Sleep training and attachment: What you need to know!

baby sleeping with teddy

Some parents are concerned about a break in trust or attachment when sleep teaching. Before we dive into some research to put your mind at ease, it is important to note that none of the methods I use involve leaving your baby to cry for long periods or tell you not to respond if baby is distressed. In the context of a loving and supportive home, trust and attachment will not be broken by guiding your little one towards independent sleep.

There seems to be a lot of debate surrounding this issue, leaving parents feeling overwhelmed and confused and I wanted to share some insights supported by research that may help shed light on the matter.

Firstly, it’s important to understand that responsible sleep training (or sleep teaching as I call it), when done with your little one’s well-being in mind, does not harm attachment between parents and infants. In fact, it can have numerous benefits for both the child and the parents. Let’s explore this further, with references to recent research:

Improved Sleep Patterns

Research studies, such as the one conducted by Mindell, Telofski, Wiegand, and Kurtz (2009), have shown that sleep teaching methods can help establish healthy sleep habits and routines for babies. These methods have been found to be effective in reducing night awakenings and improving sleep consolidation (1).

Parental Well-being

Adequate sleep is crucial for parents too. A study published in Pediatrics, conducted by Mindell, Li, Sadeh, Kwon, and Goh (2015), found that sleep teaching interventions not only improved babies’ sleep but also positively impacted maternal mood, reducing symptoms of postpartum depression and improving overall maternal well-being. A lot of this has to do with the major role sleep deprivation plays on mental health. (2)

Secure Attachment

Research conducted by St James-Roberts, Alvarez, Csipke, Abramsky, and Goodwin (2006) examined the effects of graduated extinction sleep training on parent-child attachment. Please bear in mind that this method is one I offer only if parents request it and we only use it once we have optimised EVERYTHING in order to set little ones up for success. Most of the time however, I inform and coach parents on more gentle, responsive methods. But back to the study. The study concluded that sleep training had no adverse effects on attachment, and infants in the sleep training group showed no signs of increased distress or reduced responsiveness from their parents (3).

A Customised Approach is Key

It’s important to note that there isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach to sleep teaching. It is so important when working on improving sleep, to consider your little one’s temperament and your parenting style. This is why working with a holistic sleep coach can provide valuable guidance and ensure a tailored approach that aligns with both the parents’ and baby’s needs.

These research findings support the notion that responsible sleep teaching methods (in the context of a warm, loving and supportive home) do not harm attachment in babies. Instead, they can support healthy sleep patterns, contribute to parental well-being, and promote the development of independent sleep skills while maintaining a strong bond between parents and their littles.

If you would like to work on sleep with me, have a look at my packages. We can get you more sleep! Want to do it by yourself but with a step-by-step plan? Check out my 3-12 month and 1-3 year old guides!

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