How to Get Your Baby to Sleep Through the Night
Probably the most popular getting-baby-to-sleep technique is the Ferber method, named for its creator, Richard Ferber, M.D., director of the Center for Pediatric Sleep Disorders at Children's Hospital, in Boston. It's based on the notion that babies make associations with falling asleep, whether at bedtime or after waking in the middle of the night. So if you routinely rock your child until he falls asleep or allow him to conk out while breastfeeding or having a bottle, he'll come to rely on these things in order to go to sleep and will want them repeated when he wakes in the middle of the night. The trick is to teach him to learn to fall asleep by himself in his crib. Here's how it works:
1. Put your baby in his crib, say good night, and leave the room. If he starts to cry, let him -- for about 5 minutes. Then go into the room, comfort him briefly without picking him up, and leave. If he cries again, wait 10 minutes before going in, then 15 minutes, until he falls asleep. The point of going in is to reassure your baby that you still exist and to reassure you that he's okay.
2. Repeat the ritual -- with the same timed intervals used at his bedtime -- every time he wakes in the night.
3. Each subsequent night add an additional 5 minutes to the first interval. For example, the second night, start by waiting 10 minutes before going in, then 15 on the third night.
PROS: Over the course of three to seven days -- blessedly, it rarely takes longer than this, say pediatricians and experienced parents -- the baby learns to associate being in his crib with falling asleep. He also learns that crying won't get his parents to pick him up. And a few nights of tears in an otherwise loving environment won't have any lasting effect on your baby.
CONS: This method isn't for the fainthearted, since you have to be able to handle hearing your infant cry, sometimes for long periods. But unlike simply letting the baby cry until he falls asleep, you go in to his room to calm him at prescribed intervals. You may have to repeat the entire process when the baby is older, since some will experience relapses.
The biggest problem with Ferberizing is when parents are inconsistent. Also, some infants just don't respond to the technique. "There are some spirited children who may repeatedly outlast the parent," says Dr. Givan. "If after two weeks the baby hasn't adjusted his sleep habits, it may be time to talk to your pediatrician about another method."