Middle ground a sound way to get baby to sleep, study shows

LOS ANGELES — Nearly every parent knows that gripping, awful feeling of a baby screeching when put to bed — and the ensuing anxiety over whether to pick up the baby or tough it out and let the baby cry. New research shows that a middle ground not only brings peace to the household but also does no harm.

So-called behavioral sleep techniques don’t cause long-lasting harm to the child or to the relationship between the parent and child, the study published this week in the journal Pediatrics shows.

"Parents and health professional can confidently use these techniques to reduce the short- to medium-term burden of infant sleep problems and maternal depression," the study authors wrote.

The study, by researchers at several institutions in Australia and Britain, of children at age 6 was a follow-up to one conducted of infants whose parents reported sleep problems at age 7 months.

Nearly half of parents report sleep problems in their babies who are 6 months to a year old, and techniques such as "controlled comforting" and "camping out" have been shown to help. Controlled comforting is gradually increasing the time taken to respond to the baby’s cries. Camping out has the parents sitting with the baby as he or she settles to sleep and gradually moving toward the door.


Such techniques also have been shown to reduce maternal depression.

And, the researchers say, there could be other benefits: "Furthermore, teaching parents to regulate their children’s sleep behavior is a form of limit-setting that, combined with parental warmth, constitutes the optimal authoritative parenting style for child outcomes."

"Crying it out" was for a time recommended, at least among mothers desperate for sleep. That "is not usually recommended nowadays because of the distress it causes parents and infants," the researchers wrote.

The Kids Sleep Study returned to the participants of the infant study, and drew their conclusions in the follow-up based on information from trained researchers, who conducted the Pediatric Quality of Life Inventory and showed parents how to collect salivary cortisol to measure fatigue.

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