Earlier this year, our post about infants with breathing problems during sleep cautioned parents to monitor the quality of their baby’s slumber. But simply getting a baby to sleep and keeping him or her in a restful state can be one of the more bedeviling challenges of early parenthood.
A new study published in the journal Pediatrics might save some parents from constant worry if they’re getting bedtime routine right.
As reported on MedPage Today, certain behavioral techniques for getting babies to sleep by themselves, such as initially remaining in the child’s room, can be effective without any adverse emotional outcomes in the long term for either the kid or the parents.
The study followed up with 6-year-olds who had been studied as infants. Any problems with the youngsters were not significantly more common among those who had been “trained” to sleep alone versus those who hadn’t.
Many parents worry about long-term harm if they don’t respond immediately to a crying baby in a crib, having been influenced by older practices of letting a kid “cry it out” that causes harmful distress.
But the study showed that "camping out" to get kids to fall asleep and "controlled comforting" to help learn how to settle down on their own by gradually lengthening intervals at which parents respond to crying improved infants' sleep. It also reduced depression among mothers by 60 percent.
Among the 225 families followed through the child’s sixth birthday, there were no differences between the group that underwent behavioral training and the one that didn’t in outcomes for:
- sleep habits;
- parent-reported psychosocial functioning;
- child-reported psychosocial functioning;
- chronic stress as measured by cortisol (a hormone produced in response to stress) levels on a nonschool day;
- child-parent closeness;
- conflict between parent and child;
- overall quality of the relationship between parent and child;
- disinhibited attachment (emotionally and socially remote behavior);
- depression, anxiety and stress scores in the mother;
- authoritative parenting (deemed the optimal parenting style demonstrating warmth and control).
The researchers noted that their inability to follow up on about one-third of the families initially involved with infants meant the study couldn't rule out small harms or benefits long term. But, they concluded, “Nonetheless, the precision of the confidence intervals make clinically meaningful group differences unlikely."
“…[P]arent education programs that teach parents about normal infant sleep and the use of positive bedtime routines could effectively prevent later sleep problems," they concluded.
For more information, see “Getting Your Baby to Sleep” on the website of the American Academy of Pediatrics.