Should You “Ferberize” Your Baby?

Joshua Gans, (author of the forthcoming Parentonomics), has an interesting post on “data-driven Parenting.”

Turns out that there is a cool web service: Trixie Tracker, that allows parents to record and revisit information on sleep, nappy changes, feeding (both breast-milk and solids), medicines, and pumping.

Keeping track of your child’s evolving sleeping patterns (via the internet or even your iPhone) can help you visualize helpful or distressing trends.

The owners of this and similar services have suggested a willingness to share their data with researchers. But the biggest opportunity is to use one of these sites as a platform for running randomized tests.

For example, there is still a bit of a controversy about whether it is useful to “Ferberize” babies. The Ferber Sleep Method is a warm, loving bedtime routine after which you lie your baby in bed awake and leave him (even if he cries) for gradually longer periods of time.

There was a great Mad About You episode (shot as one continuous take) of the Buckmans Ferberizing their infant.

A short term randomized test would not be able to assess whether Ferberization scars the child in the long term. But if Trixie Tracker recruited some parents to participate in a randomized study, you could assess the impact on the children’s sleep patterns and on the parents’ sleep and psychological well-being.

The idea is that Trixie Tracker would ask its registered users if they would be willing, for the sake of science, to be randomly assigned to the Ferber (loving, “leave them crying”) method or the rock them asleep method.

Many parents would refuse outright. But some couples are torn and might welcome contributing to finding out what works. I don’t think a randomized control trial has been run on this basic question that catches the sleep-deprived attention of many new born parents.


Jenny

Ferberizing your child is not harsh or unloving it is the opposite. The parents who cling to their children at night are teaching them that the world is a big, bad, scary place, and that they will never be okay on their own. Letting them come to the realization that they are safe in their home whether you rock them to sleep or not is a gift. One of my biggest pet peeves is parents who let their children sleep in their rooms. What is this doing for your marriage and relationship? I'm sure if you asked an older child of divorced parents whether they would want married parents or to cuddle with their single mommy they would say married parents. Divorce, now that is something that leads to insecure and screwed up kids.

Kim

My first child I rocked/walked/swayed her to sleep every night. I loved it most of the time especially when she was a newborn. As she got older and bigger it required more time, and I began to love it less. She was then a toddler that needed me to lay next to her until she was asleep (not so cute anymore).

I tried to break us both of the habit and it worked until the next vacation/illness/ or any disruption. She was a very sick child.

She is now 5 and falls to sleep on her own. I lay with her for 5 songs of her music, and then promise to check on her periodically. It is all good now.

YET, here is the problem. Child #2... decided to rock/walk this one to sleep every night also even though I promised myself I would not.

Unlike the first child who would sleep from 8pm to 6am after rocking/walking, my second child wakes up numerous times during the night. Then another walking/rocking session ensues, and another etc. If that was not frustrating enough... I have to put her down just so...or (you know) another session back to back. So the other day I decided enough was enough... I tried to ferberize but not very well... I FAILED .... after 90 minutes of this gut wrenching crying..( as well as mine) I thought she was going to sleep... and I was a little relieved and 45 minutes later the gut wrenching crying again.

I went in and got her and took her to my bed which I knew was the worst thing in the world at this point but we both needed sleep for a very early morning.

I could not get her down for either naps or bed the next day.

Does anyone know any other methods? thanks or ferberizing the way to go.thanks kim

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Debbie

I started the ferber method last night with my 9mth son. He is wakening up at least 6 times a night and i feel as though i'm awake 24/7. I start back work in 3 weeks, im absolutley exhausted, have no energy and have very little patience for my 8 year old son. I constantly feel guilty, so decided as a last resort i would try the ferber method.

Put my 9mth son to bed at 7.30pm last night. Instead of rocking him to sleep i lay him in his cot awake. He cried for 40 minutes. I would go in a check on him every 2-5 mins and eventually he fell asleep at 8.10pm and woke up at 7.00am this morning, the first time he has slept through the night. Don't get me wrong it was hard work, i was upset having to leave him crying and my partner had to leave the house after 10mins as he was upset, but i was at my wits end with tiredness and the guilt i was feeling at constantly being on my 8 year olds back due to lack of sleep.

I just put my 9mth down again at 10am for a nap and he cried again,this time for 20 mins. Once again i kept going back in the room, but every 5mins and he eventually fell asleep.

This is the hardest thing i have ever done having to listen to my 9mth old crying, when i really just want to pick him up and give him a big cuddle, but i feel that im no use to anyone in this exhausted state i am at present. I know the next few night are going to be hard, but hopefully by next week he will be sleeping through the night, i will have my sleep and feel better and my 8 year old will have his happy mum back. Surely the kids are better with a happy mum with loads of energy than a cranky mum with none.

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Stacy

I've always had insomnia (from a young age), but my younger brother (by two years) falls asleep as soon as his head hits the pillow. My parents claim this is because they kept coming back when I cried, but they read a book in between our births that recommended leaving a crying baby alone at night - so they left him.

Ben MacNeill

Hi Ian,

Thanks for mentioning Trixie Tracker today! That's a very interesting proposal, and something I had never quite considered before.

I'm not going to weigh in on the Ferber debate, but our company philosophy is that parents have great instincts, but only when not sleep deprived. That's the primary problem that Trixie Tracker solves -- it provides real data and charts to help parents make better decisions.

It's also just really cool to see how patterns develop and transition over time. Your readers may like this series of charts showing the sleep patterns of a 1-month, 6-month and 12-month old:
http://www.trixietracker.com/inside/?p=11

best,
Ben MacNeill
Founder, Trixie Tracker

Caleb

we did cold turkey (no going back to comfort her) with our daughter at 7 months at our peditricians urging. The first night was rough, but by three days she would sleep without crying. It made everyone happier. She wouldnt wake three times a night. Her naps lasted long enough to actually get rest, and her parents had the energy to engage her enthusiastically. Sad truth is that we have been inconsistent. Every time there is an illness or vacation or disruption, you have to do it again (although much quicker). We haven't done that. So here I am sitting in her room writing this waiting for her to sleep. We plan to try this with our second child too.

In response to the person who refereced the fussy child and the basketball game child. Its probably a little of both nature and nurture. If your kid wakes easily and then is hysterical for an hour before returning to sleep, wouldnt you keep quiet too? Some kids are better sleepers than others. Our son is much easier to calm, so we don't worry as much if he stirs in his sleep.

One more thing for the person who said furberization is an industrial age invention. True as that may be, we happen to live in a more structured society now, so it demands different things of us. I'm sure you are familiar with the toilet and deodorant, some other industrial age inventions.

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Rob

@#6 Christopher,

You say you'd love to see the results of such a trial, yet you'd never want to Ferberize your own children. I'd be curious as to your reaction to such a study showing significant benefit of Ferberizing.

My background: 7 yr old and 5 yr old, both Ferberized and similar results to #7/John. Both of them always have and still do go straight to sleep at 8pm after the bedtime routine and get a good night's rest. We just had a baby last Monday, and several months from now will be following the same routine. Currently slightly sleep deprived with assistance on the bi-hourly feedings/diaper changes, but looking forward to being back on the wagon soon :)

ruthling

Every time I see this headline I read "should you Febreeze your baby?" I can see the temptation, but the answer to that should be "no". :)

PJ

These are babies we are talking about here people!

They are tiny individuals depending on us to care for them. Comfort is part of that care. If my child wants comfort, he gets it. He sleeps well and was definitely nowhere near Ferberized.

If this was my child manipulating me at such a tender age, great. smart kid.

nancy

We all should have four generations living in a house and see which parent goes crazy first.

like any of us ever really grows up and never has to cry.

tmm

I'm ferberizing twins right now - and it's agonizing to hear them cry. But we did the same thing w/ their big sister and she is a wonderful sleeper, always has been. I know they will wake up happy and are on the path to the valuable lesson to falling asleep all by themselves. Parenting is the hardest job out there.

Twist

I know a guy who Ferberized his child. After a few days the baby slept through the night. Why is a baby different than a 3 year old who cries because he doesn't have immediate gratification? I would love to know how many first time parents disagree to this compared to third time parents.

One of my sweetest friends always has things quiet when her child goes to sleep. She has to tell an visitors to be really quiet all of the time. Her child is fussy.

Another friend took his child to basketball games and always kept the music or TV up. His child can sleep through anything.

Did they both happen to hit the nature instincts or was this nurture?

DHT

I agree that this study approach wouldn't give legitimate results, for the previously-stated reasons with self-selection.

We followed the Babywise methods, which for sleeping is essentially the same as Ferber. After 4 days, our 7-week-old was sleeping through the night, and still does (now almost 20 months old). We put him to bed awake but tired, and he either goes right to sleep or we will hear him talking to himself for a while before falling asleep. If he does cry, it usually only lasts a couple minutes before he's out.

I don't buy the argument that "Ferberization" will result in a child who feels less secure in the world. Our child is very independent, and I think a good part of that is learned behavior. He knows we don't have to be there every second to comfort him, and as a result, he doesn't need comforting very often.

chris

if a baby is crying it's heart out and the second you go to pick it up, before you even get it out of the crib it has a smile on it's face.... seems like maybe that baby is doing some manipulation. this happened to me with my 4 month old daughter. sleep training is hard, listening to them cry sucks bad. but now she sleeps around the recommended 15 hrs a day where as before she was only sleeping 12. Maybe there is something to this training besides neglect.

MostlyAPragmatist

Few people consider that Ferberization is as much about training parents not to worry about their children's sleep problems as it is teaching the children to sleep by themselves.

I noticed my wife and I were being trained during the process as much as my children were. We weren't scarred by the process, either.

rob

Ferberization is a cruel and unusual punishment! A 70's invention to cater the needs of the working parents. In other cultures, everyone sleeps on one bed or share the same room, babies rarely cry for long periods of time (only when tired, wet, and hungry), etc etc... It's an industrial thing -- and it got Ferber a lot of money and prestige selling his books.

Mike

Wow, a parent that would willingly subject their baby to a randomization of parenting method? Sounds like a pretty strong selection bias towards indecisive or insecure parents. So all we'll know is the efficacy of the Ferber method for parents lacking in convictions. What about the rest of us who think we have the ability to make decisions about raising our kids?

Andy

Wow. Parents have -very- strong opinions about the Ferber approach. People react like you said you whip them.

All I know is that we used the technique with my daughter when she was just over 1 year old. Before she would only fall asleep at night on her mother's chest and during the day on her nanny's. Any move to put her in the crib would wake her and get her screaming. She wouldn't nap on the weekends at all and would be cranky and unhappy, and never slept through the night well.

After three days of letting her fall asleep on her own, she sleeps through the night without a problem. If a sound or dream wakes her up, she almost always goes right back to sleep. Naps aren't a big problem either--if she's tired, she falls asleep. In the evenings, if she's tired she'll go over to her crib and say "up"!

She's getting good sleep, she's happier at night and during the day, and as parents we're finally sleeping well.

As a parent there are many things my daughter wants desperately enough to cry for that I don't cave in to--as a parent, I know what's best for her and playing with the stove, pulling the cat's tail, etc.

With everyone here happy, I don't understand why some parents react so negatively to this approach. Especially when they have no experience with the approach or the outcomes or an acceptance that children are different and respond differently they are reacting without any direct knowledge. Ironic, that the original post was just suggesting a scientific study to see if it works or not and a discussion of the challenges of such a study. They skip over the experiment and jump back to "I didn't do it myself because it won't work and it's horrible." How do they know?

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D Brooks

Never heard of Ferber but that's how we raised our two kids - after around six months old, we let them cry themselves to sleep for up to 15 minutes. We did this because we had a neighbor with an older child who always comforted him in bed when he cried, and their lives had become a sleepless wreck.

It worked great for us; for both kids, within a week they learned to fall asleep quickly, and also to remain happily in bed when they woke up the next day. Your parenting mileage may vary, of course.

(For our first child, we had to hold the kitchen timer. Otherwise, after about 2 minutes of crying we were sure that it had already been 15 minutes and rushed to help her.)

Mom of 1

The internet is both wonderful and awful isn't it. Why does anyone need an online website to track their child's sleep patterns? What happened to good ol' paper and pen. It's what I did when my son (now 3 years old) was born. I tracked when he ate, how much, when he had a diaper change, when he napped etc. etc. etc.... Why??? So I can get some sleep. If I didn't know his routine it would have driven me nuts. I wanted to know when to expect what so I can plan MY down time accordingly. I also did it so my husband would know when to expect a cranky me.
If the tracker website wants my data, I'd be more than happy to fax them copies of my $1 notebook I bought at Target. I don't remember how much the pen I used cost. Of course all this will have to come at a price. The webservice isn't free so neither is my data.