Is Sleep Training Safe?
Is It Safe to Sleep Train A Baby?
This question comes in many forms. The answer, despite being a common question, is anything but simple. This is because of the balance needed to be created by parents and their babies. A balance is unique to every family. The simple answer is to make sure you, as a parent, are having your needs met. If you need sleep it is better for you to get it than to be awake, unable to function, and experiencing anxiety, depression, or other mood disorder. If you are getting by, however, read on to learn the effects sleep training has on a baby.
Internal regulation is where sleep training found its roots. By not responding to your child’s cries and letting them “cry it out” it was thought they would learn how to regulate themselves. This is incorrect. A misconception that is actually counter to the actual truth. Babies who are attended to, receive touch and comfort, and have their cries met with compassion develop better internal regulation. So what is it that is happening here?
The Dorsal Vagal Response
The dorsal vagal response is what happens when we become flooded. It tells the body that the fight or flight response is not going to work and shuts it down. This response is associated with hopelessness and even preparation for death. Overwhelmed the body responds to the message no one is coming, no one ever will, and is learned helplessness. Learned helplessness is the opposite of internal regulation and comes from a different place. Internal regulation is born out of a feeling of safety and orientation to the world around us. When a child cries and we attend to them they are able to feel safe. When a baby cries and we leave them alone we take away their ability to communicate and teach them there is nothing they can do for themselves. They feel they are at the whim of the world.
Long Term Effects
Long-term issues due to a poorly functioning vagus nerve include IBS and other digestive disorders. A child learns to shut down, stop feeling, and stop trusting. This causes their self-regulation to suffer. There is also a danger that crying it out may cause caregivers to also “harden” their children in other ways. This treatment can then contribute to lower levels of intelligence, empathy, lack of self-regulation, and social competence. Response to a baby’s communication is key to their growth and development.
Every Family Is Unique
I want to close this post by saying every family is unique. With their special strengths, they are able to support each other. What is best for one family member may not work for another. That is why I believe in meeting your needs as a parent first. If you do that you can then make sure your child’s needs are met. If you are struggling, try to find support, and if you feel one more sleepless night might break you know you are not alone. Parenting is hard and the one thing we can do is our best. For children that’s usually enough.