Self Settling – What Really Happens When You Teach a Baby to Self Soothe to Sleep

So many, parents and experts alike, advocate the idea of “teaching a baby to self settle” or “self soothe”. Self soothing is often referred to as the holy grail of baby sleep, once babies can self soothe, parents are told to expect uninterrupted nights and easier bedtimes. Many experts tell sleep deprived parents how vitally important it is to teach the ‘skill’ of self soothing to their offspring as soon as possible.

Only, it’s not true…..

What if I told you that babies can’t self soothe?

Babies are no more capable of self settling than they are of riding a bike. Self soothing is not something you can teach, through any amount of sleep training or techniques.

“But it works” I hear you cry……hmmmm, does it? Really?

Through sleep training you can condition a baby not to cry out for attention and go to sleep without parental input fairly easily, however this behaviour is not indicative of a baby who is calm, soothed or settled.

Self soothing is a developmental stage, a skill that infants gain as they grow older. Just as they become more physically mobile, develop the ability to eat solids and develop the ability to talk. In essence you can’t teach something that their brains are not yet equipped for (no matter what the sleep expert promises!).

‘Self soothing’ is such a misleading term. Whoever invented it has cleverly made it sound like something positive and gentle, similar to the new wave of controlled crying names such as “controlled comforting”, “spaced soothing” and “controlled soothing”. Clever marketing, same technique. In reality however you are categorically not leaving your baby to ‘soothe’, you are leaving them to cry, even if it is only for periods of two minutes at a time.

The Development of Self Soothing.

To understand the development of self settling we need to examine the psychological concept of ’emotional self regulation’. Emotional self regulation is the process where humans work through – or regulate – their emotions.

As adults we do this on a daily basis, maybe we’re watching television and a gory scene comes on that makes us wince, so we quickly change channels or cover our eyes. Perhaps we may be reading a book or a letter that makes us incredibly sad, so we put it down for ten minutes to make a drink and take a break. Perhaps we wake from a scary dream and switch on the light to check there are no intruders in our house. These are all examples of emotional self regulation, an important process to help us keep our emotions in check, otherwise we would be a bubbling, overflowing melting pot of pure emotion, unable to function on a day to day basis. Emotional self regulation is vital for not only our psychological, but our physical wellbeing, given the toxic effects of constant heightened levels of stress upon our bodies.

There are three main ways that we cope with our strong emotions, these are to: Approach, Attack and Avoid. aaaafiYou may know ‘attack or avoid’ better as ‘fight or flight’.

We all know these feelings well – something happens that causes us alarm and our bodies react to help us to either stay and fight or run for our lives.

What of the ‘approach’ though? Simply this explains our desire to approach those things, or people, that help us to feel emotionally safe and secure and in terms of your baby – that’s you. You are your infant’s safe place and naturally they will want to ‘approach’ you (usually by crying for physical contact with you), particularly when they are not emotionally or physically developed enough to attack or avoid.

Sadly many refer to babies as “clingy” or “manipulative” and see the fact that they need their parents to soothe them as a bad habit that should be broken. So many experts seem to think that once a baby is fed, changed, winded and warm that they have no further needs, they do. Their emotional needs are every bit as valid as their physical ones, why do we not pay these as much attention?

Although babies experience the fight or flight response from a very young age, they are not neurologically developed enough to regulate the resulting emotions themselves – they need us for that.

The Triune Brain

aaaaabiAt birth the baby’s brain is about a quarter of its adult size. The brain stem and cerebellum, or the hindbrain, are fairly well developed and are the first part of the brain to develop throughout the first year and a half of life. This area of the brain is responsible for survival – temperature regulation, breathing, digestion and raw basic emotions.

The limbic system, is our ‘feeling brain’. This part of the brain is the next to develop over the first three years. It is responsible for emotions and relationships with others. This part of the brain includes the hippocampus and the amygdala amongst others.

Lastly, the Neocortex, our ‘thinking brain’ develops. The neocortex is by far the most sophisticated area of our brains and develops throughout childhood and adolescence and even into early adulthood throughout the early twenties. This part of our brain is responsible for critical, analytical and rational thought.

If we think about ‘self soothing’, in brain development terms, which parts of the brain would you think are necessary for true self settling, or emotional self regulation to occur?

Obviously the hindbrain is necessary – this is where the ‘fight or flight’ response sits and is the survival part of our brain. What about the limbic system? This too must be necessary considering it is our ‘feeling’ brain and in order to turn down our emotions – or become calm – we need to manipulate what is happening here. How do we manipulate these emotions? Well we need our ‘thinking brain’ for that.

Our neocortex can help us to rationalise and analyse a situation in order to come up with a solution to regulate our emotions. If you’re watching a horror movie you need your neocortex to say “chill, it’s only a movie, turn the light on, it’s OK!”. We need all of the parts of our brain, fully developed, in order to ‘self soothe’.

aaaabiOnly babies have incredibly underdeveloped neocortexes………..

See where I’m going?

Emotional Self Regulation (or what you and I know as ‘self soothing’) is just not physically possible for babies, or toddlers, or preschoolers………

Their brains have just not developed enough!

 

What Happens When you Sleep Train Then?

I know that many who read this will think “but it works, you’re wrong!”. The real issue here however is our misinterpretation of what is working and what is actually happening.

If you practice sleep training (that could be controlled comforting, spaced comforting, controlled soothing, controlled crying, cry it out, rapid return, spaced soothing, gradual withdrawal or pick up put down – call it what you will, really they’re all the same in their intent and actions) are you teaching your baby to self soothe? No. You absolutely are not, unless you have a wonder kid about five years advanced in their brain development!

What is really happening? In most cases something is happening on a very basic primal level. Let’s go back to the hindbrain and the fight or flight response. What happens when those stress hormones reach such a level that they are toxic yet you can’t take flight……..or fight…..another ‘F’ comes in, this time it’s F for ‘Freeze’. You freeze all activity in order to try to conserve homeostasis, or more simply put – conserve life. Dr Sears calls this ‘Shutdown Syndrome’.

Do you remember that NSPCC advert with Baby Miles?

aaaami“Baby Miles doesn’t cry anymore because nobody comes”.

Or footage of Romanian orphanages with rows upon rows of cots with eerily quiet babies? They don’t cry, not because they don’t have needs, or feelings, but because there are too many of them for the staff to respond to unless it is for a basic physical need.

They’re in Shutdown Syndrome, they have ‘frozen’ in order to conserve life. They know nobody comes, why cry?

They are obviously extreme examples (and I am not saying that a baby left in an orphanage is in the same position as a baby undergoing sleep training), but to a lesser extent trying to teach a baby to self soothe relies on the same principles. It ‘works’ for the same reason.

Check out this research which shows what happens during ‘self soothing’ teaching, highlighting how stressed the baby still is, despite their quietness and apparent ‘sleeping’. Chemically we can now prove that the baby is neither soothed or settled.

The Worrying Side Effects of The Self Soothing Myth

If parents believe their babies are ‘soothed’ and calmed, they naturally relax and think all is OK. But what if it’s not OK? What if a ‘frozen’ baby is in distress yet doesn’t call out for their parents?

What if they have vomitted, or slipped down under their blankets? What if they don’t cry because nobody comes, what if they become a SIDS statistic as a result?

This is the ‘self soothing’ myth at it’s most damaging and most alarming. Sadly nobody will ever research this, it would just be too unethical, but it’s not a wild theory to present despite how uncomfortable it is to think about.

If a baby has been trained to be quiet and to not call for their parents to meet their emotional needs it isn’t too far-fetched to be worried that at some point something might happen and the baby may not call out when they have an urgent need.. A baby’s brain is not sophisticated enough to know that sometimes the parents come and sometimes they don’t – depending on what’s wrong.

Nobody knows what causes SIDs, in fact SIDs, is a label given to unexplained infant death and obviously there is no one cause, but likely hundreds if not thousands. I honestly believe however that there is a potential correlation with sleep training though. Don’t parents have the right to know of the potential risks when they are advised to teach their baby to self soothe by a baby sleep expert or health professional?

What if the babies are physically OK though? Are there any psychological risks?

What happens in the first few years of life is vital for the development of a baby’s brain. As a parent you are effectively an architect building and sculpting the person they will be in years to come.

Rememaaaahipber the limbic system that develops over the first three years? The bit that contains the Amygdala and Hippocampus?

Well there is research that shows that the more nurturing you are towards your child in their early years the greater their hippocampal volume…..and that’s important because the hippocampus is related to behavioural regulation. Many argue that science only proves a link with severely neglected or abused children, but that’s not true, there is research that looks at children in perfectly normal family situations.

The same is true of the amygdala which plays a key role in the processing of emotions. The chart on the left is from the research I’ve linked to above– it’s pretty shocking isn’t it?

The Real Path to Self Soothing

Parental nurturing increases hippocampal volume (and also that of the amygdala). The hippocampus and amygdala are parts of the brain responsible for behavioural regulation and emotional processing. It is obvious to theorise therefore that the best way to ensure a child grows to have good emotional self regulation (or self soothing/self settling skills) is by responding to them as much as they need when they are young.

A close, nurturing relationship with a child when they are young doesn’t just predict their ability to self soothe in later life, it also predicts their ability to form empathy with others and pro-social behaviour, which really is just another facet of emotional self regulation. Just as this research indicates, as does this and this and this and this which has just been published.

Is it possible to teach a baby or a toddler to ‘self soothe’ or ‘self settle’ themselves to sleep?

No, it is not.

Is it possible to train a baby or a toddler to not call out for their parents when they are in need? Yes, it is, but this is categorically not indicative of an infant who is happy, calm and soothed.

Is it possible to alter the architecture of your child’s brain so that they grow to have good emotional self regulation skills (or the real ability to self soothe) when they are older? Absolutely!

What’s the best way to do that? Pick them up, cuddle them, respond to them – and your nurturing parenting will pay dividends in the future – that is how you REALLY help a child to develop the ability to self soothe and doesn’t every parent want the best for their child? Yes it is exhausting parenting a baby or toddler, I’ve been there – I know the depths of sleep deprivation, but as parents we have such an amazing ability to shape the next generation! We owe it to our children to seek alternative ways to cope with our own issues (search this blog for many articles of how to cope with non sleeping children!).

Self soothing is not a skill that can be taught, it is a behaviour that develops once the child’s brain is sufficiently developed, it can’t be hurried – but you can give your child the best chance of it happening by being as nurturing as possible now. The techniques commonly used for teaching self soothing and self settling ironically make the child less likely to develop these skills in later life, now that’s food for thought!    

Sarah

If yogentle sleep book, gentle sleep training, gentle sleep expert, baby sleep expert, toddler sleep expertu would like to learn more about infant sleep, including many more sleep tips check out my latest book, available HERE:

 

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About SarahOckwell-Smith

Sarah Ockwell-Smith, Parenting author and mother to four.
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116 Responses to Self Settling – What Really Happens When You Teach a Baby to Self Soothe to Sleep

  1. Lili says:

    I’m glad an expert could put what I have always believed into proper words backed by knowledge and theory!

  2. teresapitman says:

    And there is at least one lovely research study that showed that even when the babies stopped crying out for their parents in the night their stress hormone levels remained high. The mothers thought their babies were fine, but in fact they were highly stressed. Not a good situation.

  3. laurenemil says:

    Thank you so much for posting this. As a ftm of a sleep-averse 5 mo I’m having a tough time right now, and in my weaker moments, when it’s taken 4 hours to get her to sleep, I am tempted by the ‘easier’ options advocated by family, friends & health visitors. But your writing helps me stick to what I know, instinctively, is right. So thank you!

  4. Kat Cane says:

    This article is fantastic! Thank you so much. It feels so wrong to let our little boy cry, so we don’t, but we have been made to feel like we are spoiling him or causing problems that will follow us throughit his life. This research is amazing, it is well written and evidence based and provides an excellent resource for parents who are overwhelmed with information from ‘experts’ or other well meaning friends and family. I’m so pleased to have been able to read this. Thank you so much again!

  5. Hayley says:

    Thankyou this is a great piece of info on a much debated topic. I sleep trained my first which makes me sad but my second has been very needy and I let her lead the way..it is tiring but I wont have it any other way as she seems settled when we are near …i sometimes feel I need a cuddle at night too and would be really sad if I couldnt have one !

  6. Diana says:

    Thank you so much for this. Makes me feel much better about lying with my 2 1/2 yr old to get her to sleep, and reasons why my 8 mths old screams for a whole but instantly falls asleep when I pick her up. They just need mummy cuddles!
    I always felt I was pandering and possibly making them needy later in life but your article has reassured me. Thank you!

  7. Em says:

    Sorry but this article is biased, alarmist and quite frankly dangerous. This is written with such emotive language and preys on insecurities of parents who are just trying to do the right thing. The information here is entirely based on convenient interpretation of factual information, rather than any proof in it’s own right. Clearly the author is promoting attachment parenting, however there are millions of parents out there who choose not to follow this line and have happy, contented children who grow up to be perfectly well adjusted individuals, not psychologically damaged because they weren’t cuddled 24 hours a day.
    A baby is a blank canvas and simply learns to respond to it’s environment through cause and effect. If a fed, winded and clean baby is put in a cot to fall asleep, in the absence of any other issues (colic, teething etc) it will usually learn to do so. If a baby is always cuddled to sleep, similarly it will learn to do and expect that. For example, most young babies will fall soundly asleep in the car, in the absence of any parental comfort, its just a warm comfy place with low level background noise. If you provide a warm comfortable place, maybe with a low level background noise (baby monitors often have music or an option for ‘white noise’), then most babies will learn to sleep quite happily on their own.
    We chose to let our babies fall asleep on their own, in their own cot and they both slept through from 6 weeks and have barely woken since. We always had a quiet cuddle with low lighting first and were fortunate that with this routine we never had to deal with endless crying. If they hadn’t settled, then we would not have left them crying for hours on end, but we would have opted for a type of ‘sleep training’, as being vilified in this article. Attachment parenting is simply not practical for some parents, whether due to mum returning to work or demands of other children etc and parents should not be made to feel callous and heartless for not following this method. More importantly they certainly shouldn’t be burdened with guilt that they have psychologically damaged their children forever, without a shred of medical evidence.
    There are fantastic parents following the attachment parenting method and their are fantastic parents who have chosen sleep training, just love your baby and do what you feel is right. Rant over!

    • Actually I’m not a great fan of attachment parenting, why do people presume there are only two ways to raise children and if you don’t do one you do the other? I have no intention of making parents feel bad, they are at the mercy of the expert’s advice that they follow (it’s the experts I’m mad at for spreading false information).

    • theo says:

      When they fall asleep in a car you conveniently failed to mention that their parent is right there with them, can be heard/seen/smelled if not touched. You are as emotively discouraging attachment parenting and making unsubstantiated claims while accusing the author with very dramatic language. Imho.

  8. happymummy says:

    Well I did controlled crying with my twins and they are now very well rounded, happy, confident little 4 year old boys who are doing very well at school. They have slept through the night for years, we are a happy household. I have no problems with stressed out, tired mummies who turn to self soothing with their babies, each to their own, whatever gets you and the family through the day and night. X

  9. Annie says:

    You obviously didn’t raise twins. You can’t always pick 2 up. Talk to moms of multiples before assuming there is only 1 “natural” way.

    • Hi, I’ve worked with lots of twin families who don’t use sleep training/self soothing, it is possible:-)

    • Bella says:

      I can always hold both my 5 month old babies when they need to be held…in one arm if I only have the one free arm

    • Jamie says:

      I am currently raising twins and we don’t do any form of sleep training. I’m not a sleep starved zombie. It really bothers me that when a new mom has multiples they are told that “sleep training” is the ONLY way and it HAS to be used. That is just not true.

  10. Iggi says:

    My five year old slept in the bed with me from birth and still does, she hates school, other children, is dependant on me totally and doesn’t seem very behaviourally balanced at this point. My 18 month old sleeps in a cot, I put her in a bedside cot at first one with only 3 sides so she would feel as if she were sleeping with me, then into a bigger dropside cot when she was bigger and she’s nearly ready for a big girl bed now as she will soon be climbing out. If I put her in bed with me she wakes up fully and wants to play, she seems to want to sleep in the cot and not with me, she likes other children and is very happy and jolly (so far – as with my eldest the problems all started from nursery, kids not wanting to play etc and her general disappointment with the way the world actually is) all I’m saying is that I would never use the self sooth method anyway, I don’t agree with it with or without this article, but I have two totally different children despite this article telling me that my child will be fine as long as I don’t self soothe?? The one who has had the most reassurance and time from me seems to be the one who this article is behaving like a self soothed child?? The one who sleeps in her cot and wakes up an awful lot (neither have been good sleepers) and perhaps hasn’t had as much of my attention as I would have liked (when ur on your first you have all your time to devote but with the second you have to split your time) is the child who is behaving as if I had given her the most attention according to this article??

    • Well it’s impossible to prove/disprove a theory with only a sample of two, particularly as all children are so different and you don’t know what they would have been like if you had treated them differently. It’s really normal for a five year old to hate school and to be dependent on his or her parents though, I wouldn’t see either of those as a ‘bad’ thing. Similarly, five is very young and ‘unbalanced behaviour’ as you call it at that age is also very normal!

      • JennG says:

        How is it normal for a 5 year old to hate school? They are scared, nervous and generally cautious but hate, no. They do not hate. In fact, 5 years is when most kids cannot wait for school and to be with their friends and do more. They still have the parental attachment but after a few days to a few weeks they look forward to being dropped off and excited to learn. I would like to read more on where you have learned that this is normal.

  11. emily carter says:

    I think this is a great perspective, but I have a few questions. My daughter is 14 months old, and is a pretty good sleeper for the most part. However, sometimes at night she will wake up and cry. The nights that we don’t immediately go to her, it stops within a couple minutes, but the nights where I have gone to her and soothed her back to sleep, she was immediately back up and screaming as soon as I put her back down. And at nap times, sometimes it seems like she is just having too much fun. She will fuss a few minutes and then lie down and go to sleep, but before allowing that I used to try laying down with her, nursing her, lots of other options but she wouldn’t go to sleep and stay asleep as long as I was there. So is some crying permissible? What is the cutoff?

    • First off, I’d like you to know that it’s really normal for a 14 month old to wake at night and it’s really normal that they need your presence to settle them. It’s hard to say what’s happening here, “a couple of minutes” or proper crying is not something I would allow my children to do, but a couple of minutes of just making noise in between sleep cycles can be different, if the latter is happening it could be that you are disturbing her hence the crying. If the former is happening she’s crying because she needs you and I would never ignore that.

    • Tina says:

      I have two girls myself and they are 7 and 5 now. I slept trained them when they were 4 month old. As you said, when they cry in the middle of the night, if I let them cry for like 2 minutes or so, they would fall back asleep. If I went in to “soothe” them, they ended up getting up because they were too excited to see me! Same for nap!

      I think if your current method works well, you don’t have to change it. I have 3 siblings and for two families, their kids did not have any sleep training and 2 (including myself) have sleep trained our kids. And the result was very obvious! My niece and nephew who did not have any sleep train did not sleep well since baby and they still wake up in the middle of the night sometimes (age 9 and 7). And for my another niece who has sleep trained, she sleeps well and she is happy and content. Same for my girls.

      I guess every baby and kid is different and the lifestyle is different for each family. The book I follow is written by a pediatrician and he has lots of support and reason why sleep train your baby is important. Again, no bias here and I just want to help parents who are struggling with restless sleep and full time working mom.

  12. Crystal says:

    I have 4 month old twins who fight going to sleep. They have to be rocked to sleep every time, night and naps too, and they have to have a pacifier to fall asleep. Sometimes they will cry for 10 minutes or more, even when being rocked. I really try to make sure they get enough sleep during the day, but they usually don’t, because they only sleep for a few minutes after being put down. The past couple of weeks, the only way I can get them to nap is to hold one in each arm and rock them both in the recliner. I have to hold them a long time before I can put them down at night and they still wake up once or twice in the night. I’m at my wits end, I want them to sleep better but I don’t know how to make it happen.

    • Get hold of a good sling and check out twin carries on you tube! Waking only once or twice per night at 4months is amazing!

    • Bella says:

      my twins are 5 months and I have been through what your talking about…its the age. They are probably teething. Their minds and bodies are growing and developing so they don’t really want to sleep. Try not to hold them as they sleep but since you are already doing it just slowly wean them off of it…it takes time and is not easy (my husband held our babies while they slept then left me alone with all 4 kids while he worked…it made me mad bc I told him to never hold them if they were sleeping) For now put the baby to sleep (one at a time) and as soon as the baby is asleep lay it down then again with the other. They might wake when you lay them down (the reason to do one at a time) pick the baby up and calm it and lay it back down) I have found life so much easier to have the twins on slightly different schedules (I get 1 hour breaks instead of 2 but its worth it to not have 2 needy babies needing me at the same time)

  13. Becky says:

    I have a question. I’ve never left my babies to cry, but both kids just sleep. Like 12-14 hours at 3 months old. I put them down in their crib sleepy, but not asleep, and they go to sleep. (Occasionally needing my assistance, which I always give immediately) they are also both thumb suckers, which I always equated with self soothing. So what’s going on here, are they just well attached and good sleepers?

    • Seems you just have naturally calm babies who don’t need lots of your input to go to sleep, what I mean by ‘self soothing’ is training babies (usually involving leaving them crying – or what experts call controlled crying/controlled soothing/controlled comforting/rapid return/pick up put down – or at the very extreme end CIO) to go to sleep on their own, this isn’t what your kids are doing.

    • Beck says:

      I used the same technique with my bub (now 17 months old), so put to bed sleepy but not asleep, even waking her ever so slightly before putting her in the cot if she ‘fed to sleep’ and she is such an awesome sleeper – day or night sleeps have just been so easy as she has indeed learnt to just go to sleep, no ‘cry it out’ methods needed. I will use the same technique if I have another and hopefully will have the same success.

  14. candicourtney says:

    Thank you! I feel like I’ve made the right decision now. Have had friends scold me for not sleep training my kids as it has effected my and my husbands sleep. Have been made to feel like a bad wife, person and mom because of them constantly saying that it’s better for everyone and the I’m not teaching my children that they are not the the center of the universe. (My husband has been an incredible support with not choosing to sleep train) It’s amazing how many outside people who are looking in like to tell you how to do your job as a mum.:)

    I’m not one of those moms who give my children unlimited presents and do anything they want but LOVE and cuddles there is no limit in my opinion. My children have grown up confident and strong (even at the age of 2 & 4), they’re not mommies boys because I cuddled them and snuggled with them when they were scared at night. I believe they are confident because they know they are loved.

    We plan to have more children, this article just makes me more convinced in the path I’ve decided to take as a mum and more confident in the mum I am.

    Thank you again!

  15. manya1709 says:

    Really? leaving a baby to cry causes SIDS? Amazing how you’ve finally found the cause that has eluded the medical community for so many years. I’m sure that equating SIDS with neglect will comfort so many parents. Careless, sloppy, writing.

  16. john says:

    I don’t really support this article it’s not meant for everyone. Everyone parents different and this article basically makes it seem if we don’t follow these rules we’re bad parents. My 19 month has been self soothing since he was a couple of months old and he is doing great. He’s not babied like most parents do there kids and he’s way more advanced than kids his own age he was walking at 7 or 8 months and that came from not babying and tending to his every cry. We never let him cry for hours on end though. There should be another article about letting them self sooth and the benefits

    • The only thing I’ve suggested is to 1. not ignore your baby and 2. pick them up when they cry, I don’t think they are rules? and I don’t think it’s possible to ‘baby’ a baby! In my opinion there are no benefits for the children as a result of teaching them ‘self soothing’ through crying, so that’s not an article I will ever be writing I’m afraid.

  17. Rayleen says:

    I have four children who have all co-slept until around the age of 3/4 then successfully moved to their own beds by 5/6

    There is nothing wrong with all the rich research findings – and I agree with the part where you say to give them as much (soothing, hugs and reassurance) as needed when they are young – but I have a cousin with a baby of similar age to mine who has been trained from extremely young to fall asleep alone in her cot.

    My cousin gave her daughter the same routine daily which in itself must have been soothing because her daughter is nearly two and is still very settled when going to bed.

    I have never been able to achieve this with my kids but find it amazing that it is possible to do as I have seen it with my own eyes.

    Great article – got me thinking.

  18. Jo says:

    When people try to help their baby learn to self settle, they don’t just leave them to cry & ignore them. They comfort and reassure them regularly, and would never let their baby cry for long periods of time. To compare teaching your child to self settle, which millions of loving parents do, with ‘frozen’ children in Romanian orphanages and NSPCC ads of neglected children is a pretty low thing to do.

    Some people choose to sleep in the same bed as their child for years, and good for them. That’s great! Others choose to have their child in a cot in their own bedroom, and that is also great. There is no right or wrong with these things.

    We all love our children and we are all doing our best for them. I think articles like this which tell people they are irrevocably harming their children by gently helping them to self settle to sleep are really unhelpful.

    • Helene says:

      Agree agree agree.

      • Róisín says:

        I absolutely agree too. I think the most important piece of advice in this article is telling parents to trust their instincts. Unfortunately I think this message is lost amongst the scare-mongeringing in the article.

    • jstern6 says:

      Yes, I agree. We did some sleep training, but I never ignored my children. I have 4 well-adjusted, fantastic sleepers as a result. I don’t appreciate the frozen orphan children reference either in this article. The bottom line appears to be that there indeed are benefits to self-soothe/sleep training techniques if not taken to the extreme, just as there are benefits to attachment parenting techniques. To crucify one at the expense of the other seems to put a lot of good parents in the crossfire. Shouldn’t we be more supportive of each other, versus vilify one another?

  19. Ruth says:

    I still pat my nearly-4-yr-old to sleep as i have done since she moved from cot to her own bed. My husband doesn’t like it that much but will also pat her. As she’s getting near to full time school I am seeing the change in her and she’s nearly ready to get herself to sleep with no patting (just music). Thanks for your article which confirms my instinct has been right.

  20. Anne says:

    Love this and always find it interesting how people respond. I think society has diluted what it is to be a mother and a father. Too many parents are turning to parenting methods devised to separate them from baby. The pressure to resume normal pre baby activities is sad. The sleep obsession to get them to sleep through the night is wrong, but if enough people say hey that’s fine to leave them it becomes the norm. It doesnt mean its right nor the best for baby. Sarah everything I have read of yours resonates and I will continue to post on my site for all to read.

  21. Deborah Pedrick says:

    Babies/children wake at night for many reasons: hunger, illness, nightmares and as they transfer into different stages of sleep. They will cry if they are hungry, sick or wake up scared and if they do not know how to return to sleep quickly through these many normal arousals. Deciphering the meaning of the cry allows parents to react appropriately to meet that need. When babies do not know how to self soothe and we always pick that baby up as an example we then create the association that is expected and continues to be a need until that expectation is changed. Not being able to flow through sleep cycles easily sleep becomes fragmented and the child becomes chronically overtired and a sleep debt begins to build over time. Once that child’s sleep debt becomes too large the child becomes “painfully overtired” and it starts to effect the ability to eat well, grow mentally as well as physically and their their general demeanor becomes agitated, distracted, uncomfortable and unpleasant which is expressed through crying and the meaning of that cry is the physical pain of being overtired. In this state all cries become one and decifering the needs of the child or baby becomes almost impossible to read. When babies/children are able to sleep well; when their bodies need to sleep the way they “need” to, are fed when their body “need” to be fed, are comforted when they “need” comfort we meet their needs completely. Creating the appropriate expectation for all of those needs is learned through our approach to how well we understand those cries and how we react. Babies at around 2 months of age, adjusted, after the EDD begin to make associations and connections so it’s at this time reading our babies cues: whether they be hungry, tired, sick or scared correctly, no “training” necessary gives our babies and children a clear understanding of the expectation creating a secure, safe and simple daily routine and allowing the baby/child to maximize his mental growth and development in the healthiest and happiest way possible.

  22. K says:

    Can you please provide references for the research you refer to in this article.

    • Every piece of research I have mentioned has a hyperlink, if you click on this it will take you through to the abstract of the research, there are about 7 links in total I believe.

      • Diane Henry says:

        Often the hyperlinks only lead to the abstract and not the full paper, for that you must purchase the article. Very unfortunate that they were not supplied.

  23. Emma says:

    Great article. I don’t see how anyone could argue with this! The defensive, argumentative people who are responding are clearly feeling a little guilty about the treatment of their children!

  24. kariander says:

    Thanks, Sarah. At what age (on average) would you say a child can sleep on his / her own without assistance?

  25. adesertmom says:

    The only thing we know are the facts. There are facts about what happens in the baby brain and how it develops. I really appreciate you bringing those facts to light. As “well adjusted” and “happy” as anyone’s older child might be, it simply does not change the facts of how their brain responded to cry it out, etc… I, for one, choose to do something with the facts before me and not rely on anecdotal evidence of crying it out being “ok.” My children mean too much to me for that.

  26. Lindsay says:

    I love articles like this. A huge list of reasons why you’re doing everything wrong, and no practical advice or any real indication of what you should do. You may have a point, but i cant imagine it is any real benefit to the baby to have parents who are sick/insane as a result of severe sleep deprivation. At some point something’s got to give.

  27. punkfarie says:

    Ugh. I hate articles like this. You have no right to tell another parent they are wrong. The ONLY time that is acceptable is if the child is being physically abused. And letting your child cry it out for a little bit is not physical abuse. Mind your own business.

    • I have every empathy for other parents, I have 4 kids, I know how exhausting it is! I’m angry at the ‘experts’ who tell parents to self soothe without explaining the risks or how it works. Remember, nobody can make you feel guilty without your permission!

  28. momof2 says:

    I have read the article and have given it some thought. As a mother of two completely different children ages 6 and almost 2, I am interested in learning how to best manage our lives and to become a better mom. My 6 year old learned to sleep on her own and was never a co-sleeper. My 2 year old is total opposite and ends up in our bed halfway through the night. This is only because our children share a room and the 6 year old needs to sleep for school. I hate co-sleeping with my children. Special occasions are fine but every night is ridiculous. I do not feel guilty about leaving my children to cry, nor have either of them showed any negative reactions from the way we have decided to parent. Every child is different, and every family has different ideas about parenting. I do not have “frozen” children, they just know when they should cry (in pain, scared, or truly upset). And as parents we start to learn the different cries. It is easy to know if your child is crying because he or she is hurting or if they are just upset they have to be without you. It was a good read, but not something I am going to put much more time or thought in.

  29. lovemykids says:

    I have 2 children and love them to death. When my daughter was 4 months she slept through the night on her own pretty much. At around 8/9 months she was super smart and could speak a bit and she knew exactly what she wnated- not to go to bed. We did a “semi” sleep train her, coming in every 1-2 minutes and tell her calmly we love her and we see her in the morning. Today she’s a pretty funny kid who sometimes gets put to bed by us and sometimes goes in by herself. We have a chart and she loves that. Now, my 5 month old son has broken his sleep cycle (of sleeping straight from 730-730) to waking up maybe 1-4 times a night. I have never picked him up out of his crib before now and when he wakes up he just whines a bit and wants his binky or i give him my hand. But i don’t think holding him would be good cuz i don’t want him in my bed and i think he’s really fine cuz he’s not actually crying. I don’t believe in CIO but i do understand and appreciate it’s success rate. I personally like holding my babies but bedtime is bedtime and he completely knows the difference between my bed and his. And he knows that at 730 he comes into my bed and snuggles up and sleeps for another 45 min with me.. idk i feel like the article is great but a few points need to be addressed. babies when they whine don’t necessarily need to be held every time. and they don’t necessarily need to snuggle. sometimes they just want their pacifier or more darkness in the room etc…

  30. nshek says:

    I am a parent of two kids that I respond to when they cry. At all hours of the day. Yes, there have been times that it has been VERY difficult. There were even times I wondered if my daughter would ever sleep on her own! She is 3 now and does in fact sleep on her own and rarely wakes up in the night needing my assistance. She know that if she wakes up and is scared or needs help with something that I will come to her.
    On the other hand, when I was a child the cry it out method was in full swing. My parents have made it no secret that they would leave me crying in my crib until I fell back asleep…until I soothed myself. As an adult now I live a wonderful life, happy and no issues. But not entirely. I now realize that I have a VERY hard time waking up my husband (or anyone) in the middle of the night when I need assistance, when I need help, when I need to be soothed or taken care of. I struggle to ask for help in many areas of my life. Sure I don’t have any real psychological problems and on the forefront everything looks great. But I was taught at a young young age that when I cried out that no one was going to help me and I needed to conserve my energy and care for myself which is exactly how my life has panned out.

  31. Mike says:

    I personally agree with the sentiment of the article. I agree with the findings in the research on the subject. But, I also agree with some of the detractors in the comments that say the article was written in quite an emotive way. Unfortunately, when people are looking for things to pick on, they choose this and it’s hard to disagree.

    Sara, I would be interested in how you respond to people who say “Well my baby cried it out (or whatever technique they used) and he is just fine! In fact, he’s advanced compared to his peers”. My response has been to think “Wow, imagine how awesome they could have been without the stress of crying it out…” but I’ve never had the nerve to say it.

    • This is a personal blog, I write about how I feel and it is something I feel strongly about, so yes it is emotive. My response to that comment (and I hear it a LOT) is to say nothing, just smile. Just as I would if somebody said to me “well my Grandmother smoked and she’s 96 and she’s fine”.

      • Danielle says:

        Also, you never know how things will manifest later in life. People would probably say that I’m an example of a person who turned out well despite not the greatest parenting. That may be true, but they have no idea how well I hide my deep insecurities and how hard I’ve worked (through therapy and just self-work) to overcome them. I struggle with so much.. but I hide it really well. I have a great job, I’m fairly outgoing, people like me, great kids & husband & house- but it is very hard to maintain it all, emotionally. Just because people *seem* happy and well-adjusted doesn’t mean that they are. You can’t really know.

  32. Sheila says:

    Just curious as to what age (approximately) you feel a child’s brain is ready to self-soothe?

  33. mike says:

    This is incredibly focused on the child. What of the parents? By attending to the child in the manner proposed, could it not be argued that the sleepless, depleted parents are causing more harm in the wakeful hours by not having the faculties to provide the necessary stimuli to the baby? Or even worse in some cases by fighting? It seems to me that a balance somewhere must be met.

    • Well the parents can do something to modify their lives and their response, the baby can’t. So yes it is absolutely child centric, why do we always try to change the child and not the adults? What can the parents do? 1. they can find some more support so that they can meet their child’s needs without running themselves into the ground – ask friends and families to help, if they have none then find a support organisation to help, in the UK we have a charity called Homestart who have volunteers, we also have Doula UK who have a hardship fund and can provide postnatal doulas for free to those in need. 2.The parents can go to bed at 7pm to grab as much sleep as they can before the baby wakes and ultimately understand that the sacrifices they are making are only short term.

      • Jenny Blomquist says:

        Hey Sara- Not all of us have family, and most of us have friends that also work and have lives and children of their own. I’m really happy for you and everyone over in the UK and your doulas… but this is America, we work here. Why don’t you keep your opinions and dumb articles over there? You’re making assumptions and lumping all children together. Every child is different and should be treated as such. Maybe you should have a tad more schooling before you throw out your garbage opinions. You basically accused every parent who has ever lost a child to SIDs of neglect.

      • Liz says:

        You should be so lucky to live in the UK where you have those available. I think that completely changing yourself to meet the baby’s needs is ridiculous. I also believe that if you make child raising completely child centric, then those children will always think that their needs should be met. I think you are doing a disservice to children by doing this. There needs to be a medium where it is neither child centric nor parent centric.

    • kanadka says:

      What’s wrong with children growing up thinking that their needs will be always met? Isn’t it good to raise confident children with healthy self-esteem?

      • Lisa says:

        Because their needs won’t always be met. They will experience frustration and be let down and not get picked for a team and suffer all sorts of disappointments in life. We should prepare them for these challenges so that they have self-esteem despite life’s bumpy road.

      • kanadka says:

        Yes, life is not always easy and fair, and I am sure kids will unfortunately learn it. But don’t you want them to learn it later rather than sooner? Maybe when they are old enough to cope with it, when their brains are developed enough to handle it? It’s like saying “Everyone is being bullied at some point in their life, so my toddler needs to learn it early on, so when he is being bullied by a 4-year-old, I am not going to do anything, he should learn that life can be hard”.
        That’s ridiculous! And so is ignoring your kids needs to “teach them about life”…

  34. Ash says:

    Just wanted to add something – You can never love your child too much, there seems to be this western culture of as soon as you give birth to your baby the process of detachment begins. This is enforced by the short amount of maternity and paternity time given to parents. With all the behavioral problems we have with young people, in the UK, you would think more enfaces would be put on developing better humans with more support from birth to adulthood.
    Every baby is different and will respond to being left to cry in different ways.
    I think it is really important to observe your child and respond to how and when you see them develop. I think the idea of not comforting a baby when it needs it counter intuitive and a bit too cold for a defenseless baby. Would you leave your child to ‘cry it out’ if it cried in the daytime? Seems crazy. People do fear ‘babying’ their children as nobody wants an over clingy child later on. These thoughts normally rear their heads in the beginning of parenthood when people are tired and a little worried about it the impact if their child would always need this much attention. Love your baby, comfort your baby and when you see them being able to handle their emotions a bit more, slowly let them stand on their own two feet (emotionally speaking). For some people this maybe within the first year and for some it maybe 4 or 5. Lets’ not create everyone the same with the same rules! However, let every parent give their child as much love and comfort as they can and try not to stick to things you read on any site but react naturally to your baby by observing its behavior and reaction.

  35. RosaK says:

    Interesting article. A lot of what you have written rings true to me but could you expand on why you think gradual withdrawal is similar to CIO? We are very slowly weaning our 7 month old off needing help to sleep. We started the weaning process at 2 months, firstly rocking in carrycot, then patting in carry cot, now we can rub his bum and occasionally he settles himself to sleep. There has been very little crying – sometimes he does fight sleep and if so we will start patting again. It is taking a very long time – with my eldest it took 3 months but my youngest is naturally a much worse sleeper. It worries me that you compare this to cry methods. Do you think he is distressed and not showing it?

  36. Anne Garboczi Evans says:

    The orphans are neglected all day too though. I held my son every minute of the day for 18 months and yet he still wanted to get up every hour. Sleep training, even though it took from 3 months to 18 months to kick in, was a life saver! I think if you’re cuddling your baby and meeting his emotional needs all day there is no risk of your baby getting an attachment disorder from sleep training. Now a daytime feeding schedule, that I do have an issue with.
    ~A Mental Health Counselor

  37. Jaynee says:

    Its informative as far as letting us know that it is not really self-soothing but I have issue with the writers thoughts on what self-soothing might lead too; the author’s opinions are very far fetched. With my first I did the “cry it out” and with the second I did co-sleeping because I started too late in the game for self soothing, or she was just too stubborn. My almost 6 year old daughter that went through the self soothing stage and always cried when there was something wrong (you know because it is a different cry) She is not lacking in self confidence, loves socializing, and shows her emotions just like she should as well as lets me know when something is wrong. My second one whom I did not put in her own bed for almost 3 years is very clingy and spoiled, not sure how she will compare at her sister’s age but at an older age will be just fine too. The point I want to make is that I don’t believe self soothing affects them in a negative way and as long as you check on them and just pay attention, it shouldn’t lead to anything bad. Obviously I am writing from experience and I recommend either way, the parents are the best judge and should not be scared into thinking the “cry it out” way will affect their child’s life or put them in danger (you wouldn’t start until after a few months anyways which would put them out of the danger for SIDS).

    • hayleymunro says:

      We did the CIO method as well and after 2 nights my daughter fell straight to sleep and slept through the night. She’s a very healthy happy child.

  38. nshek says:

    How can a baby who can not distinguish between their hand and their foot learn how to soothe them self? Parents that leave their baby to cry, what do you think they are learning?

  39. Stacey says:

    I’ve seen a rice filled glove on Pinterest, What is your take on that substitute for mother/father presence during sleep? Good/bad?

  40. Bella says:

    I wasn’t going to comment but after reading the comments I really want to put in my experience as a twin mom. My twins are 5 months old and teething. Yes there is a lot of crying but I have not once tried sleep training or controlled crying as when a baby cries they ‘need’ something…even if its just to be held. I am perfectly capable of holding both twins at the same time. As of now they still don’t hold their bottles so when they are both hungry I have no choice but to make them take turns so there is some crying there but it has gotten better bc they have learned that they will get fed shortly. My girl has always been a great sleeper since birth and started sleeping all night at 10 weeks (I did nothing…she did it all on her own) My boy was a nightmare at night but he now only gets up once…just have patience and sleep will come in time. BTW I have 2 older children so I cannot ‘sleep when babies sleep’. At 1st I was lucky to get a total of 6hrs of sleep at night. It doesn’t last forever but please don’t just let your baby cry…

  41. Lucy says:

    Do you have any statistics that prove a higher rate of SIDs in orphanages? Why worry about carrying out an unethical study when the empirical evidence might be there already?

    I come from a family of six children and we cried it out. In fact, I remember crying myself to sleep at three. It never did any of us any harm.

    I found your comment about parents going to bed at 7pm so that they can be up at different intervals at night really quite disturbing. My husband gets home at six, he gets no time to himself, maybe a hastily eaten dinner and then we (or I) have to go to bed and be in servitude?
    I resent that premise!

    At the end of the day no matter what parenting you do, loving your children throughout, they’re still going to hate you when they’re teens, think you’re full of it when they’re adults and might (if you’re lucky) start to like you around the 30 mark.

    Mollycoddling children will be of no benefit to anyone. Also, your presumption that there are friends and family around to help out is just that, presumption.

  42. Dondra says:

    My son died of SIDS, I don’t think you can truly link SIDS to self soothing! My son was two months and 3 days old when I woke to find him gone. I was not a “sleep training” or expecting him to “self- soothe”. He slept in my room, in a cradle!
    @ Jaynee, you should also check check some facts, babies are at the risk of SIDS for more then just a few months!
    I get so sick of “new” SIDS theories! SIDS is impossible to thoroughly research! There are no set in stone facts!

  43. hayleymunro says:

    I think this article will definitely scare some parents out there that think they’re doing the right thing. My daughter loves going to bed and since the age of 17 months she has always come up to me and let me know when she is feeling tired and wants to sleep. We just had a routine and stuck to it and it worked for us. She has gone to bed without crying and slept through the night since she was 6 months old. When she goes to her nans house, she cries and screams until she gets picked up (which is usually straight away) and she wakes up even after she has gone to sleep.

    For my husband, myself and our daughter, ‘sleep training’ which was really just a couple nights of her crying for 8 minutes, was the best thing for us. Every family is different so you have to do what works for you.

    Don’t feel guilty or bad after reading this (What I think is a biased) article. If you’re babies/toddlers are going to sleep without crying and don’t have to be sleep deprived or attached to a tiny person then be happy and remember that you’re doing great:)

  44. Kyle says:

    At what age does the research show that their brain is developed enough to “soothe” themselves?

  45. Danielle says:

    To all the people out there who need to ask “is it ok if I do this/that?”: take a moment to think about where your insecurity comes from, and why you are seeking approval. Seeking information is one thing, but if you are constantly seeking approval then you are not listening to your own instincts as a parent. It might be scary to listen to your instincts, because they might have you working harder and sleeping less than you would like. But in the end listening to your instincts is what will make everything right. If you read this article and think “how dare she take away the approval that I need to function and make me feel bad for the way that I am parenting” you are not listening to your instincts, because you are too dependent on approval. If you read this article and disagree without feeling offended, then you are either following your instincts or you have a very thick skin:).

    I think that applies to more than just sleep… anything in parenting, really. If reading some information about babies/kids/parenting makes you feel like someone is disapproving of your methods and you feel offended, then reach deep into your gut and figure out why you are feeling that way… how can some random person on the internet offend you if you *know* you are doing the right thing? I don’t think that can be the case unless deep down you know you really aren’t doing the right thing- and then you need to dig deep and listen to your instincts and trust them.

  46. Tyler says:

    I can’t believe that a child will go to bed or nap seamlessly without crying ever. I give my child tons of love and attention (especially around bed time) but expect her to fuss a bit. I don’t leave her in there hours on end screaming, of course, but around 15 minutes is generally when I check up on her if she’s having a rough go of it. I have seen a 2 year old have her parents permissively trained o the other hand. They wait on the child hand and foot…behaviorally the child has no respect for rules or authority…I’m talking about like the child running behind the Cold Stone counter playing with everything b/c she feels entitled to do so and the parents do nothing counter to the child’s wishes. I think the child learns behavior from a young age and may not be manipulative as we see it, but they test the bounds. They are learning to understand the world around them and part of that is acceptable behavior. When I see (and read here) on some parents who keep their child in bed till 5 or 6, it is also coupled by a permissive parenting type which has VERY much been researched to end up in a bad behavior and unhealthy family dynamic. What are your thoughts on this?

    Note I’ve also met parents who don’t even want to look at their child after delivery and let the nurses deal with ‘it.’ That’s the other extreme which leads to massive bad family relations. I think a fine balanced approach is the best medicine according to their developmental stage.

    • kanadka says:

      This article is not about permissive parenting. I don’t understand why people think that if you respond to your kids needs you are being permissive? How’s that the same?
      Permissive parents are neglectful parents. What author describes here is in no way neglect, but normal human response to babies needs.

  47. Jenny Blomquist says:

    Who wrote this bulls*it article anyways??? I feel sorry for your kids, they’ll probly never be able to leave the perfect little nest you are trying to create for them. And they sure as hell wont be able to survive in the real world.

    • Alison says:

      People seem to think that meeting a child’s needs is somehow the same as meeting their wants. This is not the case!

      My kids NEED to eat, they do not need to eat cookies.
      My kids NEED clothes, they do not need designer labels.

      Babies NEED cuddles, babies NEED to feel safe, babies NEED to connect with their caregivers. Fulfilling their basic requirements for their optimal brain growth is in no way going to damage them in the future. It will have the opposite effect, as they will know that they have a steady foundation they can fall back on in times of trouble.

  48. Wow – such a fantastic article. I totally agree, 11 years ago when I had my baby, I could never let her cry no matter what time of day or night. If she needed a cuddle to settle she would get it, no matter how many said you are building a rod for your own back etc etc. It doesn’t last for ever and those moments are precious. Brilliant article.

  49. Lindsey says:

    Which is why our bed is no longer ours, but more our babies’ bed😉
    (Ps I tried sleep training once, and I’m sure it still affects our son over a year later😢) Wow, what a great piece! I’ve been looking for something to support my instincts and now I have it! Thank you for being bold enough to write something that I’m sure most people don’t want to read, because it’s true…sleep training suits parents, not babies!! I say, cuddle your babies in bed! They’re so small for such a short time!!! Before you know it they’ll be all grown up and you’ll long for the days (and nights) when they just wanted to be close to you!

  50. Su says:

    Every child is different. Every family is different. Your article comforts parents that have tried sleep training their kids and failed. Ultimately, Self settling really depends on the temperament of the child. Full Stop.

  51. tim says:

    I love science, damn humans had it wrong this whole time.

  52. Ann says:

    I think my parents ignored my night time cries and as a result I shut down. Am also now prone to depression. What do you suggest would be the solution for me? I did attend to my babies night time cries every time, and am grateful that I had the strength and support to do so. They seem to have benefitted from this.

  53. Christa says:

    Thank you!!! It’s so hard to tell people this – I am so glad to have your article to reference.

  54. casandrahawkins says:

    What about the research-based evidence that inadequate sleep also impairs brain development, especially in the first year of life. Poor sleep as an infant has been linked to attention disorders, adult insomnia, depression, learning disabilities, a weakened immune system, and obesity. I felt so strongly that I never wanted to sleep-train my baby girl (and still haven’t) but came across this article just after making the decision to finally start because she has been waking up LITERALLY every hour-hour and a half her entire 9 months of life. She is clearly overtired and sleep deprived. Of course my husband and I are suffering from the effects of sleep loss, my marriage is suffering, and I have absolutely no free time without a baby in my arms to get anything done. I’ve sacrificed my own sleep, time, comfort, productivity thus far for the sake of helping my daughter to feel loved and like she can trust me to always meet her needs. I’m more than willing to continue this way if it’s what’s best for her, but I’ve come to learn what devastating effects sleep deprivation has on babies this age. How would you personally handle this situation? I know you don’t know all the details and how bad it really is for us, but just given the scenario that I’ve tried everything other than “sleep-training” and my baby is waking up way too often, not getting enough total sleep at night, a horrible napper, and hates to be left to play on her own even if I’m just feet away. She has been sick a lot despite our best efforts to raise her as healthy & naturally as possible, she is developmentally behind and she shows clear signs of chronic sleep deprivation. Would love to hear your input on which type of brain damage is more important to prevent. Thanks!

    • Hi Cassandra, I think a better question to ask here would be “what sleep is actually normal for a 9 month old baby?” and actually your daughter’s sleep *is* really normal for a baby of her age, the issue is that we are led to believe that babies should sleep for 3, 4, 5, 6, 7 or 8 hours at a time at a young age, but in reality the majority just don’t (unless of course they have been sleep trained to do so or they are in a minority that sleep for longer naturally). This doesn’t mean she is sleep deprived, it’s normal baby sleep. Unfortunately so many baby sleep trainers scare parents by talking about the horrific effects of sleep deprivation (basing their teachings on extreme cases in much older children) and pathologise entirely normal infant sleep behaviour and so parents worry about their child’s lack of sleep, rather than realising that babies don’t sleep like us. Your daughter is also right slap bang in the middle of separation anxiety and personally I feel this is a time that sleep training is even more inappropriate. The real key here is you and how you can either function on less sleep whilst your daughter sleeps normally for her age or how you can more gently nudge her to sleeping just a little longer so that you can get some much needed sleep. It sounds like you’ve done a great job so far!

      • Liz says:

        Where do you reference that normal sleep for a 9 month old is and hour and a half at a time? That is ridiculous. No parent who is expected to function can live on waking up every hour and a half. Sleep train your child and everyone will be sleeping better.

  55. laurenemil says:

    As an attachment parenting convert with a serious mistrust of the ‘crying is not stressful for babies’ belief, I’ve not been convinced about the belief that babies should learn to ‘self-settle’. I honestly can’t begin to imagine our little girl doing that without a giant battle – when she wakes during the night it’s instant rage! So next time the health visitor tells me that to avoid the 2-4 hour bedtime sleep fight that I need to put her down while she’s still awake, I will quote some of this research at her…

  56. Aingy Lee says:

    I am a stay-at-home to 3 beautiful boys all under the age of 5 years. Each child of mine is different and started to sleep through (i.e. not wake up crying from the time they went to bed till the following morning) at different ages: 4 1/2 months, 8 weeks and 6 months. There were some differences in each due to their difference in nature, e.g. one took a dummy/pacifier, one sucked his thumb and the youngest neither but my approach was always practically the same. I could see where one would need attention more than the other at their respective age and I would respond to each uniquely but my goal was to get them to sleep through as soon as they were possibly ready so that I could have uninterrupted sleep again. I don’t believe this is selfish at all. The better rested I am the better I am able to nurture my child during the day, which is when he needs to adapt to as his awake time. As a full time mom who plans to home school my boys I can appreciate my night’s sleep knowing that I have my boys with me the whole day. I can’t see the value in exhausting myself at night (when it’s really not necessary after my child is in his settled stage as a baby)…just to have to ask family/friends to help me cope during the day? Who is raising my child then?
    Ultimately, you know your child best and love your child (so I’m not talking about discarded and unwanted babies which is just awful), more than anyone else on this earth does so you should listen to YOUR heart…yes, listen to the advice of others but make your own decisions, one that you can sleep with (or not! ;-p ) comfortably at night

  57. JennG says:

    As a mother of 3 who are fully grown and independent, and now with 2 grandchildren as well, I have to say that there are upsides to both parenting stances. First of all, it is ridiculous to think that you are going to be there 100% for your children and you are going to give them everything they need and want. Your life does not wrap around your child. You grow together. You learn together. . You also BOTH need space from each other.

    With that being said, no, you do not let your child cry themselves to sleep every single night. If your child has to cry all the time then something is wrong and you need to figure out what it is. Chances are it is something in your day to day routine that needs to be changed. Too many naps? Being held constantly? Not enough attention? Or maybe the surroundings are not what they want. It could be a number of anything. But, once in a while is NOT going to hurt them. If you have checked and you know they are just tired and not wet or hungry or gassy or anything else it could be, then chances are maybe they are overly tired. You have rocked them, read to them and consoled for a period of time and nothing is working. Lay the child in bed and let them cry. Set a timer. 20-25 minutes is long enough. If they are still crying at the end then something else is wrong, and go through the list all over again. You also need that 20-25 minutes to be cry free for a moment and gain some sanity.

    No research paper or book on parenting is going to tell you what to do with your specific child. They are using a generalization. You have the actual product. When someone tells you that your child should be 4 or 5 before they sleep on their own, well guess what, that is absurd and I am pretty sure you are going to hear both sides of that. That is someone’s opinion and it is not a fact. You want to pay attention to all sides. I am pretty sure there are many wealthy marriage counselors (wealthy because of the parents who put the child before the marriage and so they wind up in counseling or divorce) out there that will tell you to get your child out of your room and you might have a happier marriage. So just because one article makes your choices feel validated, do not assume it is the only way. My kids have slept all night since birth for the most part (sick nights never go all night with sleep but to be expected) and that was completely normal for them. They never used night lights. We made a routine from day one and we stuck to it. No matter what they always got their story after their bath. We did not put them to bed on a set time schedule for a long time. It was when they were ready. There is a such thing as parents that choose to make their kids follow their schedule and that causes a lot of issues as well. The biggest point here is that ALL kids are different. All parents are different. In fact, you would be hard pressed to find two exact same parents in the same house. So before either side wants to say that one is better than the other, take a look at your child and raise them as they need, not as you need them to be raised and not as some article says you should. For every one article proving either side, you can find its counterpart plus.

  58. Jessica says:

    I was disappointed I couldn’t read the full research article. From the abstract it appears they only measured cortisol levels up to 3 days after. What about a week, two weeks, a year? My baby (now 1 year, 2 mo) cried for 3 nights- 45 mins, 20, then 5 mins. Stressed at first? You bet! Does she now lay down and go to sleep when she’s tired, almost every night and during naps since about 5 1/2 mo? Yup! Sure, it takes a few days of stress, but in my mind it’s worth it for years of GOOD sleep, because she is so happy and rested in the mornings! If I continued to pick her up everytime she cried, she would depend on me. If she gets upset and can learn instead to find her paci and roll over, we ALL are better rested. She cries because it’s new and she doesn’t know YET how to do it, then she learns. I can’t “fall asleep” for her, she has to learn to do it by herself. IMO more research is needed, as the claims just don’t pan out over the long term.

  59. I_vanZ says:

    Many people on this thread imply not meeting a baby’s needs equals disciplining. Or confuse comforting with abolishing of boundaries all together and not assisting or guiding children to be self sufficient in due course. There is a big difference and a timeline applied to the whole process – as is clearly explained by the author.

    I find it disconcerting how so many well constructed reasoning lines and contexts in this article are missed by the majority of the commentators. Rationality is left wanting in the context of clear scientific research!

    Thank you for the article Sara and publishing it on your personal blog and grating us access to this invaluable information!

    As an aside: Remember, many children who seem more developed because of “self soothing” obviously have an over developed “survival instinct”, “need to to it on my own”. Looks great at a young age – but could be a problematic core belief once in adulthood – i.e. forced to grow up too fast.

  60. Connie says:

    Do people not realize when they plan/want/have children that the child should come first and foremost almost . If you don’t /didn’t want to,bother with all the parenting nurturing and shaping it takes to raise a child why even have them??? I get so tired of hearing about people who want children but then say they will/ would not tolerate such and such from their child when that very behavior is age appropriate for that age/stage of childhood. None of these phases are forever…… Remember when raising children the days are long the years are short!

  61. Sarah says:

    In an ideal world, maybe. You are entitled to your views, but please don’t demonise people who don’t follow this or suggest that their methods are wrong. We worry enough that our parenting is up to scratch. You can read all the research in the world, but only you know what works for your own child. Quite frankly, I found your article militant, opinionated and unhelpful. Sarah

  62. ecotherapist says:

    Thanks for raising awareness of this myth of babies ‘self-soothing’, it is as you say just not possible. The behaviour patterns laid down in infancy, and prior to that in the womb, may set for life. I see clients in my Craniosacral and Mindfulness Based Psychotherapy practice that become aware of ways that they respond to stress, and as we explore these behaviours it so often goes back to these very early days when their emotional needs were not met.
    By the way, some of the coping strategies you describe as emotional self-regulation, are actually avoidance mechanisms. As long as we are resourced enough, (having had our needs met), and feeling in a good place we can meet fears that arise from all sorts of stimuli.

  63. emmaroot says:

    My brother and I were both raised using the self soothing method and we have both grown up to be happy, normal, productive members of society. To demean someone else’s method of parenting just because you don’t agree with it is not a fair judgement.

  64. Jessica says:

    Hi. Question – does this mean you are against all forms of sleep training/coaching or just sleep training methods that require leaving a baby to cry it out?

    • Any methods that cause distress to the baby (and work on the premise of teaching them to “self soothe”): cry it out, controlled crying, controlled comforting, spaced soothing, rapid return, gradual withdrawal etc…

  65. Ann Root says:

    My mother told me, when I was in my early 50’s that I was put to bed and would cry for someone to come. She asked the Dr. what to do and he said let her cry, soon she will go to sleep. A light went off in me when I heard this. I was a mother of 4 boys, a foster parent of many and I “hurt” so often that they would not go without “feeling” loved. I knew “why” I hurt for the lonely.

  66. megamama47 says:

    Reading this post reminded me so much of myself when I had only two children. And not because I didn’t sleep train my children, but because I, too, fancied myself an expert on babies. I now have four children, ages 9,8,6,& 3, and if there’s anything I’ve learned since those first two, it’s that there are so many ways to raise children, and while some are probably better than others, it’s completely dependent on each family’s individual needs. For all you mother’s who are exhausted to the point of delirium and just read this post, please know that it will in no way harm your little one to sleep train them in order for you to get some rest. All four of my sweet children were sleep trained, and after they all learned how to sleep on their own, they would still waken on occasion for things like a dirty diaper, or not feeling well, so what this post says about children going into “shutdown syndrome” is completely absurd. The difference is that after sleep training, when my babies cry, it’s then that I know they actually NEED something. My babies get plenty of cuddles and snuggles during the day time, there’s no need to let them think they need THEIR OWN SLEEP interrupted in the middle of the night for a cuddle. Because when you cater to your little one 24 hours a day, you are actually sleep training your baby too. But what you are training them in is bad sleep habits that are not only extremely difficult to break, but will set them up for having lifelong struggles with sleep. I would rather teach my baby to sleep well from the start. And by the way, my children are all very intelligent, loving, caring people. And guess how much they remember the “trauma” of my not picking them up in the middle of the night? You guessed it… Not one bit. And guess how well-rested and non-psychotic this mama is? I feel very sorry for you who wrote this sad mess of a post. I hope you don’t always feel it’s necessary to teach your children that they can have whatever they want, whenever they want it, just so long as it doesn’t cause them any entirety discomfort. My children are hard-working selfLESS people because they know how to put the needs of others first. You are starting awfully young to teach yours that their own needs are more important than even their parents. Bummer for you! Happy parenting!

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