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Can Sleep Training Harm My Baby? Separating Myth from Reality

As a parent, you want the best for your baby, including a good night's sleep. However, sleep challenges such as frequent night waking, bedtime resistance, and early morning wake-ups can take a toll on both you and your little one. Sleep training is one approach that can help establish healthy sleep habits for your baby, but many parents worry that it could harm their child's emotional and physical health. Is this fear justified? Let's take a closer look.


What is Sleep Training?


The problem begins with the phrase 'sleep training' as people instantly equate sleep training with the 'cry it out' method. While this is a popular sleep training method, it is certainly not the only method.


Sleep training is a method used to help babies and young children learn to fall asleep and stay asleep independently. There are many different sleep training techniques of which cry-it-out is one. But there are many more approaches including The Chair Method I posted about recently which does not involve leaving your child on their own to cry. All these approaches do have one thing in common though which is that they involve reducing parental intervention during bedtime and nighttime awakenings until the child learns to fall asleep independently and sleep through the night.


But the 'sleep training' method is only one part of the puzzle to getting better sleep, and infant sleep should always be looked at holistically - looking at activity, diet, temperament, health, etc.


The Concerns


Some parents worry that sleep training could harm their child by causing emotional distress, interfering with attachment, or leading to long-term sleep problems. However, research suggests that these concerns are unfounded.


The Reality


Multiple studies have found that sleep training is safe and effective for infants and young children. A systematic review of 52 studies on sleep training found that it did not have any adverse effects on children's emotional development, attachment, or parent-child relationship. In fact, many studies reported improvements in children's behaviour, mood, and sleep quality after sleep training.


Another study published in the journal Pediatrics found that sleep training did not cause long-term sleep problems or affect parent-child attachment. The researchers followed up with parents and children four years after sleep training and found no differences in sleep or emotional outcomes compared to children who did not receive sleep training.


Conclusion


Sleep training is a safe and effective way to help your child establish healthy sleep habits. Multiple studies have found that it does not harm babies' emotional or physical health, and in fact, can lead to improvements in sleep quality and behaviour. As with any parenting decision, it's important to weigh the pros and cons and choose an approach that works for you and your family. If you have concerns about sleep training, consult with a qualified sleep consultant who can help you develop a personalised plan that meets your child's needs.


At The Bedtime Champ, we offer remote consultations worldwide for babies and children up to 5 years of age. Contact us today to learn more about our services and how we can help your family get the sleep you need. We always take a holistic approach to your child's sleep problems and tailor a range of responsive sleep training methods to your child.


Sources

  1. Gradisar, M., Jackson, K., Spurrier, N. J., Gibson, J., Whitham, J. N., Williams, A. S., ... & Kennaway, D. J. (2016). Behavioral interventions for infant sleep problems: a randomized controlled trial. Pediatrics, 137(6), e20151486. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1542/peds.2015-1486

  2. Pinilla, T., & Birch, L. L. (1993). Help me make it through the night: Behavioral entrainment of breast-fed infants' sleep patterns. Pediatrics, 91(2), 436-444. PMID: 8424024

  3. Gradisar, M., & Gardner, G. (2017). Helping parents help their children sleep: A randomized controlled trial of a responsive parenting intervention for infant sleep. Child: care, health and development, 43(1), 17-27. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1111/cch.12395

  4. Mindell, J. A., Telofski, L. S., Weigand, B., & Kurtz, E. S. (2009). A nightly bedtime routine: impact on sleep in young children and maternal mood. Sleep, 32(5), 599-606. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1093/sleep/32.5.599

  5. Touchette, É., Petit, D., Paquet, J., Boivin, M., Japel, C., & Tremblay, R. E. (2005). Factors associated with fragmented sleep at night across early childhood. Archives of pediatrics & adolescent medicine, 159(3), 242-249. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1001/archpedi.159.3.242

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