An article on a The New York Times’ blog was published this week and with a title like “Sleep Training at 8 Weeks: Do You Have the Guts?’ it was always destined to go viral. Having received comments and emails about it, seeing many comments across social media claiming that the article is about child abuse and finally a very popular gentle parenting expert baying for the blood of ‘sleep trainers’ I thought it was time to make our position on this article crystal clear.
A couple in New York City took their 2 month old newborn to their paediatrician for a routine check-up. They sound like your typical new parents: very tired but happy with how their little daughter was progressing. The author mentions that the baby was gaining weight, feeding well and was smashing out pretty consistent 6-8 hour stretches of sleep overnight. Pretty good for a 2 month old!
This report was apparently not well received by the paediatrician who then advised that their baby “could be sleeping 12 hours a night” and that it was time to think about sleep training. What the recommended technique was is what has fired up parents across the globe: he proposed that they put their 5.4kg 8 week old into her cot at 7pm then not go back in to check, console, feed, adjust or comfort at all for 12 hours. They were told she would cry, possibly for hours, but that she would soon “get the picture that nobody was coming to her rescue and would begin to sleep through the night”.
Thankfully, the parents questioned this – they wondered if it was really okay to try strict cry-it-out on “such a tiny, hungry, helpless little creature?”
Our baby sleep consultants’ view
As certified child sleep consultants and mothers ourselves, this article is very distressing and we want to be very clear why. We are NOT shaming parents who have tried this technique with their own 2 month old. Our baby sleep consultants will never judge tired desperate parents for doing something they think is right for their child – how could we? We have walked miles and miles in those exhausted shoes and we know that sometimes it’s very hard to think clearly and logically when you’re operating on the memory of sleep. The promise of a sleeping baby can be enough to warrant trying anything!
What we think is incredibly wrong in this scenario is that a health professional (arguably the most influential in new parents’ lives) has used his position of power to plant a seed of doubt in otherwise happy parents’ minds. By their own admission they were pleased with their baby’s progress! Why make them second guess their instincts by holding out a glittering prospect that they will have to pay a very dear price for?
Cry-it-out on a 2 month old
Cry-it-out is pretty much the most extreme form of sleep training technique, but it does have its place. Is it appropriate for an 8 week old for 12 hours? Absolutely not. No baby sleep consultant from The Baby Sleep Company will EVER advise a parent (let alone a happy parent!) to do cry-it-out on a baby who is only 2 months old.
In fact, no baby sleep consultant from The Baby Sleep Company will ever advise ANY parent that they have to do cry-it-out to have their child go to sleep.
When is cry-it-out appropriate then?
For some parents though, when their baby is at an age where it is appropriate for them to not feed overnight anymore cry-it-out is their best option. I have seen many people deem it as cruel and bad parenting and even abuse but honestly? You try telling that single mother of four children (including newborn twins) whose 16 month old is waking constantly that she needs to co-sleep with the 16 month old and just reach out for more support from her village.
I would put it to you that yes, cry-it-out is firm and tough but what is truly cruel is to bully that mother into not trying a sleep training technique that is advocated by a world renowned paediatrician (Dr Marc Weissbluth – NOT the one the New York Times blog post was about) and is age appropriate for her baby. What is truly cruel is to let her sink further into her terrible post-natal depression when literally three nights of cry it out could change her (and her babies’) life for the better.
So what DO our baby sleep consultants do when they work with newborns?
Consultations with families wanting to improve their young baby’s sleep are very much in line with Dr Harvey Karp’s concept of the fourth trimester – basically that a tiny baby should really still be in the womb so we make their environment as womb-like as possible. Appropriate wakeful periods is an important concept too, as well as realistic expectations, hands on demonstrations of swaddling and soothing techniques, logistical advise on how to manage older children while tending to your young baby and lots of other helpful and reassuring advice. At no point would one of our baby sleep consultants advocate leaving a baby this age to cry without responding to them.
To be absolutely clear:
- The baby sleep consultants from The Baby Sleep Company will never tell parents of an 8 week old to try cry it out
- Our baby sleep consultants will actually never tell ANY parent that they need to try cry it out
- Cry it out IS a technique that we offer to families with an age appropriate child if the family says that they want to try it BUT we will always talk them through the other sleep training options where the parents would respond to their babies cries as well
- It is not up to us to choose how parents address their child’s sleep problem – it is our job to present all of the information in an unbiased way and to support the parents with whatever they choose to do. This is what we love about our job…every family is so different!
- And finally, it isn’t a problem unless it is a problem for your family – we are not the sleep police. If you are happy with how your baby is sleeping then HURRAY! We are happy too. If you are not happy, let’s chat and see if there is something we could do to improve it but while staying within the bounds of your parenting philosophies.
Katie & the baby sleep team xx
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If you would like personalised help with any sleep issue for a child, newborn to 5 years, contact The Baby Sleep Company today on 0457 473 725 or click here to send us an email.