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Dr. Richard Ferber's sleep training method is rooted in the basic American Academy of Pediatrics theory that babies need to learn to soothe themselves to sleep in order to get the best sleep possible. However, Dr. Ferber offers a more structured plan for babies who are six months or older and are still relying on what he terms "parental sleep associations," like rocking or nursing. It's a gradual but strict technique for shifting from parental soothing to baby self-soothing. Contrary to popular belief, Dr. Ferber does not say that picking up baby is "spoiling her," nor does he advocate leaving baby alone to cry it out without any parental intervention.
What you have to do
- Find a nighttime routine that helps calm your baby and signals bedtime. For instance, bathe, read a story and cuddle her.
- If baby is still nursing in the middle of the night, begin by replacing that feeding with rocking to sleep or some other parental association, before beginning to help her find her own way to sleep.
- Each night, put baby in her crib while she's still awake. Sleep where you can easily hear her, but not in the same room. (Many parents take turns camping out on the couch during "Ferberization.") When you go in at scheduled intervals, don't pick baby up to rock or feed her. Instead, let her hear your voice, and rub her back or tummy. Stay only two to three minutes each time you go in to comfort her. Modify the schedule below to suit your own comfort level.
Day one: Let baby cry for five minutes before going in to offer comfort. The next time, wait 10 minutes, and then 15. If baby is still crying after 15 minutes, keep the interval at 15 minutes for the remainder of that night until baby falls asleep.
Day two: Let baby cry for 10 minutes before going in, then 15, then 20. Keep interval at 20 minutes until baby falls asleep.
Day three: Let baby cry for 15 minutes, then 20, then 25. Keep interval at 25 minutes until baby falls asleep.
Most children will be sleeping well by the end of three days and should definitely respond by the end of a week. If not, speak with your pediatrician.
What you might like about the technique
- Short-term pain, long-term sleep: Most babies learn to soothe themselves to sleep after only a few difficult nights.
- Some experts and parents believe that helping a baby learn to sleep on her own is an important step toward independence.
- The method is highly successful in reducing nighttime wakings so that everyone in the home tends to sleep better.
- It's not for the faint of heart. While a few days might not seem like a long time to tolerate your baby's cries, many parents find it almost impossible to stick to the schedule.
- Dr. William Sears says that any "crying to sleep" method encourages a mother to be desensitized to her baby's needs, and that it is more important for babies to be reassured by responsive parents than it is for them to learn self-soothing during the first year.
by Richard Ferber, MD