“When we first told our in-laws what we were doing, they thought we were monsters. Now they think we’re geniuses.”
I recently spoke to a journalist about this article in the New York Times. A pediatric group in New York is encouraging families to start sleep training via a strict extinction protocol— that is to say, put their baby in his crib, close the door, and go in again in the morning. This is “cry it out” at its most extreme– none of the checks popularized by Dr. Ferber in his seminal book.
Extinction is clearly a very effective method for sleep training. The problem is that many parents don’t have the heart to do it. (In the interest of full disclosure, we did with my older son at about five months of age. Night 1: 2.5 hours of crying. Night 2: 20 minutes of crying. Night 3: No crying). It is pretty hard to tolerate, although it is pretty clear that sleep training does not harm your child and I think that parents shouldn’t feel bad about doing it.
The conventional wisdom is that sleep training should start around 4-6 months; the assumption is that by then babies are a) able to self soothe (although this is a slippery term) b) don’t need calories at night.
When I reviewed the papers describing extinction, I could tell what the youngest age there was evidence for. This could work for some infants and families, and may make parents’ lives easier. Certainly, it is easier to train an infant instead of a toddler who can climb out of his or her crib. My concern is that it may not work for some babies, and it is unclear how long parents are encouraged to do this.
Right now, I think that most parents are best served by waiting until four months because there is clear evidence of benefit. If a motivated parent asked me about doing this, I would say:
- Don’t even consider it unless your baby is growing well and you’ve discussed it with your pediatrician.
- Likewise, if there are medical concerns, I would wait.
- Make sure your baby has a safe sleeping environment
- If you do it, commit to 3-4 days. If you don’t have any improvement in that time, stop and try again in a month or two.
So, does this sound extreme to you? Would you try this for your baby?