Hot Topics: Proper handling of crying babies at night remains up for debateAn infant who cries through the night – or even a fraction of the night – can have a big impact on a household. Parents who repeatedly wake up to soothe and cradle their baby may find themselves sleep-deprived, stressed-out, and even depressed.
By: Source: Health.com, INFORUM
An infant who cries through the night – or even a fraction of the night – can have a big impact on a household. Parents who repeatedly wake up to soothe and cradle their baby may find themselves sleep-deprived, stressed-out, and even depressed.
This is especially true for mothers, who tend to be the primary nighttime caregivers. Having an infant with sleep problems roughly doubles a mother’s risk of experiencing depression symptoms, by some estimates.
“If the infant or child doesn’t sleep, the parent doesn’t sleep, and this can have an impact on the parent’s mental well-being, as well as productivity in the workplace,” says Dr. Patricia Ritch, a pediatric neurologist and sleep specialist at Scott & White Healthcare, in Temple, Texas.
Growing awareness of the fallout from infant sleep problems has spurred specialists to develop a repertoire of bedtime routines designed to help babies – and by extension, their parents – sleep better.
Nowadays, pediatricians generally don’t recommend leaving babies alone to cry themselves to sleep (a technique known as “extinction”). Preferred strategies include “controlled comforting,” in which parents gradually reduce the amount of time they stay in the room with a crying baby, and “camping out,” which involves sitting or sleeping in the room without picking the baby up.
These methods have produced promising results. A landmark 2007 study from Australia, for instance, found that controlled comforting and camping out reduced the odds of infant sleep problems by 50 percent and maternal depression by 60 percent, compared to a control group.
The study followed children only until age 2, however. And some pediatricians have expressed concern that hands-off strategies like controlled comforting may harm children over the long term, by disrupting brain development, mother-child bonding, or the child’s mental health, says Dr. Tarig Ali-Dinar, a pediatric pulmonologist who researches breathing-related sleep disorders at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine.
A follow-up to the 2007 study, published today in the journal Pediatrics, may help quiet some of those concerns. The same research team tracked the mental health, behavior, and stress levels of 326 children from the original study up to age 6, and found no differences between the groups who did and did not follow the bedtime routines.
Nor did the researchers turn up any differences in the quality of the children’s relationships with their parents or the mother’s depression levels, suggesting that the routines have little lasting effect, good or bad, beyond infancy and early toddlerhood.