These are external links and will open in a new window Close share panel Image copyright Thinkstock In the last five years there has been a big increase in the number of consultants who say they can train babies to sleep through the night without waking or demanding to be fed. This may be great for parents, if they can afford it. But there are disagreements about how good it is for the child.
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It's 2am and if you are the parent of a baby who does not sleep well you may well be pacing up and down in your baby's room trying to get your little one off to sleep. Cold, tired and craving the comfort of your bed, you may be rocking or feeding the wailing child, singing, or just sitting by the cot holding a little hand - anything to get him or her to drift off again.
Anna Cormack from Manchester knows what sheer exhaustion feels like.
She has three children - Johnny, the youngest, is 15 months old and wakes up at least two to three times in the night for breast feeds. Cormack feeds him to sleep and has not had a full night's rest since he was born. Her partner frequently works at night, so night-time parenting falls to her. You can do one night, even two, but it's constant.
Night after night it has an effect on you. Image copyright Anna Cormack Image caption Cormack would like her son Johnny to sleep better at night Cormack says she copes well but would like to have more energy and creativity, and better memory. Also it makes me obsessed with Johnny having his naps at home so I can nap too, which makes me quite house bound," she says. This is the kind of experience that might make some parents these days consider hiring a sleep consultant.
There weren't many of them around 10 or 15 years ago but the number has rapidly increased in the UK in the last five years, says Julie Cleasby, European Regional Director for the Association of Professional Sleep Consultants. Like many other sleep consultancies, the company offers a range of packages, from telephone and online support, to home visits and overnight stays.
The last of these would be easily affordable by someone like the chef, Jamie Oliver, who recently hired a night nurse for his newborn River Rocket , but might be a stretch for many parents. Palmer says it's very common to come across a child like Johnny who won't go back to sleep after waking at night without being breast-fed.
In Johnny's case, she says she did not immediately eradicate all of his night feeds but set up a schedule where these were gradually reduced to just one per night. She says this gave Cormack and Johnny clarity about when he would be settled back to sleep and when he would be fed.
After this she introduced a sleep training programme called "gradual retreat". And then, when he accepted that, she just sat next to him, not patting him. Then she moved further away and further away until she could go out the door," says Palmer.
Johnny cried intermittently for around 15 minutes on the first night, Palmer says, but then accepted the changes to his bedtime routine. There are children who cry for longer, though, and in this case she says the parent should be a comforting presence.
What parents shouldn't do is to give the baby mixed messages by reverting to feeding him or her to sleep. Image copyright Thinkstock Image caption Many people find the lack of sleep the hardest thing about being the parent of a baby or toddler "There aren't always tears, but I think the majority of the time there is," says Palmer.
Some researchers who have studied the effect of leaving a baby to cry have measured elevated levels of the stress hormone, cortisol, and it's been speculated that this could harm the child's emotional development. Another study, however, found no negative effects on children five years after they had been sleep-trained with this technique.
So the picture is unclear.
If you look at the research, what we know is it's entirely normal for a child to wake regularly at night until about two-and-a-half years of age Sarah Ockwell-Smith "Any kind of crying is stressful… and it does raise cortisol levels," says Palmer. She says you should never sleep-train a baby under six months old, or if there is an underlying reason that has not been addressed - like reflux or colic.
Also, the parent needs to be in the right frame of mind and shouldn't feel pressured to do it by friends or family. But should we even be attempting to sleep train babies at all?
Do not give your baby any product containers to hold while you are changing her; instead give her a toy to hold and play with. ALWAYS keep one hand on your baby when using a changing table, even when you are using the provided safety strap.
Many parents believe their child has a sleep problem, she says, when in fact it is just normal infant sleep. She says she sees mothers who have tried sleep training and it did not work for them, or it initially worked, but then a few months down the line their child's sleep had become worse. Sleep statistics Image copyright Thinkstock According to the report - Sleep: Is the baby eating something that's causing an issue, is there something physiological underlying it, is it something to do with the timings of things that's causing an issue?
You're not going to regret rocking your baby to sleep or feeding them to sleep. Palmer would also welcome regulation in order to keep standards high, and she advises parents to do as much research into practitioners as possible before hiring them.
Prof Helen Ball of Durham University argues that it's crucial for parents to ensure that their consultant sticks to safe infant sleep practices - and does not, for example, advise putting babies to sleep on their tummies, which dramatically increases the risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome. How did sleep training work for Anna Cormack and Johnny? After three-and-a-half weeks of the programme, Johnny now wakes up once in the night at around 1am or 4am.
He is also falling asleep on his own in the cot without being breast-fed. And after 15 months, Cormack is finally getting more sleep. Join the conversation - find us on Facebook , Instagram , Snapchat and Twitter.
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