New study shows no long-term effects from sleep training

  • Isaac catches a nap in January 2009.
Isaac catches a nap in January 2009. (Sarah Kelber )
September 11, 2012|By Sarah Kickler Kelber | The Baltimore Sun

A few years ago, I vowed that there was one topic I would never bring up again on social media: sleep training.

As my maternity leave wound to a close at the end of 2008, my baby stopped sleeping. We'd been spoiled, no doubt, by his good sleeping before that, but we found ourselves up several times a night, rocking him back to sleep, sometimes for hours. We were completely thrashed. My husband and I did some reading, and we did a version of sleep training that I now know it known as "controlled comforting." (We'd go in at increasing intervals to reassure the baby. We didn't just let him cry himself to sleep for hours. That, I have now learned, is called "extinction," and no one recommends that.)

Within a couple of nights, balance was restored. When Isaac did wake up due to hunger or whatnot, he settled down much more quickly.

But when I mentioned it on Facebook, a friend said some judgmental things about leaving my baby crying (at a time when I was already emotionally and physically exhausted), and I decided I'd never talk about it again.

There had already been a 2007 study showing that these modified sleep training approaches had good short-term benefits for the infants and the parents' mental state. But the naysayers still wrung their hands over the possible long-term effects.

A follow-up study from Pediatrics, published today, checked in five years later on infants who had and had not been sleep trained. The conclusion?: "Behavioral sleep techniques have no marked long-lasting effects (positive or negative). Parents and health professionals can confidently use these techniques to reduce the short- to medium-term burden of infant sleep problems and maternal depression."

So now that we've sleep trained our younger son (and we're all sleeping better), I can continue to feel good about our choice.

Did you sleep train or not? How did you decide what to do?

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