Is Sleep Training Safe?

– Written by JoAnna Inks 

Is Sleep Training Safe?

As the parent of a new baby, there are SO many questions we ask ourselves, especially about sleep (or, the lack thereof!).

Babies do not come with instruction manuals, and even after spending nine months doing endless research on what to expect when baby arrives, there’s an unavoidable feeling of unpreparedness as soon as we come home from the hospital.

Every baby is different, so nothing can prepare you for your child in particular.

And since this is just about the most significant responsibility that a human being can have, to raise another human being, we feel a tremendous responsibility to get it right.

Unfortunately, there are no dress rehearsals for parenthood. Your first run-through is the final performance, which only increases our anxiety and resolve to figure out anything that might be wrong with our babies.

And since babies basically eat, poop, cry and sleep, we seem to be naturally very focused on those four things.

What to feed baby is often a debatable topic on its own, and we usually find ourselves with a sudden interest in poop that we never knew we had!

This leaves us with sleeping and crying, and as a  sleep consultant for infants and children, rest assured, I’ve done a ton of research on both.

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

Babies cry all the time. In fact, if a baby didn’t cry, it would be cause for concern.

What parents are really asking me is, “Will my baby cry, and will I be able to provide comfort when they do?”

Why is this the biggest concern with new parents? 

Well, nobody likes to hear their baby cry, but thanks to Google parents can access a HUGE amount of misinformation that states that if we don’t respond immediately to our baby’s cries, then we’re doing them harm. 

My friends, Anna & Layla at mybabycare.org/ just touched on this in their new blog, and it’s a great read!  mybabycare.org/4-mistakes-parents-make-in-their-first-year-im-sure-we-all-do-1/

Did you know this wasn’t an issue until Dr. William Sears came out with his Attachment Parenting theory in 1993?  Before this,  parents were pretty comfortable with the fact that baby might cry for awhile if they woke in the night.  Although this may be unpleasant, it wasn’t a concern.

When Dr. Sears’ book was published, an entire generation of new parents began to believe that any crying is causing all kinds of harm. Sears cited studies to back up his claim, but those studies looked at babies who were suffering from colic and 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 this highly charged argument has gone on for nearly 25 years now with people that support attachment parenting accusing sleep training advocates of neglecting their babies for their own benefit.

I’m surprised that the pediatric and scientific community hasn’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?

One reason Dr. Sears’ claims didn’t provoke an immediate and widespread investigation was that 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.”

Another went so far as to actually note in the study’s own conclusion that, “Our findings provide evidence that the quality of maternal behavior 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, 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.  The study measured 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 us about in his book.

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.

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 your baby waking many times each night?  Are you curious about sleep training?  Contact me today, and we’ll talk about exactly how to teach your baby to be a fantastic sleeper with gentle sleep solutions that work.​

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​Have questions about sleep training?  I’d love to hear from you.  Comment below!

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