Twelve Hours’ Sleep by Twelve Weeks Old is a book by Suzy Giordano and Lisa Abidin laying out steps you can follow to help your baby sleep through the night by a young age (12 weeks for singletons, a bit older for multiples).
The book is a very quick read and very easy to follow. Suzy is a mom of five children, including one pair of fraternal twins, who had a knack for helping other families and wrote a book about it. And, there are many positive things detailed in the book including “toolbox” ideas and a step-by-step action plan, which are very useful when you are a sleep-deprived parent.
However, of course, as with any book you read, there may be things that aren’t quite the right fit for you and your unique situation. Today, I will review 10 cautions you should consider when considering using this book or method.
1. A Baby Must Adapt to the Family
Part of the philosophy of the book is that a baby must adapt to the family and the family should not adapt to the baby. Although some people do attempt to do this, it can be unrealistic for some babies. Perhaps you go out to dinner with your parents every Sunday at 7 PM. It may not be realistic to expect your higher needs baby to stay awake in a restaurant at that time every Sunday and it may take you days to get the schedule back on track. Your baby’s temperament WILL be a huge factor as far as how adaptable she may be.
I prefer to think that every family member’s needs should be considered when developing habits around your home whether it’s sleep or other things. So, when you add a family member, you need to consider her needs but also not forget about your own. It’s a balance to see what might work for ALL of you.
2. Controlled Crying
In case you were wondering, the author of this book calls her method “The Limited Crying Solution” and a happy medium between cry-it-out and no-cry methods. The approach is simply to let your baby cry for 5 minutes at a time with you out of the room before you intervene and soothe her without picking her up. We call this “controlled crying” and it’s a milder form of The Ferber Method. There are several variations of controlled crying and it can be personalized.
One thing I disagree with in Twelve Hours’ Sleep By Twelve Weeks is that Suzy says that if you let your baby cry longer, he will think “If I cry 15 minutes, I will get picked up.” Young babies are not capable of manipulation nor have a sense of time. It is true, however, that if you continue to let your baby cry for longer and longer periods and then end up putting him to sleep the same way you always have, this will only lead to more crying, not less. It undermines your efforts and all you’ve done is delay sleep.
If you are uneasy about using a crying method, especially being out of the room, you may want to consider a gentle sleep training method.
3. There is not always a “little crying”
The book says that there is less crying using this method, however, in my experience of 10+ years, not all babies will calm much, or at all, if you don’t pick them up. This means that even if you are trying to soothe the baby, it could be a lot of crying, not a little.
In addition, there are no guidelines in the book about how long to let your baby cry in total or what if he doesn’t calm down when you are patting him. The book seems to assume a fairly adaptable baby will soothe within a few minutes and allow you to leave the room again to repeat the soothing every 5 minutes. But, in my experience, for some babies, this only irritates and upsets them more that you are “teasing” them with your frequent visits. Of course, if you follow-through long enough, it is likely to work. I just wouldn’t say it’s a “little crying” in those circumstances, so it’s something for which to mentally prepare.
4. 4 Hours Between Feedings
One of the biggest parts of this book is that your baby will be required to go 4 hours between feedings during the day in order to achieve sleeping through the night and 12 hours without any feedings, the primary goal of the book.
Now, this might very well work for some babies and you may be able to “strongly encourage” your baby to adapt to this feeding schedule. But, I don’t know about you, but I don’t personally go 4 hours between every meal and when I’m working out a lot I tend to get hungry between meals because my metabolism is faster (yay for that!). I might eat breakfast around 7 am, snack around 10/10:30 or drink some coffee, lunch around noon, snack around 3-ish, dinner around 6 pm, and maybe one other nibble around 8 pm, depending on whether dinner was filling or not.
Please note: I am not overweight according to my doctor, though I’m not skinny Minnie either. I am a “healthy” weight for my height and I have an active lifestyle.
So, I do have to pause when I read about ALL young babies (remember we’re talking 12 weeks old here) going 4 hours between all daytime feedings. My very active, athletic boys have very fast metabolisms and do not regularly go 4 hours without eating unless they have to at school (and come home STARVING for a meal!) Babies are growing very rapidly and once they become mobile around 8 months old, they are speeding up their metabolisms. I hesitate to teach them to overeat in order to get to their next meal. Maybe this is my hangup, but in general, it just doesn’t sit right with me. Keep in mind, we are raising future adults who might struggle with weight loss.
We work with many babies who eat every 3 hours during the day and still sleep through the night albeit it may or may not be at 12 weeks old. We have a more conservative approach to night-weaning. We all should feel good about this process and if you feel okay with feeding every 4 hours, then that’s great! This is just a caution as I know many of the parents we work with do not.
5. Not Very Breastfeeding Friendly
One of my biggest concerns about Twelve Hours’ Sleep By Twelve Weeks, in general, is that breastfeeding seems to be an after-thought. We work with a lot of breastfeeding moms and it’s simply not as realistic to expect a breastfed baby to go 12 hours without breastmilk unless they are getting it in a bottle and willing to eat large bottles (6-7 oz which is large for breastmilk) at that.
Yes, there are instructions in the book for breastfeeding moms, but keep in mind that if you go 12 hours without breastfeeding or expressing/pumping your milk, you may experience a drastic drop in milk supply. Breastfeeding and sleep training can go together but we typically keep at least one night feeding until 6-10 months old, depending on the situation and the baby. You can surely get to 12 hours of sleep even if you still have one night feeding, though, and most of the moms we work with are totally fine with that.
6. Not all babies will make progress in 3-7 Days
The book says it takes 3 days to make habits and 3 to 7 days to break habits. In my experience, this simply isn’t true that all babies will make new habits in just one week. For some persistent babies or sensitive ones, they sometimes need more time or a gentler, more gradual method. This is not to say it won’t work…eventually, but having realistic expectations will help you stay committed. While you will likely see improvement in just 3-7 days, it’s possible you will not be “done” for several weeks. Realistic expectations are 1-4 weeks, depending on the extent of your sleep challenges, age of your baby, and your goals.
7. Cuddling = Rewarding Negative Behavior?
Another aspect of the philosophy of the book that gave me pause is the idea that giving your baby attention when he or she is crying is rewarding negative behavior. Babies are babies and are going to cry! And, I don’t know if it’s a good idea to tell new moms that if you give you crying baby attention you are “rewarding negative behavior.” It’s one of the only ways babies can communicate, if not the only way in the early days. That said, you obviously don’t want to ONLY give attention to your baby when he or she is crying. Bonding with your newborn is very important to their physical and emotional well-being as well as your own. We do want to guard against postpartum-depression and bonding with your baby and getting more sleep can definitely help with that!
I encourage you to tend to your crying baby as much as possible, though that does NOT mean you can or should necessarily always try to “fix” everything. Some things just can’t be “fixed” and helping your baby learn to work through it can be key to establishing many good habits in your home even beyond sleep.
8. Sleep Needs
Keep in mind that not all babies need 12 hours of sleep at night and the book does address this. It directs you to leave the baby in bed for 12 hours anyway, so your baby can learn to play contently on her own. This is not the worst advice, however, not all babies will do this no matter how many times you leave them. These are usually the more social babies who like to be around you and people, in general. Also, keep in mind, that downtime in the crib can be bad for your baby’s sleep and lead to insomnia in some cases. And, for newborns, it can lead to a flat head (Plagiocephaly). So, be cautious about this. If your baby needs just 11 hours of sleep, consider getting him up after 11 1/2 hours. You can still delay his feeding by 1/2 hour if you are so inclined.
Babies with reflux often need smaller, more frequent feedings and, in my experience, some won’t even eat when it’s not a sleep time because of the negative feelings surrounding feeding in the past. The book maintains this method can work with babies who have reflux, but my caution to you is that if your baby needs smaller feedings, so he doesn’t spit up as much, then you may not want to work towards feedings every 4 hours (see above). There is, of course, a difference between a baby with reflux who is taking medication that is effective and those with milder reflux who are not medicated or those who are medicated and it’s not 100% effective. You know your baby best, but some of the babies I’ve worked with simply eat small meals no matter how spread apart they are.
10. Works For Every Baby
In the book, she says she has never had a baby not succeed with this method. She could very well be telling the truth. We sometimes work with families whose previous sleep coach told them that if it didn’t work, they weren’t doing it properly. In my experience of 10+ years, there are some babies who are adaptable and those who are slower-to-adapt, those who are persistent and those who are easy-going. In addition, what you deem “successful” may not be someone else’s definition. I maintain that a personalized sleep training approach is often the most effective long-term. Not all babies are sleep trained never to need any sleep training ever again. During different phases and sleep regressions, you will need to re-train. A lot of different methods CAN work, but which one are you going to feel best about so you can stay fully committed for the long haul? That’s the key.