Most parents still think that sleep training simply means letting newborn cry it out until they learn how to sooth themselves.
Some experts do advise to let babies cry it out as a way of sleep train them. But that is by far not the consensus. Some pretty famous parenting gurus were caught in quite fiery arguments on this issue.
The fact is, there is much more to sleep training than just letting your baby cry herself to sleep.
Here is the thing, there is no hard evidence that your baby (over 6 months old) will suffer any long term consequence if you let her cry. But that doesn’t mean that you should do it, right?
In this post we are going to demystify letting baby cry and talk about some better ways to sleep train your baby.
Is it ok to let a newborn cry?
Just to get it out of the way, newborns under the age of six months should not be let to cry themselves to sleep. There are different reasons for that:
- Your newborn baby may be hungry or feeling ill. Newborns eat quite often so there is a big chance they just need to be fed when crying.
- It is actually pointless. They are far too young to respond to any behavioural training of any sort.
How long should you let a baby cry?
For babies past the newborn stage, there is still much debate on how long you should let them cry. This is a tricky question because it lacks the information of whether or not you know the reason why your baby is crying.
If she is hungry, then the answer is clear. You should feed her.
But many times, the baby will cry because she misses proximity and wants to feel warm and safe. That is where the intense debate lies.
Some experts claim that you can indeed let the baby cry up to 10 minutes by herself so she can learn to self soothe.
In contrast to the hard “crying it out” technic, an alternative is to let your baby cry but actively try to comfort them as they do.
In this technic, every 2 minutes or so, you should approach the crib and slowly pat them in the belly or chest so they feel your presence and know it will be ok.
As we wrote in a post before, pulling your baby out of the crib as they start crying doesn’t really help a baby that won’t sleep in the crib.
Therefore, the controlled crying technic is softer on the baby than the “hard crying it out” method.
Does “crying it out” affect brain development?
This has been brought up by British parenting guru Penelope Leach. She argues that when a baby cries herself to sleep, she is left with high levels of the stress hormone cortisol.
According to Ms. Leach there is scientific evidence that the exposure to high levels of this stress hormone can cause problems in the newborn brain development.
However, this claim from Ms. Leach is not entirely backed up by science. Researches never found young children with any sort of detectable brain developmental problem due to being let to cry in early age.
If not letting your baby cry it out then what?
For many parents, ourselves included, just letting our baby cry is not an option. However, we still wanted to get our little girl to sleep in her crib by herself.
Our baby was completely dependent on her mommy for comfort and middle of the night snacks.
After some research online we found a softer method that actually suit us much better. The method is called “camping out”.
It is a type of sleep training when parents gradually, night after night, move further away from the baby while they are sleeping so that they become more and more used to sleeping by themselves.
Whether you have a bedside crib or co-sleep with a bassinet, you can start by having the baby as close to you as normal in the first night.
After the second night, you start to move the crib/bassinet a little further away every night until you are able to totally move them into their own room or baby corner.
Which sleep training method is better in the long term?
This is what an Australian group tried to verify in a recent study published last year in the American Association of Pediatrics (AAP).
In this study last they investigated two types of sleep training/intervention by following subjects for a period of 5 years!
They were looking for any long lasting effects, negative or positive, of different types of sleep intervention and compared it with a control group which didn’t follow any sleep training routine.
The conclusion of the studies was rather interesting. They did not find any long lasting effect, positive or negative, of the different techniques.
So, What does science say about the long term effects of sleep training?
Basically you shouldn’t let a newborn cry for a long period of time because they can be hungry or ill. For infants over the age of 6 months, however, it is a personal choice for the parents.
Some speculations about the harm caused by stress hormones associated with “letting newborn cry it out” do exist. However, actual research has not found any hard evidence of it yet.
For us there is no reason to just let our little girl to be this sad for so long. You can call us softies, but it doesn’t make us or the baby feel good.
In the end of the day, the one strategy that seems to always work is time. As one midwife used to tell us, no 12 year old wants to sleep with their parents in bed!