“She could be sleeping 12 hours a night,” she said. “It’s time to think about sleep training.”
Sleep training? An 8-week-old?
Our doctor coached us on the recommended technique. Place all 12 hungry, needy pounds of our daughter in her crib at 7 p.m. Close the door and return at 7 a.m. No checking, no consoling and definitely no feeding. She would cry — for hours, possibly — but in about three nights she’d get the picture that nobody was coming to her rescue and would begin to sleep through the night.
The promise that she (and we) could sleep longer was certainly alluring, and I’m no stranger to the idea of allowing your child to cry-it-out in order to learn to sleep. But I was surprised to hear it suggested at 8 weeks. Was it really O.K. to try cry-it-out on such a tiny, hungry, helpless little creature?
The man behind this idea is Dr. Michel Cohen, who founded Tribeca Pediatrics in 1994. His practice now sees nearly 32,000 patients at offices in New York, New Jersey and Los Angeles. “It comes down to this,” Dr. Cohen told me when I called to ask about this approach. “Do you have the guts to do what I’m suggesting? If so, you’ll see it works.” And if not? “Then I expect to see you back at six months, exhausted, asking why your kid is still getting up a few times a night.”
Dr. Cohen, who was born in France and is known for pushing the envelope on conventional parenting wisdom (cow’s milk is fine at 8 months, hold off on antibiotic use for ear infections) did not arrive arbitrarily at the idea of sleep training at 8 weeks. For about a decade, he — and the dozens of doctors he employs — suggested sleep training at 4 months. But over time, Dr. Cohen began to pay attention to the number of patients whose children were naturally sleeping through the night at a few weeks of age, leading him to question his own advice. If a child could sleep through the night without eating at 4 months, why not 3? When people reported that sleep training at 3 months had worked, then why not try 2? “I then began to suggest sleep training at one month, but found that to be too early,” he said. “Parents were too emotional. Nobody was quite ready.”
According to some professional sleep trainers (yes, those exist), the idea of sleep training at 8 weeks is beginning to gain momentum among other pediatricians, and it’s not difficult to find families willing to sing its praises.
“My wife’s maternity leave was almost over. I was already back to work. We needed our sleep,” said Marques Tracy, who decided with his wife, Roopa, to follow the Tribeca Pediatrics approach soon after their son Aidan turned 2 months old. On the first night, Aidan cried for about three hours on and off. The second night he cried for 45 minutes, and the third, maybe 20 minutes. Aidan has largely slept through the night ever since. “I’d say it worked like a charm,” Marques said.
But it certainly isn’t for everyone, nor does it always go as smoothly. “When our pediatrician gave us the green light to sleep train at 8 weeks, I was surprised, because he was so young. But we decided to try it,” said another mom, Manali, who was reluctant to allow me to use her last name because she fears that her actions sound harsh. Her son is now 7 months old. On the first night, he cried for two and a half hours. On the second, more than five. “At four in the morning, I gave up and went to get him. I held him and cried my eyes out, wondering if I had traumatized him.”
The popular on-the-Internet claim that prolonged crying can cause a host of problems — from attachment issues to brain damage — is not supported by research, and as Janet Krone Kennedy writes in her new book The Good Sleeper, top sleep researchers in the United States say that cry-it-out is proven to be safe and effective. But science and logic may not always be enough to reassure parents trying to endure the agony of listening to their baby cry for several hours in the middle of the night.
“I can see why people struggle with the idea of doing this, because it’s a very hard thing to do,” Mr. Tracy said. “When we first told our in-laws what we were doing, and the approach we were taking, they thought we were monsters. Now they think we’re geniuses.”
As for my husband and me? We, in the end, did not have the guts. And as we prepare for our daughter’s next appointment, chances are we’ll show up, probably exhausted, asking how to get her to sleep through the night.