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Written by Lavinia
Certified Paediatric Sleep Consultant
7 February 2021

Is Sleep Training Safe?

It's safe to say that when your baby arrives, you will have enormous number of questions.

As new parents, we can't help but feel unprepared the moment we bring our newborns home from the hospital, despite having read a mountain of material on nurturing babies during pregnancy.

As every infant is unique, there is no way to truly prepare for your own child, regardless of how much you've read or been told.

We pay a lot of attention to four things related to babies: eating, pooping, crying, and sleeping.

When it comes to sleep, almost every parent want their babies sleeping well. The parent's main concern about sleep training though, invariably is whether their baby will cry.

Babies scream all the time. In fact, it would be worrying if a newborn didn't cry at all. When parents ask if their baby will cry, they're really wondering, "How often and how much will my baby cry, and will I be able to soothe them?"

A big reason for this being a concern is that there a lot of misinformation circulating among today's parents that suggests they might be doing harm to their child if they don't instantly soothe them.

This hasn't always been the case. Before Dr. William Sears published his Attachment Parenting theory in 1993, most parents accepted the idea that it was acceptable, if not pleasant, to let a baby to cry for a while when they woke up in the middle of the night.

But with the publication of Dr Sears' The Baby Book, many first-time parents came to believe that these methods were not only unsuccessful, but actually harmful to their children's brains. Sears cited studies to support his claims - however those studies were based on babies who were suffering from colic and condition called persistent crying, both of which are very different from allowing a child to cry for a few minutes.

This debate has been going on for over 20 years now, with supporters of attachment parenting claiming that supporters of sleep training are ignoring their newborns' needs and damaging their brains. But if we're damaging our babies' brains by letting them cry for a short time, wouldn't nearly all parents throughout the world change their approach to avoid this?

Dr Sears statements were so deceptive, that Yale researchers whose studies his research pulled from, responded to this work saying “Our paper is not referring to routine, brief stressful experiences, but to abuse and neglect. It is a mis-citation of our work to support a non-scientifically justified idea.”

Dr. Anna Price, a postdoctoral researcher at the Royal Children's Hospital Centre for Community Child Health in Melbourne, Australia, studied a group of 226 children over the course of six years, collecting data on their mental health, sleep, stress regulation, child-parent relationship, maternal health, and parenting styles. Five years later, she checked in with the parents to see if their children who had undergone sleep training had suffered any of the horrific side effects that Dr. Sears had warned against.

The answer was that they did not.

Further the American Academy of Paediatrics (AAP), which is arguably one of the highest authorities of paediatric safety, after going through the scientific research done in respect of sleep training, concluded in its article published its official journal, that sleep training does not have any long term negative effects on children and states "We therefore conclude that parents can feel confident using, and health professionals can feel confident offering, behavioral techniques such as controlled comforting and camping out for managing infant sleep."

So, unless you have something which trumps the AAP, that should be the final word on the matter.

To conclude, sleep training ie getting your child to sleep independently through the night is safe. And I am confident that, you, your baby, and your family will all thrive from getting enough sleep.

Article written by Lavinia
Certified Paediatric Sleep Consultant
Based in Singapore
Trained in the Sleep Sense Program

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