Exhausted? Frustrated? Feel like you need an IV drip of caffeine just to function? Welcome to parenthood! At any given moment, millions of bleary-eyed parents across the world are wondering how to get their baby to sleep through the night, which is exactly why there are countless books on this very subject. One of the most famous, and controversial, baby sleep books of all time is Richard Ferber's Solve Your Child's Sleep Problems. Dr. Ferber's book, which certainly isn't without its share of naysayers, suggests parents teach their babies to fall asleep on their own through techniques such as letting them cry for a bit and not putting them down asleep. Harsh? Maybe. But plenty of sleep-deprived moms and dads swear by this method, which is also known as "ferberizing" or "crying it out."
Thinking of giving it a try? Here, 7 things to keep in mind.
Don't attempt to ferberize a young baby. Newborns aren't waking up in the middle of the night to prevent you from getting your beloved rest, they're getting up because they're hungry and need food in order to grow. Most experts, including Dr. Ferber, agree that crying it out shouldn't be attempted on a child younger than at least 3 months. Babies who are younger than that, or who don't yet weigh 11 pounds, likely aren't even capable of sleeping through the night. However, after that, if you feel your baby (and you) are ready, you can start trying to get him to sleep through the night via crying it out or another sleep training method. "Assuming they're healthy and gaining weight properly, babies are typically ready to start sleep training and learning how to sleep through the night sometime between 4 to 6 months," says Kim Schaf, founder and president of Sleep Training Solutions in Chicago.
Do stick to a routine. Pick a plan and stay with it. "Consistency is key when getting babies to sleep," says Schaf. "Babies and toddlers, especially, learn through repetition, and the process will go much faster when you follow the same routine each day."
Don't plop your baby in her crib, shut the door, and never return. There are numerous variations of sleep training, some more gentle than others, but ferberizing, or crying it out, does not mean you lock your baby in her room and let her cry herself to sleep without ever checking on her. In his book, Dr. Ferber says, "Simply leaving a child in a crib to cry for long periods alone until he falls sleep, no matter how long it takes, is not an approach I approve of." He recommends you periodically go in and comfort your child if she's crying, increasing the amount of time you leave her alone each time, as opposed to staying with her until she falls asleep. Most experts recommend going in in intervals of 5, 10, and 15 minutes, but the most important thing is that you do what you feel comfortable with.
Don't forget about naps. Routine is key. "When I work with a family, I don’t separate day and night sleep," she says. "Being consistent with how your baby is falling asleep -- whether it’s for naptime or bedtime -- is the fastest way to master this new skill. So, parents want to do the same thing at night and during nap time." It's important to remember, though, naps are always shorter than night-time sleep, so after an allotted period of time -- half hour, 45 minutes -- take your child out of his room if he hasn't fallen asleep and try the method again at night.
Do be flexible. We all want our babies to sleep through the night, but be reasonable. If your baby is sick or you are traveling (or just returned from traveling), it isn't a good time to start any sleep training method.
Don't wait until your baby has fallen asleep to put him down. Once your child is old enough to start sleep training, Dr. Ferber, among other experts, say that putting your baby down drowsy but not asleep is the crucial in teaching them to fall asleep on their own and self-soothe. One of the reasons you want your child to learn to self-soothe is so that when he wakes up during the night, he can fall back asleep on his own instead of needing you.
Do modify your sleep training method so it works for you. You can teach your baby to fall asleep on their own, and stay asleep, without following a specified plan to a tee. Take your own child and situation into account. "There's never a black and white answer when it comes to questions like how long should parents wait before going into their child's room, or whether or not they should pick baby up," notes Schaf. "It depends on the age of the baby and the method the parents have chosen."
Is your baby sleeping through the night? Would/did you ever let them "cry it out"?
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