Sleep Training – Trail of Tears or Pathway to Perfection?

One of the biggest challenges for a child of any age is sleep. After the first few days of a relatively quiet newborn, the realities of caring for a tiny human being that needs constant attention begin to set in. Whether you just had your first child or are taking care of a teenager, there is not a parent that does not remember waking up every few hours to a crying baby.

There is a myriad of books, videos and online information telling you how you can “sleep train” your child. But there is only one thing that actually works, all the time, every time. It’s process long advocated by leading pediatricians, at least those that are not afraid to give the correct medical advice, and not pander to the current generation of overprotective helicopter parents whose heart stops every time a baby utters a cry.

Here is the time tested, proven method:

Start at 2 months, put your baby to bed at around 9 or 10pm, and leave them alone until 6am-7am.

I think I just heard a few gasps and jaws hit the floor. Here is the reality of childhood sleep:

  1. At a weight of about 10-11 lbs (typically around 2 months), the baby has enough space in their stomach that they can, without any adverse effects, sleep through the night after a feeding. They do not physiologically need to be fed throughout the night. Yes, they are a little hungry and could eat, but they do not need to. Just like you don’t need to be eating a doughnut after lunch…..
  2. Babies are not “unique” at 2 months in their behavior, it is learned by their experience and patterns. The only exception would be those with actual health problems or preemies, but for the purpose of this discussion, we will assume that you child is healthy and was born at term. You need to get the idea of “my baby is just a bad sleeper, that’s her personality” out of your head, if you want to actually help your child sleep well and restore your and your partner’s own sleep and sanity.
  3. Babies will cry at night, especially for the first few nights that sleep training is initiated. That is absolutely OK. The idea that crying somehow causes high cortisol levels which leads to adverse development is completely absurd. To understand this, we simply look at babies with colic. Clearly, a baby crying at night for a few short periods for a few days is nothing compared to crying for hours on end for months. Yet, studies of colicky babies do not show that their intense crying hampers development (see references 1-6 below). If you are afraid of your baby being exposed to “stress”, then forget sleep training and just put them in a fairytale make believe bubble for the rest of their life, I’m sure that will work out great.

Sleep training a child at 2 months old is the best thing you can do, not only for your baby, who will benefit from restful sleep, ability to self soothe and independence, but most importantly for you and your partner. You will be a much better parent if you wake up rested and ready to enjoy life and your relationship with your child.

A peacefully sleeping baby – thanks to sleep training !

References:

  1. St. James-Roberts I, Conroy S, Wilsher C. Stability and outcome of persistent infant crying. Infant Behavior and Development 1998;21(3):411-435.
  2. Stifter CA, Braungart J. Infant colic: A transient condition with no apparent effects. Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology 1992;13(4):447-462.
  3. Stifter CA, Spinrad TL. The effect of excessive crying on the development of emotion regulation. Infancy2002;3(2):133-152.
  4. Barr R, Paterson J, Macmartin L, Lehtonen L, Young S. Prolonged and unsoothable crying bouts in infants with and without colic. Developmental and Behavioural Pediatrics 2005;26,14-23.
  5. Lehtonen L, Korhonen T, Korvenranta H. Temperament and sleeping patterns in colicky infants during the first year of life. Journal of Developmental & Behavioral Pediatrics 1994;15(6):416-420.
  6. Rautava P, Lehtonen L, Helenius H, Sillanpaa M. Infantile colic: child and family three years later. Pediatrics 1995;96(1 pt 1):43-47. 

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