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BABY SLEEP TRAINING methods Benefits and Risks explained

What you need to know about baby sleep training to make the best choice for you.

Are you thinking about baby cry it out sleep training methods? maybe you are tired but the thought of leaving your baby to cry doesn’t sound right. Maybe your partner is ready to sleep train but you want to be sure that this is the right choice. Before we talk about the risks and benefits of sleep training, it is essential that we go over some definitions.

What are risks? 

Risks are potential negative consequences. They are NOT a guarantee of a consequence. For example, a risk of pregnancy is Post Partum Depression (PPD) – will all pregnant women develop PPD? no. But all who are pregnant are at risk and certain factors will put certain women at greater risk. ⠀

What are benefits?

A positive outcome to a chosen intervention. Like risks, it is NOT a guarantee that you will get the “benefit” from following a certain set of steps. Will all parents experience the benefits? No. But some will. 

4 BENEFITS of Crying It Out and Sleep Training Methods

It “works”

The promise of an end to your sleep deprivation in as little as three to seven days in exchange for hearing your baby cry, is extremely enticing. Add the social pressure of your well rested friends all telling you how happy they are that they sleep trained. Combine with your pediatrician announcing that your baby is ready. All this on top of your brain having difficulty thinking clearly as a result of sleep deprivation and you got the perfect formula for thinking this will solve all your sleep troubles. It is true – sleep training works. What that really means is – parents who sleep train report that THEY are getting more sleep after sleep training. However – its important to know that the research says that sleep training does *not* work for 20% of babies, no matter the method used – that’s 1 in 5.

It works quickly

Sleep training and crying it out proponents promise and often deliver you the results – full night sleep within 3 – 14 nights, depending on how “gentle” they claim to be and how your baby responds. 

No proof of harm

Proponents of sleep training cite research that claims that there is no proof that sleep training is harmful. This is true, there is no research currently that demonstrates the direct relationship between sleep training and its potential negative consequences (outlined by risks below).

However, before taking this as sufficient reason to go ahead and sleep train – I invite you to consider that it’s just not so simple. While we don’t have proof of harm we also do not have proof that sleep training does not harm, either. On the other hand, we do have textbooks, journal articles and infant development knowledge which *contradict* many sleep training claims. For example, baby brain development knowledge tells us babies are incapable of learning to self soothe by being left alone to cry. Until we have proof that sleep training does not harm, I personally and professionally do not feel comfortable recommending it to parents.

Many families report positive effects

(which means harm may, or may not, have happened. Anyone who knows anything about research will agree that self-reporting is not exactly the most reliable measure): Ending sleep deprivation is glorious. Ending it in a few days and thinking there was no risk or cost – is awesome. And again, I invite you to think about it – does it sound too good to be true? It does. Sleep training sure does get parents more sleep. However, the studies show that baby’s sleep stays the same. Sleep training therefore does not get baby more sleep but it does get the parent more sleep.

Founder of Talkin' Sleep Valerie Groysman looks down at her infant son who is sleeping--peacefully
Baby wanting to sleep on you, especially in the first few months is normal and not a bad habit!

4 RISKS of Crying It Out and Sleep Training Methods

These risks of sleep training baby are based on parent’s reports and experiences of sleep training that didn’t go so well. Just as widely cited pro- sleep training research is too, based on parents reports. We do not yet have reliable ways to measure things like attachment security. While attachment style can be assessed, the degree of security and how it was impacted before and after sleep training cannot. Even if we could reliably measure it, it is unlikely that it would be ethically possible. Similarly, baby’s trust in the parent before and after sleep training cannot be reliably evaluated. Neither can how it impacted their nervous system, their template for relationships or baby’s sense of whether the world is a safe place. All these will only come to light later in their life. 

So here are the risks:

Sleep training may not work

It works for some babies and does not work for others. The estimate in the research is it does not work for 20% of babies – if you want to learn more watch this video where I chatted about it with Dr. Tina Payne Bryson. It’s possible that you go through it, and your baby will continue waking up just as they would otherwise (depending on the method and your baby’s response to it, you may or may not be aware that they are waking). 

Parents may experience guilt, shame or regret

Do you have lots of friends who sleep trained and get really passionate about you doing it too? Others around you who become emotional and insistent when you mention that you are questioning this practice? Remember they are recommending an option that feels right for them and their baby. They are not necessarily focused on helping you make the best decision for you and your baby

Parent and baby attachment/relationship or trust may be injured

The most important accomplishment in the first year is a secure attachment. Secure attachment in the first year sets the foundation for baby’s sense of safety in the world, their templates for how relationships work (do people in relationships stay together and support each other through difficult times?), they are learning whether they can count on their caregivers to care for them when they are hurt, sick, scared and are in distress. Experiences which combine distress with separation from the parent can impact a baby’s sense of the security and trust in their relationship with their caregiver. 

Development of trauma response (for baby or parent)

Very simplistically, trauma develops when one is in a situation of perceived harm to themselves or another during which they experience a sense of loss of control coupled with suffering. When parents are asked to follow a set of rigid rules (e.g. don’t touch, don’t make eye contact, stay in the room…or don’t) and experience conflict between what they feel they need to do (go and pick up baby) and what they are doing (stay away) – the result is a recipe for a potential trauma response in which the parent may perceive their baby being harmed (crying and in distress) and while not being in control (doing what they are told, rather than what they feel they need to do).

So what now?

Are you thinking – okay, so sleep training may not be the route for us but I cannot continue the sleep stress or deprivation. You are in the right place! we can help. Online course and one to one consultation is available. If you are in Ontario, Canada you may be able to access our benefit covered sleep consultation. To learn more click here or fill out our contact form.

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