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.

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  1. jonathan says:

    It would be useful data, but not only about sleep. For example, one of my children refused to go to bed but we read the Ferber book and decided that we needed to send a signal to the kid. We let the baby cry and it learned to fall asleep on its own in 3 days. My point is not that this works but that we used this as a communications tool, relying on the baby’s ability to interpret signals. Our not responding was a primitive communication effort to a very young child with developing cognitive skills.

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  2. Maria says:

    As a parent, I would refuse to participate.

    I would like to see the impact on the parent having to listen to ones baby cry him/herself to sleep. Beyond that looking at other social cues in the parent to his/her willingness and/or ability to listen to the baby cry at various ages in order to achieve a means and then the relationship of the child and parent (more, less attached, guilt, etc). It would be interesting, but like I said, I am unwilling to participate, because I am unwilling to change my parenting style.

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  3. Rebecca says:

    Since I don’t believe in not responding to a baby’s attempt to communicate, I wouldn’t participate.

    What is the baby learning? “I’m lonely, bored, sad…and my parents have left me alone in a big dark room. The people I depend on most in the world are telling me I’m not worth their time.”

    We sleep with our son (separate beds) in the same room and haven’t worried much about things. We’ve had our problems off and on like everyone else. There is no foolproof method, people. If you are a parent, you will at times be woken up in the middle of the night.

    It boggles my mind that people insist on sleeping with their dogs IN THEIR BEDS (in my mind, this is gross, but that’s a separate issue), but yet the baby “needs to learn independence.”

    Apparently, dogs do not.

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  4. Tzipporah says:

    Ugh. I can’t wait to see the crappy data that would come out as “scientific” after something like this. It could never be random, since the parents and infants involved are already self-selecting as
    1. Parents dissatisfied with baby’s sleep
    2. Parents willing to let someone ELSE make a major parenting decision for them

    Ultimately, for most parents, the first six months just utterly sucks. But then it gets better, regardless of what you do. I suppose if you need to feel like you’re doing something, anything, it might ease your mind to let someone else make that choice for you.

    But most parents would be better off just reading Ask Moxie.

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  5. Jesse says:

    Even Ferber didn’t Ferberize his own kids. Some things “work” that aren’t right to do.

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  6. Christopher says:

    It’s interesting that you assign the adjective “loving” to the Ferber method twice. Are you trying to convince us or yourself? As for my love — it’s made of deeper stuff than neglect.

    On the other hand, and this more closely addresses the point as you’ve presented it, I _would_ love to see the data that came from such a trial. (Just not enough to subject my baby to Ferberization.)

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  7. John says:

    My wife (a pediatrician) and I “Sleep Trained” both of our children. We followed (more or less) Dr. Marc Weissbluth’s book.
    It’s a fairly simple process to teach the child how to calm himself down. We set a time limit (~15 minutes) and intervened to prevent hysteria, but didn’t give up. It only took a few days.
    I tend to think of human relationships as adversarial and competitive, and I think this applies to parents and babies as much as anywhere. There are some great studies about the competing interests of foetuses and mothers (and fathers). When applying this to Ferberization, I ask: What part of the baby’s refusal to sleep is parent manipulation? How important is it that the baby not cry? What are the potential benefits of teaching self-calming?
    As far as results? Our children (now 5.5 and 2) go to bed at 8PM each night. Generally, they lie still and go to sleep without parental input. They don’t cry and they do get enough sleep. We are a happy family.

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  8. Bob says:

    Rebecca —

    I agree completely, though I take the opposite tack: I beat both my children and my dogs mercilessly.

    note: this is not, in fact, true. I have neither dogs nor children and rarely beat even so much as an egg.

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