Updated: Sep 13, 2019
The answer is a resounding NO! Babies should never cry themselves to sleep, it's detrimental to their emotional as well as their physical health.
Sleep training is all consuming, parents are bombarded with information and promises of long peaceful night of sleep. Some programs will assure you that painlessly you can get 12 hours sleep from your 12 week baby as long as you hire an expert from the very beginning. Never mind, the baby will have to learn by crying, an "expert' will implement the program and you will not have to live through the ordeal... only your baby will. A study by Dr. Wendy Middlemiss of the University of North Texas, looked at babies from age 4-10 months who “cried it out” until they fell asleep without any soothing from a parent or caretaker. By the third night of the study, infants were found to have cried for a shorter period of time before falling asleep. But the babies’ cortisol levels remained high, while the mothers’ levels fell in accordance with the time spent crying. Prolonged and extreme levels of cortisol negatively affect the developing brain, but a mom who is also sleep deprived has a right to reduce her own cortisol.
I believe there are some amazing techniques that can help a baby sleep longer in the early months of life and effective non-crying methods can be implemented when a baby is older (say between 6 and 12 months,) that can be used to allow the baby to peacefully fall asleep and stay asleep for an appropriate time during the night. I think expecting a child to sleep 12 hours every night is unrealistic.
So what can a mother do? Spotting the signs of sleepiness sounds easy, but it can be a little tricky. After all, it’s not as if your baby can say, “I’m tired, Mom. Toss me my blanked and get me to my crib, pronto!” And if you expect sleepy babies to show the same signs of fatigue— yawning, rubbing their eyes, or looking droopy lidded— as adults do, you may miss your baby’s cues altogether. That’s because babies have their own special ways of exhibiting sleepy behavior, and these behaviors tend to be different from yours and mine. Some are physical, some are emotional, and some affect a baby’s ability to focus and pay attention. Some babies do yawn or rub their eyes (if they have the motor skills), but many simply cry or look off into the middle distance. Daytime and night time routines are very important, babies are creatures of habit, so trying to get them to nap and sleep at the same time after the same rituals can go a long way to a restful and peaceful night.
Older babies for example, don’t seem to get a good rest unless they are in their own special sleeping quarters, usually a crib. If that’s the case with your baby, you’ll want to be home for naps.
Happy Baby Happy Mom
As a sleep consultant the first thing i look into are the rituals, the baby sleep environment, the family habits, and the personal expectations of both parents. The more harmony and consistency in expectations and behavior from the adults the more the baby feels secure. I jokingly say to the parents I serve, "I am more of an expert in parents' sleep training than baby."
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