I absolutely love this career, and working privately with so many different amazing families. For the most part, this job is truly amazing, and everything I dreamed it would be. Unfortunately along this journey of being a Certified Sleep Consultant, I continue to run into well-meaning, but incorrect information on terms of sleep training.
I personally support any family and their sleep arrangements, as long as they are safe. I do not judge if you are using a pacifier, if you want to continue to rock until your baby no longer allows it - you do you! What I cannot support is the continuous spread of myths about teaching children healthy sleep habits.
Myth #1: You will damage your baby by sleep training
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.”
Myth #2: I have to let my baby “cry it out”
Can we all just agree to stop defining sleep training by the “cry it out” method?
There are a lot of gentle methods you can use, that allow you to be hands on with your little one. The problem is, the CIO method has such a bad reputation that people automatically assume that they need a gentle method. Unfortunately not all children will accept a gentle, hands on method - and many find it very overstimulating. A controlled crying technique is typically a great fit for most babies, and allows you to respond to your child, but in a different way than assisting them to sleep, more for reassurance benefits.
Myth #3: Babies are meant to wake through the night
True and false. While this is true for young babies, who need to wake semi-frequently through the night to feed, once a baby hits 4-6 months, MOST can go through the night without a feed.
Myth #4: Breastfed babies cannot be sleep trained
I am not even sure how this myth came to be. There is no difference between a formula fed baby, and a breastfed baby in terms of sleep. While a breastfed baby may need to hang onto 1 middle of the night feeding a bit longer than a formula fed baby, this does not impact the success of sleep training.
Myth #5: Sleep training is too stressful for babies
As mentioned above in myth #1 there is no evidence that sleep training causes any short-term or long-term effects on babies or children. As for those who are implying that a few nights of intermediate crying are “too stressful” you unfortunately have two options.
Option #1: Make the changes necessary, to teach your little one healthy sleep habits. Yes this will include some tears - even with the most gentle of methods, tears will be shed. It’s important to keep your expectations in check with sleep training. You are breaking a very well formed habit, and there will be frustration on everyone’s behalf. With saying that, I can promise you there is a light at the end of the tunnel, and the rough nights will be worth it while you are gloriously soaking up evenings by yourself, with your partner, or friends, and sleeping like a regular person again. In this first option, the total amount of “stress” felt by your child amounts to several minutes of crying for a few nights.
Option 2: Without sounding judgemental and like you are being attacked, your second option is to do absolutely nothing. Continue to rock/nurse/whatever you choose to do for your child, and deal with the sleep problems as you see fit. These sleep problems can lead to constant sleep deprivation for both you, and your baby but the fact of the matter is - you are the parent and this is YOUR choice, remember that next time you want to criticize someone for choosing to make a change in their baby’s sleep.
Myth #6: Not all babies can be sleep trained
While not all babies will have the SAME outcome with sleep training, all babies can be taught healthy, and independent sleeping skills. Every child is different, and will take to training differently. The outcome of the training isn’t as important as the progress the training provides.
Are any of these myths holding your back from making a change? I hope I was able to shed some light on the most common sleep training myths, and ease your mind!