Buckle in. Because the “debate” around this topic is always so civilised.
There is no pain like sleep-deprivation. And there is no parenting issue as thorny as sleep-training.
Now, there’s a new method worming its way into your newsfeed, and parents are being asked this: “Do you have the guts to try it?”
The method is: Put your baby down at 7pm and under no circumstances come back in until 7am.
Does that sound full-on? It is.
At eight weeks of age most babies have just started smiling. They coo and giggle at you. They grasp your hair in their chubby fists and their very presence near you becomes a physical pull to touch them, embrace them, kiss them.
At eight weeks they have cemented themselves in your hearts.
So could you imagine leaving them? Shutting them in a darkened room for a full 12 hours and steadying yourself not to go back in. No matter how hard they cried.
It’s gut-wrenching advice – but is coming from very real doctors, and being given to American parents who are asking for help.
This latest sleep-training advice comes from Dr Michael Cohen who runs Tribeca Pediatrics, the largest pediatric practice in New York City and has written the book The New Basics.
He poses the question to parents : “Do You Have the Guts?”
The “guts” is to leave your baby all night without comforting her even once when she is just two months old.
The advice flies in the faces of most cry-it-out methods who recommend waiting until six months to begin any form of controlled crying or cry-it-out methods.
A recent opinion piece in The New York Times by a mother whose newborn is a patient writes that she was advised that her eight-week-old sleeping six to eight hours a night was not enough. The author says she was told her baby should be sleeping 12 hours straight through.
The advice given by Dr Cohen is simple:
1. Put Lucy in her crib at a reasonable hour (while she’s still awake, if possible). The best time is when both of you have had a chance to interact with her for a while after work.
2. After the bath and the songs, kiss her good night.
3. Come back the next morning at 7:00 A.M.
And that’s it.
In our very hands-on era of parenting, as you could expect after advice like this the Facebook page for the Tribeca practice has become a virtual battlefront.
There are tales of success with the method posted alongside many, many, many cries of “child abuse”, “this is damaging”, “flat out neglect” and calls that this is “torture”.
The New York Times claims that despite the emotional nature of the debate research has actually shown cry-it-out methods to be “safe and effective”.
“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.”
Science and logic aside, what I have learnt in my seven-and-a-half years of being a mother is that babies don’t sleep. Well, mine don’t.
My personal experience has been nothing short of jarring with three shockingly bad sleepers – one now aged seven who has still never slept through the night. Ever.
I paid hundreds of dollars for baby whisperers come and stay, I attended public residential clinics, I tried reflux medication and reiki, I tried co-sleeping and cry-it-out. I bought book after book and I Googled till my fingers peeled. But deep down I know I was never consistent.
Related content: We need to calm down about controlled crying.
I simply found it physically impossible to wrench myself away from one of my screaming babies.
I once fired a baby nurse at 3am who I had paid a $700 to teach my second son to sleep. It was her insistence to just leave his vomit till the morning that drove me to ask her to leave and to sweep my 18-month-old into my arms and take him back to my bed.
I know that deep-down bone weariness that only the sleep-deprived feel. I know the brain fog, the thick tongue, the second guessing yourself as paranoia and anxiety creep into each and every decision. I know the inability to control your tears and, at times, your temper. It’s a type of insanity.
And it is dangerous. It’s certainly more dangerous than letting an eight-week-old cry for a few hours and then showering her with love the next morning.
Let me be straight. I don’t condone this advice, just picturing a two-month-old baby along in a dark room unattended and crying makes my breath catch. I wouldn’t do it. I couldn’t do it.
But I don’t condemn the parents who do.
Here’s the difference : In the US – where this practise originated many women don’t have the ability to soldier on. They don’t get to “wouldn’t and shouldn’t”.
They have to work. They have to feed their families.
The maternity leave system in the US is virtually non-existent.
A recent article for Bloomberg Business called “Can the U.S. Ever Fix Its Messed-Up Maternity Leave System?” pointed out:
“Unless you work for a company that voluntarily offers it, or in one of three states, paid maternity leave doesn’t exist in the U.S. A law called the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) grants up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave every year, but it applies only to full-time workers at companies with 50 or more employees. About half of all working Americans are covered by FMLA. The other half—freelancers, contract workers, entrepreneurs, people who work at small businesses—are on their own. Paid leave is even rarer: Only 12 percent of American workers have access to it in the U.S., according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.”
That’s an awful lot of women headed back to work when their babies are two or three months old.
It’s hard to judge these women if their jobs and their families livelihood rests on their sanity. It’s hard to judge other families for their parenting decisions of which we have no background knowledge.
While many of us wouldn’t go down this path – who’s to say if we were in the sleep-deprived slippers of another parent, in another country, in another financial predicament, we wouldn’t also make that choice.
What do you think of sleep-training a baby as young as eight weeks?