Bad Pregnancy Advice – Sleep Training

When I was pregnant with my first baby I got a lot of unsound advice.  One of those pieces of advice was that I needed to get my baby on a “schedule” as soon as possible – eating and sleeping in predictable regiments – and get him to sleep through the night, so that I could “get my life back.”

Sleep training encourages an infant to sleep on her own, through the night, without assistance from a caregiver.  Most methods involve leaving a baby alone to cry until the baby comes to learn that her needs will not be met no matter how much she tries to communicate them.  This is why sleep training is also known as Cry-It-Out (CIO).

Infants do not sleep through the night (of course, there will be some who naturally do, but they are the exception, not the rule).  There are loads of reasons babies sleep lightly – from their small tummies needing nourishment all the way to survival instincts – and babies are not designed to sleep for long periods in deep sleep until they are much older.  Dr. Sears has some really valuable information here on the benefits of night waking in infants.

Should I Try CIO Methods?

Simply put, no.  Cry-It-Out methods are not good for your baby and they are also not good for parents.  Here are some reasons to avoid them:

1.  Babies’ tummies are very small – the size of a marble at birth.  They need to be filled regularly, even through the night.  In fact, a newborn baby should nurse 8-12 times in a 24 hour period, going no longer than one 4-hour stretch at night. (See this LLL article for more info.)

2.  As mentioned above, night waking has physiologic protective benefits for babies.  According to Dr. Sears (see the article link above),

“One thing we have learned during our years in pediatrics is that babies do what they do because they’re designed that way. In the case of infant sleep, research suggests that active sleep protects babies. … Suppose baby had a need for warmth, food, or even unobstructed air, but because he was sleeping so deeply he couldn’t arouse to recognize and act on these needs. Baby’s well being could be threatened. It appears that babies come wired with sleep patterns that enable them to awaken in response to circumstances that threaten their well being. We believe, and research supports, that frequent stages of active (REM) sleep serve the best physiologic interest of babies during the early months, when their well being is most threatened.”

3. CIO methods are detrimental for babies, psychologically and intellectually.  Babies do not understand the concept of “object permanence” until they are around 18 moths old.  This means that every time they are left alone, they literally believe they will never see you again.  It’s sad. Enough said.

Additionally, recent studies have found that when babies are left to cry, neurons in their brains die, stress hormones sky-rocket, and brain function changes.  (See this excellent article from Psychology Today on these types of affects).

4.  It doesn’t feel right.  I have not talked to one parent who has experimented with CIO methods who did not sit on the other side of the door, crying herself.  It goes against our instincts to meet our babies’ needs, which is reason enough to abandon the concept.  Additionally, these types of actions serve to desensitize parents to their baby’s cries, thus weakening mother-baby attachment.

Check out this follow-up on coping with nighttime waking.  In the meantime, listen to your baby.  Trust your instincts.  You and your baby, combined, are the experts.


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