Is Sleep Training Safe? Facts and Myths Debunked

As the parent of a new baby, the number of questions you’re going to find yourself asking are, to put it mildly are astronomical!

The old saying about babies do not come with instructions has cemented itself in parental folk law for a good reason. Even after spending nine months doing endless research on what to expect when baby arrives, as soon as we’re sent home from the hospital with our little ones, there’s an unavoidable feeling of unpreparedness.

Every baby is different, after all. There is NO

  • manual
  • set of instructions
  • amount of coaching from friends and family

is going to prepare you for your child in particular.

And since this is just about the biggest responsibility that a human being can have, to raise another living person, we feel an incredible obligation to get it right.

Unfortunately, we don’t get any practice runs or dress rehearsals. Your first run-through is the final performance, so to speak, which only increases our dedication to solving problems before they spring up.

Sleep Training Safe For My Baby

And since babies basically eat, poo, cry and sleep, we’re naturally very focused on those four things.

What to feed baby, that’s often a contentious subject on its own and we often find ourselves with a sudden fascination in poo that we didn’t realise we had.

Which leaves us with sleeping and crying.

As a baby sleep consultant, I assure you, I’ve done a lot of research on both.

Crying is a normal

Because the biggest question that parents have when they start sleep training is, “Will my baby cry?”

This really isn’t the question they want the answer to, of course, because babies cry all the time. In fact, if a baby didn’t cry, it would be cause for concern.

Crying baby

Crying baby

What they’re really asking when they pose this question is, “How much will my baby cry, and will I be able to provide comfort when they do?”

Why is this the major concern with new parents? Well, naturally nobody likes to hear their baby cry, but parents nowadays are able to access a wealth of misinformation that claims if you don’t respond immediately when your baby cries, you could actually be harming them.

Unhelpful So-Called Experts

This wasn’t always such a contentious issue. Up until Dr. William Sears came out with his Attachment Parenting theory in 1993, parents were reasonably

comfortable with the idea that leaving a child to cry for a period of time when they woke in the night was safe, if maybe a little unpleasant.

But once The Baby Book was published, a generation of new parents began to cling to the idea that it was not just ineffective but was causing brain damage.

Sears cited studies to back up his claim, but those studies looked at babies who were suffering from

COLIC

a condition known as persistent crying, both of which are a far cry from allowing a child a few minutes of crying time.

And so the argument has raged on for nearly 25 years now, with attachment parenting advocates accusing sleep training advocates of willfully neglecting their babies for their own convenience.

It’s surprising that the pediatric and scientific community haven’t done more to prove or disprove this assertion, given the magnitude of the consequences.

After all, if we’re causing our babies brain damage by allowing them to cry, even for a short period, wouldn’t almost every parent in the world alter their approach to prevent it?

Misinterpreted information

One reason Dr. Sears’ claims didn’t provoke an immediate and widespread investigation was because they were hugely misleading.

The Yale researchers who conducted one of the studies his research pulled from responded to his use of their work by saying, “Our paper is not referring to routine, brief stressful experiences, but to abuse and neglect.

It is a mis-citation of our work to support a non-scientifically justified idea.”

Dr William Sears

Dr William Sears

 

Another went so far as to actually note in the study’s own conclusion that ,

“Our findings provide evidence that the quality of maternal behaviour appears to be unrelated to this effect.”

So the mother’s response or lack of it to the condition of persistent crying was inconsequential.

So that’s the argument against the original suggestion that started this whole movement.

Sleep Training Safe Isn’t Harmful

But its supporters will invariably ask, “Where’s your evidence to the contrary? How do you know it’s not harmful?”

Well, back in 2012, Dr. Anna Price, a postdoctoral researcher at the Royal Children’s Hospital’s Centre for Community Child Health in Melbourne, Australia, conducted an extensive study that followed a group of two hundred and twenty six children, measuring mental health, sleep, stress regulation, child-parent relationship, maternal health and parenting styles.

Five years later, she followed up with the families to see the if the one third of the children whose parents had employed some method of sleep training had experienced any of the terrifying side effects that Dr. Sears had warned of.

The result… they had not.

In fact, to quote the study, “There was no evidence of differences between intervention and control families for any outcome.

Behavioral sleep techniques have no marked long-lasting effects.”

But critics continue to try to shoot holes in the evidence. “The sample size was too small,” is a common complaint, no matter what the size of the study might be. “We need further study,” is another, assuming that further study supports their position, which, as of yet, it hasn’t.

Further Research Conducted in Support

So in March of last year, when Pediatrics published another peer-reviewed study that showed sleep training to be both effective and safe, it didn’t change the mind of Dr. Sears or his followers.

But for those new parents who have been bombarded with misinformation and hearsay regarding the safety and efficacy of sleep training, it’s yet another assurance that you can feel confident in the fact that getting your child to sleep through the night is important, safe, and beneficial to your entire family.

Because there’s one thing that everyone can agree on, and that’s the fact that a good night’s sleep is beneficial for mother and baby alike.

So the answer is yes, sleep training is safe. Sleep itself is glorious, rejuvenating, and beneficial to you, your baby, and your entire family. Focusing on your child’s sleep habits is something you can feel good about, and a commitment that will pay off exponentially.

In short, your baby and yourself can both sleep soundly, knowing you’ve made the right choice.

 

Is It Too Noisy For Your Baby To Sleep?This week’s question is from Tammy. She writes:

“My in-laws are coming to visit for a week and are under the impression that babies will sleep through anything and that they just need to “get used to” the noise. What are your thoughts on this issue? Is it possible for it to be too noisy for baby?” Read more

When Should You Take Your Child's Dummie (Pacifier) Away?Today, our question comes from Crysta, and she writes, “Is it better to take the dummy (pacifier) away first, and then try to keep my son in his own bed? Or is it better to get him sleeping in his own bed, and then take the pacifier away?”

I love this question, Crysta. It’s one I get asked often, and it has to do with props. Many children have more than one sleep prop.

Read more

Will Putting Cereal In My Babys Bottle help Her Sleep“Cereal in a bottle will help baby to sleep better!

I hear that all the time. I know it’s an old wives’ tale. Your grandmother probably told you, “Oh, put cereal in a bottle with breast milk or the formula, and this baby will sleep all night.” The truth is that is not true.

You want to be very careful and cautious about when you introduce solids to your baby. There’s a lot of evidence that suggests starting solids too early can lead to some allergies in the future. Read more

BabyWinkz Consultancy - Mother & Baby Magazine - toddler nap

Softly softly approach to a toddler nap

In the May Edition of Mother and Baby parenting magazine, hear two sides of the argument should I drop my toddler nap at 2 years old? My stance is “NO – Children who nap when they need to are much happier”. The other side is “YES – Unnecessary daytime napping can eventually lead to tantrums”.

I take the gentle approach to sleep training, I want my clients to be comfortable about the steps they are going to take in their child’s life. Because we both want what is best for your child with as little stress involved as possible. Read my comments below.

 

 

Read more

BabyWinkz Consultancy - Clocks go forward March 2015Spring forward

When we “spring forward,” on the 29th March 2015, it means the clocks go forward an hour, therefore the start of British Summer Time (BST). Ultimately it means one hour less sleep for you, parents (boo!). I think daylight savings wreaks havoc on our sleep schedules and can increase sleep debt in both kids and adults. There is actually an increase in traffic accidents the day after daylight savings, which just goes to show that it’s hard on people. We are already a sleep-deprived nation, so losing that extra hour only makes it worse (and more dangerous). Read more

Fired Up

Do you want to know something that really gets me fired up?

It’s when Mums (either online or in real life) are talking sleep, and I hear comments like this:

“You should just enjoy getting up to nurse all night – someday he’ll be all grown up and you’ll miss it.”

Or…

“You were the one who decided to have children. Did you REALLY think you’d be getting a full night’s sleep for the next few years?”

Or my all-time favorite…

“Well, you’d better learn to live with it!”

My fingers are starting to burn just writing about this, so I’m going to “fire back” with my top three myths about teaching your baby to sleep well: Read more

Lots of people manage a toddler and baby, you are not alone!

Having a toddler and a young baby is something that at first can seem very daunting, but many people are in that situation so you are not alone. I have personally experienced this as my daughters are a year apart, and I always remember the doctors initial reaction to me when we found out I was pregnant, he asked me how I felt and whether I had a good support network, there I was holding a 5 month old in the doctors surgery and finding out that I had another baby on the way.

You will have had 9 months to prepare your toddler for the changes which are about to take place, but how your toddler will react and what the reality of having two young children will feel like will remain a mystery until it actually occurs. In order to make life a little easier for yourself, your toddler and your new baby, it’s important to consider the following. Read more

Sleep Experts - No Cry Sleep Method

Sleep Experts - No Cry Sleep Method

No Cry Sleep Method

For many parents the idea of letting their baby cry themselves to sleep is unthinkable, and many sleep method experts agree. Dr William Sears developed the first No Tears / No Cry sleep method of establishing a good baby sleep pattern, and there are now many different No Cry sleep methods for parents to try. In this article we’ll take a look at the work of Dr Sears as well as some of the other No Tears / No Cry sleep method experts.

Dr William Sears

Dr Sears is best known for advocating attachment parenting, where the goal is the development of a strong and secure bond between parent and child. In Sears’ No Cry method you rock or nurse your baby to sleep and put them down, still asleep, in your bed. As soon as baby wakes you soothe, rock or feed them back to sleep again, giving both you and your baby the best chance of a good night’s sleep.

In 1999 a study by the Consumer Products Safety Commission warned against babies sleeping in the same bed as parents, as they felt there was a high risk of infant suffocation. The study was criticised for not taking all the factors into account, but Dr Sears has since advised that babies sleep either in a cot alongside the parents’ bed, or in a co-sleeper bassinet which can be attached to the bed, giving parents and baby their own sleeping areas but keeping them close to each other.

Elizabeth Pantley

Elizabeth Pantley is the mother of four children and she developed her own No Cry method after being frustrated by the “all or nothing” choices of Cry It Out or attachment parenting. Her “No Cry Sleep Solution” is a gentle ten step programme that includes working out your baby’s sleep barriers and keeping a log to discover your baby’s natural sleep pattern. Pantley recommends you never leave your baby to cry, instead returning to their room and picking them up every time the tears begin.

Harvey Karp

American paediatrician Harvey Karp says most baby sleep problems occur because of a difficult transition from the womb to the world. He has a No Cry method suitable for young babies that encourages good sleep patterns through the Five S’s: Swaddling, Side or stomach position, Sshhhing, Swinging and Sucking (nursing/dummy). By replicating the atmosphere of the womb he believes babies will be more calm, more content and thus more able to settle into a good sleep pattern.

Tracy Hogg

Tracy Hogg was known as “the baby whisperer” and she advocated a structured routine of feeding, activity and sleeping, known as EASY. Her “pick up – put down” method starts with a consistent bedtime routine that includes a period of quiet time, perhaps in a rocking chair. Baby is put to bed awake but picked up straight away upon crying and then held and patted on the back while the parent makes a loud Shhh sound. Once the baby is calm you place them back in the bed, and repeat if they cry again until they are asleep.

Many parents prefer No Cry sleep method instead of Cry It Out techniques as it is less stressful, both for parent and child. However, you need to be consistent with whichever method you try, as your baby will become confused and more unsettled if you switch methods frequently.

Sleep Experts - Cry It Out Method

Sleep Experts - Cry It Out Method

Cry It Out Method

Although it can be heart-wrenching to listen to your baby cry, some parents find the most effective way to establish a healthy sleep pattern with their baby is to try one of the Cry It Out methods. These methods work on the theory that babies need to learn how to soothe themselves to sleep, and if parents immediately rush in when they cry they will take longer to develop this skill. There are many sleep method experts who advocate versions of Cry It Out, and we’ll explore some of their ideas in this article.

Ferber Method

Perhaps the most well known Cry it Out sleep method expert is Dr Richard Ferber, who first wrote about it in his 1985 book “Solve Your Child’s Sleep problems” – though he has never actually called it “Cry It Out”. Ferber Method nicknamed “Ferberizing”, this method aims to encourage babies to learn how to settle themselves both at bedtime and if they wake in the night. Ferber recommends his sleep method for babies aged six months and over.

“Ferberizing” starts with an established routine – bath, story and cuddle, for example – with baby placed in the cot while still awake. If the baby cries, on the first night the parent should wait five minutes before returning to the room for no more than 2-3 minutes to talk to the baby and stroke or pat them. The baby should not be lifted from the cot, rocked, cuddled, fed or given any kind of soother. If the baby continues to cry the parent should then wait 10 minutes before returning, then every 15 minutes until the baby is asleep. On the second night the gap between visits should be lengthened by 5 minutes to 10, 15 and 20 minutes, and so on.

During night time wakefulness Ferber originally recommended the same routine, but now suggests parents wait five minutes to see if the baby settles on their own, but then uses rocking, feeding etc to send baby off to sleep. This ensures both baby and parents get some sleep at night, and should not affect the overall development of a good sleep pattern if Ferber’s method is stuck to consistently at bedtime.

Weissbluth Method

Dr Marcus Weissbluth, author of “Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child”, believes that many sleep problems occur because babies are overtired. Weissbluth’s Cry It Out method aims for parents to put in place a fixed pattern of regular naps and consistently early bedtime to prevent overtiredness, which can lead a baby to be unable to sleep. He suggests that from a young age babies should be put down for a nap after two hours of wakefulness, and left to cry for between 5-20 minutes. Between 4 and 12 months he says babies need no more than two proper naps a day (in their cot – never in the car or pushchair)  followed by an early bedtime. They should be left to cry for an hour at naptime, but at bedtime parents should not return to a crying baby at all as they need to learn that it is now “down time”. This “extinction” method can be very hard on parents.

Whether you prefer Weissbluth’s hardline attitude to baby sleep patterns or Ferber’s more gentle approach, Cry It Out methods are not easy. As with everything though, every baby develops at their own pace.