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Is Sleep Training Safe?

I don’t know about you, but when I was preparing for the birth of my first child, I did ALL the research. I was slightly obsessed with what fruit or vegetable he was similar in size to each week, which of his internal organs were developing and oh boy, when he started moving I was floored by the realization that a tiny human was growing inside of me.

Fast forward a few months and that baby was now in my arms. I was still researching, but now my google searches looked more like..

“How long should a breast feeding session last?”

“What is the average weight of a 4 month old?”

“How long should a baby go without pooping?”

“How to stop a baby from crying?”

“Why won’t my baby sleep in his car seat?”

I could go on, but I think you get the picture. You’ve been there too.

No matter how much preparation and research we’ve done, nothing quite prepares us for being responsible for the well-being of a tiny life. We will always feel a bit unprepared in the moment!

Now I don’t know about you, but the moment I became a mother, my outlook on life took a huge shift. It’s almost as if overnight, my new child had usurped all other priorities I had. I knew that I would do anything in my power to keep him safe, care for him well and meet his needs, no matter what it cost me.

I know you feel the same, because that’s parenthood.

Now there will come a time when you have to start making decisions for your child in their best interest.

“No, you can’t have candy for breakfast.”

“No, you can’t open that hot oven.”

“Yes, you do need to eat your carrots.”

We don’t always get it right, but I do believe we always have our child’s best interest in mind.

Now let’s talk about our child’s sleep. Some parents believe that following their child’s lead when it comes to their sleep is best. This may work out for some, but there still will be a time when you need to make those same kind of “parenting” decisions. The decision to do something your child won’t like, knowing it is in their best interest.

Many families are on the fence when it comes to sleep training. Yes, it sounds great to have a child who sleeps through the night, in fact they know that good, consolidated sleep is best for their child, but they can’t imagine the process of getting there.

Some of the questions I hear most often from parents center around crying.

“Is this just cry it out?”

“How long will my baby cry?”

“Isn’t crying damaging to my baby?”

These are all legitimate questions!

Now no one likes to hear their child cry, but we can all admit that it will happen in life. A lot.

Your child is hungry? They’ll cry. Your child is tired? They’ll cry. You tell your child they can’t run out into the busy parking lot? They’ll cry. Our children cry a lot.

You may be thinking… “Yes I know my child will cry in his lifetime. But I want to know if the crying involved in sleep training safe. Will it damage them in any way? Because that’s not ok with me.”

Me neither.

I would never promote something that is damaging to our children. On the contrary, the only reason I do this as a career is because I believe the consolidated sleep that is achieved as a result of independent sleep only benefits your child and your family.

Ok, back to the crying question.

There is a wealth of misinformation at every parent’s fingertips that teaches them to only respond immediately to their child, otherwise they will be causing them emotional harm.

On the flip side, you may have heard from your grandparent’s generation, “Just let them cry! It’s ok!”

So who is right?

I think our parents and grandparents have a different viewpoint than younger generations because the Attachment Parenting theory was not established until 1993. When Dr. William Sears’ book, The Baby Book, was published, a whole generation of parents began to believe that sleep training was not only ineffective, but that it actually caused brain damage to their child.

Sears cited studies to back up his claim, but those studies looked at babies who were suffering from colic and a condition known as persistent crying, both of which are a far cry from allowing a child a few minutes of crying time.

The Yale researchers who conducted one of the studies had their research pulled and responded to Sear's use of their work by saying, “Our paper is not referring to routine, brief stressful experiences, but to abuse and neglect. It is a mis-citation of our work to support a non-scientifically justified idea.”

Now that’s a credible opposition to Sear’s theory, but you may be asking “How do we know it’s not harmful? Where is the evidence that the crying is ok for my baby?”

Back in 2012, Dr. Anna Price, a postdoctoral researcher at the Royal Children's Hospital's Centre for Community Child Health in Melbourne, Australia, conducted an extensive study that followed a group of two hundred and twenty six children, measuring mental health, sleep, stress regulation, child-parent relationship, maternal health and parenting styles.

Five years later, she followed up with the families to see the if the one third of the children whose parents had employed some method of sleep training had experienced any of the terrifying side effects that Dr. Sears had warned of.

The result... they had not. In fact, to quote the study, “There was no evidence of differences between intervention and control families for any outcome. Behavioral sleep techniques have no marked long-lasting effects.”

In March of 2016, Pediatrics published another peer-reviewed study that showed sleep training to be both effective and safe.

There has been study after study that show no lasting negative effects of sleep training on a child (this includes the classic cry it out method). Just shoot me an email if you are interested in a list of these studies!

Now you’ll have to make the personal decision of whether sleep training is right for your family. But rest assured, if you decide that teaching your child independent sleep skills is in their best interest, there is evidence proving it as 100% safe.

And if the evidence feels a bit too far from home, I’m happy to share with you how perfectly normal (and attached) my children behave, even after going through sleep training. I can also give you testimony after testimony of families whose lives have been transformed as a result of achieving independent sleep with their child.

So the answer is yes, sleep training is safe.

Sleep itself is glorious, rejuvenating, and beneficial to you, your baby, and your entire family. Focusing on your child’s sleep habits is something you can feel good about, and a commitment that will pay off exponentially.


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