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Baby Sleep Debate: a Live Chat With Dr. Sears and Dr. Weissbluth

Baby sleep debate

Highlights from a live chat with 2 sleep experts

Some would call it a baby sleep show-down.

Today, Julie Deardorff of The Chicago Tribune moderated a live chat with sleep experts Dr. Marc Weissbluth, author of “Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Baby” and Dr. Bob Sears (Dr. William Sears’ son), pediatrician and supporter of c0-sleeping and “nighttime parenting.”

Deardorff may have prepared her own questions, but instead she was deluged by questions and comments from readers during the chat, including:

How can I start to sleep train my fussy 5 week old?

My 14-month-old wants to nurse at night still, what do I do?

What do I do with a cat-napper?

My 5-month-old wakes up 10 times a night!

and of course the requisite: Does the CIO method cause brain damage?

Since sleep is one of my favorite topics, I was listening intently. Here’s what the two docs had to say:

Weissbluth On the question of sleep training a 5 week old, he didn’t say to let a baby this age cry. He said that when your baby begins to “social smile” around 6 weeks after her due date, you should start to put her down earlier in the evening — around 6 – 7 p.m. The mistake many parents make at this point is keeping their baby up too late at night. Weissbluth kept stressing that early bedtimes and “consolidated sleep” are important. And that the quality of sleep is more important than the duration.

I was pleasantly surprised to hear him say to a mom of a 5-month-old who wakes twice a night, “feed him if he’s hungry.” Most babies wake up once or twice a night and that’s perfectly normal, but lots of parents feel like they’re doing something wrong if their baby is eating at night.

One mom, and the chat moderator herself asked Weissbluth about putting babies on their bellies to sleep because they sleep better that way. He took the safe route by saying back sleeping lowers the risk of SIDS and he didn’t acknowledge that most babies sleep better on their bellies and that back sleeping (which we absolutely do for safety reasons) can make sleep more difficult for a few months.

Sears didn’t criticize parents for sleep training and he also said — to the question of whether his methods or Weissbluth’s were right – that there is no right, there’s just what’s right for each family. Loved that.

On the issue of a toddler night-nursing, he basically said to keep feeding her at night (if she wants to eat) until she’s 18 months, when she would be ready for the “breasts are asleep at night and wake up when it’s light out” approach. His stance on most of the questions was for the parent to be the “soother” until a child was older (he didn’t say how old) and ready to take over the job of soothing himself. Until then, co-sleeping is a great way for everyone to get a better night sleep, he said.

Sears said something I really liked, which was that short naps are totally normal. So many parents have short 30-minute nappers, which is really okay, but we have this idea that a “good” nap has to be 2 hours long. A nap is a nap, and 30 minutes is restorative and important too.

I was surprised to hear Sears say a spirited 8-month-old who wakes every hour might have a sensory processing disorder and to talk to an OT. I had never heard that as the first explanation for an older baby who wakes up that frequently.

On the question of how crying at night could cause brain damage, Sears said “I wouldn’t say brain damage,” but he added a whole section on cortisol levels and stress.  Weissbluth pointed out that lack of sleep harms brain development. If you want to know more about the research behind this issue of CIO, see my full Science of Kids article on the topic.

Have you read Sears or Weissbluth sleep books. What did you find most helpful?

Image: flickr

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