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Baby Sleep Training: The Ferber Method

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Updated on Jul 6, 2012

Feeling alone because you dread bedtime? Don't! It seems like just about every parent has some nighttime woes when it comes to getting their little one settled. When your baby is over the age of 6 months, sleep training could be a complete lifesaver to help you reclaim the night. Of course, it's not a one-size fits all routine.

The Ferber method of sleep training may be one of the most controversial ways to get your little one to bed at night. Sometimes known as Ferberizing, or "crying it out," you'll have to get the facts and decide if this is the right sleep training method for you and your little night owl.

What is the Ferber Method?

The Ferber method was developed by renowned pediatrician Richard Ferber back in the '80s. It gained popularity with the release of Dr. Ferber's book, Solve Your Child's Sleep Problems. The method relies on the ability of the parent to allow their child to cry himself to sleep at bedtime. In short, parents teach their babies to self-soothe by setting a prescribed amount of time for tears to fall, a concept known as "progressive waiting."

For instance, when you start the Ferber method, you'd place your baby in his crib. If he begins to cry when you leave the room, you ignore the cries and wait for a few moments before you go back into your baby's room. There, you can offer comfort, but you can't pick him up. You then leave, allowing for more time to lapse before you check in if your little guy continues to cry. Ferber contends that after a few days of the same bedtime routine, your older infant will learn that you won't pick him up after he's gone to bed for the night, and will gradually stop crying for you.

Expert Criticism

Dr. Edward Kulich, a pediatrician and author of The Best Baby Sleep Book, has some qualms with the Ferber method. "I personally find his method a bit short-sighted and find that parents approach sleep training with a one-size-fits-all approach," he notes. "I have found that there are many different reasons why babies dont sleep through the night; there are medical issues such as acid reflux, milk intolerance, and intermittent illnesses, behavioral issues that have to do with a child's nighttime routine, parental issues that have to do with middle of the night feedings, attachment issues that have to do with separation anxiety at a certain age, and combinations of the above." In fact, Kulich likens the Ferber method to a doctor who treats every patient with cough medicine; sometimes underlying issues could be disrupting your baby's sleep, and using the Ferber method could be ignoring the signs.

Pros

While there are plenty of people who contend that the Ferber method is less than perfect, it does have its perks. When you have a little one who cries at night habitually, using progressive waiting could teach him to soothe himself back to sleep. As long as your baby's over the age of 6 months and doesn't have other issues, the Ferber method could prove to be extremely effective.

Cons

If you're a sensitive mama, listening to your child wail in his bed alone can tug on your heartstrings. Besides the fact that your little one could have underlying issues, using the Ferber method requires tons of willpower and consistency or it'll be all for naught. It should be noted that a study published in a 2006 issue of Sleep found that only 61 percent of sleep training books condoned the Ferber approach, while over 30 percent were staunchly against the method.

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