The “cry it out” method of sleep training babies is a controversial one, as it goes against the maternal instinct that powers every new mom. But a new study suggests that the method may be helpful, not harmful.
Researchers from Australia measured the stress and sleep quality of 43 babies aged six months and older. Babies whose parents employed sleep training techniques fell asleep up to 15 minutes faster without any negative side effects.
The researchers also tested a newer method of sleep training called “bedtime fading,” which, unlike the cry-it-out method (formally known as “graduated extinction”), allows parents to stay in the room until the baby falls asleep.
While bedtime fading proved to be more effective than no sleep training at all, graduated extinction was ultimately deemed most effective as it also helped infants wake less during the night.
Did not stress babies
Those opposed to sleep training claim that it causes “learned helplessness” -- the belief that a child cannot make a difference no matter how long he or she cries. Those in favor of it believe sleep training helps a child learn valuable self-soothing skills, which may come in handy if they wake up during the night.
What this study suggests is that both of the aforementioned sleep training techniques -- graduated extinction and bedtime fading -- seem safe for babies.
Neither technique caused babies to experience higher levels of the stress hormone cortisol. In fact, stress levels were lower when babies underwent sleep training interventions, explains Marsha Weinraub, professor of psychology at Temple University.
Weinraub also notes that parental attachment was not affected, nor did sleep training seem to create any behavioral problems when compared with the control group.
Should you feel guilty?
While you may feel as if you're neglecting your child while sleep training, experts say it's important to remember that children need boundaries.
Daniel Lewin, a pediatric psychologist and sleep specialist at Children's National Health System in Washington wants parents to realize that they're not deserting their children.
"By setting a clear and loving limit for your child, children can function better," Lewin tells CNN, adding that it's important to give children the space to fall asleep on their own.
Ultimately, every parenting situation is different and parents should use whatever method they feel most comfortable with.