To do or not to do – that is the question….
Before we become parents, there are so many parenting rules that we set for ourselves, but facing the reality is starkly different. Bringing up a cherubic infant, who is barely a few months old and very dependent on us, we are torn between our decision of making the baby sleep on its own during the night and attending to its night time cries and attention.
Some propose that they must be comforted and not be let alone all by themselves because they are too young to soothe themselves back to sleep. However, the other sect believes that it sets a wrong habit and the babies, however little, must know the right from the wrong.
So what are the positives and negatives of giving the baby the due (or the undue) attention that they demand? Let us find out more about this issue in detail.
Drawbacks Of Sleep Training Too Early
- Disrupting the parental link: When a baby is crying for touch and comfort, it is a natural response for the parents to rush in to provide the same. But sleep training techniques largely focus on the management, or rather prevention of this crying stimulus and parental response relationship. They stress on the baby’s ability to survive and self-soothe itself to sleep. Many experts claim that such a practice negatively affects the biological and emotional bonding between the mother and the child. This can adversely affect the overall development of the baby, whether it is physical, emotional, social or behavioral. The short-term researches carried out on this issue don’t substantiate the effects of such insecurities in the baby.
- SIDS or sudden infant death syndrome: Many believe that a child should be at least six months old before it is sleep trained. Since the babies are too small, not keeping a constant eye on them or letting them sleep more on their own (though it sounds convenient) can actually be a cause for SIDS related mishaps due to higher levels of stress hormones.
- Lowered breastfeeding: Keeping the baby on its own also reduces night-time feeds significantly. This can impact milk production hormones in the mother. On the other hand, before the introduction of solids, if breastfeeding is reduced, then the baby’s nutrition is also compromised.
Sleep Training and Baby Stress
Sleep training draws its roots from the 19th century when there were dictums about how much and how long a baby should be comforted. But theories have proved that physical touch and reassurance don’t create whiney, nagging babies. On the contrary, left alone, they undergo severe stress and exhaustion. Even when they stop crying, it doesn’t necessarily mean that they are pacified because their stress hormone levels really don’t go down. They just give up, being emotionally drained.
Emotional Support for a Crying Baby
Small babies wake up quite often in the night and till their feeding and sleeping schedule don’t stabilize, it is ok to reassure them that their carers are nearby. This way they get used to being around you and may slowly learn to self-soothe themselves. Therefore, babies, especially those below six months of age, shouldn’t be left alone at night for a long duration.
Sleep Training Methods
It is up to the parents to decide when is the best time to sleep train their child. One need not be influenced by what the others say. Every child is different and one’s own parental instinct is the best guide. Let us find out the ways of sleep training your child.
1. Ferber Method or Cry-it-Out Method
a. The parents should wait until the baby is around six months of age and physically and mentally ready for getting sleep trained.
b. After establishing a sleep time over a few days, the baby should be placed in his/her cot during this time while he/she is tired and dozy, but not sleeping.
c. Give them a good night kiss and slowly tip-toe out of the room.
d. If the baby cries, it is better to wait for some time, and then go inside to pat them or talk to them softly with reassurance.
e. Once the baby is pacified, go outside the room. If the baby cries, repeat the same process but do not pick the baby up.
f. Keep on following this, gradually increasing the time you remain outside.
Ferber believed that babies could get sleep trained in a week or two, following this method.
2. Gradual distancing method/ technique
a. The parents must establish a sleep-time routine over a few days and the baby should be taken to the cot during this time when it is nearly dozing but not sleeping yet.
b. Give the baby a warm hug.
c. Hold hands and maybe sing/talk softly.
d. Continue to sit by the cot, but not holding hands anymore.
e. Sit a bit further from the cot, but still visible to the child if he/she isn’t asleep by the time.
f. Increase the distance slowly, over a period of days and weeks and the baby will eventually get sleep trained.
There will be opinions and suggestions pouring in all the time regarding establishing a sleep training schedule, but it is worthy to wait and decide on the time depending upon the baby’s emotional, physical and behavioral needs. One can take days and weeks to arrive at subsequent stages of sleep training, but it is important not to revert at the previous stage, as it creates confusion in the baby’s mind. Being gradual and consistent is the key to effective sleep training.
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