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Infant sleep training eases mom's depression, doesn't harm baby

Published: Thursday, Sept. 13 2012 12:55 p.m. MDT

Researchers, from the University of Melbourne, did a five-year follow-up on the effects of infant sleep training.

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"Controlled comforting" and "camping out," two techniques to help baby get to sleep, can reduce maternal depression in the short term without harming baby in the long term, according to a study from Australia just published online in the journal Pediatrics.

The researchers, from the University of Melbourne, did a five-year follow-up on the effects of infant sleep training. In "controlled comforting," parents take a little bit longer each time to respond to baby's crying to help the baby settle herself. The "camping out" technique involves being there but allowing a baby to learn to fall asleep, slowly removing themselves from the need to be present.

Research says that baby's sleep issues are a major contributor to maternal depression, but those problems are seen by nearly half of parents with infants between 6 and 12 months old. They often lead to visits to see the doctor, in search of help, which is expensive and time-consuming.

Earlier research in 2007 by the same team had shown that both parents and babies benefited when the babies were taught to settle themselves using behavioral techniques. But an article by Reuters noted that "Parents and doctors, however, have expressed concern that the techniques could harm the child's emotional development and thus their later mental health and ability to handle stress. There were also concerns over whether the techniques would impact the children's relationships with their parents."

The researchers tracked 225 children from the original study. Back in 2007, families with infants who has sleep problems at age 7 months were randomly assigned into a group that taught how to use one of the two techniques and a group that was offered no training. Those parents were not prevented from seeking such training or advice independently at other centers.

While it can make a big difference to sleep-deprived parents and help reduce maternal depression, benefits that could still be seen when the child was 2, by age 6, no differences were seen in attachment, behavior or sleep quality because of the sleep training. "The authors conclude that the sleep techniques are cost-effective and safe to use," the authors wrote.

"At the end of the study, no differences were observed in either set of families for any measure, including children's emotional and behavioral health, sleep habits and stress levels, parent-child closeness and parental depression or anxiety," wrote Salamon.

"This helps parents make their own informed decisions on how to manage their baby's sleep," study author Anna Price, postdoctoral research fellow at Murdoch Children's Research Institute at the Royal Children's Hospital, told U.S. News' HealthDay reporter Maureen Salamon. "Based on earlier studies, we anticipated there would be no long-term negative effects but wanted to know whether the benefits to children's sleep and mothers' mental health extended past two years."

Time magazine's summary of the research was "no differences in mother's levels of depression or anxiety, or in the strength of parent-child bonds between families who had used sleep-training and those who hadn't."

EMAIL: lois@desnews.com, Twitter: Loisco

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