Controlled crying - is this really the most effective way to sleep training?
Updated: Nov 17, 2019
Research shows that the Cry It Out method is 80% effective, Mindell. Parents seem to be pleased with these results. But shouldn't we dig a little deeper? Does it actually work? What researchers have found is that most babies learn to stop asking for help after a while and in fact they are still waking. "In a review of the literature on sleep training prior to 6 months of age, it was found that it was completely ineffective at reducing reported infant sleep problems." Douglas PS, Hill Ps.
So what's going on with the baby? Well, this is the question that has led me to sit in multiple infant sleep conferences, read studies and research. Because once feeding is established, sleep solutions tend to be the next thing on most parents' minds and I want to be well equipped to answer my client's questions to the best of my ability. It has most definitely taken me down the rabbit hole but the good news is I feel really confident after learning more.
It turns out there are many research studies from a multitude of fields of study including psychology, pediatrics, psychiatry and more. I was shocked to discover how many people have taken a closer look. My theory is always that they are likely parents seeking more answers! Because just like you, scientists, doctors, specialists and authors also have babies who sleep or don't sleep and we are all on similar paths to understand the elusive science to infant sleep.
James McKenna is a leading infant sleep researcher and if you are seeking information I'd start with his findings first. He has dedicated his career to his topic. One of his findings that I love to share is that moms and babies who are exclusively nursing get on the same sleep patterns so that they rise and fall in light and deep sleep cycles together. This is not only protective for families who sleep together it's also just really amazing. Our bodies are so incredibly smart.
Other sleep researchers have pointed to quite a few concerns about controlled crying such as the effects of increased levels of adrenaline and cortisol in the baby and parents. Changes in the baby's brain. The effect of not feeling safe and attached to caregivers. Epigenetics has looked at how trauma travels through generations and how the impact of leaving baby's to cry has indeed been seen to effect future generations. For more information on individual studies, I'd like to introduce you to this amazing woman who has taken the time to present everything for you: Evolutionary Parenting.
If you'd like to discuss ideas and solutions further I teach a class in person at the Nest in Grass Valley and my online class is coming soon. I am also happy to come up with sleep plans for those who have basic questions. Full disclosure: I am not a sleep consultant and I do not have the experience to help you with severe sleep issues.
It can be so overwhelming to be sleep deprived and still care for your new baby. I get it. I was there for longer than I'd like to admit and I wish I had had more tricks and tools to try at the time. From my own experience however, I can guarantee you that establishing trust with your baby will build a lifetime of positive coping skills and confidence in your child.
Here are some ideas to consider for better sleep:
- Establish a routine. Keeping things regular or scheduled (I'm not a big fan of that word but it can help with sleep issues) helps baby's body to stay in a good rhythm
- Sleep association is a real thing. It can be helpful to always put baby down to sleep in the same place with the same objects whether that's a lovey or a blanket, a pacifier, white noise or you. Babies begin to make associations that cue them to feel safe to fall asleep.
- Nursing to sleep? On the same note as a sleep association, they may become dependent on the breast for sleep if that's all they've known. Now, I'm a big fan of enjoying this amazing tool however I'd also recommend trying other soothing techniques so baby can fall asleep in other ways. Singing, rocking, holding, or even allowing baby to fall asleep on their own.
- Babies can fall asleep on their own if you have given them the opportunity to do so since birth. If all of their needs are met, lay them down and give it a go. It might only work sometimes but the more they do it, the more they'll be able to do it. Trust in your baby. Let them know they are safe and loved.
-Daytime routines are important. Getting enough fresh air, stimulation and food throughout the day will help your night routine. Busy babies may need to be reminded to eat more during the day.
- Development can get in the way (and so can teething). When your baby is practicing a new skill, they need to have lots of time to play. If not, they'll wake at night to practice. And then there's teething - it can ruin the best night's sleep. But please help your baby. It's true that teething can be worse at night. It's when our bodies do their best work and your baby may need to be soothed. They cannot do this on their own, no matter what you hear.
- Take care of yourself. Take naps when you need to. Ask for help if you need to tap out. Maybe your partner can do some nighttime parenting or a family member or hire a doula. Get outside. Exercise. Eat well. Nighttime parenting is real and it's here to stay because that's when our babies and our kids often need us the most.
There are many thoughts and ideas on sleep in today's parenting world. My best advice is not to look at your neighbor or read too many books unless you enjoy being dizzy. All babies and all families are not the same and while listening to other's advice can sometimes help it can be equally as frustrating when it doesn't work for your baby. Listen to your baby. What are her needs? Are they being met? Take it one night at a time. Try not to set unrealistic goals. Reach out to professionals who can help you if you're in too deep but please be wary of overpriced sleep consultants who are not aligned with your parenting values. It's your baby's trust and well being on the line. There's always a way forward that feels good for everyone in the family.