Mothers SHOULD leave their babies to cry if they wake in the night, says leading expert
Children move through a sleep cycle
every 1.5 to 2 hours in which they wake up and then return to sleepChild development expert warns it is important
for babies to learn how to fall asleep on their ownMajority of babies who woke in the night were boysMothers of non-sleeping babies more likely to breast feed and/or be depressed

By
Emily Payne

PUBLISHED:

11:32 GMT, 3 January 2013

|

UPDATED:

12:11 GMT, 3 January 2013

It's an age-old debate that divides parents the world over: should you let a baby cry when it wakes the night, or rush to comfort it

Indeed, infants 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.

Child development expert Marsha Weinraub says it is best to leave babies to self-soothe rather than rushing to comfort them (posed by model)

Child development expert Marsha Weinraub says it is best to leave babies to self-soothe rather than rushing to comfort them (posed by model)

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, published in the journal Developmental
Psychology, looked at the sleeping habits of more than 1,200 babies.

Professor Weinraub said: '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.'

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”.'

Waking in the night is linked to a difficult temperament, irritability and being easily distracted, researchers say

Waking in the night is linked to a difficult temperament, irritability and being easily distracted, researchers say

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 majority
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.

This research was funded by the National
Institute of Child Health and Human Development, part of the National
Institutes of Health (NIH).