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Controversy surrounds when to start sleep training babies

Posted May 10

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— Sleep training a baby. It is a hot topic among parents and professionals, but a well-known pediatric group is now recommending parents begin letting their infants learn to soothe themselves as early as 8 weeks old.

Dr. Michel Cohen, founder of Tribeca Pediatrics in New York City and author of several sleep coaching books, tells patients at his practice it is most effective and healthiest to let babies cry it out.

"It sounds horrible, but it is very successful," he said. "We have a lot of experience with it. It takes like two to three nights. It is pretty rough. I make it a point that it is not for everyone."

The guidelines involve establishing a nighttime routine, putting infants to bed at a reasonable hour, then checking on them at 7 a.m. the next day.

There will be crying, Cohen warns, but typically babies sleep soundly for about 10 to 12 hours straight within three nights.

"You don't know how many parents I have who come two years later and say sleep training was the best thing they have every done," Cohen said.

Most pediatricians recommend waiting until a baby is 4 to 6 months old before trying to sleep train.

Dr. Christian Nechyba with Carolina Kids Pediatrics agrees.

"Many babies don't develop the ability to soothe or settle themselves easily until 3 to 4 months of age," Nechyba said.

Still, he encourages parents to sleep train babies by 6 months.

Julia Rodriquez has three boys - the youngest, Indiana, is 6 months old.

"He is up every three hours, I still nurse him about every three hours," she said.

She began sleep training her older boys when they turned 1.

"I would let them cry for maybe 10 or 15 minutes, which feels like forever to hear a child cry, that's why I couldn't do it to a little baby," Rodriquez said.

Danielle Pennington echoed that sentiment. She said she is not ready to sleep train, and neither is her 2-month old.

"You piece together what you can from every study or whatever, but really at the end of the day it's survivalism," Pennington said.

Cohen said the guidelines apply to babies whether they are breastfed or formula-fed. He said it is a matter of teaching the baby to sleep through hunger, as adults do, and put themselves back to sleep.

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  • Kristin Byrne May 11, 11:52 a.m.
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    I really think each child is different and it's up to the parents to figure out what works best for their child. I'm a relatively new parent myself (kiddo is 1 1/2) and he slept through the night from day 1. Well, 5-6 hours was sleeping through the night. He had a sleep regression around a year, so we had a couple sleepless nights, but we got through it. My husband and I found out what worked best, and we just moved forward. These things aren't a one-size fits all type of thing, even though lots of people would like to think they are.

    And I agree about the hunger. I can't sleep when I'm hungry. My stomach hurts!

  • Lee Howell May 11, 9:37 a.m.
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    "Cohen said the guidelines apply to babies whether they are breastfed or formula-fed. He said it is a matter of teaching the baby to sleep through hunger, as adults do, and put themselves back to sleep."

    I know he has the degree and study and I am just a new dad (kiddo is 1 year) but this sounds like a horrible concept. A child's body is changing so much in that first year and he/she needs that nourishment to help their little bodies and brains develop. Now, there does come a point where they are waking and using feeding as a soother but you can determine when that occurs and then try to break the habit but 8 weeks seems very very young to try and sleep train a child.
    It is easier for adults to sleep through hunger, although newer studies suggest that this may not be a good idea either as hunger can lead to more restless sleeping versus getting up and having a light snack but I do not agree with trying to force a young infant to sleep through hunger.