Backlash from parents after economist claims babies sleep better if left to cry

An academic’s claim that babies sleep better if they are left to cry has sparked furious debate on social media. 

Emily Oster, an economics professor, has been praised by some and sharply criticised by others for saying that leaving babies to cry makes them sleep more soundly and doesn’t cause any developmental damage.

The professor at America’s Brown University and author of new parenting book Cribsheet, said a baby whose parents do not check on it every time it cries will not cry for long, according to available data. 

Professor Oster said her research showed that letting an infant bawl until it falls asleep again, will teach it to get back to sleep quickly, without the child feeling disturbed.

Emily Oster’s new book ‘Cribsheet‘ looks at breastfeeding, vaccinations and co-sleeping, as well as ‘controlled crying’. (AFP/Getty Images)

However, numerous parents have refuted the controversial claims, calling them “damaging” and “against nature”.

“B*******. That was said to parents in the 1990s as well. Now we have a generation of insecure adults,” tweeted one sceptic.

“Parents, don’t buy into this. If your baby is crying, they need you.” 

Another agreed, writing: “It brings to mind the bad old days with books that contained harmful ‘guidance’ that condoned such harmful practices which parents duly followed. 

“It is NOT advisable on any level to leave a baby to cry until she gives up hope & falls silent. I don’t care who the book’s author is.”

A separate Twitter critic questioned Professor Oster’s credibility as a parenting guidelines source: “’Sounds like this ‘economics’ professor should defer to the pros on this one. 

“My sister is a history professor, she said if you talk nice to bears they won’t maul you to death. Do you trust her or the professional nature tour guide?”

Other parents have backed the author and mother-of-two’s theory. 

“I’m 32 and was left to cry out, as were all my siblings and cousins. It was a done thing back then. I’m successful and have a great relationship with my parents as do my siblings,” commented one mother.

“I would love to see the proof that this causes long term side effects because it certainly hasn’t with anyone i know. If you want to do it do it, if not then don’t.”

Professor Oster has defended her conclusions, explaining that she spent the last two years analysing the benefits and risks of “sleep training” or “controlled crying” – in which a parent or guardian doesn’t respond to a crying baby for some period during the night.

“In studies where parents were encouraged to use this technique and others were not, they found – on average – after the sleep training, babies sleep better,” she told MailOnline.

“Many studies found parents reported their babies are happier after the sleep training than before. In addition, there seems to be some benefits to parents, including less maternal depression and better marital satisfaction.”

The professor also found that by the age of six, “there is no difference” in terms of behaviour or academic performance between children “who were sleep trained using this method and those who were not”.

The claims appear in Emily Oster’s new book, ‘Cribsheet‘. Her first book, ‘Expecting Better’, discusses the data behind common pregnancy rules, arguing many of them are misleading.

“The focus of the book is not just providing people with an answer, but also going through the data and trying to help make it clear why I reached these particular conclusions,” she explained.

“I went through the thousands of papers of academic literature and used my training to sort out what the best evidence says.

“It isn’t my goal to persuade parents to sleep train their children. This is a personal choice which each family needs to make for themselves.

“Like many other things in the book, the goal is really to provide people with evidence so they can make the best choices for them.”


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