Letting a Baby Cry It Out

For new parents, nothing is more frustrating than a baby who will not sleep. The problem is often compounded by other parents who claim that their little darlings slept through the night from the age of six weeks. When faced with parents gleefully trumpeting the perfect sleep cycles of their infants, you can take comfort in two things:

One, the parents are probably stretching the truth. For most parents, the timeframe involved in sleeping “through the night” tends to be fairly elastic. Some will even claim that sleeping from midnight until 6 am is “through” the night.

Two, there is no end to the resources available to help you get your baby to sleep.

Help in Getting Baby to Sleep

Do an Internet search and you’ll find countless Web pages devoted to babies and sleep. Most of them fall into two camps – the “cry it out” or Ferberizers, and the “co-sleep” or “family bed” people. In the interests of full disclosure, I will admit to falling into the latter camp. But in researching Ferber’s method, I was surprised to find that it is not the harsh, leave-the-baby-to-cry-in-the-dark philosophy that I had always believed it to be.

The Ferber method was devised by Dr. Richard Ferber in his 1985 book Solve Your Child’s Sleep Problems. His method is also referred to by some as the “cry it out” method, although Dr. Ferber does not use that term. In his book, Dr. Ferber shows parents that they can teach a child to soothe himself to sleep from the age of 5 or 6 months.

Contrary to the nasty connotations of the term “cry it out”, his method does not involve you heartlessly placing your baby in the crib and leaving him to cry. Rather, you begin with a warm and loving bedtime routine. You then place Baby in the crib awake and leave him for gradually longer periods (even if he’s crying) so he can learn to fall asleep on his own. Ferber has a chart of “progressive waiting” times, during which you can comfort the baby with pats on the back, but cannot pick up or feed the baby.

The main knock against the Ferber method has been that it diminishes a baby’s sense of security and leads to a lack of intimacy. In reality, his method has been misconstrued – it offers considerably more soothing of the baby than the “cry it out” name implies. While some parents may have interpreted Ferber’s method as approval for leaving a crying baby alone, that was never his intent. In fact, he heartily disapproves of parents placing a baby in a crib and leaving her to cry for long periods.

Rather, Ferber’s method was designed to avoid unnecessary crying and to provide comfort to the baby. By being there to soothe the child, you provide reassurance as the baby trains herself to fall asleep. His concept of progressive waiting enables you to leave Baby only when you feel ready.

Another misconception is that Dr. Ferber claimed his method was easy and that it would work for everyone. Not so. He readily acknowledges that the process of sleep training can be a long one and he offers suggestions for what to do if the method does not work.

In the 2006 revised edition of his book, Dr. Ferber stresses that a wide range of approaches to sleep may be needed and that parents must do what is best for their families. With his advice, you may soon find out what sleeping through the night really means.



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