Self-soothing. Possibly the biggest lie ever foisted on parents

It figures it would be the latest propaganda about baby sleep that would wake me from my blogging slumber. This time it was news reports of a study by Dr. Marsha Weinraub, a psychologist at Temple University. In an article recently published in Developmental Psychology, she reports on data (collected 20 years ago, oddly enough) from a study which tracked patterns of nighttime sleeping and wakening in babies aged 6 to 36 months. Sleep patterns were recorded at four points in time – 6 months, 15 months, 2 years and 3 years. They found that 30% of the babies were sleeping through every night at age 6 months, while another 29% were waking one or two nights a week. The researchers decided for some reason that 30% and 29% add up to 66%, and that this means that that most babies sleep through the night at six months.

I don’t agree with the math or the interpretation, but what really got me is the egregiously inaccurate way these findings were spun in the news piece put out by Temple University’s communications department and subsequently parroted in web and news stories around the world. The University news story  is framed with the entirely unjustified and arguably dangerous headline  “Let crying babies lie: Study supports notion of leaving infants to cry themselves back to sleep.”

The study does nothing of the sort.

I have to wonder if that headline made Dr. Weinraub, who is an attachment researcher among other things, cringe. But, upon reading the journal article it’s very clear that she does support the mainstream idea that it’s important for babies to learn how to “self-soothe” and that mothers who attend too often or too quickly somehow interfere with this “ability.”

This is an opinion, not fact. Nothing in her data supports this idea.

Further, Weintraub’s opinion is based one the biggest lies that parents have ever been told: the doctrine of self-soothing.

I gotta tell ya. My blood pressure rises every time I hear or see the words self-soothe. Because it’s such a crock. There is no research proof whatsoever that babies who sleep through the night do so because they have learned to “self-soothe.”

Oh, search the literature and you’ll find all sorts of references to self-soothing, some of which Dr. Weinraub quotes. I know those studies because I read them. I traced my way back through the all the references on self-soothing, trying to locate the study that actually proved that babies soothe themselves back to sleep. I couldn’t find it  – just a bunch of people saying (claiming) that babies learn to self-soothe around six months. But actually, all that’s really been proven, as Dr. Weinraub’s data confirms, is that some babies are sleeping through the night by age six months. But whether or not they do this because they’ve learned to self-soothe, is an interpretation, not science-based fact.

How do I know? I e-mailed Dr. Thomas Anders, the guy who invented the term self-soothing way back in the in 1970s. Here’s what he said when I asked him if any studies had documented that infants who go back sleep without crying engage in some sort of soothing behaviour to help themselves get back to sleep.

“I know of no studies that address either of your questions. Self soothing is a label we coined to contrast it with signaling (crying) upon awakening. I would bet that most non-signaling awakenings occur without active self soothing.”

That’s a direct quote. I still have the e-mail.

So this self-soothing that experts talk about is nothing more than a made-up research term. But here’s what sometimes happens to research terms. Somebody coins a research term in a study and then all the researchers doing similar research start to adopt it because it’s “in the literature.”  But after awhile people start to forget that it’s just a research term. And since self-soothing appears to mean a certain thing – a baby actively soothing herself back to sleep – people started believing that it meant much more than it was ever intended to mean. This is the same sort of thing that happens in propaganda and advertising. Repeat something over and over and people start to assume it’s true.

But,  no Virginia, there is no such thing as self-soothing, at least not the self-soothing that conventional sleep pundits talk about.

I’m not saying that babies don’t wake up and go back to sleep on their own without crying. Some do. And I’m not saying babies never do things that could be thought of as self-soothing. Obviously some suck their fingers and thumbs and seem to be calmed  by that. I’ve seen it happen. But what isn’t proven – even though lots and lots of experts will tell you it has – is that babies learn the “skill” of self-soothing and that this “skill” is a developmentally normal and appropriate milestone for all six-month old babies.

So, anybody who says things like,  “Learning how to self-soothe is a vital skill in learning how to develop good sleeping patterns during infancy,”  (as one news story posited) is either a liar or very careless with facts.

And anyone who claims that it’s normal for all babies to sleep through the night at six months is ignoring mountains of research evidence. In fact, the pro-sleep training pundits’ own studies all show that night-waking is so common that it can only be thought of as one kind of normal. To be fair, Weinraub doesn’t exactly state that anything is wrong with babies who wake at night beyond six months. Mind you she does suggest that some babies may have had their “self-soothing” skills interfered with by parents who are too quick to comfort them. Imagine! Parents wanting to calm an upset baby. Shocking!

Grrrr.

Night waking is a tough issue for a lot of families. I know I’ve been there. (None of our three boys slept through the night until they were three – consistent, by the way, with one of the patterns noted in the Weinraub paper). Tons of professionals, of varying opinions and philosophies, possibly including Marsha Weinraub, are sincere in their intent to help parents.

I don’t believe there is any one solution that will work for all families.

But a couple of things are certain. It doesn’t help to keep repeating something (the doctrine of self-soothing) that isn’t true. Nor do I think it helps to tell parents that something that is within the range of normal is a disorder, or a sign of weak parental limit-setting, a sign of a disordered baby, or that night waking in baby and toddlerhood causes sleep and behaviour problems (I defy anyone to show me a single study that proves this).

Some other time I’ll get into the elephant in the room which is the colossal disconnect between mainstream infant sleep ideology and the social and biological realities of breastfeeding (something that all mothers are encouraged – pressured, some say – to do these days). The biggest single predictor of night waking in this study was breastfeeding at six months, something health authorities want all mothers to be doing.

There’s actually a lot of pretty interesting data in this study that was not reported in media stories. In fact, I think the study could have been spun in a totally different way. I’ll tell you about that in my next blog – very soon, I promise.

(This post has generated an amount of interest that really surprised me. If you want to read my take on what self-soothing really is, click here.)

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About uncommonjohn

I am one of Canada's top parenting writers. My areas of expertise and interest include debunking bad parenting advice (especially about sleep), self-regulation, fatherhood, child development, children's mental health, childbirth and breastfeeding.
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200 Responses to Self-soothing. Possibly the biggest lie ever foisted on parents

  1. Nicole says:

    Love it!! I hate it when I hear parents say they want their baby to “learn to self-soothe”, as generally what they really mean is, they want their baby to never wake up at night and never interrupt the parents’ sleep.

  2. BabyCalm says:

    Fantastic blog John, can’t wait for the next one, definitely a subject that needs to be brought into the mainstream arena, a little sooner this time though?

  3. Vicky O says:

    Thank you for publishing my thoughts! I couldn’t agree more, the myth of self soothing is a dangerous one. Now I know it’s origins I can be confident in addressing it with my peers who strive to achieve it. People like you give me hope that the way we treat our most vulnerable is changing for the better.

  4. Swazi says:

    Thanks for this post – it is great to see the actual information behind the media spin. I’m baffled by the idea of self-soothing. I’m fortunate that my son sleeps well and is only fractious at night if he’s unwell, so it’s an alarm bell if he cries. He’s secure that a parent is nearby and now he is 2 years old he sings or calls us upon waking. Being attentive to his early needs was tiring, but I couldn’t have left him to cry himself to sleep. I believe my role as a parent is to care for and love my child, not to ‘sleep train’ him.

  5. emmy says:

    awesome! thankyou!

  6. lulastic says:

    Ah, excellent, thank you! Fascinating insight into the origins of “self soothing”. Such consistent neglect of the primal instincts babies are born with, as if evolution would have allowed self soothing.
    Looking forward to the follow up post!

    • Well, if we were living before the use of electric lighting and technology we could experienced the rest and cycles naturally, going to bed when darkness fell and waken with the sun. But today, 2013 we have to do more then live by primal instants. right?

  7. Shelley sanderson says:

    Amazing 🙂 I concur x

  8. kathivaleii says:

    Thank you for such an impassioned argument! I recently finished a two-part article on the cultural implications as it pertains to sleep training. I stated as well that there was no basis of fact for the so-called “self-soothing” argument. It was really fun to read your source backing that up!

  9. jess says:

    How could you email him in the 1970s? I’m curious about that..

  10. Mama Mo says:

    What I want to know is how people expect infants to “self-soothe” when the infants don’t even have any concept of “self”! I find Western culture’s value on independence to be ridiculous and damaging to parent/child bonding.

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  12. Nat says:

    Finally! Someone else saying what I thought over self soothing- it’s so overrated and now you have given me references. Thank you

  13. rebekah says:

    I don’t believe a crying baby self soothes. I think they cry and cry till they are so tired from crying that they fall asleep from crying. Not soothing. At 6 months Samuel was waking without crying. I would leave him a while to see what happened. 20 minutes or so would pass and hee would still be awake but just looking round, no crying. So I would feed him and put him straight back down. It would take him another hour to quietly drop back off to sleep. No self soothing there either I’m guessing. Just tiredness. It took Samuel until he was about 12 months to learn to cry out and get me running. A quick toilet trip first is as long as he is left for just so I’m not bouncing about while feeding him. He wakes about 3 times a night when teething. When fed and settled back down he can still lie there quietly for two to three hours till his eye lids droop. no soothing behaviour involved at all. Just lying still, arms away from face, staring. I think I’ve worked out lately that that is down to teeth at the moment though and bonjella helps. But again I don’t think this is self soothing. I wonder what the origional article thinks of quiet, content but awake babies. For the record, unless I’ve slept through Samuel waking but not crying out, he has for the third time in his life slept through from 7 to now (almost 5am). Self soothing has nothing to do with sleeping through. I think thirst, hunger, comfort and sleep patterns do. Most nights now when Samuel isn’t teething I do only need to go to him once in the early hours. He’s 16 months. He was getting into a lovely pattern until the teeth started popping through again since Christmas. I’m hoping the good sleeping will resume and stay once his gums calm down.

    • uncommonjohn says:

      I think that experts’ failure to acknowledge the variability in baby/toddler sleep/waking patterns – how kids can go back and forth between sleeping through and not sleeping through at various times – is another one of the great lies in the world of baby sleep.

      • I think that sleep experts do know, but parents aren’t asking. Sleep regression happens, biological needs change, and that when the knowledge comes into play. Not all sleep experts are close minded.

      • uncommonjohn says:

        Agreed. I detect more flexibility in some sleep experts than in the past. But many still promote sleep training as the alpha solution that is always best, always works easily and works permanentl, and that co-sleeping (bedsharing) is a maladaptive strategy. None of that is true (all the time). That’s what I object to.

  14. Heather says:

    Thanks for this John…I’m a strong believer in attachment parenting and I never did the “cry it out” and always responded to my kids when they woke at night. I couldn’t do otherwise, it went agains every instinct I had, especially when they were babies! Now my 16, 10 and 9 year olds are great sleepers and have no trouble going or staying asleep. My 2 year old still needs some “help” going to sleep (which means he gets a story, has a drink, goes to bed and i stay in the room until he settles) but he sleeps all night as well.

  15. Christina says:

    I want my child to feel comfortable enough to call out for me if they need, I love how my two year old, Jaciel, will talk/hum herself to sleep and how she will kiss her own “boo-boo’s”. She still wakes in the night at times and is tucked in tightly next to me, and I AM OKAY with that. I have gotten lots of grief for it but I don’t care, my child and I are a happy pair. My son Nikolay is one that sleeps well on his own waking without a noise and staring out into his surroundings until whining for want of food or a diaper change. Completely different then my daughter ever was. – – – Can’t we all just accept our children for the differences they exhibit and the wonderful life long career of parenthood with equals perpetual tiredness *thats worth it*! 🙂

    LOVE YOUR BLOG!

  16. Anita says:

    As a psychotherapist that studied trauma and attachment I totally agree with you. My understanding is a baby does not have self regulation and even toddlers don’t have those skills. Who would dispute that when we all see toddlers that have difficulty negotiating when they want something and can’t have it! Not knowing how to self soothe as an infant is I believe one of the reasons why it takes humans so long to move from dependence to independence – we need to experience a regulating other, a ‘good enough’ parent that soothes us so that we learn to identify the different feelings and emotions and intenalise that we deserve and are entitled to support and experience how and what self soothing is. Just look around at all the adults who have difficulty self soothing when they are upset or stressed and either uses gambling, drugs, alcohol, work, shopping, chocolate, avoiding, denial, attacking self or other.. the list goes on; instead of self soothing in a more constructive way. So people are saying 6 month babies learn this all by themself!!! lol! My experience is when an infant is neglected when they are distressed, their system does not have the capacity to fight or flee so they ‘appear’ fine because their system has often gone into ‘freeze’ response, compliant, dissociated, etc. Their system may learn to give up, not expect this. After all, the infant is totally dependent on the adult for survival and so the all powerful adult is not comprehended as being wrong. My needs (as a baby) must be wrong.

    My experience is an infant learns by repeated experiences and an infant does not learn about each feeling and how to respond effectively if we, as adults, do not identify and model warmth and attachment and an active reponse that feels good. I work with so many adults that have difficulty being with their vulnerable self and have to learn how to self soothe. I could go on and on!!

    I am talking very generally of course in my response, as each person’s history is unique however my understanding is many people can be caring to others when they have not being cared for adequately, as implicitly they know from what was not good from their experience in what was missing and therefore offer it to others (the wider experiences in the world provide some modelling so there is a branch of neural pathways that know about this) but this group of adults often have difficulty doing this for themselves i.e. self soothing (as the neural pathways that develop about the sense of self and how to be in the world are a different set of neural pathways and sometimes not developed adequately due to lack of soothing by other and not accessible in relation to the self but only towards the other person). The neural pathways are not linked up towards themself due to lack of soothing by other. There is so much research that backs this up.

    We have an epidemic of adults with sleep issues – for a number of reasons, but this would be interesting to explore in relation to self soothing… So much to explore and discuss!

    • uncommonjohn says:

      Agreed. I like to look at this through the lens of self-regulation. And it’s very clear in the scientific literature that being able to manage emotions depends critically on babies being externally regulated (comforted, helped to feel OK, loved etc.) by adults early in life. esn’t mean babies can never ever be left to cry without comfort. But idoesn’t happen very often.

  17. Jessica says:

    I don’t self soothe well. lol If I said to my husband, “I’m having trouble sleeping, could you please hold me?” And his response was, “No, you need to self soothe.” Well, he’d be a pretty poor partner. I expect I’m way more capable of self regulation than a baby and he’s definitely less responsible for my sense of security than a parent (to a baby).

  18. Helen says:

    Hi John, I agree with much of what you say here, but my comment relates to your penultimate paragraph — have you come across the Infant Sleep Info Source website from UK yet? One of our main points of information is the disconnect between sleep ideology and breastfeeding. Please come visit 🙂 http://www.isisonline.org.uk/

  19. Great piece – looking forward to reading your next post. One of the things that made the first year of my newborns’ lives was the misinformation there is about sleep in baby books & on the web. I thought I was doing something wrong because my children woke so often – it really undermined my confidence for a while. Fortunately I found a supportive group of parents online who soothed me…. and helped me realise that it was ok to respond quickly to my babies’ needs whenever and wherever.

  20. V murphy says:

    Thank you for a great post. My blood boiled when I read about this study in the national press in the UK. Your response is informative and spot on and has brought my blood pressure back down!!!

  21. It is not natural for babies to wake during the night. Normal, in Western Societies, yes, but not natural. The majority of indigenous societies around the world have no problem with babies waking. Why? Because they sleep with their babies. From the moment they are born, to the day they get up and move to their own beds by themselves. I slept with both my children this way, and never – and I mean never – had a broken night’s sleep with either of them. If I wanted to sleep 10 straight hours, they sensed my body close and slept for the same number of hours. I breast-fed them both through the night without anyone waking. Milk on tap while slumbering. I know several other mothers who did the same. If people could just let go of the western notion of putting babies to sleep in separate beds, they would have no need for concepts such as ‘self-soothing’ or any other theories about why babies wake. It’s simple. They wake because nature tells them their mother’s should be holding them.

    • uncommonjohn says:

      The doctrine of separate beds will never go away (as I’m sure you know) so long as mainstream exports portray bedsharing as “dangerous,” which is what most do these days.

    • Rachel says:

      I must say I think you’re incredibly lucky, Francesca – I co-sleep with my 7 month old girl, who is still breastfed on demand. She fully wakes at least three times a night to feed…

    • hannah says:

      I cosleep with my 16 month old son, and he does still wake, or at least cry for me, multiple times through the night. Sometimes I settle him with a cuddle, but most times by breastfeeding. I’ve not slept more than a solid 2 hour period in months. I’m not complaining about this, just commenting that I do find this natural. I don’t believe that babies don’t wake at night in cosleeping cultures, but I do feel that the impact it has on many people’s lives in western societies, as well as the importance placed on ‘sleeping through’ is unnatural. I want to scream every time I’m asked by a new acquaintance, often another parent, ‘does he sleep through the night?’ as if that’s the most important thing…not ‘is he healthy? Is he happy? Is he affectionate?’ Why did sleep become the gauge of a baby’s, and parent’s, success?

      • uncommonjohn says:

        I couldn’t agree more Hannah. In fact i think one of the biggest problems that parents of night wakers have is how bad they are made to feel by comments such as the one’s you (and many others) have had to deal with, along with the constant yammering of the mainstream pediatric sleep community that something is abnormal when babies wake in the night.

    • Amy says:

      You are a wonderfully sound sleeper. I can assure you that my 7 month old co-sleeper wakes 3 times per night to feed and I along with him! And sometimes he is awake for an hour or more, if teething. I cannot hold him all night, I have never been able to sleep while being touched–it keeps me awake. All babies are so very different, you see. And mommies, too.

    • I cosleep, attachment parent and breastfeed and we have sleep challenges mainly due to waking from colic (which I treat with homeopathics, herbal remedies and other natural strategies that get her back to sleep quite quickly). Also, my child is, and will remain, unvaccinated and seems somehow more aware than many other children her age (14 months). She sometimes wakes and I swear she is sensing her own growing pains as I did as a child. Teething and other such issues can be the causes of waking which is natural and variant as well.

    • Andrea says:

      Mine slept with me. They definitely woke up (one still does, he’s 5, though he’s not waking to nurse). I did too. But it still got us all more sleep than having them in cribs in separate rooms, and I grew to realize their waking was normal. I have not slept 10 hours straight in over 8 years LOL (but really, I wake in the night even when my kids don’t — night waking is also normal in adults…)

  22. Rebecca says:

    Thank you for posting this. I’ve learnt that sleep deprivation can be tough, but is very, very normal amongst parents of young children. I’ve also learnt through experience (mostly bad ones) that expressing any discontent with parental sleep deprivation to the average person is normally a mistake. Most people are well-meaningly programmed to interpret my general moans as “she has a problem and she wants me to help her fix it”. They feel obliged to come with judgements and suggest solutions, when all I really need is a compassionate ear to listen to me grumble and (perhaps) reassure me that all this won’t last for ever. Which it won’t. This is part of a golden time I will look back on with warmth in my heart, of that I am sure. I am learning to accept sleep deprivation as part of being a parent and to be a better listener myself to other people’s grumbles and bellyaching. People just need to get it out and have someone patient and empathic enough to listen. And children need patient and empathic parents to cuddle them throughout the night.

    • Shel Banks says:

      One of the functions of a breastfeeding counsellor / supporter / Le leche leader is to listen and respond empathetically without necessarily attempting to ‘fix’. It’s one of the great things about attending a good breastfeeding group that when a mother complains about night wakings and how tired she is, rather than suggesting techniques to rid her of the ‘problem’ they’re more likely to say ‘oh yes, wretched isn’t it? But this too, shall pass….’

  23. Jenny says:

    I’m very interested in hearing your advice for when a 7 month old cant put themselves to sleep (never has before) and so is patted to sleep and then wakes up howling every hour and a half because he isn’t comfortable lying there until he falls asleep again and it takes at least half an hour to put him back to sleep. Co- sleeping isn’t an option because he is a high energy kid who will sleep even less if he’s with me.

  24. NaJia Perkins says:

    There was a news (??) article a few months ago and of course I cannot remember where, but the gist was that ‘parents should be very careful when choosing “inanimate comfort sources” for their babies/toddlers, because the toys/stuffies/blankie will be “a major soothing source for childhood” and provide memories of comfort for years.’ It went on to talk about the best fabrics, textures, making sure there are no buttons that could come off and choke your child, etc.
    Seriously?
    My kids have blankies and such but I have to limit them because there’s not enough room in the bed for me, the 5 year old, the 3 year old, the cat, the daddy, 8 blankies and 17 stuffies. They don’t snuggle them anyway; they just surround us with them. It makes me really sad to think that there are babies with just a stuffie to snuggle. “here, kid, squeeze this. you don’t need mommy or daddy. you’re FINE.”
    Ugh. How about a long-term double blind survey about addiction in kids who co-slept and those that didn’t? Do “self-soothing” sleepers later look to outside, inanimate sources of comfort instead of having healthy, mutually beneficial and respectful relationships with partners and children?

  25. Does this incident, described by my husband when our daughter was about 18 months old, count as self-soothing? She slept in a bedside cot attached to our bed with no barrier between us and one night woke up and called me. I was deeply asleep and didn’t immediately respond but DH woke up and saw her crawl over to me, snuggle in, lift my nightshirt, latch on and nurse back to sleep!

  26. Kim says:

    Great article! Thank you so much for tracing the concept of “self soothing” back to it’s source! I always knew that responding to baby at night was important but had difficulty answering people who insisted that baby needed to “learn” to sleep and learn to “self soothe” I work in a school and see many children ( and adults) who do not have skills of self regulation and self soothing. To expect a baby to develop this skill while screaming alone in bed would be hilarious if not so, so sad. Sleep can be big issue for exhausted parents but to add on the burden that they are doing something wrong if they do not teach their infant to get along without them is not helpful.

  27. Wendy Wisner says:

    Awesome! Thank you. This whole topic raises my blood pressure as well. As a mom, La Leche League leader, and IBCLC, I’ve seen it over and over again: it is NORMAL for children to need to be soothed *by their parents* for the first few years of life. It’s NORMAL!!!!! The whole self-soothing thing is completely made up, but parents seem to think it’s an essential part of raising a child. Grrrr….

  28. waggermama says:

    Reblogged this on Thames Valley Sling Babies and commented:
    An interesting look at the history of “self-soothing”

  29. This is a really good post. I myself do not have children but my friend who is a recent mum was talking about self soothing not long ago. I always thought self soothing sounds awful – don’t know whether this is because I’m young and not a mother myself but if I was upset and could not get across my needs I would want someone to pay me attention!!

    Very insightful

  30. Rinna says:

    I suppose my inherent problem with accepting that there is a need for babies to learn how to self soothe is that other than it is less work for the parents, how does this benefit our babies in the long run? Are there any longitudinal studies that show that babies who learned to sleep by themselves by x number of months are more successful/emotionally stable adults? This whole self soothing phenomenon, who does it benefit? Our kids or our lifestyle?

  31. Mother Nature, or God (or whoever created us), provided us with a wonderful thing to ensure our survival. It is called instinct. So when our baby cries and we experience that rise in blood pressure, that need to go to our baby and soothe them…that is maternal instinct kicking in. A primal instinct for us to protect our young and ensure that the human race prevails.
    There isn’t a study on earth that will convince me otherwise.

  32. Lisa says:

    THANK YOU, John Hoffman! As hard & wonderful) as the first couple of years of life are with a new baby, these unrealistic expectations that get thrown around (while normal for 1/3 of babies, great for those parents, yeah!) just make the job harder for the rest of us.

  33. Michelle says:

    I wish people would stop trying to button hole people! Not every baby is the same! Some babies settle easier than others and some parents (god forbid) let their babies cry for more than 2 seconds before going to them! My daughter was a great sleeper till the age of 7 months (and no, nothing changed in that time) then she was very hard, and my son, who’s now 3, was an absolute nightmare from the moment he was born! I get so sick of hearing that by letting a child cry that you are going to scar them for life! What a crock! My children are fine and I certainly didn’t jump up and run into the as soon as they started! With my son, it had nothing to do with feeding or anything, it’s just his nature! He only just started sleeping through the night about 3 months ago. I just wish that people would stop trying to tell people how to ‘settle’ their child and if YOU think that they are not doing what YOU think is right that they are scarring their children for life and are somehow the worst parents in the world!

    • uncommonjohn says:

      Hi Michelle: I am on record, in an earlier blog <> as saying that there is no proof that babies will be scarred for life if you leave them to cry in an attempt to teach them to sleep through the night. Far too many things go into determining how people turn out, including their mental health, for anyone to be able to say that “controlled crying” as some call it, or CIO, as others call it, caused emotional damage. What matters is how parents relate to babies most of the time. I will have more to say about this in a future blog.

      • Shannon says:

        I agree with Michelle. You have to know your baby. As a mother, each of us learns what cry means what. My son, when he was younger slept all thru the night. Then when we changed daycares, when he was about 9 months, he had problems sleeping through the night. Both daycare’s claimed to set the sleeping schedule to be around the same time so I think a part of it was due to the way the new daycare went in anytime a child cried. I don’t think it’s a bad thing to let a child cry for a period of time- it’s all about monitoring the child and the cry it gives off and knowing your child. I don’t like how its getting to the point where if you aren’t constantly nurturing a child, people get upset and think you’re a bad mom. I don’t think in 30 yrs the same child will be messed up if they were left to cry in a crib or unable to cope with things on their own when a parent goes in to sooth them. It has to do with the complete way a child is raised and with the child’s personality. I liked one saying I saw once: There is no way to be a perfect mother, but a million ways to be a good one. This helps me if I feel I’ve made a mistake- (which EVERY mother will do eventually)…. that we are all different and we need to do our best to raise our kids the best way we know how – the hardest part is to let go of those that are judging you and do what you believe is best for your child.

  34. Kylie says:

    Looking forward to your next blog on breastfeeding.

  35. Hannah says:

    I am very eager to see what you have to say about breastfeeding and how it relates to STTN. I am a mother of a 7 month old who only STTN when we co-sleep and probably only because feeding her (breast) is so uninterrupted to her nightly sleep. She has never “self soothed” though getting her to do so has been a matter of some stress in this housel

  36. Jodie says:

    I for one am glad that my baby had no clue about self soothing because I get to cuddle her back to sleep when she wakes! They are only babies for a short time, til they get all “i’m a teenager and I want my independence” might as well enjoy it!

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  38. Sofia Harris says:

    Thank you so much for this. It’s a reassuring read and indeed it helps to have this information when people are constantly asking if your baby is ‘good’ and attributing this to them sleeping through the night, labelling them ‘naughty’ if not! I feel so much more ‘normal’ attending to my almost 6 month old every 2hrs at night. 🙂

  39. laura thomas says:

    Brilliant…… thank you for sharing. Why we keep fighting a babies normal behaviours and instincts is a mystery. Babies don’t understand fitting in with a parents needs and expectations: they just are who they are, and some need lots of cuddles. I treasure those cuddles as I know that time passes quickly and soon this will pass. I accepted before my son was born that I would have broken sleep (both my partner and I were not ‘good sleepers’ as babies) and that acceptance has seen me through (even though I’m flipping tired!)

  40. Kimberly says:

    I just wanted you to know how much I needed this article at this exact moment in time. I’ve been feeling like a failure because when my 16 month cries at night we go to him..

    • uncommonjohn says:

      You’re not a failure Kimberly and I’m really glad you found my blog helpful. But you know what? It makes me sad too. My wife and I felt exactly the same way as you do, but that was 28 years ago. It saddens me to think that mainstream sleep experts still have such a poor misunderstanding of parents and the negative – at times devastating – impacts their advice has on some parents.
      For us, the absolute worst thing about our night waking experience was the emotional turmoil we felt because we couldn’t control something that experts were saying we should be able to control. Once we accepted that our kids were nightwakers and that we were going to live (and cope) with night waking rather than trying to fix it, the whole thing became easier. It still wasn’t easy, but at least we had shed our emotional problem and could put our energy into solving our practical problem, which was getting enough rest.

      I wish you all the best. It will get better. That may take some time, but it will get better.

  41. Helen Lang says:

    Really interesting and thoughtful blog. I work as a breastfeeding counsellor and often get asked about self soothing. Looking at the research into raised stress hormone levels in supposedly soothed babies and, as another respondent comments, on babies going into ‘freeze’ as they are unable to fight and flee, I generally ask parents if they are happy to give their baby the message ‘give up, no-ones coming’ (although I am extremely careful how I phrase this). Having been persuaded to try Dr Ferbers techniques on my own babies, I honestly feel self soothing is such a dishonest term to apply to such a brutal practice.
    On the subject of co-sleeping have you read Dr Mckennas work e.g. http://neuroanthropology.net/2008/12/21/cosleeping-and-biological-imperatives-why-human-babies-do-not-and-should-not-sleep-alone/

    • uncommonjohn says:

      Hi Helen: Yes, I know Jim McKenna and his work very well. I’ve never met him in person, but we have talked by phone and e-mail many times over the past ten years or so. Wonderful man.

  42. Pingback: Recent Study Claiming 'Cry It Out Best for Babies' Lacks Proof » Tales From the Nursery

  43. Please, please. You must keep blogging steadily. Many of us are speaking up for babies, but we need your mind, your interpretation to help us back up what we already know to be true- babies need their mothers and fathers and should not be trained.

    Thank you for this wonderful piece. I will be sharing it far and wide.

  44. katy says:

    I am the mother of a baby boy who is a couple days shy of 6 months old. For the most part he is a pretty good sleeper. I am guilty of co-sleeping. (or starting baby off in the crib and bringing him to bed with me when he wakes up somewhere between 3am and 5am. People are always giving me a hard time because I rock him to sleep or nurse him to sleep at night. They say I need to “sleep-train” or let him “self soothe” and I get so frustrated because I feel like I am a mom and he is crying because that’s the only way he knows to communicate right?! I also tell them I don’t mind holding him.. hes only a baby once so I don’t mind “babying” him while he still is. I catch so much heat for this. Then I also think every person sleeps different so of course every baby is going to sleep differently. Then there’s the fact that people say he needs to be independent… I wanna scream at people “BABIES ARE SUPPOSED TO BE DEPENDANT that’s the point they need their mother’s/parents!!! thank you for posting!!!

  45. Linda Cheston says:

    My seven children vary in age now from 27 through to 42. They were totally breastfed and all slept through most of the night most nights between three and three and a half. This self-soothing talk is fallacy,

  46. colbypearce says:

    Excellent article, John. Happy to share it via FB and Twitter 🙂

  47. coppercoat says:

    First of all, the CIO sleep method is NOT synonymous with letting your child cry when they are hurt or hungry etc. It’s not meant for ANYTHING other than teaching your child healthy sleep habits. Secondly, before you make comments such as “Sleep training doesn’t seem worth it when there is a risk of damaging my child’s brain development”, PLEASE, read the actual studies. The children with emotional, developmental problems, etc are ones who were literally abandoned and whose parents never responded to any cries. Don’t make things up and say sleep training causes those issues because the studies show they don’t and when you say things like that it just shows your ignorance.

    and WHY are you people even agreeing? This is NOT scientific research. its someones opinion. Doctors, scientists, EXPERTS, peditricians (yes even my sons, who is all for attachment parenting says proper CIO is fine) all say CIO, if done properly, has NO long term affects on the child, except to teach them healthy sleep habits.

    • kim says:

      Parents need to decide whether and when to respond to baby crying at night. The issue this blog post was about is telling parents that “self soothing” is a “skilI” that babies need to learn which is baloney. Letting babies cry may be a management tool for parents or just happen when parents decide not to respond to certain cries at night but it does not teach a “skill”. Babies whose parents respond to them at night are not missing out on this developmental “skill”. The author said and many agree that occasionally or under certain circumstances letting the baby cry is not going to damage the child however many people (including me) do not believe that there is any benefit to the child either.

    • mimi says:

      Waking during the night is totally healthy and normal for babies. So what do you mean by healthy sleep habits? Leaving anybody to cry their heart out and offer no comfort is unhuman. Nobody would do it to his mother or wife. Yet in our society is perfectly acceptable to do it to children who have no means to cope. When baby falls asleep after crying when nobody comes, he didn’t learn healthy sleep habits he’s learned to give up hope. Evolutionary babies were never meant to be left crying, it must feel like total abandonment and near death experience.

  48. Andrea says:

    Great post! What bothers me is that we expect babies to “self-soothe” and yet, we’d never treat a partner, a grown-up, this way (ignore their cries). So why on earth we think it’s a good thing to do to completely helpless babies that have no idea why no one is responding, I don’t know.

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