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Reality Check: Regarding Dr. Ferber

Q. Our 6-month-old won't go to sleep on his own or stay asleep. My sister says to Ferberize -- let him cry himself to sleep. Isn't this too harsh?

A.
If the technique outlined by Richard Ferber, M.D., in his book Solve Your Child's Sleep Problems seems severe (put your baby in his crib and wait 5, 10, then 15 minutes before going back to console verbally), don't do it. Or do a modified version of it. You know your baby better than any expert does, and you have to be comfortable with your plan for helping him sleep. If you're not, he'll pick up on those conflicted vibes, and you won't stick with your program. So talk to veteran parents, consult the books they found helpful, then cobble together a bedtime strategy that you can live with. Just remember that being able to fall asleep on one's own is a skill that everybody has to learn sooner or later.

One piece of practical advice: Put your baby to bed while he's still awake. Let me say that another way: PUT YOUR BABY TO BED AWAKE! If he's starting to fall asleep, talk to him and tell him it's sleepytime, but make sure he's partly awake before you put him in his crib.

The problem with putting him down when he's already asleep: When he rouses from a sleep cycle, he thinks he has to call you to come back and get him to sleep again. He'll cry bitterly at first as he learns to fall asleep on his own.

Some babies simply need to cry to unwind before they go to sleep anyway, and yours could be one of them. But he really can go to sleep on his own. He just needs you to let him, while you root from the sidelines.

Trisha Thompson is a contributing editor to PARENTING magazine and a former editor-in-chief of BabyTalk.

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