The new infant sleep study article

I usually don't like saying "I told you so." But this time, well, I told you so.

You know how the tagline of this site is "You are the best parent for your child"? Well, you are. And now it's been proven by a research study.

(OK, "proven.")

The article "Five-Year Follow-up of Harms and Benefits of Behavioral Infant Sleep Intervention: Randomized Trial " published September 10, 2012 by the journal Pediatrics details the methodology and findings of an Australian study conducted in 2003-2005 called the Infant Sleep Study, along with the methodology and findings of a follow-up with the participants in the Infant Sleep Study conducted in 2009 and called the Kids Sleep Study.

The initial study was designed to discover if there was any harm to infants above the age of 6 months whose parents used "interventions" (meaning various so-called "sleep training" methods, some involving crying), and the follow-up was designed to see if there was any harm to these methods after five years. What they found was that the babies in the group of parents who had used interventions had better sleep (as rated by the parents) and the mothers were less likely to be depressed than those in the control group during the initial Infant Sleep Study, and that there were no noticable differences in the two groups five years later during the Kids Sleep Study.

A lot of the headlines around the study are misleading at best, so I read the article and looked at how the Australian researchers did the initial study. Here it is, in non-scientific language:

First, parents were asked the question "Over the last 2 weeks, has your baby’s sleep generally been a problem for you?" abouth their 7-month-olds. Those who said "yes" were eligible to become part of the study. Note that there was no objective measure of "good sleep" vs. "bad sleep." Instead, they went by how the parents felt about the way their child was sleeping. That's important, because as we've seen here over the years, it's more about how you feel about how your child is sleeping than about any objective measure. If you're happy with where your child is sleeping and how attentive you have to be in the night, it's all good. (And you wouldn't have been able to participate in this study.)

Then, the researchers separated the participants into the "interventions" group and the control group, with the participants having no choice over which group they were in, but they were told which group they were in once they were assigned.

Next, the participants in the control groups came to their regular well-child visits and could ask the nurse about sleep, but weren't specifically told about any interventions they could use.

Meanwhile, the participants in the "interventions" group were told about a variety of sleep interventions, including controlled crying (aka "the Ferber method") and what the study calls "adult fading" or "camping out," which sounds to me like the old "I'll lie on the floor next to your crib until you fall asleep" that many of us know and still have the rug marks on our faces to show for it. Here's the kicker: Participants in this group were allowed to choose how many and which interventions they wanted to use.


To recap: Parents said that things weren't working the way they were currently going, so were given a whole bunch of techniques, and told they should choose the ones they thought would work best and try those with their child. Who else thinks this sounds an awful lot like what's been happening here in the comments section of this site for the past almost-7 years? Because I do.

Essentially what this study did (which is not the same as what the study proved, which I'll get to in a minute) is provide support to parents to try techniques they may not have known about or understood or felt they were able to try before with their kids. I am not one bit shocked that the parents reported fewer sleep problems and greater maternal emotional health compared to the parents in the control group, who didn't get the same support.

The control group participants were not prevented from trying any method/intervention to get their children to sleep. They just weren't taught/informed about any interventions by anyone involved in the study. The difference in the two groups was that one got information and support, while the other didn't.

It is important to note that (contrary to all the headlines about this study) the study did NOT show that "CIO is good" or that every baby needs to be trained to sleep or anything like that. What it showed was that parents who chose controlled crying or other interventions for their own specific babies felt better about how their babies were sleeping after doing those interventions and felt better about themselves. In other words, controlled crying doesn't do harm to babies and parents when the parents think it will work and try it.

I think this study says way more about how beneficial support for trusting your instincts about what your specific child needs is than it does about any specific sleep intervention.

The new findings of this study (based on follow-ups with the original babies and families when the children were 6 years old) are that by the time the kids in the study were 6 years old, there were no differences in the kids and families in the control group and the intervention group in terms of stress level, sleep, child-parent closeness, and other measures of wellbeing of the family. In other words, how or where or what you do about your child sleeping when they're a baby has little correlation with your lives when your child is 6. Don't get too cocky or depressed when you're in the baby years, in other words.

So: Carry on with what you're doing if it's working for you. If it's not working, try something different. (It might help to figure out if crying helps your child release tension or if it increases tension.) Surround yourself with people who are going to support you, and protect yourself from the people who are giving you crap and telling you you're doing it wrong.

You ARE* the best parent for your child.


* Scientifically proven!