Noah has been trying out solids for the past few days. His uncle Jonny, our in-house pediatrician, recommended to wait for the 6-month mark to avoid allergic reactions, so we did. His first food was rice cereal, which he hated. It was more difficult for that spoon to get into his mouth than getting into the White House. We did not take very seriously the notion of him being able to get better sleep after eating rice cereal but Noah has been sleeping better after starting solids and I couldn’t help but wonder if there was some truth to the solids and sleep relation.
There is no scientific evidence indicating that it helps. Actually, I found a study that indicates the contrary: disrupt sleeping might occur if solids are given before 4 months. But the explanation is a bit simpler than analyzing scientific studies.
It is possible that hunger is to blame for your baby’s disrupted sleeping patterns. If she is younger than 6 months old, she might still be waking up hungry at night. By 4 months, some babies need 1-3 feedings at night. If you think that the only reason she’s waking up is because of hunger, then solids might help.
But that was not the case with Noah, who began pulling all nighters at 4 months. So I realized that babies are bound to add millions of variables to the mix. There might be a milestone coming up, he might be teething, the room is too cold or too hot… there are so many reasons why babies have night awakenings that giving them solids is not the only answer. My personal explanation for Noah is that he began solids at the same time as he mastered the adorable art of sitting and rolling over on both sides and that there’s no correlation whatsoever. He was just ready to sleep better. Let’s see how long this stage lasts.
Sleep training is cruel. But it seems to be working. On day 2 of the most horrible process we have been through with our son Noah, he fell asleep after 5 minutes of crying, a long shot from the 45 minutes it took the day before. After the storm, comes the calm. After I cried with him outside his door, on day 2 I felt better, reassured that maybe, just maybe, we were helping our baby sleep through the night. Or better yet, we were coming out of his way to let him do his stuff. That day I saw him as such a big man, a big 4 months old mini-man.
After these four months I have learned one thing. There is no right or wrong when it comes to our parenting choices. We are the best parents we can be. But, and there is a big but, we always strive to find reassurance that we are not messing our kids’ lives. So please find below a quick review of the studies out there about sleep training methods.
On the attachment parenting side, pediatrician and author of The Baby Book, Dr. Sears suggested that prolonged crying for weeks could cause emotional trauma and physiological changes in the brain. He did not, however, related these crying spells with sleep training but crying jags in general.
Another voice of the attachment parenting team, Dr. Middlemiss’ study, published in Early Human Development found that while the “cry it out” method works –babies do cry less with time when learning to fall asleep- their physiological stress levels remained very high, measured by a saliva test kit that studied stress markers such as cortisol levels. Dr. Middlemiss said that if infants’ levels of cortisol remained high for continued periods of time, it could result in attention disorders, hyperactivity, anti-social behavior and possibly even obesity. She also noted that babies might not cry even when they are distressed, making difficult the much-needed communication between parent and child.
Feeling bad? Wait. A new study in Pediatrics says that there does not appear to be harm over the long term with these sleep training methods. The study looked at controlled comforting (parent responds to their child cries at intervals) and camping out (parent stays at their child’s room as he learns to sleep. Moving the chair farther away until he’s out of the room and baby falls asleep alone). This study concluded that sleep training is safe and effective since babies do learn to go to sleep easier and stay asleep for longer periods of time.
Thankfully, researchers form the American Academy of Sleep Medicine concluded a major review of the top five sleeping training methods to help your baby sleep through the night. They say that there’s no single “best” method. All of them work, we just have to follow one rule: consistency. Moreover, the study noted that children who went through sleep training were more secure, predictable, fussed and cried less, than those who were not trained.
“We’re fairly certain that sleep training doesn’t have any long-term negative effects,” Mindell says. “If you love your child and are a responsive parent and then let your child cry three nights in a row to teach her how to sleep, that’s fine.”
In short, no expert can tell you what is right or wrong. All babies are different. Choosing a sleep training method is clearly a personal choice. So what’s your take? What would you do you help your baby sleep through the night?