Is Sleep Training Dangerous?

”Fortunately, babies come equipped with a repair kit, and can overcome the effects of stress through the natural healing mechanism of crying. Research has shown that people of all ages benefit from a good cry, and tears help to restore the body’s chemical balance following stress.” -Solter

“A growing number of psychologists believe that the healing function of crying begins at birth, and that stress-release crying early in life will help prevent emotional and behavioral problems later on.” -Solter

There is A LOT of controversy surrounding crying during sleep training. So much that one of the first questions I receive from inquiring families is “Do I have to let him/her cry.”

The short answer to that is – you don’t HAVE to do anything you don’t WANT to do with YOUR child. However, it is important to have realistic expectations when it comes to sleep training and the amount of tears that may be shed.

A dear friend of mine often discusses post ideas with me and allows me to bounce ideas off of her while I straighten them out in my head. When we began to discuss this topic, she made such a valid point, I had to share it with you all.

As humans we tell our friends, family, partners, and even our children that it is OK and healthy to express our feelings, it is OK to cry, it even feels GOOD to cry sometimes.

So why is it – the slightest mention of a child under a certain age crying for a controlled amount of time is so fearful for parents. I understand not wanting to allow a fresh newborn to cry – the world is new to them; they need feeds around the clock and their needs can be challenging to decode. Babies express their feelings the only way they know how, by crying. So, when did it become programmed in us that we must under any means necessary stop them from doing that?

As a parent, I can confidently say that MOST parents are able to know what their baby’s cries mean, which means responding differently to each cry.

It's time to get realistic about crying and educating parents that there will be tears during the process, no matter the method chosen. However - not all tears are bad.

Before starting the process of sleep training, it is important to be realistic about the work it will take. Formed habits are hard to break, even as adults. As adults, when we are trying to break a habit, we have words to communicate our frustration with others. The only language a baby has is crying - which is often perceived as a "I'm scared" cry, when realistically it is a "I'm frustrated" cry. It is okay for our children to be frustrated through-out life. If parents respond to every cry a child ever produces, a child would never learn any independence. Many times, babies cry when they are learning a new skill, independent sleep included. Just like you shouldn’t run and stop your baby from crying when learning to roll-over, crawl, build blocks, walk, etc - you shouldn’t stop baby from crying right away when baby is trying to figure out how to fall asleep independently.

Do not confuse this with allowing your baby to cry for hours on end. The method's used by Sleep E-Zzz Consulting allows for responding to your baby, you are just responding in a different way than your baby is familiar with.

Concern about harming your baby by not immediately responding to every cry was not always such an issue, like it is today. In 1993 Dr. William Sears released his attachment parenting theory, prior to the release of this theory parents were reasonably comfortable with the idea of letting a child cry for a short period of time. Although the crying is of course slightly unpleasant, it is completely safe. Once Sears’ released his “Baby Book” a group of new parents began to cling to the idea that controlled crying was cruel, and unsafe, causing brain damage to babies.

The problem with Sears citied “studies” is he only looked at a small group of babies who were suffering from severe forms of colic, and a condition known as persistent crying. Both of these issues majorly differ from allowing a child to cry for a few moments. Because of Sears’ book, this argument of sleep training causing damage to babies has gone on for nearly 25 years from attachment parenting advocates. These advocates accuse those who choose to sleep train as cruel, and willingly neglecting their babies for their own selfishness, and sleep.

In 2012, Dr. Anna Price a postdoctoral researcher conducted an extensive study; measuring mental health, sleep, stress regulation, parent-child relationship, maternal health, and parenting styles. This study included babies from the ages of 7-10 months and followed 225 families during the 5 year process. Dr. Anna Price followed up with these families 5 years after the initial study to see if any the children whose parents implemented some form of sleep training had experienced any of the damaging side effects that Dr. Sears listed in his book. The results - none of the children had shown any damaging side effects. A direct quote from the study, “There was no evidence of difference between intervention and control families for any outcome. Behavioural sleep techniques have no marked long-lasting effects. Parents and health professionals can confidently use these techniques to reduce burden of infant sleep problems and maternal depression"

Furthermore - The AAP released a statement "Studies have shown that infant sleep training methods that involve “controlled crying” and “camping out” (aka chair method) not only improve the quality of sleep for your baby, but also reduce maternal depression. The AAP concludes that sleep training techniques are safe to use, as well as cost-effective.”

When the time comes where you have a toddler, you will have to say no. They of course disagree with that response and end up crying. This crying is frustrating to parents and some parents may even give in to the toddlers demands, which then causes children to make increasingly unreasonable demands, because they desperately need to hear “no” at times. Instinct and culture had told parents children shouldn’t be crying and it’s solely parents responsibility to stop this from happening.

“When babies and toddlers don’t feel good, they cry in order to clear the tension they feel.  We try to get them “settled down” with patting, bouncing, walking, pacifiers, and sometimes, the breast.  We’ve been trained to believe that a baby will do better as soon as she is able to stop expressing her upset. …However, you’ll see that when you stop a baby from expressing feelings, she doesn’t actually feel better”   –Patty Wipfler, Hand In Hand Parenting

“An anxious and irritated parent (crying does irritate!) will most likely do what brings the fastest relief – give the breast or bottle. The baby almost always accepts it, calms down and often falls asleep. Of course, this is the right solution if the baby is hungry.  However, if the baby has other needs (for instance being tired or having pain), she will learn to expect food in response to these other needs, and grasp the breast or bottle even though she is not hungry.” – Magda Gerber, Dear Parent: Caring For Infants With Respect

Crying is natural, healthy healing

“When a baby cries about something that’s not actually threatening, or something that is an unavoidable annoyance, she’s engaged in a natural and important endeavor.  She’s having some feelings, and telling you about them.” -Wipfler

“All healthy babies cry. We would worry if they didn’t cry – no infant can be raised without crying. Respond to the baby, reflecting that you are there and that eventually you will understand the reasons for the crying.” -Gerber

Sleep Deprivation in Parents & Children causes life long effects.

I personally understand how it feels to hear your baby cry, and I am not telling you to do this if you do not want to – I am simply urging you to become educated on the topic before making up your mind.

It is important to keep in mind why you are encouraging your baby to have independent sleeping skills. You want a well-rested happy baby, who is able to have full feeds, practice milestones and create bonds; a baby who is having fun during the day without being overtired.

According to the National Sleep Foundation - “Sleep is especially important for children, as it directly impacts physical and mental development. During the deep stages of sleep, blood supply to the muscles increased, energy is restored, tissue growth and repair occur, and important hormones are leased for growth and development.”

When feeling overwhelmed about the tears your baby is shedding out of frustration, remember all the good you are doing, in the long run.

Sleep deprivation puts mother's at a great risk of Mental Health struggles such as;

  • Postpartum Depression

  • Postpartum Anxiety

  • Postpartum Psychosis

  • PTSD

  • OCD behaviours

  • Trouble Concentrating

  • Appetite problems

  • Insomnia

  • And much more.

Not only does sleep deprivation impact parents greatly - it is also impacting children in their everyday lives. Research has linked behaviour and attention problems in children to poor sleep quantity, and quality.

Not getting the recommended amount of sleep contributes to;

  • Attention problems

  • Hyperactivity

  • Bullying

  • Aggressive behaviour

  • Mood swings

  • Anxiety

These are not the only risks your child is at a greater risk of, because of poor sleep habits;

In 2017, a study found that inadequate sleep was a contributor to type 2 diabetes in school aged children, and adolescents. Other research points to infants, and preschoolers being at a greater risk of obesity, because of poor sleep habits.

Infants, and Children do not always "grow out" of sleep issues. Research has found that adults whom suffered from poor sleep habits as children, 80% of them are still experiencing the effects from poor sleep. 80% of these adults still suffer from sleep issues, depression, obesity, anxiety, etc.

Sleep habits follow your children through-out their life and are extremely important. Children look to parents for guidance, teach your children that sleep matters, for everyone!

Recommended Reads:

Sleep training doesn't hurt your child

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