When babies wake up crying in the middle of the night, often the best thing parents can do is ignore them, a new study suggests.
While plenty of research clashes on this issue, the latest study, published in Developmental Psychology, says most babies are best left to cry themselves back to sleep, a process called self-soothing. All babies wake up in the night, the study says, but only some cry out. By always getting up to comfort a crying baby, parents may be encouraging a dependence on late-night interventions.
The researchers from Temple University in Philadelphia had 1,200 parents report on their babies' sleeping habits at various ages up to 36 months.
By six months, 66% of babies were sleeping through most nights - a trend that improved as they got older. But 33% were waking up regularly, making much slower progress.
Those babies were more likely to be irritable and distractible and have breastfeeding and sensitive mothers.
"When mothers tune in to these nighttime awakenings and/or if a baby is in the habit of falling asleep during breastfeeding, then he or she may not be learning how to self-soothe, something that is critical for regular sleep," lead author Marsha Weinraub said.
"The best advice is to put infants to bed at a regular time every night, allow them to fall asleep on their own and resist the urge to respond right away to awakenings."