Sleep Training Your Infant: Part 1

This research project has been one heck of a beast to tackle.

In my Advanced Writing Class (Writing in the Social Sciences) my final project is a research project on the topic of my choice; The *Ferber Method, or 'Crying it Out' was my choice.

Many, many parents have to make the choice of whether or not to use this method. Before this research paper I did not have a favorable opinion of it, and the professors in my classes didn't say much about it other than they don't believe it is healthy for an infant.

I decided to get down and dirty and find out whether or not it works. After hours of reading hundreds of pages of intense research papers (I literally read two to three hundred pages) I created my thesis:

Contrary to popular belief, the ‘self-soothing’ approach to sleep training is ineffective at fostering independence in young children and may produce negative side-effects such as developmental delays, insecure attachment with the infant's caregiver, and **externalizing behaviors later in life.

I will keep this as short and as sweet as I can. If you would like to read more in-depth on a certain section, email me and I will send you the sources I used. The articles and research I used are only available through the university, I only used sources that are academic or written by professionals, therefore they are usually not available through Google (sadly). I will start out by laying down some cold hard facts and then use those facts to support my argument that sleep training is not beneficial for all infants.

FYI: Infants are younger than 2 years.

  • Infant and adult sleep patterns are completely different. They eat and defecate more often than adults do, and therefore they wake up more often. 
  • Infants need active sleep (REM) for their brains to develop, active sleeping means that there is more waking up in the night. i.e. waking up every couple hours is NORMAL. In fact, it is unhealthy if your infant does not wake often in the night. 
  • In order to fall asleep, babies need to be rocked and/or nursed by their caregiver (Sears, 2011). 
  • Infants will eventually learn how to soothe themselves BACK to sleep if they wake up in the night but this will take a while (usually around eight months to two years, depending on your baby). However, by one year your baby will again start waking more often in the night, usually because of teething, development of separation anxiety, etc. Do not worry, this is normal (Porter, 2007). 
  • Summary: do not expect your baby to sleep like an adult: their brain is different, their body is different, their logic is different, etc. It is normal for them to wake up often to eat or seek comfort. 

Infant Temperament
  • Some babies are capable of self-soothing while others are not. These babies are the ones that can sleep for long periods of time and their parents brag about it, making other parents feel that their child is abnormal. If your child wakes up every three hours needing to be fed or soothed back to sleep, your baby is just fine. Just remember, "baby sleep habits are more a reflection of their temperament rather than your style of nighttime parenting." (Sears, 2011) 
  • Overall, boys cry more than girls do. When a mother is required to respond more to a crying infant a stronger attachment is built. Professionals believe this could be why mothers and sons build a strong attachment as early as infancy. 

Here's a little lesson for those of you who are not familiar with child psychology. Attachment theory states that human beings form attachments to each other. Pretty simple, right? Mary Ainsworth expounded on this theory and came up with three different types of attachment with infants and children. These characteristics are secure, ambivalent, and avoidant.
Secure Attachment is when a child feels secure with their parent because the parent exhibits caring and consistent parenting. Benefits of this kind of attachment are: feelings of self-worth, social competence, and fewer behavioral problems (Leerkes, Parade, and Gudmundson, 2011, p 1)
Ambivalent Attachment (also known as disorganized or disoriented) is a result of poor maternal availability. These children cannot depend on their mother to be there when the child is in need. They are confused and do not trust their mother for consistent caregiving or comfort. Studies have shown that these children seem to fight for their mother's attention; they may also exhibit random and sporadic behavior to keep their mother's attention on them.
Children with an avoidant attachment tend to avoid parents or caregivers. When offered a choice, these children will show no preference between a caregiver and a complete stranger (how sad!). Research has suggested that this attachment style might be a result of abusive or neglectful caregivers.

This video has examples of all three attachment types. I find it extremely fascinating! Especially when I can tell which children in primary have secure, ambivalent, and avoidant attachments to their parents.

Why is attachment so important? "Without bonding, babies fail to thrive, and even risk death." (Porter, 2007)

Positive, nurturing parental response impacts the brain in two very important ways:
Decreases the impact of subsequent stress on the brain
Enhances brain growth and the development of brain systems that support attachment, emotional regulation and problem solving. (Porter, 2007)
On the flip side, babies who experience neglect or abuse are at greater risk for mental illness, behavioral problems, cognitive impairment, and brain damage. (Porter, 2007)

Wow, that is A LOT of writing and I'm sure you are all tired of reading, so I'm going to continue this discussion in a couple of days. The next post will be about infant development and emotional regulation, Ferber method, and healthy alternatives.

*Ferber method: sleep training method that became popular in the 1980's and 90's. It consists of intervals of training your infant to soothe himself to sleep.

**Externalizing behavior: when a person experiences stress or disturbing experiences they either externalize their feelings in the form of hitting, pushing, or bullying, or internalizing their feelings in the form of anxiety, depression, or low self-esteem.

UPDATE Instead of writing a new post on sleep training, I would just like to clarify a few things:

  1. The crying it out method that I am addressing is the idea that you can start leaving your young infant (2-6 months) alone in a room and let them cry for over 30 minutes, WITHOUT checking back. Young infants do not have the cognitive capability to understand you are still in the house. It is better to at least let them know that you haven't abandoned them by going into the room and verbally reassuring them.
  2. I don't want parents to feel judged based on these two posts; I simply want to share some research I have found based on neurological development.Parenting practices are deeply personal. My opinion is that each parent should be able to do what they feel is best for their children without feeling rejected and/or judged by their friends and family.
  3. Each baby is different. I can't emphasize this enough. My parents tried CIO with me and I vomited and threw myself out of the crib. This is dangerous (duh). My brother, however, thrived sleeping on his own. When he was two he wanted his own room where he could be undisturbed by anyone else. he just naturally self-soothed without any sleep training. Same parents, same parenting practices, completely different children (and results).
  4. There are so many books that outline similar, but different methods. Read and adjust as needed. There are quite a few books that offer more gentle options of sleep training, and I would encourage you to explore all the options before committing yourself to one :) 


  1. This is really interesting to read. Thank you for posting it. My son is 13 months and is having MAJOR attachment issues. Where I can't even leave the room when we are somewhere other than home without him breaking down. To know it is normal and okay helps me so much! :) I'm really enjoying your posts!

    1. As a mother with a 5 and 7 year old whom I successfully trained to sleep through the night before 3 months old (6-7 hours) with wonderful and appropriate attachment development, I can tell you this is NOT normal for this age. I would search for other sources before it's too late!
      No offense, because I enjoy this blog and this writer and I could be friends!- it is best to take advice about children from mother's who have done things successfully, verses young people who have simply read books. No bashing intended. Just stating what the bible states and has worked for me and most I know!

    2. After taking 2 full years of child development classes and spending a summer at an internship designed to help parents understand their child's development I have spoken with many mothers who call in and express their concern about separation anxiety around the age of 12-18 months. My supervisors and professors have said this is a normal behavior and it is only abnormal if children do not grow out of it. Some babies may never experience anxiety from separation, while others may feel more anxiety than most. It all depends on the child, and the only concern parents should have is if their child does not grow out of it within a few months.

  2. Oh I'm so glad that you find it interesting! I will be posting the second part soon. Your son is completely normal! Around one year babies get separation anxiety very easily, it's nothing to worry about, and, in fact, you can be happy that he's developing normally and has a secure attachment to you :)

  3. I loved this! It made me feel validated for the way I handled my babies. I didn't have the "luxury" to let them cry it out. . . Damian was in Law School, the bishopric and working graveyard shift with baby Emma, so when he was home, he needed uninterrupted sleep! She slept in our bed so I could nurse her every 2-3 hours. . .then when she was 18 months, Josh was born. He started sleeping with us and she moved to a crib. . .3 steps from our bed! Then, with Rachel, we lived in an apartment and I couldn't let her cry, or it would bother the neighbors. All the adults in my life told me to let my kids cry, that it was weird that they slept with us. I just didn't listen out of necessity. And it felt right. I cherished the time with those precious babies (especially now that they're OLD!!) We owned a home with Katrina, but if she cried, it would wake the other 4. . . so I followed the same pattern. Ben was a different baby than the others. I didn't realize it til now, but he must have been my only self-soother. I put him in a crib with the other 4 in the same room. . . and he would still wake to feed and I'd go grab him and then put him back in his crib. Never woke the others (probably trained them to all be better sleepers) but I also didn't let him cry for very long. I became a light sleeper, but you know, I'm a nice, heavy sleeper now, so it's not permanent! I just never bought the "let them cry themselves to sleep" idea. I'm glad. And thanks for helping me feel validated! Love you! I think your degree will be more useful than you realize. You'll be an excellent mother and you'll be able to help all your friends/ward ladies with things. You'll be an invaluable resource! Love you!