Moms are often anxious about sleep training, especially when it comes to side effects. Luckily, there are many ways to reduce the stress of sleep training – here are three tips.
Hearing your baby cry almost always causes some anxiety.
And the idea of sleep training a crying baby drives those anxiety levels through the roof.
There are many underlying causes why sleep training stresses mothers out. For one, moms often worry about whether they’re doing sleep training properly. On top of that, they’re worried about the side effects of letting their baby cry it out.
Not to mention there’s a great deal of conflicting information about sleep training online. It’s only natural to feel anxious upon reading how stress in babies can cause developmental issues.
I’m here to tell you that study after study has confirmed the opposite. Sleep training is entirely healthy for babies.
Here are three ways for reducing the stress of sleep training and how to be more successful with teaching your baby healthy sleep habits.
Why do mothers react so stressfully to their child’s cries?
One theory is that back in prehistoric days when humans were prey, a crying infant signaled the tribe’s location to predators. The safety of the mother and the child depended on the mother’s ability to calm her baby. Hence, hundreds of thousands of years into the future, our ancient minds still influence our behavior. A baby’s cries still trigger the mother’s fear response, urging her to do anything that’s in her power to calm the baby.
A study published in the journal PNAS paints a closer picture of what’s happening in the mother’s brain when she becomes a parent—in short, hearing your baby cry activates the areas of the brain that are associated with the intention to move and speak. So, in other words, the baby’s cries trigger the mother’s brain to move and prepare to talk, even before the mother had processed what was happening.
According to the maternal-brain researcher Pilyoung Kim, many changes happen in the mother’s brain, even before the woman gives birth. Activity in a brain region called the amygdala grows, which makes the mother hypersensitive to her baby’s needs. The influx of hormones helps create a positive feedback loop to motivate mothering behaviors.
Do all sleep training methods involve crying?
Yes, all sleep training methods involve some amount of crying.
Even grown-ups often feel confused and in a haze when they wake up in the middle of the night when they go from one sleep cycle to the next. The difference between grown-ups and babies is that grown-ups have learned how to put themselves back to sleep.
Imagine you’re a baby and have developed a sleep association where your mother is nursing you to sleep. You wake up in the middle of the night, and your mom is nowhere to be found.
It’s normal to feel scared and upset.
Your baby is crying in an effort to express his frustration at taking away his sleep props and having to learn a new skill of falling asleep independently.
How to Stay Calm When Sleep Training
As stressful as sleep training is, it’s not all so gloomy.
The good news is there are some things you can do to lower the stress of sleep training and keep yourself calm.
Here are three:
Remind yourself that sleep training is harmless
Consider talking with your sleep trainer about the benefits of sleep training. Another idea is to read studies from reputable sites.
Here’s one study published in the journal Pediatrics that analyzed infant stress in 43 infants that were trained by using two sleep training methods, graduated extinction and bedtime fading. The study found that the two methods provide significant sleep benefits and don’t lead to increased infant stress.
This five-year study tried to determine whether infant sleep training programs have any long-term negative effects, including childhood mental health, sleep quality and disorders, psychosocial functioning, and stress tolerance. No negative long-term effects were found.
Practice breathing techniques
One great way to manage the stress of sleep training is through breathing techniques.
Breathing exercises are inexpensive, easy to do, and have benefits for both your physical and mental health.
When you feel stressed or anxious, taking a few minutes to breathe can make it easier to think more clearly, increase creativity, and prevent panic attacks. Breathing exercises can also reduce blood pressure, calm your racing heart rate, reduce anxiety levels, and improve sleep quality.
For example, every time you feel stressed, close your eyes and begin inhaling to the count of five. Then exhale and count to five. Repeat this process for a few minutes.
Make sure that you are using the right method
Here’s the thing:
All babies are different and have their own personalities and temperaments. What worked for your friend’s baby may not work for yours. The method that worked for your older child might not even work for your younger child.
The key to reducing the stress of sleep training is to find a sleep training method that works for your family and child and practice it consistently. Failing to choose the right method can only lead to more stress, anxiety, and depression in the long term.
Some sleep training methods are more extreme and others are gentler. The most popular include the Cry It Out, Ferber Method, Pick-Up/Put-Down, and the Fading Method. It’s critical that you choose a method and level of intensity you’re comfortable with.
If you’re unsure about what’s the best method for your child, consider working with a sleep trainer. You’ll be asked a few questions about your child’s temperament, as well as your family’s routine and habits. The sleep trainer will then provide you with a plan based on your specific answers.
Delaying sleep training or avoiding it completely won’t solve your child’s sleep problems. On the contrary, his sleep habits may worsen, together with your sleep deprivation.
Many parents may find it difficult to focus when they aren’t getting enough sleep – which can be a major problem if you’re a working parent.
Even worse, babies who are not sleeping well at night may be crankier during the day, which can cause tension in the family.
The answer is simple: the earlier your child learns healthy sleep habits, the better.
Just remember that crying is your baby’s natural way of expressing his frustration. It might make you anxious, but study after study has found that crying is harmless when used for the purposes of sleep training.
Reminding yourself that sleep training is harmless, practicing breathing exercises, and choosing the right sleep training method for your family can go a long way to reduce your feelings of stress and anxiety.