn't definitive proof on the long term effects of CIO and it might be dangerous to cut off the only life line for some struggling solo moms. If someone had told me that my only option, controlled crying, could not be done I would have been left with nothing, and I would have spiralled into severe depression. I do love your website.


Delurking to say great post. Interestingly, my son changed positions when he was about 18 months old. Up until then, he was a tension increaser, and CIO was not a possibility for us. We kept him near us, we cuddled him to sleep, and we never let him cry. I couldn't really understand how people could do CIO.

Then, at about 18 months, he switched over. He got worked up being near us. He didn't sleep well and we started to see behavior regression. He seemed exhausted. After a month or two of hell, we did what we called "whine-it-out." We told him we loved him, that we'd stay in the room with him, but it was time for him to sleep in his bed. He was angry, but his cry was a definite whine, not a scared or upset cry. He moaned for about twenty minutes, we were in the room, and that was that. I think it took two nights.

It was interesting to me how he switched. The whining that we heard was so different than the crying that we would have heard earlier if we'd done CIO when he was younger.

Also, just to echo some of the earlier comments, the Harvard study is fairly misrepresented in that article. I don't think it's a good, solid support for your position, to be honest. Their work focused on cultural comparison, and they have no evidence nor further peer-reviewed work of the statements that it's associated with later trauma that I could find.

Furthermore, I'm pretty familiar with such cultural comparison studies from my prior work, and I'm fairly skeptical of a lot of them. There is a history of very bad social science behind many if not most of them.

So for you moms who are feeling incredibly guilty about that article, please don't.


This makes SO MUCH sense to me. Helena will thrash and fight and scream in my arms every time I put her to sleep. I thought it was because I was confusing her by sometimes letting her sleep in our bed, sometimes in the crib. But she always does it, unless she's distracted to sleep (nursing, in the car). She also always gives up after a few minutes/seconds of the dramatic crying. Now I know that she just needs to do that. whoo...

Mommy of 2

Like many of the replies here, I took a lot of comfort in your post. It just seems to make sense!

My now 3 year old was a classic “builds-tension-by-crying” child. We coslept (with lots of nursing at night) and when he was around a year, we decided to try the crib in the hopes we could get a few quiet moments (with a mobile baby safe in the crib, rather than the family bed) in the evening while he slept. Well, it didn’t work very well. He would fall asleep in our arms and wake the instant you set him down. We tried CIO for a few nights and with his escalating cries/screams, he would have a bowel movement. He hated his crib – he almost seemed terrified of it. It was traumatic on the whole family. So we stopped pushing the crib, brought him back into bed and I continued to nurse him to sleep. Then I’d leave the room and secure the bed as much as I could so we could have some quiet moments in the evening.

It worked well, but then the anxiety built up when I was pregnant with his sister and I didn’t know what on earth we’d do for sleeping arrangements when she arrived. We probably could have pushed the “big boy” bed earlier than we did, but he was a smart boy and knew all the right things to say and do to get out of sleeping in it. Remarkably, after she was born, he actually took to his “big boy” bed rather well. Well, except that he wanted Dad with him.

So here’s where I turn all red with embarrassment as I disclose our current sleeping situation. Hubby sleeps in the twin(!) bed with my son. I sleep in our bed with my daughter. She sleeps rather well next to me (a better sleeper than her brother). But I do think my husband and I need to get back in bed together!

I’m trying to work on getting her in the crib, but she appears to also build tension by crying. We’re just working on naps now. A little bit of rocking to calm her may need to stay a part of the routine for a while. I also stay in the room with her until she falls asleep.

I think my son may be easier because we can reason with him. I’m going to try the sticker chart thing. Not sure if we should try to get both kids sleeping on their own at the same time or work on one, then the other???

The whole thing causes me more anxiety than it should. But after 3 years of high maintenance night sleep routines and 9+ months of sleeping apart from my husband, I think we NEED to change things – just wish it weren’t so much work!!!

Advice/support is welcome!!!


My daughter was the kind of baby that would happily go to sleep by herself if just left alone without any distraction, very unlike my first. I remember one day she was fussing so I gave her to her father to see if he could help and he immediately put her down in a bouncy chair and she stopped, and smiled. I thought wtf, my son needed contact 24/7. We enjoyed this happy state of being until the fateful day when I was in the backyard with the BOy and the Girl was asleep with my husband in the house, in the office but within hearing range. He though I was still inside and that I was with her as she screamed hysterically for at least 20 minutes after waking up and no one coming to get her.

After that she wouldn't go to sleep without nursing or being able to touch me somehow as she dosed off, until after she was two. That one day changed everything for her, and I almost murdered her daddy, but that's another story. She once again fusses a little bit as she is falling asleep and then goes off peacefully by herself. It only took a year and a half of reassurance to heal her poor little heart.

The comments to this entry are closed.

Search Ask Moxie

Sign Up For My Email Newsletter

Blah blah blah

  • My expertise is in helping people be who they want to be, with a specialty in how being a parent fits into everything else. I like people. I like parents. I think you're doing a fantastic job. The nitty-gritty of what you do with your kids is up to you, although I'm happy to post questions here to get data points of how you could try approaching different stages, because, let's face it, this shit is hard. As for me, I have two kids who sleep through the night and can tie their own shoes. I've been a married SAHM, a married freelance WAHM, a divorcing WOHM, a divorced WOHM, and now a WAHM again. I'm not buying the Mommy Wars and I'll come sit next to you no matter how you're feeding your kid. When in doubt, follow the money trail. And don't believe the hype.
Blog powered by Typepad