Ever since parenting books found their way into the nursery, sleep trainers have touted magic formulas promising to get babies to sleep through the night. Most are just the old cry-it-out method in disguise, and technology has also provided us with a variety of sleep-inducing gadgets designed to lull baby off to sleep alone in his crib. Oscillating cradles, crib vibrators that mimic a car ride, and teddy bears that “breathe” all promise to fill in for parents on night duty.
While sleep-training may be necessary for some babies, for others it may be unrealistic, even risky. Be discerning about using someone else’s technique to get your baby to sleep. Weigh these schemes on your inner-sensitivity scale before trying them with your baby.
Especially in the first six months, avoid sleep trainers who advise you to let your baby “cry it out.” Only you know what “it” is and how to respond appropriately to your baby. The first SIDS baby in my practice awakened frequently. Her mother responded intuitively to her and nursed her back to sleep. When that baby was four months of age, a friend warned this mother that she was “spoiling that baby and that she should let her cry it out.” That night her cries went unanswered – permanently. While there is no scientific evidence that sleep-training causes SIDS, the memory of my first SIDS patients has made me wary of the hard-line approach to getting babies to sleep through the night.
I believe that training babies to sleep too deeply, too long, too soon, while convenient to parents, is not in a baby’s best biological interest. Sleep- training done before their cardiopulmonary control mechanisms are mature enough to handle prolonged deep sleep could be risky. Training a baby to fall asleep and stay asleep alone in his own room in his own crib may be the “modern” way, but for some infants sleeping lighter and for shorter stretches may be the safer way.