To pick up or to leave a crying baby? This is a much debated area of childcare and one for which there is still no definitive answer. A recent study published in Developmental Psychology, while not providing evidence as to which approach is correct, is of interest with regards to infant sleeping patterns and the factors associated with a good night’s sleep.

The Sleep Study

The study observed the sleep patterns of infants aged 6, 15, 24 and 36 months and then considered potential factors that might influence this. These were factors that previous research has shown to be associated with sleep difficulties including the baby’s character, their health, whether they were breastfed, how secure they felt when a parent is close and whether their mother was depressed and how sensitive she was. This piece of research involved 1215 new mothers who answered questions in relation to how well their baby slept at night and the factors associated with sleep patterns, some of which were also studied by way of an assessment of mother and baby.

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The Findings

Sixty six percent of infants were reported to typically only wake once in the night between the age of 6 and 36 months, while 34% of babies were waking nightly at 6 months, which fell to twice weekly at 15 months and weekly by 24 months; the latter group were known as transitional sleepers. However, some children were still waking every night at 36 months of age. The characteristics most commonly associated with transitional sleepers from the study was that they were male, still breastfed at 15 months, had a “difficult temperament” according to their mothers, who also tended to suffer from depression when their baby was aged 6 months.

The Conclusions

The results may seem simple on the face of it, with some infants taking longer to manage to have a full night’s sleep than others, but including the factors associated with sleeping difficulties made it more complex. Despite the association seen between sleep and characteristics of the infant and mother, it is not possible to say that these are the cause of sleep problems, as for example in the case of ill health in the baby or maternal depression, this could be the result of poor sleep patterns. While some newspapers have suggested that as a result of the study’s findings parents are best to leave their babies to cry during the night, this is not supported by the results of the research, which does not provide evidence for the debate over whether crying babies are best picked up or left to self-soothe.