Like a Baby

If I were a Catholic, I would also light candles and prepare a shrine for the not-yet-late, but certain to be canonized patron-saint-in-waiting of sleeping through the night, Dr. Richard Ferber. The method explained in his book just plain works. It's a fact that humans wake often in the middle of the night, but most of us know how to go right back to sleep, and usually don't even remember it. If you have to coax your baby to sleep, by holding, snuggling, swaddling, singing, pacifying, feeding etc., then when they wake in the middle of the night, if the holding, snuggling, singing, pacifying, feeding etc. is not there (swaddling may help, because a good swaddle doesn't come undone), they won't be able to go back to sleep, and your sleep will have to be interrupted to provide them the sleep aid they have been so well trained to require.

In the Ferber method, you put your baby down to sleep, and wait progressively longer periods before comforting (talking, touching, but not picking up). The first night, for each waking you wait 5 minutes, then comfort, 10 minutes, comfort, 15 minutes, comfort, 15 minutes, comfort, etc. as necessary. The second night, 10, 15, 20, 20, …, and so on.

Our first night with #3 he woke up 3 or 4 times during the night, but I don't think he ever managed to cry all the way through a 15-minute wait without falling asleep. Last night, he never made it through an initial 10-minute wait!  Thus we never had to get out of bed (I could hear him start crying over the baby monitor, set the kitchen timer for 10 min, turn off the monitor, fall back asleep, and when the timer went off, turn on the monitor to find that he was sleeping again too).  And this was after a state in which T was liable to say things like "last night was pretty good; he only woke up and fed 5 times!" After just the first night of decent sleep, when I got home from work, #3 seemed to me like a changed baby. The happy/cranky ratio appeared to have flopped from 20/80 to 80/20. He happily enjoyed his saucer of neglect (thx for the hilarious term, Forester and Dryad) because he didn't need constant holding and coddling.  He was able to spend more time being awake and happy, because he wasn't tired, and didn't constantly need to feed, which previously was his only way of being soothed.

YMMV — probably not all kids will respond this quickly (but all 3 of ours slept through the night within 3 days), but if you are expecting a baby (especially a first baby), buy this book! (Or wait for the soon-to-be-released expanded version). You don't need the book to implement the method (I gave you the method in 58 words, above). The value is in understanding of how humans and babies sleep, and in building up confidence that the method will work, and understanding why it will work. And in knowing, from day one, that you will not have to be a slave to your baby's erratic sleep patterns forever (just for a few months…)


10 Responses

  1. Ah, blessed night when the baby sleeps through it. I’m now a great grand-mother, and I was blessed with babies who slept through the night by the time they were 3 weeks old. I also used the method of letting them cry a bit. Worked for me. Today, they are marvelous human beings who still sleep through the night…as far as I know. :)



  2. Thx for the drop-in Shirley! As for crying, our #3 was doing enough crying day and night due to sleepy irritability that it was nothing new to let him cry for a few minutes and learn to go to sleep! Bless you too, and all your babies and grand- and great-grand-babies!

    It's a funny small world; checking out your blog, it appears that we live pretty close to each other, and both attend churches in La Mesa, named "New Life"!

  3. I’ll never forget your conversation with #1 at age 2 in his room. You asked if he wanted to come back after his tantrum, and we could hear him from the garden explaing “I’m… too cranky!” Magic.

    Our mutual German friend (this is to Rube) employs a an interesting technique. “Reset the baby” and turns #2 upside down. Works every time!

  4. Like “rebooting” an etch-a-sketch! I’ll have to give that a try someday…

  5. It ripped our hearts out not just to put our newborn baby girl in her own room right away, but also to not respond immediately to her cries in the night. But it paid off! This also works, by the way, for morning and afternoon naps.

    We have a friend with a four-year-old boy who decides when he goes to bed himself. His mom always looks exhausted and the child is always throwing tantrums, because he is tired.

  6. I’m going to have to try this when I get the guts….and the earplugs.

  7. I heard of a family once where the only way they could get their daughter to bed was for everybody to get their pajamas on together, and the parents had to also get in bed, and pretend to be asleep, and wait for when the kid would come check on them (maybe she wouldn't really believe it was bedtime unless the parents proved it?), and then she would go to sleep, and the parents could get up and watch TV or whatever.

    Who has the authority in that family?

  8. Ferber has since come to acknowledge that this doesn’t work for all kids. It sure didn’t for ours! We followed Ferber to a T, but it was nothing, and I mean nothing, for Ben to go two hours screaming the whole way — even if we extended the intervals up to 30 minutes. (Our son is characterized by one baby book as both touchy and spirited — other options included textbook and angelic.) After six months we finally gave in to his pediatrician’s harsh-sounding advice: cold turkey. Plunk ‘im down and let ‘im scream it out. Period. The first night he went 80 minutes at full volume. The second night 60. And less and less after that … sleeping longer at night each time.

    Ben wasn’t colicky. Our guess is that Ferber didn’t work for him (nor any other methods — we read plenty of books, even went back to Ferber and tried it again) because the intervals were stimulating him. He preferred to wait it out until we reappeared, even if that meant screaming 15 (or 20 or 25 or 30!) minutes in between. It was brutal to everyone involved.

    I’m glad Ferber worked for you. I wish it had worked for us. Strangely enough, Ben needed the cold turkey method — the most brutal of all, and yet, for him, also the most merciful.

  9. P.S. To this day (nine months old) Ben screams no longer than five minutes when we lay him down. On rare occasions he’ll scream up to fifteen or twenty, but it’s quite common for him to fall asleep now without a peep. Sheer heaven.

  10. […] I’m the second result from Google on this search). I draw in a bunch of the Dr. Atkins and Dr. Ferber crowds, with searches like atkins “kidney stone” (Google page 2) and how to coax babies […]

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