A recent article in The New York Times titled “Sleep Training at 8 Weeks: ‘Do You Have the Guts?” spoke of a large New York City pediatric practice encouraging parents of a two month-old to start sleep training and to cut all feeds and sleep train using CIO (extinction) from 7pm to 7am.
Of course my inbox filled with the following question “When can I start sleep training?”
How soon is too soon?
Confession time: I successfully sleep trained each of my three children at three months of age. By 12 weeks-old they were sleeping through the night with no night feeds. They were healthy, eating well, had proper growth and weight gain, and I had the knowledge and confidence to take it on. It’s a decision that to this day I am confident and sure of. They are now seven and four years-old (twins) and are happy, healthy, rock star sleepers who love me dearly…most days.
I know it’s possible to sleep train before the recommended age of 4-6 months of age. It can be done. BUT I don’t recommend clients start formal sleep training until a baby is at least 4.5 months of age and here’s why:
While healthy sleep habits can begin early on, even as early as eight weeks of age, it’s only at around four months of age that babies internal sleep rhythms are beginning to develop enough to start following more of a sleep routine. Biologically it can be difficult to put a baby on a set sleep routine in the 4th trimester so it’s important to first factor the corrected age of your baby. If your child was born premature we need to make sure we are basing our start time around their biological age. So, not when they were born but rather when their estimated due date was. One of the biggest sleep training mistakes I see parents make is starting too soon without the proper support and education to guide them and then quit when things don’t come together. It can be discouraging and that discouragement becomes an obstacle in starting the process again.
We also want to make sure that there are no medical issues and I will always recommend that parents talk to their doctors during your baby’s 4-month appointment. Getting the okay from your doctor and having them on board can give mom and dad that added reassurance that they need to stay 100% committed to the sleep plan.
Be aware of your milk supply. Sleep training should never compromise moms milk supply. If mom is concerned with her supply or struggling with it then sleep training may need to be delayed or a more gradual method should be chosen. It’s okay to keep 1 to 2 feeds at night if that is where your comfort level lies. By six months of age I begin to encourage parents to cut feeds if that is what they are prepared to do.
And lastly you need to ask yourself what the NYT article asks us: “Do you have the guts?” The decision to sleep train can be a tough one and it’s important that you and your partner be on the same team. Sit down and make sure you are able to support one another throughout the process. Make sure you are 100% ready to take it on and if you’re not, that's okay. You can start sleep training when you feel more comfortable doing so and possibly have more confidence in the process. Until then take small steps like setting up a consistent and safe sleep environment, start to follow a more biologically appropriate schedule and be careful not to extend wakeful periods to avoid overtiredness. Choose the method that works for you and work on the associations like night feeds once you are more ready to do so.
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