Over the years, red-eyed and weary parents desperate to get their infants to start sleeping through the night have turned to the progressive-waiting method (more commonly known as “Ferberizing”) in which babies are taught to soothe themselves to sleep by being left to cry for increasing amounts of time. Now, there’s new evidence that suggests that Ferberizing not only helps babies sleep, but could help mothers suffering from postpartum depression, too.
Researchers at the Royal Children’s Hospital in Melbourne, Australia, studied 156 mothers and their infants and found that 70 percent of the mothers who used Ferberizing techniques solved their babies’ sleep problems after two months, compared with less than half of the women who did not use these techniques. What’s more, researchers found that symptoms of postnatal depression among women who Ferberized their infants also improved after two months.
Progressive waiting, devised by sleep specialist Richard Ferber, M.D., director of the Center for Pediatric Sleep Disorders at ChildrenÕs Hospital in Boston and author of Solve Your Child’s Sleep Problems, helps children 5 months or older who have trouble falling asleep on their own at bedtime or in the middle of the night. (A younger baby isn’t ready for this.) It’s based on the idea that babies make associations with falling asleep. If your child is used to being rocked or fed until she dozes off, she’ll rely on these things in order to go to sleep and will want them repeated at bedtime and when she wakes in the middle of the night. Ferberizing encourages babies to develop their own methods of putting themselves to sleep. (See “Ready to Ferberize?” for how it works.)
After several nights, most babies learn to associate their crib with sleep and nod off peacefully on their own. Success, however, depends on two things: consistency in implementing the method and your ability to tolerate your baby’s cries — not an easy task. Of course, the method doesn’t work for everyone. Critics say that it’s cruel to make a baby cry and that it decreases a child’s sense of trust, while supporters say that it saved their sanity. No research, however, has suggested that it can harm babies.
Before trying it, be sure to rule out other reasons for your child’s sleep problems: changes in feeding or napping habits, pain, stress, or medication. If you don’t see improvement after a week or so of using the technique, try a different approach (see www.babytalk.com for more help), and consult your pediatrician.
If your child is 5 months or older, in good health, and you’d like to give progressive waiting a try, here’s how it works:
1.After a soothing pre-bedtime routine, put your baby in her crib when she’s starting to wind down but not yet fully asleep, and leave the room.
2.If she begins to cry and you know she isn’t in danger, wait a few minutes before going in to comfort her. Stay away as long as you feel comfortable — many experts suggest about five minutes. When you do go to your baby, keep the visit short and boring: Talk gently and pat her but don’t pick her up or feed her. Your presence reassures your baby that you still exist and lets you know that she’s okay. Leave after a minute or two. If the crying continues, extend the time you wait before going back in for the same routine. For the third time and any others that follow, increase the time before going in to offer comfort. (Most experts suggest five-minute intervals, but do what feels right as long as you are increasing the amount of time that you stay away.) Do this until she falls asleep. If she wakes in the middle of the night, repeat the same routine.