If you’ve made the commitment recently to get your baby to be on a firmer sleep schedule, you may be surprised to find out that there are benefits to this other than getting you back to a more sane state of mind, and out of the sleep-deprived haze you have been living in! It could also be good for your little one far past this stage in their development and have significant impacts on their future health. This is about more than just you catching up on that much-needed sleep. Recent research shows creating healthy infant sleep habits helps prevent obesity later in your child’s life.
The recent study, published by researchers from Penn State College of Medicine, found that inadequate sleep was linked to a faster weight gain in babies. The findings suggest that teaching parents bedtime techniques to encourage healthy sleep habits for their baby can help prevent childhood obesity — so sleep-training your baby now will have a positive impact on their health further down the road.
Creating Healthy Infant Sleep Habits Helps Prevent Obesity
The study opens with this statement: “More than 20% of US children between ages 2 and 5 years are overweight suggesting efforts to prevent obesity must begin earlier.” The research was intended to demonstrate ways to reduce the chance of childhood obesity while the child is still in infancy stages, so that parents wouldn’t need to worry about their child’s weight a few years down the road.
In the study, 291 mother-newborn pairs were assigned randomly to one of two groups. Members of the first group were given obesity prevention education material that covered sleep-related behaviors, bedtime routines, improving sleep duration, and avoiding feeding and rocking to sleep. Members of the second group, the control group, were given safety education about preventing sudden infant death syndrome.
Results of the study showed that infants of parents from the first group went to bed earlier, had a more consistent bedtime routine, and slept for longer than infants from the second group. The sleep-trained babies were also more likely to self-soothe to sleep without being fed and were less likely to be fed back to sleep when they awoke during the night. And at nine months, infants who had learned self-soothing behaviors and went to bed by 8 pm slept for on average 80 minutes longer.
What’s perhaps most interesting is this: The babies from the first group demonstrated a much slower weight gain than those from the second group, and were far less likely to be overweight by age 1. This finding suggests that creating healthy infant sleep habits helps prevent obesity early on in children’s lives.
Researchers on this project included lead author Ian M. Paul, Jennifer S. Savage and Michele E. Marini, Center for Childhood Obesity Research, Penn State College of Health and Human Development and others.
Keeping Baby Awake Won’t Make Him More Tired
Many parents opt for keeping baby up longer in the evening, in hopes that they’ll be less likely to wake during the night. But the results from the Penn State study show that this method is not effective.
Says lead author Ian M. Paul, “When parents keep babies up longer, they just sleep less. If you want your baby to sleep longer and better, put them to sleep earlier.”
It’s a fact of life: regardless of what time we put babies to sleep, they’re likely to wake during the night. But it’s important to teach healthy sleeping habits by avoiding nighttime feedings. Says Paul, “If we don’t set the expectation that they’re going to be picked up and fed, they learn to soothe themselves back to sleep.”
Feeding is Not Always the Answer
Feeding a baby is an easy way to quell the agonizing 3am crying episodes. But the Penn State researchers warn against this practice, saying that feeding a baby back to sleep teaches the baby that late-night crying comes with a reward.
Instead, the study authors suggest, new parents should let babies cry themselves back to sleep rather than feeding them. Abstaining from late-night feedings teaches babies to self-soothe so that they can fall back to sleep on their own instead of depending on a feeding to do so. Researcher Jennifer Savage says, “We don’t want parents to use feeding to soothe their baby if the baby isn’t hungry – [and] crying is one of the last things a baby is likely to do if they are hungry.”
Easier said than done, of course — If baby’s crying is driving you crazy, do what it takes (to a certain extent) to make your life a little easier. The occasional nighttime feeding won’t harm the baby in the long run, but make sure it’s not habitual. Your baby’s health (and your own) will thank you!
What’s your reaction to these findings? Leave us a comment and tell us what you think!