Babies get stressed by being left to cry

Babies left to cry could feel stressed, even after they seem to have settled down


While some parents are lucky enough to have babies who nod off to sleep quite easily, others have to resort to ‘training’ their baby to settle in order to get a bit of shut eye.


But a recent study has found that although babies left to cry themselves to sleep eventually settle without being comforted, their hormone levels showed they could remain as stressed as if they were still crying. 

The method of leaving your baby to cry themselves to sleep, sometimes called ‘controlled crying’, has always divided parenting opinion, and this will fuel the debate once again.

Using babies aged four to ten months, a team at University of North Texas monitored the length of time babies were left to cry before falling asleep, along with their levels of the stress hormone cortisol and that of their mothers who were waiting in a nearby room. By the third night, while infants were found to have cried for a shorter period of time before falling asleep, their cortisol levels remained high. In contrast the level of cortisol in the mothers dropped, indicating they relaxed as their babies appeared to settle.

Wendy Middlemiss, a researcher for the study said: ‘Although the infants exhibited no behavioural cue that they were experiencing distress at the transition to sleep, they continued to experience high levels of physiological distress, as reflected in their cortisol scores. Infants were not learning how to internally manage their experiences of stress and discomfort.’

Researchers are now doing a longer study to see if hormone levels fall with time, as babies learn to cope with settling themselves.


What’s your view of ‘controlled crying?’ Have you ever had to use the method to help your baby settle themselves to sleep?

Read more about controlled crying 


Please read our Chat guidelines.