So, after a month of sleeping through the night, Noah decided to wake back up, two to three times per night. Sometimes gabbling, sometimes crying, but always very well awake. He used to go to sleep by himself at bedtime but was not able to soothe himself back to sleep at these middle-of-the-night awakenings. Which is why I immersed myself yet again in the bottomless pit of the Cry-It-Out method studies. I was ecstatic when I found a new study that gives the green light for parents applying the Cry-It-Out Method: an apparently harmless way to teach them to sleep and recover our sleep independence.
Lead by Weinraub, an expert on child development, the study found a couple of very interesting things not taken into consideration in other studies. It appears that the majority of babies that awoke in the middle of the night were boys, who also had a tendency to have a difficult temperament. The findings of the study include (1) the possibility that genetic factors implicated early sleep problems (2) the need for babies to learn how to self-soothe, critical for creating healthy sleeping habits and (3) the likelihood that prenatal depression may affect neural development and sleep awakenings. It is important to note that Weinraub comments: “Families who are seeing sleep problems persist past 18 months should seek advice.”
Of the three important findings, only the second one resonated with my personal experience but I’m sure there are many parents out there trying to find solutions to their baby’s sleeping problems and I hope this study lightens up their findings. I do believe that the most important finding of the study is that we should resist the urge to comfort our babies when crying at night, (for babies over 6 months old). After we gave Noah the opportunity to self-soothe in the middle of the night, without entering his room and giving him a pat or his pacifier, he discovered he could do it on his own. For the past 4 days at least…
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?