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Part One of Infant Sleep Methods: Dr.Marc Weissbluth

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Who would’ve thought that there’d be a need for endless experts giving today’s parents advice about a basic and natural human activity: Sleep!

This series on infant and child sleep examines a few of the current big name “Sleep Doctors:” Dr. Marc Weissbluth, Dr. Harvey Karp, Mrs. Elizabeth Pantley and Dr. William Sears.

Part One looks at Dr. Marc Weissbluth, a practicing pediatrician based in Chicago, Illinois and the founder of the Sleep Disorders Center at Children’s Memorial Hospital in Chicago. He’s written Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child, where he outlines many of his findings about the negative effects of over-scheduling and sleep deprivation on children, teenagers and adults!

Dr. W has studied sleep for a few decades, in various roles: researcher, pediatrician, scholar, and father and grandfather. His conclusion is that sleep deprivation, even in small increments, is bad for physical and mental health. Sleep deprivation interferes with brain functioning, physical growth and emotional stability. And these issues in turn, create stress in children and families.

Dr. Weissbluth feels that we all should be invested in protecting the sleep for our children’s and our own health. How can we do so? He says that supporting reasonable sleep habits early on in infancy prevents development of a sleep disorder which can persist into toddler-hood, early childhood and beyond.

In general, Dr. W lists the negative effects of sleep deprivation to be:

  • Impacts the development of good concentration
  • Mimics jet-lag (overall fatigue, grumpiness, disorientation)
  • Tiredness tantrums
  • Diminished brain growth
  • Higher cortisol levels, which in turn increases the risk of obesity
  • in teenagers, results in more drug & alcohol use and daytime sleepiness
  • in mothers, can cause or exacerbate postpartum depression

Dr. Weissbluth also advocates that there are many ways to be a good night-time parent. He thinks all families are different and that different methods work for different families. Dr. W outlines three ways to approach night-time parenting: no-cry, some cry (graduated extinction) and let cry (extinction). He also believes families should be flexible: different methods work for different babies/families.

He advocates flexible, safe, good enough parenting. He thinks parents should free themselves from the guilt and rigors of attachment parenting. He has witnessed a broad range of loving parenting practices that produce securely attached and emotionally secure babies/children/adults people.

A Few Dr. Weissbluth Sleep Philosophy Guidelines:

  • Preserve the sleep and preserve emotional and physical health
  • Approach sleep training inidividualistically: Tailor your approach to both your individual baby’s fussiness level & temperament type and to your parenting style
  • There are three general approaches, no-cry (attachment parenting), some-cry (graduated extinction), let-cry (extinction)
  • No-cry is fine if it works for you & your family, but don’t judge others; it’s not the only way to be a good parent
  • Some-cry may take longer to achieve goal of baby self-soothing to sleep than let-cry
  • Let-cry might be necessary in extreme cases to help mom get some sleep, to prevent postpartum depression and to prevent health problems in baby
  • Use small shaping behaviors to move slowly towards & achieve sleep consistency
  • Practice consistency in parental approach and sleep times
  • Establish a sleep schedule based on baby’s sleep cues
    • Sleep cues are subtle, a lull in activity, staring off, rubbing eyes
    • Don’t wait until the baby/child is overtired, as it will be harder for the baby/child to fall asleep easily or fall asleep at all
  • Develop and maintain a consistent soothing-to-sleep routine, using such cues as gentle infant massage, darkening the room, rocking, swaddling, nursing, pacifier, holding, etc
  • The entire family is impacted by lack of sleep if one person does not sleep
  • Working parents should not expect their schedules to impact their child’s schedule
  • Cut back on activities as too much over-scheduling impacts the family’s health

Here’s a more thorough review of Dr. Weissbluth’s recommendations.

What do you think?

Stay tuned for Part Two!

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