Are babies, comforted to sleep, shocked to later wake alone in a cot (crib)?
It is commonly argued that a baby comforted to sleep will, when waking later in their cot (crib), experience a shock when they notice that they are no longer in their parent’s arms. This shock, it is reasoned, will cause the baby to call out to the parent for comfort. This reasoning is frequently used to discourage parents from comforting their baby to sleep. Parents are, instead, told to encourage their baby to ‘self-settle’ to sleep in their cot from day one. Only if the baby falls asleep in the cot alone, it is argued, will the baby feel calm when they wake and find themselves alone in their cot. This is nonsense. It fact, although this line of reasoning is commonly used to recommend behavioural sleep strategies, it fails on behavioural grounds. That is, it fails as a behavioural account of surprise. To see why, imagine that tonight, after falling asleep in your bed as usual, you stir and wake at 2am. As you become aware of your surroundings you realise that you are in the kitchen, curled up on the middle of the kitchen floor. Would you be surprised? Absolutely! The question is, why? The common-sense explanation is that you’d be surprised because you remember falling asleep in your bed. But, as a behavioural account of your surprise, this is wrong. From a behavioural perspective, the reason you’d be surprised is this: that has never happened to you before. Imagine that you drag yourself up off the kitchen floor and back into bed. The rest of the night and the following day passes as usual. You fall asleep in your bed again as usual and again you stir and wake at 2am. Yet again, you find yourself in the kitchen. You drag yourself back to bed, the rest of the night and the following day passes, you fall asleep in your bed and again wake to find yourself in the kitchen. In fact, you keep waking at 2am and finding yourself in your kitchen, again and again night after night. And here’s the thing: after days and weeks, would you continue to be surprised? Of course not! You’d quickly learn that waking up in the kitchen is now something that happens to you and the event would no longer shock. So, from a behavioural perspective, it is ridiculous to claim that a baby who is regularly comforted to sleep and placed sleeping into their cot, would be shocked to find herself alone in her cot when she wakes. After all, this is an event that has happened again and again since she was born!
Apply it to your life: Do you enjoy comforting your baby to sleep? Does it help your baby to settle to sleep efficiently? Then, go ahead and comfort.
That makes sense. Besides, they’ll have plenty of years of self-settling to look forward to. 😛