August 27, 2017
A child who sleeps through the night from an early age is every parent’s dream, but getting to that enviable plateau may take patience and a steely resolve, depending upon which method you use to sleep train your infant. Whether you’re a fan of letting your baby cry it out, or the thought fills you with horror, it’s best to educate yourself on all the sleep training methods out there before deciding which one may be best for your family. One thought to keep in mind is that sleep training is discouraged for children less than six months old.
Dr. Marc Weissbluth is the author of “Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child,” and he recommends a more aggressive version of sleep training that discourages parents from comforting babies who cry in the night for reasons other than emergencies. According to Weissbluth, staying out of your baby’s room when he or she fusses at night (called extinction) helps promote independence.
To work effectively, Weissbluth recommends parents put baby to bed and then refrain from re-entering the room until morning, regardless of whether the child cries. Supporters of this technique tout the fact that it typically only takes between three and four days to completely sleep-train an infant using this method.
Critics, however, liken the Weissbluth Method to deprivation, or “learned helplessness,” in an infant, which they feel can impact kids negatively far into the future, causing serious sleep disorders or depression.
Regardless of which side of the fence on which you stand when it comes to letting kids “cry it out,” it’s a good idea to speak with your child’s pediatrician first if your infant is unable to sleep through the night. Sleeplessness may be related to a physical issue such as acid reflux, allergies or sleep apnea, in which case allowing an infant to cry it out could actually be harmful.
Many other sleep-training approaches are out there, as well, including the Ferber Method, that recommends gently picking children up and putting them back down without comforting them as often throughout the night as needed (called graduated extinction). The Ferber Method is another form of “Cry It Out” sleep training, but it’s one that doesn’t completely eliminate the touch of a parent. This method typically takes several weeks to implement.
Of course, if you shudder at the thought of leaving your crying infant alone with little or no comfort throughout the night, you might feel more comfortable tackling a less aggressive version of sleep training — one that lets you hold, comfort, rock or otherwise soothe your baby as needed. The biggest criticism to come from opponents of this type of sleep training is that it can hinder infants from learning self-soothing and that it may lead to further sleep disruptions as the child grows because he or she has learned to depend entirely upon the parent in order to be able to sleep.
It’s fine to listen to the experts if you’re looking for a safe, reliable way to encourage your infant to sleep through the night, but common sense may actually play a bigger role. Being in tune with your child, making sure he or she gets plenty of stimulation throughout the day, and adhering to a regular schedule regarding waking and sleeping all play large roles in how well your child sleeps at night. It’s important to keep your pediatrician in the loop too, just in case something more serious is at play.