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Controlled crying

December 9th, 2014 | Blog | Tags:

On 8 December, 2014, Dr Anna Price from the Murdoch Children’s Research Institute published an article in the online Journal, The Conversation, entitled Controlled crying is helpful, not harmful. Read the article at: https://theconversation.com/controlled-crying-is-helpful-not-harmful-34529


A sleeping baby is the key to a flourishing family.

Her key points were as follows:

  • sleep disturbance is common in children
  • a 2001 study of 700 mothers with seven-month-old babies in Melbourne showed that approximately 50% were experiencing some sleep disturbance
  • overnight sleep occurs in cycles of approximately every 45 minutes with short awakenings at the end of each cycle
  • achieving sleep is a ‘learned skill’
  • if babies learn to achieve sleep with parental support they are pre-destined to awaken overnight seeking parental contact again
  • Dr Price recommended beginning the teaching of parent independent sleep achievement as early in life as possible and certainly by three months of age
  • if the child has an established sleep problem using parent dependent cues of sleep, a controlled comforting or control crying technique is the fastest and most effective way to achieve improved sleep
  • she described several techniques whereby parents can gradually remove themselves from the sleep achievement event
  • further research by Doctor Harriet Hiscock in Melbourne has shown the clear benefit of parent independent cues of sleep which show both better sleep and improved scores for maternal depression. These improvements were maintained 16 months after the program of sleep training had been offered
  • Dr Price further reported that while these techniques have their critics, there is no evidence of any damage to the child’s emotional well-being either short or long term
  • she reported that the techniques are proven and are safe in children six months of age and above.

As you may be aware, The Babysleep Doctor strategy has two general components: problem avoidance and problem resolution.

Problem avoidance

The first and certainly the preferred technique is one of problem avoidance. If families are seen when the mother is about 36 weeks’ pregnant or if the child is seen in the first weeks of life techniques can be taught whereby sleep problems simply do not arise. We create a situation where babies are protected from hunger and tiredness and thus there is no reason and no need for the child to cry. Using a problem avoidance technique it is almost always possible to establish a full night sleep of approximately 12 hours per night by approximately 12 weeks of age. The overwhelming majority of parents who utilise a problem avoidance technique report that their babies cry very little compared to normal levels in the community.

Problem resolution

The second technique is used when there is an established sleep problem and where this needs to be resolved for the well-being of the family and child. In The Babysleep Doctor strategy families are assessed on an individual basis and then the program of intervention is tuned to meet the needs and the realities of that family unit. The basic elements of the program are to recognise early signs of tiredness, to avoid over tiredness, to utilise cues of sleep which are parent independent or “parent-lite”. It is amazing how often children are able to develop appropriate high quality and independence sleep skills within two or three or four nights started program.

The benefit of the work done by the doctors in Melbourne at the Murdoch Research Institute has been to both validate the efficacy of these techniques and to demonstrate the absence of any harm.

In my own research, where we completed a five-year follow-up of babies enrolled in a problem avoidance experiment, we were unable to see any emotional damage in the child. The one difference which appeared in the babies who had been in the intervention group was the absence of divorces.

Best wishes

Sleep well

Dr Brian Symon

The Babysleep Doctor

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