I Ferberized my kid.
If you’d asked me four months ago what that sentence meant, I would have been clueless. Circumcise, immunize, baptize sure, but Ferberize, no.
There’s a lot of words you learn as a new parent. But by my internal counter, the word that comes up the most frequently is a word so common and taken for granted that until parenthood, I hardly thought or talked about it: sleep, a subject of obsession and newly alien to every nascent parent.
After cursory research involving a short summary I read on various sleep training methods in Baby 411 that placed Ferber’s method at the top of its list and anecdotal thumbs ups from a new moms support group, I decided to Ferberize3 Hank.
You’ve gotta be pretty famous (and some might say infamous) to have your name made into a verb. Ferberize is Dr. Richard Ferber’s method of getting children to sleep through the night that involves parents waiting in increasing time intervals to give their babies the chance to learn to fall asleep on their own. The popular epithet, “cry it out” method, is a gross oversimplification of Ferberizing. But you really have to read the book for yourself, I think, to realize this. Otherwise, it’s all hearsay about a sleep training method that has way too many misconceptions and corresponding feelings of suspicion and antipathy attached to it.
Let me be very clear about what’s to follow in this blog about Ferberizing: it is my experience and answer to getting my baby to sleep. I cannot claim with total confidence a causal relationship between what I did and what’s happened with Baby’s sleep habits. It could be a coincidence. But probably not. And although Baby didn’t get Ferberized at nearly the rate projected in Ferber’s book or by some of the parents who’ve used his method, I will say that Ferber worked for us.
Before moving on to the play-by-play of my Ferberizing experience, the issues I wanted to resolve with Baby’s sleeping habits were:
- 1. Baby falling asleep at the boob. I somehow “trained” my baby to fall asleep while nursing. This was great when I was willing to do anything to get my baby to sleep, but by 4 months I was so over it.
2. If he was still awake after feeding, I had to bounce him on the exercise ball while patting his bum and humming a lullaby for at least 15 min, usually more.
3. When Baby woke up prematurely from naps (by premature I mean within 30-40 min) and I knew he needed more, I would feed him (even though he wasn’t hungry) and/or bounce him to sleep, both of which would more often than not wake him up completely from the nap.
4. When he got up for his middle-of-the-night feeds4 I needed to nurse him till he passed out or if he was still awake after nursing, bounce him to sleep. Sometimes he stayed up for more than 2 hours. He seemed to think that 2:30AM was a great time to hang out with mom.
Bottom line: after 10 days, Baby fell asleep without crying and completely on his own. He sleeps for 8-8.5hr at night with 1 night feed that lasts no more than 15 min and he puts himself to sleep afterwards.
What follows is my Ferberizing journal. Keep a journal to record how much the baby sleeps, his nap times and bed time, how long he cries. I even jotted down how I was feelings at certain points in the wait times to help remind myself to stay strong and push on if the next day I was feeling the same thing and ready to crack.
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Day 1. Monday February 11. (Incidentally, Squeezable Companion’s and my first year anniversary.)
Wait times (min): 1, 3, 5, 10. (10 thereafter)5
I feed the baby his last meal of the day. He starts passing out as usual. I wake him up by unlatching him. He fusses but I put him to bed somewhat awake. It’s 8PM.6 Start timing. I go in after 1st wait of 1 min and soothe him for 1 min (Ferber suggest 1-2 min but no more) by stroking his back and head and patting his bum and saying, “Go to sleep sweetie, I know you can do it,” and making shushing sounds. I do this for no more than one minute and leave. I wait 3 min for my 2nd wait. He’s still crying. Hard. I go in for 1 min to soothe him and his crying gets worse. 3rd wait, 5 min; 1 min soothing. His crying gets worse still. 4th wait, 10 minutes.
This is when things get hard. While I’ve been waiting, I have not been making dinner or putting away his bath things or watching television or sipping on wine. I can’t do anything except sit there on the sofa with my legs drawn up to my chest, nose buried in my knees, holding my phone with both hands as I watch the seconds count down on the timer, listening to my baby cry through the baby monitor. I don’t even bother to attempt any pretension of business as usual or disinterest or calm.
I start to wonder if I’m making a mistake. He’s 4 months and 1 week. Maybe I’m wrong and he’s not ready. Maybe he’s still too young. Maybe he’s actually hurting. Maybe he really still does need me in order to fall asleep. Maybe his neurological connections haven’t sufficiently, you know, connected and he physically cannot soothe himself to sleep. Maybe I’m hurting my baby. Rocking him to sleep isn’t so bad. Not all the time. He’s so sweet looking in my arms, my sweet little boy. What’s another month? I could abort and just wait until he’s 5 months. I can always start it again. It’s also my anniversary. Do I really want to be doing this to myself on my anniversary? Do I want to be doing this to? What if he cries for hours? The couple of hours we have to ourselves on our anniversary night will be shot to hell.
I ask SC if I’m making a mistake. He says no. What if he’s not ready? He’s ready. What if I’m wrong. You’re not.
I go in after 10 agonizing minutes, the 4th wait. Soothe for 1 min. He cries so hard I think he’s going to pass out.
5th wait. And that’s when it happens. 6 min in, he stops crying and makes fussing, moaning sounds. 1 more min later, the baby monitor goes silent.
Summary: 26 minutes of crying.
* * *
Day 2. Tuesday, February 12.
Wait times (min): 3, 5, 10 (10 thereafter)
Put baby in the crib awake after feeding him and unlatch him before he passed out completely. He starts crying immediately. I wait 3 min; go in to soothe for 1. Wait 5 min, soothe for 1. Wait 4 min into the 10 minute wait and I start to get really antsy. Why? The night before, Baby dirtied his diaper during the crying and because I was so determined to Ferberize him, I didn’t listen to his crying and left him to sleep in his own shit. I felt terrible when the following morning I discovered the mess.
So I go in and check to see if he’s pooped his pants again without taking him out of his crib. I don’t stop the clock during all this. Clean diaper. Go back out. With two and a half minutes left on the 10 min wait, he stops crying and starts making little noises. 8:10 min into 3rd wait, he goes silent. Oh but wait. He makes a little noise again so I start the next wait of 10 min but I don’t go in. He’s not crying. 2:08 min into this 4th and final wait, he falls asleep.
Summary: 16 min of crying. 10 minutes better than the night before.
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Day 3. Wednesday, February 13.
Wait times (min): 5, 10, 12 (12 thereafter)
I’m feeling fantastic. The 10 min improvement last night gives me the confidence to try feeding him half an hour before his first nap.7 Up until today, I’ve always fed him just before putting him down to sleep, my rational being if he goes down with a full belly, it increasing the likelihood of a longer stretch of sleep before waking up from hunger.
The problem is that Hank associates nursing with sleeping. He needs to nurse to fall asleep. This is a problem because if he’s full and awake than he can’t nurse and can’t fall asleep. It’s also a problem because if he briefly comes out of sleep, as people including babies tend to do several time during the night, he can’t fall back asleep unless I nurse him even though he doesn’t need to eat.
So for his 2nd nap, I feed him 30 min before his nap time.8 I put him in the crib wide awake, but calm. At 1:30 min he starts to cry after just fussing. He stops crying at 4 min. I go into his room against my better judgement after 5 min and see that his eyes are barely open and he’s very sleepy. I leave right away and he naps for 2.5 hours.
Later that night, I’m too nervous to change the night time routine so I go ahead and nurse him as the last thing I do before putting him in his crib. But I don’t unlatch him soon enough and he ends up passing out on the boob. No sleep training possible. So tonight is a wash.
Summary: 4 min of crying for a nap. No bedtime training time available.
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Day 4. Thursday, February 14.
Wait times (min): 5, 10, 12 (12 thereafter)
Since I didn’t really get to sleep train Baby last night, I decide to stick with the same wait times of 5, 10 and 12 min.
I feed him 1 hr before his 1st nap, do the sleep routine. He cries 5 min before falling asleep and I don’t go in at all to soothe him. He naps for 1 hr.
For his 2nd nap, he wakes up after 30 min. This makes me nervous because he usually naps extremely well during the day. He hasn’t had a 30 min nap in a long time.9 I forgot to record the crying time.
For his 3rd nap, I have to soothe him for 1 min after the first 5 min. He falls asleep 6:30 min into the second wait of 10 min for a total of 11.5 min to fall asleep. He wakes up after only an hour. Unlike his wake up after the 2nd nap, I decide that he needs to sleep more. He’s had a total of 2.5 hours of day time sleep at this point and I know he needs more. So I go in and soothe him for 1 min, and start the time for 5 min. 2:30 min in, he falls asleep and stays that way for another 1.5 hours.
Later that night, I finally girdle up and decide to feed him before his bath, song, and book. In the four month and a week that Henry has been alive, I have never fed him before his bath and song and book. I’m really nervous. I’m wondering if I’m doing the right thing. I wonder if he’ll get hungry sooner and wake up earlier in the night. And what if this results in him waking up for a second feed in the night? I have to give it a shot and see what happens. And even resolved to this new routine, I still break and feed him a little bit because I imagine he didn’t get enough before his bath. The change in routine throws him off a bit and distracts him. In any case, I still manage to put him in his crib awake and not crying.
I start timing. At 2 min, he’s fussing but not crying. At 4 min he starts crying hard. I have to go in at the end of 5 min to soothe him for 1 min. At 8 min into the 10 min wait, I go into check his diaper because he’s crying so hard that I’m reminded of the first night accident. Since I went in before the 10 min were up, I start the timer for the 3rd wait of 12 min without going in to soothe him. 2:30 min into the 3rd wait, I’m getting panicked. Wtf? It’s been 17:30 min of crying so far, which means he’s gotten worse since Day 2, not better. What am I doing wrong? Is he hungry? What is he’s not ready? And the litany of doubts creep back like a fungal infection. The only thing keeping me from breaking rank and defenestrating Ferber’s book is that I think the confusion I’d create by not being continuing and changing the rules on him yet again would be worse for the baby.
9 min into the 12 min wait, he goes silent.
Summary: 24 min of crying. 8 minutes worse than the night before. Discouraged.
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Day 5. Friday, February 15.
Wait times (min): 5, 10, 12 (12 thereafter)
I should be going with wait times of 10, 12, 15 but I can’t bring myself to wait 10 minutes for the first wait. It just seems way too long. I know I’m prolonging the inevitable but I still can’t do it. I wish I weren’t doing this alone.
For the 1st nap he cries so hard for the first 15 min that I decide that he must not be tired enough, that I put him in his crib to nap too early.10 So I take him out and play with him for another 30 min, doing the bedtime routine again. He falls asleep after 2 min. Lesson: so important to put them in when they are actually ready for a nap.
For the 2nd nap, I put him in wide awake with a single yawn as my cue. He cries for 15 min with 1 min of soothing at the end of the first 5 min. Day 5 of Ferberizing and he’s still crying whenever I put him to sleep, day or night, and now when Ferber says it should take 3-4 days to get baby to sleep without crying. Discouraged, frustrated, I wish I weren’t doing this alone.
I let him sleep 30 min in the car seat during a walk, his 3rd nap. I know I should probably avoid all errands during nap times while I’m sleep training but I decided to go and have coffee with a couple of friends and he falls asleep on the walk home. My justification? A happy mom is a happy baby.
Later that night, the first 5 min of crying are not too vigorous and I’m hopeful. But when I go in to soothe him for 1 min, his crying gets harder. The next 8:30 min is a melange of burst of hard crying and moaning. He’s asleep in 13:30 min. I record his actual bedtime for the first time: 8:17PM.
Summary: 13:30 min of crying. 10:30 min better than yesterday. Best night time falling asleep learning curve so far. But I’m wondering if he’s just exhausting himself or actually learning anything. This sucks ass.
* * *
Day 6. Saturday, February 16.
Wait times (min): 10, 12, 15 (15 thereafter)
I finally decide to move to the next series of wait times, the times I should have been using by Day 3; it’s Day 6.
1st nap takes 6:30 min. He doesn’t cry so much as fuss a bit. I’m ecstatic.
2nd nap starts with a lot of crying, something I don’t expect considering how great he did for the first nap. I doubt my timing and so I take him out of the crib and play with him for 30 min before putting him to bed again. He takes 9 min to fall asleep and cries hard.
Later that night, although it only takes Hank 9:30 min to fall asleep, I’m really discouraged by the fact that he’s still crying to sleep. What happened to the cooing and talking to himself and then falling asleep peacefully? One mother even described hearing the sweet sound of her baby’s rattle slowing and drifting to the sweeter sound of silence as the reward for her Ferberizing efforts. What of that? Where the hell is my zero crying, 100% cooing happy sleepy land sounds?
Summary: 9:30 min of crying. 4 min better than yesterday. Why is he still crying at all? Did I prolong the torture by not following strictly to Ferber’s method? Probably. At least I didn’t have to go in to soothe him at any point of the day. I suppose that’s progress.
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Day 7. Sunday, February 17.
Wait times (min): 12, 15, 17 (17 thereafter)
1st nap and he’s still crying. I want to wring Ferber’s neck. Just then Baby falls asleep after 3:30 min. 2nd nap 6:30 min. Still crying. Later that night I actually have to go in to soothe him because he cries beyond 12 min. And then only 8:30 min into the 15 min wait does he stop crying and fall asleep, for a total of 20:30 min. That’s 11 min worse than last night. It’s day 7. I am so discouraged. I’m starting to really question the method itself. Up until this point, I assumed I was the problem with the reordering of his bedtime routine, the occasional mistakes in nap time guesses, the slower increase of wait times. But now I wonder if the method isn’t nearly as effective as I thought it would be as and as other purported it to be.
Summary: 20:30 min of crying. 11 min worse than yesterday. Depressed.
* * *
Day 8. Monday, February 18.
Wait times (min): 12, 15, 17 (17 thereafter)
For both naps today he falls asleep in 4 min and 11 min later that night. He cries but it’s not anywhere near the intensity of the first 7 days. Things are better.
Summary: 11 min of crying. 9:30 min better than yesterday. Measured joy.
* * *
Day 10. Wednesday, February 20.
I stopped recording after Day 8, planning to write a glass-half-full blog post about my experience with Ferberizing.
And then Day 10 came along.
He put himself to sleep tonight without crying. Who da man? Baby’s da man. My amazing little man.
Summary: 0 min of crying. [Insert happy dance here.]
* * *
I go back to Ferber’s book and reread the chapter where he outlines his method. He says, “By the third or fourth day your child will most likely be sleeping very well. If further work is still necessary after that, continue following the chart down to day 7; if at that point the problem is improving, but is still not fully resolved, continue to add a few minutes to each interval on successive days.”11
I should have kept my expectations lower and prepared myself for a longer haul than 3 or 4 days.
Besides the reward I got last night, the other immense benefit to Ferberizing that I haven’t yet mentioned is that when the baby wakes up prematurely from naps, I don’t have to go to him right away, but start progressive wait timing instead. This has meant I never had to soothe him to sleep in the middle of the night since I started Ferberizing.
Overall, Ferber works. I think if you follow it to the letter, you’ll get faster results. He says that in the book, that if you modify his method by tackling different sleep issues separately it will take longer, like starting with shorter wait times (which I did) or responding to their crying before set times (which I did). And despite all my ambivalence, doubts, and rancor during the training, I’d do it again without hesitation.
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Got your own story about Ferberizing? Have any questions or comments? I would love to hear from you! Email me or contact me via comments.
1. During the last few weeks of my pregnancy, I read this book called Twelve Hours’ Sleep by Twelve Weeks by a woman named Suzy Giordano. That book of hope, perfectly packaged in neat 130 pages with a picture of a sleeping baby on its jacket cover, makes sleep training sound like a cake walk. Not only that, it makes it seem like people whose babies don’t sleep 12 hours in 12 weeks seem idiotic. What a giant fraud of a book. The truth is, babies that end up sleeping 12 hours in 12 weeks are the exceptions to the rule. Of the more than 2 dozen new parents I’ve talked or heard talk about their babies’ sleep patterns, not one, not a single one has ever had a baby who’s slept for 12 hours at 12 weeks and continued to sleep for 12 hours for after 12 weeks. Furthermore, not only did the parents probably have nothing to do with the babies getting to those hours, but not every baby even needs 12 hours during the night at 12 weeks. Even if a baby does clock in 12 hours at some point before or at 12 weeks, he or she will likely not maintain these hours when a growth spurts come rolling down the calendar. For instance, at 10 weeks, Baby just suddenly decided one night to sleep 11 hours. Just like that. I was used to getting up at least twice a night to feed and then one night he just slept right through his feeds. And then he did it again the next rest of the week. I raised the roof to a Talib Kwali anthem, my engorged breasts bouncing stiffly, me hollah-ring in my head: “12 hours in 12 weeks? Pulleeze. Take 10 hours in 10 weeks, bee-atch!” ↑
2. When finally deciding to Ferberize Baby, he had managed to cut down to 1 feed at night after holiday travel that wreaked havoc on his sleeping habits–he had been sleeping 10 hr/night but then returned to waking up every 3 to 4 hours at night and could not nap for more than 30 min.
It’s hard to describe the despair and maddening frustration that comes from suddenly getting sleep and then not getting sleep. It’s almost like getting your arm back in the mail with no return address after living without one for three months. You were prepared to live with only one arm for a while but this package gets dropped at your door and you think, ‘Well, I mean, since it’s here and all, I might as well use it.’
And you remember how wonderful life was having two arms: washing your hair, driving, hugging, wearing tops with sleeves and seeing your hand at the end of it. And then you wake up one morning, go to reach for your glasses and your arm isn’t reaching because it gone stolen in the middle of the night. WTF. To make a long sleep amputation story short, Baby’s sleep did improve slowly after getting back to Boston. A couple of weeks upon our return, he went from 3 feeds/night to 2 feeds and then more recently, to 1. How did I do it? No idea. What did I do differently? Nothing. I can only assume that the routine I’d created finally sunk in through the slow osmotic process of repetition. ↑
4. I chose not to eliminate his one feed a night while sleep training him. I wasn’t prepared to get rid of that last feed yet, my reason being that he’s still not 5 months old and I felt that tackling his sleep associations and teaching him how to fall asleep on his own was enough for me to deal with. But by teaching him to fall asleep on his own meant that once I fed him, I could put him in his crib right away with no late night rocking sessions that used to exhaust me and my patience. I could put him in his crib awake at any time of the night that he woke up, feed him, and he would fall asleep on his own within minutes with minimal fussing. ↑
6. After reading about sleep phases in Ferber’s book, I realized that the late night wake ups that would last for 2 hrs was because I was putting the baby to bed too early and expecting him to sleep 13 hrs. He’s actually need only 11 to 11.5 hrs. So in order to keep the same wake up time of 7-7:30AM, I had to push the bedtime to 8PM from 6:30PM. As soon as I did that, he no longer stayed awake in the middle of the night. ↑
8. I try to make sure the baby naps 3 times a day for a total of 4 hours. Ferber’s book says a 3 month old averages about 4.5 hours/day time sleep spread out for 3-4 naps. At 6 months, 3.25 hrs/day spread out over 2-3 naps. Since Baby is 4 months I try to average around 4 hrs/day spread out over 3 naps. I’m not always successful, sometimes only getting in 2 naps and/or 3-3.5 hours. I make sure never to let him get more than 4 hours a day since I don’t want any of his night time sleep to be had during the day. I will actually wake him up if letting him continue to sleep will mean more than 4 hours of nap time. I don’t have a strict “no naps after x hour,” rule. However, Ferber talks about the “Forbidden Zone,” which is a stretch of a few hours in the evening when it is people are the most awake in the span of the entire day and sleep is impossible. If you try to put your baby to sleep during his forbidden zone, you’ll just be setting up your baby for failure and a whole lot of unnecessary crying. So I try to note when this time starts. For Baby, it’s around 5:30-7PM. During these hours, I don’t dare try to make him nap. ↑
9.I do the exact same sleep routine for his naps as I do in the evening, minus the bath, that is, song and story. I pull down the shades in his room and then I sing him a song, just one. Then I read him a story. After the book I’ll cradle him as I walk towards the crib and whisper that it’s his nap time and then I put him in his crib. I sleep him on his tummy so I’ll put him down on his belly and put his blanket over him and then say, “Go to sleep,” give him a kiss, and walk out. You can do whatever routine you want but you want to have a routine, a set of signals that your baby will begin to associate with sleeping so that he knows what’s coming. ↑
10. I pay really close attention to the baby around his nap times to be sensitive to signs of fatigue. He usually starts to get tired after being awake for about 2-3 hours. It varies that much. Sometimes it’s 2 hours (usually before his first nap in the morning), sometimes it’s 3 (usually before his second nap in the afternoon). He will yawn or sit still for a while or his blinking is slower or he’ll rub his eyes. As soon as I see a sign, I start his sleep routine. I think this one might be the most important thing you can do to make sure your attempt to Ferberize your baby is successful: you have to find out what your baby’s bedtime and nap times are. For instance, before Ferberizing him, I used to bounce Baby for about 15-30 min before he finally fell asleep around 8pm. If I fed him his last meal too early, say 7:15pm hoping that he’d be asleep sooner, then I would end up bouncing longer before he finally settled down. In other words, his bedtime was around 8pm regardless of when I fed him. Once I started Ferberizing, I tried to put him down at 8pm and no sooner. This way I gave him the best chance of putting himself to sleep because he would be primed for it. ↑