A recent survey of more than 500 parents highlighted safe bed sharing and breastfeeding as the most successful sleep aids. In contrast, the majority of those who used controlled crying or cry it out would not use these methods again.
The research, conducted on behalf of the Better Rest Method, asked parents to rate sleep methods they had used with their children. The survey was shared on various social media sites and was completed by 555 parents.
The most successful sleep solutions, those which parents were happy with and would use again, were breastfeeding as a sleep aid (98% happy), coping strategies for the parent, without trying to change the child’s sleep (98% happy), and safe bed sharing (97% happy). Comments included, “We have been happy since we decided to follow the baby’s cues regarding sleep.”
The techniques which parents regretted using, those which they would not use again, were cry it out (93% unhappy), sudden night weaning (93% unhappy), and controlled crying (89% unhappy). This was either because the technique did not work, they felt it had a negative impact on the child, or they would avoid it after learning more. One survey taker added, “Parents should be advised of the dangers of controlled crying or cry it out with young babies. I wish I could go back to when my daughter was a baby, knowing what I now know.”
Parents struggling with baby sleep may wish to learn from the experiences of others and stay away from the less popular approaches. Even more interestingly, the survey suggested that focussing on sleep may be the wrong approach entirely. According to some replies, avoiding all sleep methods may give the best ‘value for effort’. One parent wrote, “Change your expectations not your baby. I try not to think or talk about sleep”, and another said, “Honestly, what helped the most was not listening to any theories/programs and doing what worked for each child – both are very different in sleep needs.”
Next, the survey asked parents what they found most helpful in coping with baby and toddler sleep patterns. Perhaps surprisingly, information was rated the most helpful, with almost all respondents (96%) finding they could cope better once they felt better informed on normal infant sleep and what to expect, as well as knowing how to help their baby sleep safely and comfortably. Next on the list was emotional support from partner, family or friends, described as helpful by 93% of respondents. Replies included, “All you have to do is for women to be advised to join a La Leche League group near them. There is no comparable provider with this supportive information in many territories.” Another said, “Having more information on the idea that sleep patterns and whether your baby is a “good” or “bad” sleeper is much more about the baby than anything you have or haven’t done would be very helpful!” Comments like these highlight the importance of support and information.
Overall, the results suggest that parents are happier and better able to cope if they have access to information, know what to expect, and don’t try too hard to alter their babies’ natural sleep patterns. “I wish I had realized sooner that helping my baby and I get good rest is a constantly evolving process, just like helping her in any other developmental area.”
Limitations: The sample was a convenience sample drawn from social media connections of the Better Rest Method and its followers. This sample may include a higher proportion of parents who have an interest in gentle baby sleep. Further, 555 parents is clearly a small number compared to the total population of parents who try sleep strategies, and this sample does not include certain groups such as those not on social media, or those in CIO support groups, who may report different success rates. In addition, of those completing the survey with useable responses (n = 555), a smaller number had tried controlled crying or cry it out (n = 315), compared to the number practicing breastfeeding as a sleep aid (n = 487) or safe bed sharing (n = 504). To improve the reliability of the results, a wider and more systematic sample should be sought. View the survey questions here.