Mama, we know how stressful it can be to get your baby to sleep. It seems like, no matter what you do, your newborn just won't settle down. The process is so exhausting.
We try everything the baby experts, our friends and family and the internet suggest. There's so many approaches parents can take. There's the fading method, where you rock them to sleep for shorter intervals each night, the pick-up-put-down method (which is exactly what it sounds like), and there's the the controlled crying technique, also known as the “cry it out method."
Different methods work for different families
Different methods work for different families, and some parents adopt a little bit of one approach and a little bit of another. Generally, the best method is whatever works for your family, but studies suggest controlled crying gets babies to sleep faster and wake less during the night. But, despite being effective, many parents find it's just not for them.
According to the Sydney Morning Herald, surveys have found that a majority of parents—63% to 71% to be exact—don't want to start or continue controlled crying, and are looking for alternative ways to get their kids to sleep.
Speaking to the Sydney Morning Herald, Professor Sarah Blunden, director of the Australian Center for Education, says "For 40 years parents have been saying they don't want to do controlled crying, they don't like it, but no one's been listening."
To address the need for alternative techniques, Blunden has developed a responsive, non-ignoring method that she calls "a middle of the road approach" to sleep training.
A graduated desensitization
According to the Herald, Blunden's technique is based on the neuroscience behind changing a behavior, in which it takes a person a certain amount of times to form a new pattern of thinking or doing. With Blunden's approach, parents slowly take away something their little one associates with falling asleep, such as cuddling, breastfeeding or hearing mama's voice.
"With my responsive method we teach a graduated desensitization of a behavior and replace it with a less intensive behavior," she tells the Herald. "She will cry at first, but eventually form a new neural connection in her brain – and a newly learned behavior. Then we can move onto changing the next association."
Blunden, a clinical psychologist and researcher, has conducted pilot research that shows her technique leads to less crying and babies who are more settled, as well as fosters a better mother-baby bond that has positive emotional and physical effects.
Now her team is running the ongoing Baby Sleep Study to see how her method stacks up against controlled crying when it comes infant sleep disturbance, parent and baby stress, maternal mood, infant temperament and parent-child attachment.
Primary findings suggest a lot of parents may be misinformed about sleep behaviors. Many moms and dads seem to mistake normal behavior for signs of a serious sleep problem—for example, that babies should settle themselves to sleep from a young age—and that can lead to anxiety and worry, Blunden says.
"The belief is so strong that if you let your baby fall asleep in your arms at three weeks, they're going to be doing that for the next two, three, four years," Blunden tells the Herald. "That is not true. Babies need to be touched by their mother."