There is a common myth that sleep training can interfere with a baby’s secure attachment to their parents, but the reality is quite different.
Let’s start by clarifying what we mean by secure attachment. Secure attachment is a bond between a child and their caregiver that is based on trust, safety, and comfort. It develops over time and is critical for a child’s emotional and social development.
Build Attachment Through Response
Parents create secure attachments with their baby’s by responding to their needs. Each time a baby is hungry and a parent feeds them, the attachment is strengthened and maintained. Every time an infant cries out of boredom or loneliness and a parent responds with attention and care, the attachment is again strengthened and maintained. Attachment is created, strengthened and maintained through hundreds of small moments of caregiving throughout the day and night, every day and night of a child’s life.
There is a pervasive myth that sleep training can harm this bond. Some parents worry that by not immediately responding to their baby’s cries during sleep training, they will damage the secure attachment they have worked hard to build. This idea is promoted by dozens, if not hundreds, of pro-natural parenting advocates through parent communities and social media.
A 2012 study published in Pediatrics found that there was no negative effects to sleep training infants (Five-Year Follow-up of Harms and Benefits of Behavioral Infant Sleep Intervention: Randomized Trial).
So, why is this the case? One reason is that when parents prioritize their own sleep and well-being, they are better equipped to respond to their baby’s needs during waking hours. When parents are rested and emotionally balanced, they are more attuned to their baby’s cues and can provide the care and attention that their baby needs to feel secure.
Another reason is that sleep training can help babies learn to soothe themselves to sleep. When babies learn to fall asleep independently and soothe themselves back to sleep, they are better equipped to handle stress and anxiety in the future. This is a vital and foundational stepping stone to building the skills of emotional self-regulation.
Of course, it’s important to note that there are many different approaches to sleep training, and what works for one family may not work for another. It’s important to choose an approach that aligns with your values and goals, and to work with a qualified sleep consultant if you need support.
The myth that sleep training can harm a baby’s secure attachment to their parents is just that – a myth. In fact, sleep training can be a helpful tool for promoting healthy sleep habits and ultimately strengthening the bond between parent and child. So, if you’re considering sleep training, rest assured that you’re not damaging your attachment with your baby – you’re helping to foster it.