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.


Helen

I think a parental trait of being willing to donate your child to science, without regard to the impact that decision has on the child, might correlate with other parenting choices that would undermine the significance of any such study.

centizen

We have two kids both girls. The first one we used the Ferber method or something similar, although I didn't know until just now that it had a name. We were at our wits end with that child, trying to get her to sleep. She wanted to sleep in our arms or cosleep the whole night while we grew more frustrated because we weren't sleeping ourself.

With the Ferberesc method she learned to fall asleep on her own within a couple days. We have had to retrain her a couple times after illness, travel and growth spurts (as mentioned earlier). But after the first week we were believers in this method, we planned to use it on any subsequent children.

However the second child never needed this training. From very young she wanted to be rocked for a minute or two and put down while she was awake. She fell asleep on her own without much fuss. In fact, after she hit a month old she has only fallen asleep in our arms or in our bed a handful of times, and not for a lack of trying on our part.

Each child is so different. Do what works best for the child and you.

Read more...

CG

John, you might want to ask your wife how capable a baby is of "manipulation" - must be quite advanced babies you have there, if they are aware of the effect that their cries have on your emotions and slyly employ that to their advantage to achieve the goal of getting picked up and thus declare victory over you.

Come on - crying is an instinctive response to discomfort and a child will not become capable of manipulative behavior until years later, regardless of how manipulated a given parent might "feel." That's in your mind, not theirs.

Aruni Gunasegaram

Thanks for linking to Babble Soft (i.e., similar services)! The reason we started Babble Soft (www.babblesoft.com) was because of challenges I had breastfeeding and challenges with our son's sleeping when he was born in 2002. We released Babble Soft's sleep tracking ability in January of 2008. Our other web and mobile based tracking features (breastfeeding, pumping, diapers, etc.) were available in 2007.

I'm not a big fan of 'Ferberizing.' When our son was first born, we refused to let him 'cry it out' but after months and months of no sleep went by, we tried it for a little bit. It would work for a little while but then he'd go right back to not sleeping. The problem was we were so tired we could not recall how and what we did on a daily basis with regards to his sleeping. Our daughter was born in 2005 and from birth she seemed to be a better sleeper!

I think every child is different and I believe applications like ours and Trixie Tracker help you observe patterns (when due to sleep deprivation you can barely add 2 + 2) that can help you make decisions like "wow, I keep putting baby to sleep this way and it doesn't work, let's try doing B or C ways." Or, "my baby keeps spitting up but I can't recall how often and when. Is it enough to determine with the help of our doctor that she has reflux?"

Thanks again for the mention!

Read more...

nancy

Toni,

Don't go nuts.

Maybe lots of first borns who were subject to nervous moms not knowing these things turned out to be economists because parents tried to follow the book. I know mine did. But he turned out to be a good one that has a heart.

Rebecca

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.

WhatAboutMomblog.com

Love Dr. Weisbluth's Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child!!

What gets me is the attachment/natural parents who will start potty training a child via "elimination communication" at 6 weeks and yet the idea of "training" a kid sleep is complete anathema.

Luckily (since each kid and each parent is different) we can choose whatever parenting method we want, though I have to say that any method is aided most by consistency.

Also have to agree with those who find it highly suspect for a parent to turn over these kinds of decisions to someone else (in order to participate in a study).

J S

Never did a formal "ferberizer" program but do see a difference in both of our kids. When Dad puts them to bed there are protests but they know that's it and are asleep in 10 minutes (unless a real problem like a suddenly badly dirty diaper). When Mom puts them to bed there is a lot of crying and no resistance by Mom to go and retrieve and hold them while watching tv and so on for another hour or more. If Mom wants to do that then ok - Dad goes and does some other work - and won't listen to Mom's complaints the next morning about being tired.

Chris

I agree with Tzipporah. Having parents self select into this process would make it near impossible to seperate out the effects of "ferberizing".

Bob

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.

Jethro

This is very interesting. Personally, I have only rocked my children to sleep a handful of times, and that is when we have not been home. Both my kids started sleeping all through the night in less than a month. They were inconsistent for while after that, but by three months, they are consistently sleeping through the night. We put them to bed, then go out and work in the garden for about half an hour. When we come back in, they are almost always asleep, and wake up happily the next morning.

Now, as my 2 year-old is waking from teething she puts herself back to sleep without any intervention from us. If she wakes up her sister, they both go back to sleep on their own.

I must commend the authors of the comments here for not bitterly attacking other commenters. I would hate to see some comments on Ferber method YouTube videos.

Toni

Yeesh! This stuff drives me nuts! The happiest day of parenting was the day I threw away all the books and magazines, and stopped listening to everyone, and just paid attention to my son and his needs! I learned his unique personality, schedule, rhythms, and let him develop as himself! After than, raising my daughter was a breeze. Why on earth do we have to regulate everything?

jonathan

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.

Maria

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.

Christopher

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.)

Salena

I would never be able to leave a helpless baby crying scared and alone. I can't see how any parent who loves thier child can do that. Even if it does work, it is probably because that little baby realized that noone cares when he cries at night. I have two wonderful little girls and I care when they cry, and they both sleep fine at night. They are 2 yrs. old and 5 months old.

John

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.

Read more...

Jesse

Even Ferber didn't Ferberize his own kids. Some things "work" that aren't right to do.

Christopher

@ #23 Rob,

I'd have to know what "significant benefit" was and whether the study was followed up by adversarial studies that found the same thing. I admit that it would take a preponderance of evidence to sway me -- I think Ferberization is cruel and minor benefit would not be enough, but I also believe in the scientific method and that truth is not always self-evident.

We co-slept our children and we all got plenty of sleep. My youngest is now six and chooses her own bed time (~1900-2300) and we're happy with the results.

Even with that difference of opinion, the Trixie Tracker would have been a cool thing to use just to have the record to peek at.

Tzipporah

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.