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Debunking the 'cortsiol' rush of sleep training!

All parents out there would agree with me about the large amount of differing and often confusing opinions, techniques and ideas when it comes to ‘advice’ on sleep & settling associated with babies.

It was only yesterday that a mum sent me a screenshot form a non sleep training Instagram page with ‘why you should not sleep train’. This mum has sleep trained both of her daughters and is now stressing that ‘sleep training’ her baby’s has increase their stress and cortisol levels, increasing the likelihood of violent behaviour leading to emotional damage and long-term brain damage. It is also believed that leaving a newborn crying for extended periods of time activates their adrenaline, producing aggressive behaviour leading to more impulsive behaviours when they are older.

Most families I visit are in desperate need of, what is commonly referred to as ‘sleep training’. I have parents resorting to getting in the car at 12 midnight and driving around the Gold Coast for 2 hours to get her 10 month old to sleep. The story does not stop there. Once home she then slept in the car in the driveway until morning as she didn’t want to move him! I have mum’s who meet me at the door in tears and cannot hold a sentence together they are that sleep deprived and stressed. I have parents who are sitting in cars all over the Gold Coast for naps, parents who have spent $$$ on gadgets in an attempt to get some sleep, parents unable to return to work because they are that exhausted, parents who say they can clearing understand how some people can shake their babies ….. these parents need help, these parents need sleep and yes, these parents need the support to help themselves and their little one get some sleep!

In the studies highlighting the above findings: the babies were not put to sleep using a modern sleep training technique (such as the Ferber method/responsive settling or the camp-out / presence settling method) but they were left in their cribs to cry it out without any comforting – total parent abandonment. Furthermore, these babies were not in their own homes but rather in a research centre. So, they were left in strange cribs in a strange room to cry-it-out without any comforting. Of course, they were stressed!

On the flip side, a study from the journal Paediatrics

(…/its-o-k-to-let-babies-cry-it-…/) strongly supports sleep training as a healthy part of development. This study showed that babies who were sleep trained using either the Ferber method or the camping-out method did not have increased risk of emotional, psychological, or behavioural disorders at age 6. In fact, babies who were in the control group (not sleep trained) had a higher risk of behaviour disorders. Furthermore, mothers of infants who were not sleep trained had a higher rate of depression.

And yes, we can go on for days quoting different research articles. We can all find an article that backs up what we are trying to say. Research is great for that! And yes, I am expecting both back lash and support (and maybe even a few more links to articles backing up parents owns beliefs on sleep training – I get the same when I blog about immunisations) on this post’s thread with people expressing their opinions – and that’s OK.

High cortisol levels are also found in overtired infants. High cortisol levels are found in infants when they start child care. Crying doesn’t necessarily lead to increased cortisol levels either. Babies cry when they are tired, hungry, need their nappy change, when they don’t get what they want and or get passed to someone they are not familiar with. Your baby may be telling you they are overtired, overstimulated …. or during sleep training that they are just confused as they are normally fed or rocked to sleep. Their cry can be confusion as things have changed! A cry does not necessarily indicate that your baby is distressed, fearful or feel abandoned.

In all these situations we attend to our baby’s needs.

Tummy time is another fitting example. Whose baby initially protested tummy time? Your baby before birth has never lay on their tummy. And yet when they born tummy time is expected. Most baby’s cry when initiating tummy time. This is normal as it is something new and very foreign. But the more they do it, the better they get. They are learning that being on their tummy is ‘normal’…. They stop crying and learn to love tummy time. Parents support them through this – often lying on the ground with them, reassuring them all the way. Tummy time and the associated strength gained from it assists with crawling, sitting and eventually walking. Another life lesson right there!

This is the point I am trying to get at. Sleep training isn’t that different. Sleep training does not mean that you are not supporting and attending to your baby’s needs. Sleep training leads to the life skill of self-settling!

Parents 2 B supports the parents as the parents support their baby. Parents 2 B sleep training techniques come from years of working with families. It’s important to understand that every family is unique and they all have different approaches/beliefs to sleep & settling and parenting. And that is OK. If your current sleeping situation is working for you – than it doesn’t need to be fixed. But if it isn’t – then there is plenty of help and support out there for you too!

I have done it all. I have picked up babies, given comforters, given dummy’s, I have even put a chair in the middle of the room for no other reason than the baby thought her mum was sitting in it and therefore went to sleep happily! I have had parents look at me in the ‘are you serious kind of way because I have gone against what they have read and/or heard …… and yet by working together, supporting their baby, we have solved their baby’s sleep issues.

We know from research that infants do have effective methods of self-soothing. Sucking a dummy, for example, releases calming hormones in the brain. White noise can help calm the nervous system. Attachment objects, such as a blanket, doll, or plush toy can have similar calming effects, especially in older infants and toddlers.

Ask any parent who’s tried to take a pacifier or favourite blanket away—removing attachment objects causes stress! There’s that cortisol again! And giving them to children helps them self-sooth. Ask many of my parents – their facial expressions are priceless when I have encouraged them not to ditch the dummy!

So if what you are doing isn’t working for you and you are seeking help, know that it is OK for both you and your baby.

Consistent bedtime routines are the key to successful sleep training. When embarking on sleep training my 3 Keys to successful sleep training are:

Parents need to understand that teaching their baby to self-settle will NOT happen overnight. This needs to be stressed. It takes commitment, consistency and support. Your baby has been assisted to sleep for 6 days, 6 weeks, 6 months, 12 months….. They will not learn to fall asleep on their own in one sleep cycle. Imagine if I took your bed away tonight and made you sleep on the floor. You wouldn’t sleep well and you too would protest until I either gave you your bed back OR you learnt to sleep on the floor. Your baby is no different. It takes time to learn a new skill. Your baby will, in the initial phases, protest the new settling techniques and you need to support your baby through this time. There are many ways to do this. For example: one of my baby’s has only every slept on mum or dad. So for one week we settled him to sleep in his cot. Yes, he protested but we supported them through this stage. It was very time consuming (as you could imagine) with mum settling him to sleep for up to 40 mins. Each day the assistance took less and less time. The following week we then slowly reduced the assistance and no longer settled him to sleep … we left him do the last little bit on his own. Today his mum messaged that he cried for 2 mins on putting in his cot and had had 3 x 2 hours sleep and slept for 10 hours overnight! All unassisted and supported all the way!

You need to work within your comfort zone …. There is no point engaging the services of someone to help you with your baby’s sleep unless you are comfortable with the method. If you can’t follow through with the techniques, there is no point! It is also helpful to have an open mind as to the techniques on offer. Sitting in the room with your baby is very time consuming however supporting your baby through the process is more important.

CONSISTENCY IS THE KEY. Decide on a method you are happy with and stick to it.

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