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'Controlled Comforting' for Infants is Effective: Study

Update Date: Sep 10, 2012 09:02 AM EDT

A new study by researchers from Murdoch Childrens Research Institute claims that "controlled comforting" and "camping out" (behavioral sleep technique) not only helps infants sleep better, it also reduces depression levels in mothers.

Researchers, who conducted the first ever study of its kind to have looked into the long term effects of these sleep techniques, say hey are safe to be used in the long-term.

For the study, the researchers followed the sleep patterns of 225 children from infancy till they were 6-years-old, keeping  track of the effects of their mental health, stress levels, the child-parent relationship, and maternal mental health.

To start with, parents who complained of problems with sleep in their 7-month-old infant were divided into two groups. While one group was offered a sleep program, the other one was the control group, with no sleep program administered for the babies.

the sleep program involved one of the two techniques mentioned above, along with positive bedtime routines. The techniques involved either "controlled comforting," wherein parents responded to their infant's cry at increasing time intervals to allow the child to self-settle/soothe, like leaving their baby for short and progressive intervals of 2, 4,6,8 or 10 minutes before returning to comfort them.

The other technique was "camping out," where parents sat beside their baby till they learnt to fall asleep independently, while slowly moving out from the child's room.

The researchers observed improved sleep in the child and the mother, along with better mental health in the mother which was evident in 2 years. By 6 years of age of the child, this effect faded away, and it was also found that children under the sleep program during infancy were no different than others in the control group in terms of mental and behavioral health, sleep quality, stress and relationship with their parents.

This finding was also true for the mothers and their parenting style.

"Using sleep techniques like controlled comforting with babies from six months helps reduce both infant sleep problems and the maternal depression associated with the baby's sleep problems, and these effects are still apparent up to 2 years of age," Lead researcher of the study Dr Anna Price said.

"Parents can feel reassured that using sleep interventions like controlled comforting and camping out are effective and safe. Given that the techniques work for most families and are cost-effective, parents and health professionals can feel confident using these sleep techniques to manage infant sleep," she adds.

The study was published online in Pediatrics.

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