Infants Should Be Allowed To Cry Themselves Back To Sleep If They Wake

Infants Should Be Allowed To Cry Themselves Back To Sleep If They Wake
 Should babies be allowed to cry when they wake in the night, or rush to their comfort? Indeed, infant waking up nocturnally is the most common concern reported to paediatricians by parents of newborns.

Now, a leading child development expert is aiming to settle the matter once and for all. Professor Marsha Weinraub, a child development and parent-child relationship expert from Temple University in Philadelphia, says the majority of infants are best left to self-soothe and fall back to sleep on their own.

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.”

Her new research, looked at the sleeping habits of more than 1,200 babies. “By six months of age, most babies sleep through the night, awakening their mothers only about once per week. However, not all children follow this pattern of development.” She said.

During the study, the patterns of night time sleep awakenings of infants aged six to 36 months were measured. The findings revealed two groups: sleepers and transitional sleepers.

“If you measure them while they are sleeping, all babies - like all adults - move through a sleep cycle every 1.5 to 2 hours, where they wake up and then return to sleep,”she said. “Some of them do cry and call out when they awaken, and that is called “not sleeping through the night.”

Her team asked parents of more than 1,200 infants to report on their child’s awakenings at 6, 15, 24 and 36 months. They found that by six months of age, 66 per cent of babies - the sleepers - did not awaken, or awoke just once per week, following a flat trajectory as they grew.

But a full 33 percent woke up seven nights per week at six months, dropping to two nights by 15 months and to one night per week by 24 months of the babies that awoke, the majorities were boys.

The transitional sleepers tended to score higher on tests that assess a difficult temperament that identified traits such as irritability and distractibility. And, these babies were more likely to be breastfed. Mothers of these babies were more likely to be depressed and have greater maternal sensitivity.“Families who are seeing sleep problems persist past 18 months should seek advice,” Professor Weinraub added.

Furthermore, it is important for babies to learn how 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 said.

She added that the link between mothers feeling depressed and their babies waking is another area that would benefit from further research. One theory is that mothers who are depressed at six and 36 months may have been depressed during pregnancy- and this prenatal depression could have affected the baby’s neural development and sleep awakenings. But it’s also important to recognise that sleep deprivation can, of course, exacerbate maternal depression, she said.

‘Because the mothers in our study described infants with many awakenings per week as creating problems for themselves and other family members, parents might be encouraged to establish more nuanced and carefully targeted routines to help babies with self-soothing and to seek occasional respite,’ she said.
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