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Sleep training at 2 months? Controversy brews over extreme 'Cry It Out' method

A pediatrics group says it's OK for babies as young as 2 months old to sleep train — advice that other doctors say could be dangerous.
/ Source: TODAY

A respected pediatrics group recommends that parents let their babies as young as 2 months old cry themselves to sleep — advice that other doctors say could be dangerous.

TODAY's Savannah Guthrie said she just couldn't go through with it.

“It’s very hard,” Guthrie, whose 18-month-old daughter Vale is a patient at the doctors' group, said on the show Tuesday.

“I tried it and I cried myself to sleep all night long. I couldn’t do it myself. I think that I get why people say at some point, you have to let them cry a little bit so they can learn to settle themselves. But for me, 2 months was too early."

The practice, known as “extinction,” was highlighted in an article in The Wall Street Journal on Monday. As part of sleep training, which encourages an infant to sleep through the night, this approach directs parents to let their baby cry it out and resist the temptation to console the little one after bedtime.

Some pediatricians recommend it for infants who are 4-6 months old, but Tribeca Pediatrics — which has offices in New York, New Jersey and California — says it’s more effective in babies who are as young as 2 months.

“It actually works better at 2 months than at 4 months. It is tougher when the baby is used to more soothing,” Dr. Michel Cohen, the founder of Tribeca Pediatrics, told the newspaper.

Dr. Deborah Gilboa, a Pittsburgh-area family physician and a TODAY Tastemaker, recommended against trying this approach.

"The research is pretty compelling that up until 6 months, kids benefit by being picked up when they cry," Gilboa told TODAY Parents.

"To be left to cry it out for 20 minutes, half an hour, or an hour at a time, causes trauma at that age."

It's really hard to understand why babies are crying, she added. Up until 6 months, and sometimes longer, crying is all they have to express any kind of distress. They may be crying because they haven't figured out how to soothe themselves to sleep, but there could also be something more serious happening: it's difficult to know, Gilboa said.

Critics of the practice also point out children that young are usually not physically able to sleep through the night. "What To Expect When You're Expecting" notes that most 2- and 3-month olds need to be fed during the night, and says 11 pounds is the "magic weight" when, based on metabolism, babies can get through the night without being fed (they may still want some extra comfort, though).

The TODAY anchors weren’t sure "CIO" at 2 months was a good idea.

“That’s hard,” said Matt Lauer.

Natalie Morales pointed out her sons were still feeding every two hours at that age, so she wondered how a parent would know the crying doesn’t signal hunger.

“At that point, I’m answering that cry,” she said.

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