Is it better to let babies cry themselves to sleep?
When my kids were babies, I always joked that the parents with the least amount of patience had kids who were the best sleepers. My kids slept very well because after eight weeks of exhaustion, I couldn’t take it anymore and decided to let them cry it out at bedtime, going in at prescribed times to comfort them without taking them out of their cribs. I religiously followed the tenets of the baby sleep guide written by Boston Children’s Hospital pediatrician Dr. Richard Ferber.
Middle-of-the-night feedings were eliminated once my kids demonstrated that they could sleep eight hours at a stretch.
Still, I worried that the Ferber method might have done some lasting psychological harm. Advocates of attachment parenting -- where parents co-sleep in the same room as their kids -- believe that letting babies cry themselves to sleep increases the likelihood that they’ll form weaker attachments to their parents and later on, have trouble expressing empathy and compassion for others.
Now that my children are teenagers, I wonder whether they might have been more respectful of my authority or less likely to tear into each other if only I had gone to comfort them four times a night through nursery school.
Thankfully, new research indicates that teaching infants to fall asleep on their own doesn’t lead to behavioral problems or affect how attached kids are to their parents; it also, however, doesn’t have any long-term benefits such as making kids into better problem-solvers, more resilient, or less spoiled, according to the study published Monday in the journal Pediatrics.
The trial involved 326 Australian babies with sleep problems who were randomly selected to undergo sleep training at age seven months -- where they learned to fall asleep on their own -- or to continue along with their usual bedtime practices of being held or rocked until they fell asleep. By age 10 months, the babies who were trained had become better sleepers compared with those who weren’t. By age two, the babies who underwent training were still better sleepers and their mothers had less depression and overall fatigue.
No surprise there.
By age six, however, there weren’t any behavioral or mental health differences between the kids who had undergone sleep training and those who hadn’t. (And, yes, all the kids eventually learned to fall asleep by themselves.) Nor were the parents any different, presumably because they had all returned to their normal sleep habits.
“We therefore conclude that parents can feel confident using, and health professionals can feel confident offering, behavioral techniques for managing infant sleep,” wrote the study authors.
In other words, parents shouldn’t feel guilty about letting their babies cry it out.
What do you think? Answer the poll below, and let me know whether you think it’s okay to let kids cry themselves to sleep.
Deborah Kotz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @debkotz2.
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