Letting babies cry rather than rushing to comfort them is secret to longer sleep (for infants AND parents)
00:35 GMT, 11 September 2012
It might tear at your heart strings and induce unbearable feelings of guilt.
But parents should not automatically rush to the cotside when their baby is screaming rather than sleeping soundly.
Allowing infants to cry for a short time rather than immediately comforting them does no harm, say scientists.
Tears: Leaving a baby to cry for a short time rather than rushing to comfort them does the child no harm, research found
In fact, both babies and parents will end up sleeping longer – and be far less stressed.
Researchers said that, rather than
always going to comfort babies, mothers and fathers should follow
certain techniques that teach them to settle themselves.
These include ‘controlled crying’, where the parent waits a certain length of time before soothing the child.
Initially, it may be every two minutes
on the first night, increasing to five minutes for the second, ten for
the third and so on, until the baby learns to settle itself.
Another method the researchers found
was effective was ‘camping out’, where the parent sits in the child’s
room while they ‘teach’ themselves to fall back to sleep.
Although it sounds a little
cold-hearted, the team from the University of Melbourne found that,
eventually, both parents and babies end up sleeping longer.
This means parents are less stressed and, in particular, reduces the mother’s chance of suffering post-natal depression.
The researchers said leaving babies to cry for a short time does no long-term damage to their mental health or behaviour.
This is despite other evidence that babies left to cry become stressed.
Importantly, however, the research
only involved babies who were at least seven months old, as some experts
believe very young infants should not be left to cry.
Lead author Dr Anna Price said: ‘For
parents who are looking for help, techniques like controlled comforting
and camping out work and are safe to use, so families and health
professionals can really feel comfortable using them.’
But she made it clear parents should
not simply shut the bedroom door and let babies cry through the night,
only checking on them the next morning.
Results: 'Controlled crying eventually resulted in both babies and parents sleeping longer
‘It’s very distressing to parents.
It’s hard to do. We don’t recommend it,’ she added.The study, published
in the journal Pediatrics, followed 326 Australian children from the
ages of seven months to six years old.
Just over half their parents had
been taught the sleep techniques of controlled crying and camping out.
When the children were six, the
researchers carried out a number of tests to look at their behaviour,
their sleeping patterns and relationship with their parents.
Those who had been left to cry were
less likely to have behavioural problems, with some 12 per cent having
issues compared with 16 per cent of those who had been comforted.
And, in a study published in 2010, the
researchers also compared post-natal depression rates among mothers
when their children were two.
It showed that those who left their
babies to cry were 40 per cent less likely to have the condition and
both parents were less stressed overall.