23/01/2013 11:39 GMT | Updated 23/03/2013 05:12 GMT

Tough Love? A Guide to Controlled Crying for Babies and Frazzled Mums

Controlled crying? Self-soothing? No, we're not talking about the best way to handle 'Blue Monday' - moreover how frazzled parents can best get a good night's sleep.

Research by American psychologists, published earlier this month, studied the sleep patterns of 1,200 children from birth to three years. Marsha Weinraub, professor of psychology at Temple University in Philadelphia, said that alongside regular bedtimes, it was best for parents to not respond when their children call out or cry, especially after nine or 10 months of age. She said this will help them learn how to "self soothe" and settle themselves.

Of course this is harder for some babies than others - and almost impossible for some parents. Critics of the study suggested it encouraged hardline parenting best left in the 1950s. But Weinraub points out that the research also showed that mothers of babies who woke persistently were more likely to suffer from depression, which of course doesn't make the challenges of new parenthood any easier to overcome.

Thankfully, there is a compromise. Linda Geddes, author of new parenting tome Bumpology, points out that less severe methods have also been shown to be effective.

"For example, instead of ignoring cries, they can leave progressively longer intervals before going in and reassuring the child, or they can stay in the room with the child but ignore its cries," she said. "The main goal aim of all of this is to teach children to comfort themselves, rather than relying on a parent to do it for them."

There is also a method known as scheduled awakenings, where, if the baby is often waking up at the same time in the middle of the night, setting an alarm clock for 15 to 30 minutes beforehand, rousing them then lulling them back to sleep to break the habit.

"Strict controlled crying may work faster than scheduled awakenings in babies that often wake up at night, but in terms of getting babies to fall asleep in the first place, the research suggests that all forms of controlled crying were on a fairly level playing field, along with establishing positive bedtime routines," Linda said.

For all the mums' armies and expert studies, goodness knows parenthood is tough enough without confusing mothers with conflicting advice. By all means read the studies, read the books, arm yourself with the knowledge. But moreover arm yourself with the confidence that your motherly (or fatherly) instinct that bonds you with your baby is the most important thing and any parenting decisions start from there. Most experts agree that controlled crying shouldn't be used on babies under six months old - use that time to establish a routine that works for you.

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