A Melbourne study into the long-term effects of controlled crying has found this controversial method of settling improves infant sleep, causes no problems in later childhood and can even reduce mothers’ depression levels.

Also known as controlled comforting or camping out, the parent-led behavioural techniques included in the study used a variety of step-by-step strategies to teach infants over six months of age to self-settle.

Controlled comforting involves parents responding to their baby’s cry at increasing time intervals to support them to fall asleep by themselves there is no picking up, patting or rocking and results are usually seen in a matter of days.

Camping out is a more gradual method that has the parent sitting with the child as they fall asleep, slowly increasing their distance from the cot over a period of days or weeks.

Researchers from the Murdoch Childrens Research Institute followed 225 children and their families over five years to track the mental and behavioural health of the children as well as the mothers’ depression levels.

The world-first study found there had been no negative impact on those who’d been exposed to the settling techniques between the ages of eight and 10 months compared to those who had not.

Infant sleep problems are reported by up to 45 percent of new mothers and will double the risk of maternal depression problems, according to the study. The spin-off benefits of better baby sleep are improved parent sleep and mental health, and healthier parent-child relationships.

Just published inPaediatricsjournal, the study acknowledged that widespread but unfounded doubts about the safety of controlled crying had resulted in vigorous debate and the reluctance of some families to try the method.

Following the positive outcomes of the study, lead researcher Anna Price said parents should feel reassured that these sleep interventions are effective, especially as a strategy to manage postnatal depression.

"Using sleep techniques like controlled comforting with babies from six months helps reduce both infant sleep problems and the maternal depression associated with the baby's sleep problems, and these effects are still apparent up to two years of age," Dr Price said.