Rocking a baby to sleep with a tender lullaby may not be the best routine if the child wakes frequently during the night, new research suggests.
A study in the current issue of the journal Pediatrics found that babies whose parents stayed with them as they fell asleep woke up crying much more frequently during the night than infants whose parents let them fall asleep by themselves.
Waking during the night is considered normal in the first six months, when infants need frequent feedings .
The study supports the notion that babies learn how to fall asleep independently. If parents are present, the baby establishes an association between parental presence and falling asleep, the scientists said, so when the infant wakes at night he or she may need the same condition to return to sleep.
Dr. Robin Adair, a pediatrician at Franciscan Children's Hospital in Boston who led the study, said the findings did not mean that parents should put a wide-awake baby to bed and let him cry.
Rather, she said, parents whose baby awakes frequently should consider putting the baby in the crib and leaving the room when he is a little drowsy, before he is sound asleep.
The study was based on interviews with 122 mothers from Burlington, Mass., whose healthy, full-term infants ranged in age from 8 months to 12 months.
The scientists found that infants whose parents were present as they fell asleep woke up twice as frequently as infants whose parents were not present, an average of 6.2 night wakings a week compared with 3.1.
Dr. Richard Ferber, director of the center for pediatric sleep disorders at Children's Hospital in Boston, cautioned that parents should not shun rocking their newborns to sleep in the first few months.