The bleary eyes and dark circles that are often the mark of a new parent can startle you when you look in the mirror. Hey, it happens to all of us. Babies are unpredictable creatures by nature, and your little one might blissfully sleep through the night one day and then have you up for an infomercial marathon the next.
Dr. Marc Weissbluth, the author of Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child, believes that your child's sleep patterns are an indicator of her overall quality of life. He feels that parents have the ability to use consistency and routine to improve sleep habits. While the Weissbluth method is often confused with the Ferber method, there are actually vast differences between the two sleep training approaches. Understand what the Weissbluth method entails to see if it's right for you and your family.
What is the Weissbluth Method?
Some parents confuse the Weissbluth method with Ferberizing because both require a degree of crying to teach your child to soothe herself on her own. However, the Ferber method requires parents go into the room and offer comfort at regular intervals, while the Weissbluth methods uses extinction—no comfort at all—to stop your baby from waking and crying in the night. Parents are instructed to lay their little one down for the night as early as possible, and should not go into their baby's room unless there's some type of emergency. Weissbluth also recommends longer intervals of sleep at night, even if it means shorter or fewer naps during the day.
Dr. Edward Kulich, a pediatric sleep expert and author of The Best Baby Sleep Book warns, "The Weissbluth method advocates that one leaves the child to cry indefinitely; imagine a slot machine that never lets you win...eventually you just cut your losses and give up." Kulich continues, "There is a well-known phenomenon called 'learned helplessness' which is common model for depression, in which individuals acquire a sense of lack of control due to repeated failures. Letting your child cry until they give up sounds a lot like this model to me."
Weissbluth claims that his method works faster than Ferberizing, because your baby learns more quickly that you won't respond to her cries. His approach is meant to only take three to four days, while Ferber's method can take up to two weeks. The Weissbluth method also relies on watching your baby's sleep-time cues and putting her down as soon as she seems tired, which any parent can benefit from.
Simply put, listening to your baby wail all night can be heartbreaking for some parents—you might be completely uncomfortable going "cold turkey" with your little one's whimpering. Allowing your baby to cry without any response could enact your baby's "learned helplessness"—and this approach doesn't take into consideration individual issues that could be keeping your little one up, such as illness, schedule changes, hunger, or fear. What's more, the Weissbluth method recommends early bedtime, even as early as 5:30 to 6 p.m. in the evening, which could be a schedule and social life killer.
If you're interested in giving the Weissbluth method a go, consult with your pediatrician first. For one, the method should never be used on a child younger than 6 months, who still wakes in the night for changing and feeding. Your doc will need to check for underlying conditions that could be keeping your baby up before you attempt to let her sleep alone. Once you get the OK, here's how to put the Weissbluth method into practice:
- Place your baby in her crib as soon as you sense the signs of sleepiness, like rubbing her eyes, crankiness, or a lack of alertness. Dr. Weissbluth's method relies heavily on parents being in tune with their little one's tired cues.
- Allow your baby to fuss in her bed. Never rock or feed your baby to sleep, opting for a regular routine and a comfort item to do the job. Weissbluth believes that using "crutches" to get your child to sleep sets her up for wakefulness at night.
- Leave the room and don't re-enter, even if your baby's sobbing. Listen outside the door, but don't offer comfort. Eventually, your child will cry herself to sleep.
- Follow a predictable nap schedule the following day, but don't sacrifice night sleep for day sleep. If your baby seems alert before her morning nap, cut it out wait for an afternoon rest instead.
- Be consistent with the routine. The Weissbluth method works quickly as long as your baby is mature enough, so crying should be eliminated after just a few nights. If you relent and go to comfort your baby, try again another night or select a sleep training method that is more compatible with your parenting philosophy.
Weissbluth believes that sleep is the cornerstone of health and should be obtained at all costs. While zombie-like fatigue might make you agree, this method definitely isn't for every baby. Just remember that it won't last forever; a 2011 issue of Archives of Disease in Childhood found that even "problem" babies who cried through the night at five to six weeks of age eventually slept through the night at 12 weeks onward.
See that? It's a light at the end of the tunnel. Even if you're uncomfortable with such a strict method or it doesn't seem to work, most sleep problems are short-lived in the grand scheme of parenting. Soon, you'll reclaim your pillow for the shut-eye you crave.