Mark Woods: Family Matters

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As if getting your baby to sleep at night wasn’t already top of most parents’ to do lists, along comes a great wad of research which suggests children who sleep poorly are more susceptible to weight problems in later life. Thanks a bunch.

So now millions of new mums and dads pacing their landing at 3.57am with an unsettled little one have something new to think about too. The study carried out at Massachusetts General Hospital for Children found that infants with consistently poor sleep had the highest rates of body fat and obesity by the time they reached the age of seven.

The whole world of baby sleep has turned into an ideological battlefield though in recent years with the debate around the best technique to employ to ensure a restful night for all becoming polarised and not a little fractious.

In one corner you have the co-sleepers and in the other the sleep trainers. Parents who subscribe to Attachment Parenting, the philosophy based on sensitive as well as emotionally and physically available parenting, commonly co-sleep with their infants either in the same bed or the same room.

But a BMJ study last year stating that sharing a bed with a newborn increases the risk of sudden infant death syndrome fivefold put the practice in serious question for many. However, it still has staunch support amongst its advocates who essentially see it as the most natural thing in the world.

They say it leads to more independent, confident or outgoing children and that the emotional security it fosters even leads to a child with higher self-esteem.

At the other end of the spectrum are parents who train their babies to sleep in a formalised way based around the establishing of routines.

This can mean waking, and often feeding at the same time to establish a routine that works with your baby’s own biological clock.

There couldn’t be a starker difference between the co- sleepers and “cry it outers”, and online parenting forums are alight with often angry debate around the subject.

What’s for certain is that this new link with obesity will do nothing to dampen these sleep wars down one iota.

Twitter@mark_r_woods