Despite what the headlines read, such as this one from TIME – It’s O.K. to Let Babies Cry It Out at Bedtime – parents should dig a little deeper when it comes to the results of new studies widely reported today. If you just skim over the subtitles, you might be led to believe that you should just close the door and grab the earplugs while your infant screams throughout the night. But hang on a minute and understand what the researchers actually studied and found, which are far cries from crying all night.
Two Sleep Training Methods Tested
The researchers involved with this latest study did not actually investigate the repercussions parents and babies face if babies are left to “cry it out”. Instead, researchers closely examined two sleep-training methods for the impacts they had on both parents and babies.
- Controlled Comforting (also known as Controlled Crying)
- Camping Out Method (also known as Adult Fading)
Neither one of these methods actually equate to children “crying it out” through the night as some parents might unfortunately assume. There are detailed steps involved with using either method, and also unfortunately, most of the articles that are reporting the success of these methods in light of the current research findings are not thoroughly explaining how to use these techniques. Give the simplistic explanations, some new moms and dads might find themselves with sleepless nights and even more frustration.
What is Controlled Comforting – and how does it really work?
There are important things to remember if you are a parent interested in the Controlled Comforting method of encouraging your infant to fall asleep independently and stay asleep.
- This method is not recommended for infants younger than 6 months of age. (The study looked at children between the ages of 7 months and 2 years.)
- A baby older than 6 months of age who is crying in a crib and unable to sleep is “settled” by the parent or caregiver by the adult talking in soothing tones or patting the baby’s back until the infant is quiet OR after one minute.
- After one minute or a quiet baby (let’s face it – most of us would be looking at the one minute mark), the parent leaves the room.
- If the baby starts crying again, the parent waits a predetermined amount of time before re-entering the room (perhaps 1-2 minutes at first).
- This pattern is repeated, only at increasing rates for leaving the baby alone (such as 1 minute the first time, then 2, then 3 minutes, and so on).
This process continues until the baby stays asleep independently. Parents are not encouraged with this process to pick up the child. Perhaps even more challenging for parents, however, is when the child is screaming, perhaps trying to perform a rock-climbing-wall escape on Dad’s arms, leaving scratch-marks along the way. This method care exhaust parents faster than children, and leave both exhausted the next day.
Those against the Controlled Comforting method give many reasons why it shouldn’t be used. However, the research findings that were released today stating that parents who use this method have no greater instances of depression and their children show no adverse signs after 5 years will probably bring renewed attention to this method and a few stressed nights for parents as they try this approach.
What is the Camping Out method – and how does it really work?
The Camping Out technique is used to encourage babies and toddlers (and even older children who are struggling with sleeping through the night) to settle themselves and stay sleeping. The overall premise is that children learn to self-sooth as opposed to the intermittent parental comforting in the Controlled Comforting method. If you’re going to try this method, you should know that there are different interpretations of it, but the most successful methods are based on gradual and consistent practices.
- Just like the Controlled Comforting method, the Camping Out technique should not be used in babies younger than 6 months of age or with those who are ill (fever, cough, or something more severe).
- Parents place a bed, chair, or other comfortable piece of furniture next to the crib and sit or lie down within reach of the baby.
- Parents pat their babies’ heads or gently rub their bellies until their baby has fallen asleep, at which point the parent can leave the room, and return to follow the same steps when babies wake. Proponents of this technique say a baby should be able to learn to fall asleep (even if they don’t stay asleep) like this within 3 nights (those people never met one of my kids).
- After a baby is used to falling asleep like this, parents go to sit or lie down next to the crib until the baby falls asleep, but do not touch the baby, and then leave the room (again, supposedly occurring within 3-4 nights).
- The next step is to move the bed or chair about 2 feet away from the crib and remain there until Baby falls asleep. Parents again return to this pattern if Baby awakens.
- Parents continue to move their bed or chair closer and closer to the door over periods of several weeks until the baby is able to sleep without Mom or Dad in the room at all.
- Proponents say it is important for this technique that throughout this process parents remain as quiet and unaffected as possible, avoiding eye contact and keeping the lights dim or off.
Just like with the other method, there are professionals, parents, and babies, who do not like this method for a variety of reasons. It can be very challenging for some parents to maintain such a calm demeanor with a screaming child who just wants to be held. Breastfeeding moms can also find either one of these methods counterproductive if their babies still wake at night to nurse. Other parents find that using methods like these are counterintuitive to creating relationships with their babies based on trust, attachment, and security.
If the latest research reports that Controlled Comforting and Camping Out are not detrimental to children and their parents makes you want to try these to help bring some sleep-filled nights into your home, just make sure you understand the processes and are ready for the energy the short-term steps will require. Or you can rest assured that by the time your child is a teen he won’t still be clamoring to get out of his crib – you’ll have a hard enough time just getting him out of bed in the morning!