A new study, published this month, suggests that rather than rushing to provide comfort when infants wake up at night, parents should let their babies ‘self-soothe’ and drift off without the addition of another (lovingly, yet tiredly sung) lullaby. Or pat. Or cuddle. Or feed.
NY Daily News reports:
“By six months of age, most babies sleep through the night, awakening their mothers only about once per week,” said Temple psychology professor and study co-author Marsha Weinraub. “However, not all children follow this pattern of development.”
The research also showed that of babies who continued to wake regularly at night, the majority were boys – and also rated higher on an assessment of difficult temperament, which takes into account distractibility. The study noted that many babies faced sleep disruptions past six months of age, so it’s not something to worry about – although co-author Weinraub suggests that families who are seeing sleep problems persisting past 18 months should seek advice and help.
The best advice?
Weintraub says that one takeaway from the study is that babies need to learn to fall asleep on their own. “When mothers tune in to these night time awakenings and/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,” she says.
“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,” she says.
Just in case you were worried about taking the advice of one group of scientists (and it’s easy to feel overwhelmed by conflicting opinions), Australian scientists published a separate study in online journal Pediatrics last year, which found “controlled comforting” wouldn’t harm them emotionally, or instill in them feelings of abandonment.
Mamamia’s very first ebook The Gift of Sleep is about exactly this – controlled comforting – and harnesses the wisdom of “sleep whisperer” Elizabeth Sloane who explains how to gently teach your baby to self-settle. After all, learning how to drift back to sleep when you wake up during the night is a skill we all need to learn.
But in the end we believe that each parent should do whatever works for their family. Nobody knows your baby better than you. So if that means sharing a bed – share it. If that means feeding during the night – do it. Or if that means letting your baby grizzle as they learn to drift off to sleep – do that. Whatever works for you and your tribe.
What parenting technique did you or would you follow? Does the idea of letting your baby self-soothe click with you? Or stress you out?