Yesterday, fellow founder Heather Hartzell sent me this NY TIMES Mother Load Opinion Piece – Sleep Training at 8 Weeks: ‘Do You Have the Guts?’. Sleep training at 8 weeks? With such a sensational headline, I had to read it right away. My immediate reaction as a mom and a pediatric sleep consultant was “hell no, I do not have the guts to advise the parent’s of an 8 week old client to leave their child for 12 hours straight.” I wouldn’t have done it with my own children and I would feel irresponsible advising another family to do so. My issue with the methodology described in this piece has nothing to do with the end result – yes, an 8 week old can absolutely learn self soothing skills! I have done this using gentle methods with my own child and with many clients and have seen amazing results, but again I do it in a gentle manner which respects all of the baby’s biological needs. For example: I am currently working with a 10 week old. I wrote him a custom sleep plan – one which ensures that he is taking restorative naps all day, going to bed for the night before he becomes overtired and gently allowing him to practice his self soothing skills. As he is just 10 weeks old, we scheduled in two feedings over night. And guess what happened? Just three days in this baby who had been cat napping all day (on the go or in a swing) and waking a few times a night, is now falling asleep on his own for naps in his crib, dozing off on his own for bedtime with no tears and…drum roll…two out of the last three nights has slept 11 hours straight. When we take the time to thoughtfully tend to each of the baby’s sleep needs, good sleep can’t help but ensue.
So my issue here is three fold:
1. Teaching a child (of any age) self soothing skills is not as simple as shutting the door and coming back 12 hours later. In order for a baby to learn to be a healthy sleep loving child, they must have a routine and schedule in place that respects the 5 foundations of healthy sleep (click here for more). This must include putting your child down in a rested state so that they can easily drift off on their own and not scream for hours because they haven’t napped that day and are hopped up on cortisol. I would hope that pediatricians, in advising their patients to impart self soothing skills to their children also touching on all of the other pieces of the puzzle that go along with sleep success.
2. By directing parents to simply put their child down at 7pm and not return until 7am, where does that leave them in terms of daytime sleep? Is daytime sleep inconsequential if these babies are sleeping 12 hours a night? If you have your baby sleeping through the night can you simply say – screw a daytime schedule or a having to enforce a nap routine? Nope. Sleep is cyclical. Without good daytime sleep, the quality of nighttime sleep can not be restorative as a baby who is not napping is going to bed in a chronic state of sleep debt. Simply stated, sleep debt is the accumulation of the stress hormones cortisol, adrenaline, and noradrenaline in our systems. If a child is not napping (or not getting in good restorative naps) during the day they are entering bedtime flooded with these hormones. Even if they are not calling out for help – they are for sure experiencing nighttime wakings as these hormones are present during shifts in sleep cycles, stimulating the child into a wakeful state. While 12 hours a night is great, it is not enough for a baby who is in need of at least 14-16 hours of sleep in a 24 hour period.
3. Can every 8 week old go 12 hours without a feeding….especially one who is being breast fed? For sure some can, but can all? I have found time and time again that if a baby has self soothing skills and is on the correct schedule, they will sleep through when their belly is ready (click here for more on night feeds). That is why for young babies, I schedule night feedings into their night – because I am not going to be the one to let someone else’s baby go hungry! Am I a wimp? Maybe, but I am a realist. And I know from experience that my sleep loving, well rested babies, usually sleep right through those scheduled feedings.
Want to learn more about gently teaching your baby to be a great sleeper from the start (we can begin as early as 6-8 weeks)? Email me: firstname.lastname@example.org