October 23, 2008

To Ferber or Not to Ferber, Or, To Use Some Variation That Eases Your Conscience


A reader asked me yesterday, in response to my despair, whether or not we “Ferberized” our first child. My reaction upon reading this was disgust. The Ferber method is for callous parents who don’t love their children and for people who don’t want to take the time to let their children ease into their own comfortable sleep patterns. At least this is what my heart tells me about “Ferberization,” when in actuality this is exactly what we did with Annie.

As a rule I don’t read much about parenting and I never consulted anyone other than our pediatrician for sleep advice. Instead, once it was clear that not eating for twelve hours wouldn’t harm her, I did what I could to ensure that it happened. There were so many setbacks, both emotionally on my part and physically on hers, but eventually she started to go down happily and stay asleep all night. She is sixteen months old now and, despite her random setbacks, I would consider her a successful sleeper.

The Ferber Method is defined in part as “putting your baby in bed awake and leaving her (even if she cries) for gradually longer periods of time.” This holds true for the subsequent times she wakes up throughout the night. In a nutshell, this is exactly what we did for her. Does that mean I “Ferberized” Annie, and will I do the same for Tilda? Yes, only I didn’t know it at the time. I am still hung up on the title and the fact that the literature mentions the idea “that a baby who cries long and hard enough may vomit.” I can assure you of two things, one of them callous and the other reassuring. First, Annie definitely cried long and hard enough, sometimes for up to two hours. Second, she never vomited and if she had my sleep training would have ended right there.

Detractors of this sort of sleep training say that you can scar your children for life. I’m not entirely sure this is impossible, Annie is quite impressionable, but take a look at the list of times above. Eventually you realize that waking up this often can scar you for life. I will tell you briefly again about an anecdote involving a holistic birthing class that my wife and I took before Annie’s birth and a session we did involving “birth tigers.” When our class was asked what most scared us about childbirth, I followed up the responses of autism, death, and cesarean birth with, wait for it, sleep deprivation. At the time I was mocked, though now I suspect those other parents would feel that I was quite prescient in my fears.

So here I sit, a year later and our newest edition/addition is going through the same sleeping issues as our first. Why? Is it my fault? Who are these people with kids that spontaneously sleep through the night? Are they lying to me? Are they callous? Or deaf? If you have a child who sleeps through the night with little effort I encourage you to write in with very specific details. If you feel long winded on the subject email me and I will give you a guest spot in this space. In other words, HELP!


Blogger Fantasy Baseball Hall of Fame said...

I unfortunately think it just boils down to kids don't like to go to sleep. As they get older, they sleep better, almost regardless of what method you use.

October 23, 2008 at 7:12 PM  
Blogger Elizabeth Gallo said...

Unfinished Dad,
Thank you so much for your long response. I also read through the Sleep Training '07 series. I think we have a slightly different problem, but I'm trying to use basically the same model as a solution. Our older daughter, J., won't go to sleep since younger daughter, L., has arrived. Once she's asleep, though, she stays asleep. She won't tolerate being moved from glider to crib, however -- no matter how dead asleep we think she is --, which is why we started pseudo-Ferberizing her. L., at about 3 months, is sleeping through the night, too, but seems to be a bit more relaxed about just falling asleep. I'm trying to improve our chances of this staying this way by doing two things: 1. giving her bottle before bath and 2. not rocking her to sleep, but instead just putting her in her bassinette with a pacifier to fall asleep on her own. We'll see if it works. It's good to know that someone else struggles with the cruelty element of this practice -- so many people are a little too gung-ho about it! Warm regards,

October 24, 2008 at 3:46 PM  
Blogger beautfultruthv said...

The key for us was to recognize the signs that our son was tired. Yawning, rubbing his eyes, staring off into the distance. When we notice these signs we put him in his crib, give him a pacifier and his "Cozy" that he finds comforting. It takes 3 days of doing this consistently each time you notice the signs your baby is tired. It does take a lot of patience and strength on that first day because you are teaching your baby how to sleep. Yes, my baby cried that first day. He cried HARD but I never left him alone to "cry it out". Never. If a baby is crying they are in distress. They are trying to communicate with you. Leaving them to cry teaches them they are on their own - the most frightening thing a baby can experience. They key is, if your baby is crying, pick them up, comfort them, and as soon as they are calm set them down in their crib again. If they cry, pick them up, and keep doing that until they are quiet when you put them down. As I said, it will take patience but you have to finish what you start. Don't give in. It's worth it.

October 27, 2008 at 9:04 PM  
Blogger Unfinished Dad said...

unfinished mom here...

I think that I have had a much harder time with the sleep training than Joe has. It breaks my heart to hear the babies cry, and I can't stand it. Unfortunately, Annie was one stubborn baby. She loved to eat at night, and I have no doubts that she would still be eating every three hours if we didn't interrupt this practice. So, we let her cry and went in every so often to comfort her. We NEVER EVER let her cry without some assurance by us, even if it was just going in for a quick pat. Now, Annie is (pretty much) a great sleeper. Although we've had a few hiccups (teething, sickness, general malaise), she generally goes to sleep by herself after a bottle. There is no crying, no fussing, and no headaches. She mostly sleeps through the night, and when she wakes up, she just needs a hug. For me, this made the crying all worth it. I feel as though we gave her the skills to sleep well.

I just need to remember all this when it comes time to let Maddie "fuss it out," because it is just so hard...

October 28, 2008 at 12:40 PM  

Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home