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Sleep training methods for babies are controversial. We discuss whether controlled crying techniques are OK or have negative consequences for the baby.
Most parents often face a great dilemma: what to do when your baby cries at night because she wants to sleep with her parents? There are basically two solutions to this: one is to go soothe her and let the baby sleep with the parents, and the other is to let the baby cry it out, wait until she "self-shoothes" and gets used to sleep by herself.
There are experts advising on both directions. Couples have sometimes heated discussions about it. On the one hand, what if the child gets used to sleep in the parents’ bed? Wouldn’t it become increasingly difficult to make her sleep on her own? What about the sexual relationships of the couple? What about parents’ sleep? On the other hand, isn’t it an act of cruelty to let the baby cry? How can parents sleep if their baby is crying? Wouldn’t children develop insecurities?
Controlled crying, or control crying, is a quite popular sleep training method, where parents wait a certain amount of time before settling the baby. The waiting time is gradually increased until the small child finally gets used to sleep without assistance. This technique has shown to be effective in improving children sleep habits. Researchers from the University of Melbourne, Australia, and the University of Exeter, UK, led by Dr Price, looked at long-term effects of two methods of sleep trying, controlled crying and camping out. The results of this study indicated that these techniques had no significant impact (either positive or negative) on children's emotional development and that it may reduce the rate of mothers suffering post-natal depression .
However, there is not widespread consensus in the academic community about the long-term effects of control crying children’s development. Some limitations to the abovementioned study have already been suggested. The chronicity and severity should be also taken into consideration. It is not the same to leave the baby cry for 4 or 5 minutes and for periods over 45 minutes. According to the critics, control crying may also change infant physiology and the production of cortisol, the stress hormone . This hormone is toxic to brain cells. It could be harmful if the levels of cortisol are repeatedly increased because of the stress caused every night by the sleep training technique. Moreover, control crying may have an impact on breastfeeding habits, which is recommended by WHO as being positive for children and mothers.
In your opinion, do you think controlled crying is overall positive? Have you applied controlled crying or a similar technique for baby sleep? Do you find it cruel not to assist infants immediately when they start crying? What about co-sleeping and other attachment parenting tecniques?
- Price, A. M., M. Wake, et al. (2012). “Five-Year Follow-up of Harms and Benefits of Behavioral Infant Sleep Intervention: Randomized Trial.” Pediatrics, 130(4), 643-651
- Grant, K.-A., McMahon, C., Austin, M.-P., Reilly, N., Leader, L., & Ali, S. (2009). “Maternal prenatal anxiety, postnatal caregiving and infants' cortisol response to the still-face procedure.” Developmental Psychobiology, 51, 625-637.
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Controlled crying: is it OK to let a baby cry to sleep?
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