Although many baby sleep trainers claim there is no evidence of harm from practices such as controlled crying, it is worth noting that there is a vast difference between 'no evidence of harm' and 'evidence of no harm'.
A policy statement on controlled crying issued by the Australian Association of Infant Mental Health (AAIMHI) advises, 'Controlled crying is not consistent with what infants need for their optimal emotional and psychological health, and may have unintended negative consequences.' According to AAIMHI, 'There have been no studies, such as sleep laboratory studies, to our knowledge, that assess the physiological stress levels of infants who undergo controlled crying, or its emotional or psychological impact on the developing child.'
Despite the popularity of controlled crying, it is not an evidence-based practice. In a talk at the International Association of Infant Mental Health 9th World Congress held in Melbourne in 2004, Professor James McKenna, director of the Mother–Baby Behavioural Sleep Laboratory at the University of Notre Dame, Indiana, and acclaimed SIDS expert, described controlled crying as 'social ideology masquerading as science'.What this means is that despite a plethora of opinions on how long you should leave your baby to cry in order to train her to sleep, nobody has studied exactly how long it is safe to leave a baby to cry, if at all.
Pinky's top tips to help your baby (and you!) sleep better
Just like us, babies are individuals –and this goes for sleep requirements too. It may help (or not, if you are suffering from sleep deprivation) to realise that in most infant sleep studies, 'all night' is defined as five hours. If you are thinking that even five hours uninterrupted sleep would be a dream come true, there are some gentle strategies you can try to help your baby, and you, to sleep better.
When my own babies were small, neither social ideology nor wakeful babies caused me a lack of sleep – my babies slept snuggled up with me at night. My choice to co-sleep wasn't based on research studies, it was simply 'best practice' for our family - or, where we all got the most sleep. Now there is a plethora of research about infant sleep and I find it fascinating to compare this to my own experience: read – have my childrearing choices conveyed lasting benefits?
Recently, as I searched for some long term evidence of the benefits of parent-infant co-sleeping, I came across a study of college age subjects which found that males who had co-slept with their parents between birth and five years not only had significantly higher self esteem, they experienced less guilt and anxiety and reported greater frequency of sex.
Although I am uncertain how to objectively validate my own (or my kids') experience in terms of this particular research, I can comfortably concur with the wealth of evidence that supports co-sleeping as an integral part of mother- infant bonding. (In this article, co-sleeping is defined as mother and baby sleeping within sensory proximity of each other including, but not necessarily, bed-sharing).
Stay with me
Your toddler's delaying tactics at bedtime – needing a drink, one more kiss, a lost toy – are her way of saying, 'I really want you to stay with me.' From a toddler's perspective, it may be difficult to relax and fall asleep if she feels stressed about being left in her room alone, especially if she can hear adults having fun (talking, watching television) in another part of the house. Consider also if this is the only time of her – and your – busy day that your little one has your undivided attention. If this is the case, try to spend more one-on-one time with her during the day so her needs aren't so intense at bedtime. If she spends her day in child care, try to have some special time together when you pick her up.
A consistent bedtime routine with specific rituals is important to enlist your toddler's co-operation and help him feel secure. If your child seems especially clingy at bedtime, one way to help him is to tell him the story of his day so that he can process the emotional ups and downs and 'let them go'.
Once your toddler is closer to three, you can begin setting limits at bedtime by telling him how many stories you will read before you start and to minimise delaying tactics and calling out, try to anticipate his needs: before he gets into bed, let him get his toys in order and perhaps choose a soft toy to sleep with, place a lidded cup of water within his reach (juice is not good for tiny teeth) and, before you settle down to read, ask him, 'what is the one last thing you need to do before stories?' Help your child stay in bed until he is sleepy by sitting in his room with him.