My husband brought in the mail and in the stack was the May 2011 issue of American Baby magazine. Because I’m not a “mainstream” mom, I knew before I even picked it up that I’d get angry reading it, but I had no clue how angry this particular issue was about to make me. Flip to page 53 and there’s an article about sleep-training your baby. Intrigued, annoyed and slightly outraged, I continued reading. The article stated that “once your baby is four to six months old, you can reasonably expect her to sleep through the night.”
Most people wouldn’t think sleep-training was a big deal. In fact, most people probably think that sleep-training is a good idea. After all, how many parents actually like being woken up all throughout the night? Getting your baby to sleep through the night sounds great! After all, new parents can always use a little extra shut-eye.
Here’s where the problem lies.
Your baby is most at risk of dying from sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) between the age of 2-6 months, typically around the time the child begins to sleep “better.” According to research conducted by Dr. James McKenna, this risk is even higher if you do not co-sleep, as a solitary sleeping baby has a diminished arousal response and abnormal patterns of deep sleeping when compared to a co-sleeping baby who is aroused by his mother’s natural breathing patterns and sleep movements. McKenna’s research indicates that sudden infant death syndrome in solitary sleeping children may be caused by the child learning to sleep for extended periods of time at a young age. The child then has an episode of apnea (where the child stops breathing) and because there is nothing to rouse the child, such as their mother’s movement or breathing, the child doesn’t resume breathing and dies.
Some parents go beyond “sleep-training” and try to encourage their children to sleep longer by adding cereal to their child’s bottles or by using “nighttime formulas” meant to help baby sleep longer. Although cereal has been proven not to aid in helping baby sleep longer, adding cereal to your baby’s bottle is dangerous. Specialty infant formulas made to help baby sleep longer raise the risk of sudden infant death syndrome by extending the period of time the child spends asleep. These nighttime formulas increase the risk of sudden infant death syndrome and decrease the amount of vital nutrients and minerals the baby would have received if they had woken to eat, rather than having been fed empty calories to keep them asleep.
By encouraging parents to “sleep-train” their child or use foods to encourage them to sleep longer at a young age, we may be inadvertently increasing their risk of sudden infant death syndrome. Babies are meant to wake and stir frequently. This frequent waking serves many functions. Babies wake often because they need to eat frequently because of how fast they digest food. This frequent waking also serves as a protective measure to help prevent sudden infant death syndrome by keeping babies from entering the deeper levels of sleep that are reached after several consecutive hours of sleep. By “sleep-training” our children, we may just be increasing their risk of death.
So what’s the solution?
The solution is simple: don’t get caught up in what our culture seems to think babies “need” to do. As a society, we seem to be obsessed over easiness and convenience, and a baby waking up in the middle of the night certainly isn’t easy or convenient. Even so, a child doesn’t need to sleep through the night. In fact, it’s normal for children to wake several times throughout the night up to three or four years of age! Let you baby sleep when she’s tired and wake when she’s not. There’s nothing wrong with having a sleep routine, but don’t expect your child to sleep through the night, and don’t try to coax or force them to do so. Yes, you may be tired, but when you’re up at 2am feeding a hungry baby, remind yourself that her waking up is protecting her from sudden infant death syndrome, as well as ensuring that she receives vital nutrients and minerals exactly when she needs them.
Believe it or not, but your baby’s crying in the night is a blessing in disguise.
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Sleeping Through the Night
Nighttime Parenting and Sudden Infant Death Syndrome
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SIDS & Enfamil RestFull Formula