Wednesday 26 November 2014

Want a good night's sleep? Let the baby cry, say psychologists

IT will be music to the ears of those who lobby their loved-ones in vain to ‘just leave the baby’.

And it will be a red rag to those who view letting a baby cry itself to sleep as a cruel 1950s throwback.

For academics claim to have shown that letting an infant cry itself to sleep is the best way to ensure a good night’s rest for all.

While most babies sleep through five or six nights a week by the age of six months, according to the study by American psychologists, a third continue to wake much more frequently until they are toddlers.

They looked at sleep patterns in 1,200 children from birth to three years and found 'wakers' tended to be boys. They also tended to be breast fed.

The research was led Marsha Weinraub, professor of psychology at Temple University in Philadelphia. She concluded that babies should be left to go to sleep on their own - even if that meant they cried for a bit.

Doing so enabled them to learn how to “self soothe” and settle themselves to sleep on their own, which also gave frazzled parents a break, she argued.

She said: “The best advice is to put infants to bed at a regular time every night, allow them to fall asleep on their own and resist the urge to respond right away to awakenings.

“When mothers tune in to these night time awakenings or if a baby is in the habit of falling asleep during breastfeeding, then he or she may not be learning to how to self-soothe, something that is critical for regular sleep.”

Babies that awoke lots created “problems" for mothers "and other family members”, she said.

As a result parents of such children “might be encouraged to establish more nuanced and carefully targeted routines to help babies with self-soothing and to seek occasional respite”.

Writing in the journal Developmental Psychology, she and colleagues said they also found that mothers of babies who woke persistently were more likely to be depressed. The babies themselves were more likely to be irritable.

However, she admitted their research could not tease out cause and effect. Were their mothering techniques leading to poorer sleep and hence materal depression? Or did pre-existing depression mean such mothers could not bear to leave their babies to cry?

Prof Weinraub's advice tallies with that of baby gurus such as Gina Ford, author of The New Contented Little Baby Book.

Nick Clegg, the British Deputy Prime Minister, bravely entered the fray three years ago, likening her methods to “a sort of Ikea assembly instruction manual” that advocated sticking a child “in a broom cupboard”.

For that he earned Ford’s rebuke that his comments were “sad …coming from a supposedly intelligent man”.

Proponents of 'attachment parenting' see letting babies cry themselves to sleep as a form of neglect that could lead to long-term psychological damage.

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