Baby Sleep Training – not crying themselves to sleep

by pew

Baby Sleep Training

Teaching your child to fall asleep by herself is one of the most challenging things you will come across in life. There are many accepted methods for this ‘training’ from the Ferber Method to Cry It Out (CIO). The Ferber Sleep Method is apparently not CIO, but it might as well be. These types of training are more akin to training an animal than a child. In fact I wouldn’t even treat an animal like this! Thank fully there are more positive and compassionate ways to work with your child to help her to learn how to fall asleep. However, it takes a lot of time, commitment and perseverance.

The Ferber Method

The Ferber method is supposed to teach the baby how to soothe herself to sleep. It involves first going through a bedtime routine (bath, reading a book etc.) and then putting the child to bed and leaving the room. You then let the child cry for 3-5 minutes before returning to comfort her without picking her up. You then leave quickly, and return after progressively longer intervals (10 minutes then 20 minutes etc). All the time the child cries for these long periods. Eventually the child falls asleep.

The idea that a distressed and crying child will soothe herself to sleep is absurd. Coming back into a room where a child is so disturbed and thinking that you are comforting her just by your presence and not picking her up, is equally absurd. The method to return and pat her and then leave again is there just to make you feel better about abandoning her in the first place, which is what you have done. You are not reassuring the crying child in anyway whatsoever by doing this. If your baby is crying she needs to be held.

Through using this method your child will only learn that you will desert her when she needs you most, she will learn that she is alone and abandoned and that she can’t trust you. Does she not wonder where all the love you show during the day has suddenly gone? And what she has done to make you act in such a horrible and unloving manner? She is a sensitive soul and feels emotions, even at a young age. What damage do you do by being so cruel? You have no idea and nor has anyone else because no long term studies have ever been done. She stops crying because she gives up on YOU, she is alone.

Proponents of Ferber are all too quick to champion the method but don’t forget Ferber was not trained in mental health or infant psychology. In fact Richard Ferber himself acknowledges, the Ferber method doesn’t teach kids HOW to fall asleep on their own (Ferber 2006). Kids are simply denied access to their parents, and left to work it out for themselves.

Look deep into your heart and soul and tell me that the cry of your child doesn’t rip your heart apart and then tell me it’s not worth trying something else in order to get them to sleep. I know people will say they have tried everything and that the crying method was a last resort and caused them lots of pain too. But no more pain than what your child experiences. Your natural instincts will tell you that it is wrong to leave them crying like that.

Waking in the night

There are even people who believe that they can teach their child not to wake in the night by ignoring her and letting her cry herself  back to sleep.  They think it’s a habit that has to be stopped but your child cannot wake herself on purpose in the middle of the night, that’s ridiculous. Night waking is not about discipline it is about the child being disturbed, be that internally or by external noise. No matter what, she needs a response from you, she needs to know that she is safe and secure. She needs reassurance, not to be ignored.

Alternative & Positive methods

Luckily for all of us there are more positive ways of getting your child to sleep.

The first method would be co-sleeping but I won’t discuss that here as most people who resort to Ferber would never agree with this, as they would feel that this would be giving into their child’s demands and reinforcing further problem behaviors.

The alternative method is where your child sleeps in her own bed and in her own room but does so without you having to leave her to cry to sleep. It is possible….

Our experience

We probably did all the things that the experts would advise you against. But hopefully that in itself shows you that you should not be scared or frightened of “spoiling” your child and giving them what would be considered bad habits. They will still end up being happy, secure, comfortable and easy sleepers. Plus, you will not have had to suffer listening to the heart breaking cries and screams of your little angel in the process.

Pre-leaving the room

Up until 10 months old our daughter slept in our room, in a crib. But would be taken into our bed whenever we felt it necessary, for instance if she was upset or teething.

At 10 months we moved her into her own room, and would have to walk her to sleep whilst holding her. She did not want to go into bed whilst awake. We chose not to force this. If she woke in the night we would go and pick her up and walk her to sleep again in the same way.

Eventually she started to get into bed before falling asleep, but we would still stay in the room until she fell asleep. And would sometimes have to pat her or pick her up again.

The time came when after our bedtime ritual (bath and then read books) she would actually ask to get into bed. And then as long as we were still in the room she fell asleep by herself, with no interaction from us.

It took months to get to this stage but this was the milestone  - she was now ready for the next step, to learn to fall asleep without us in the room.

Leaving the room

We continued to allow her to fall asleep, with us in the room, for a further two weeks.

Then, one night before attempting to leave the room I explained to her that I would be leaving the room once I put her down. And that if she was upset I would come back and comfort her and then leave again.

She reacted immediately and was not happy with it. I did not attempt it that night. She understood completely what I meant.

The next night I explained again, emphasizing that I would return if she needed me and that I was not far away and that she would be ok.

So, I put her down, gave her a kiss, told her I loved her and wished her a good nights sleep and walked out. After a minute or two she began to cry and I returned straight away, picked her up, hugged her and once she was relaxed, put her down again. And left.

Every time she cried I would immediately go back in and comfort her, hold her and calm her down again. Eventually she would fall asleep by herself, without crying.

The next day I would praise her for falling asleep without me in the room and explain to her that we would do it again that night. I would explain how it was ok and that I was always there for her.

She soon realized where I was and would sometimes start shouting out for me but not crying. Initially I responded to this but explained to her that I would only come back in if she really needed me. She understood the difference.

Sometimes it took up to an hour for her to fall asleep by herself. But I carried on, knowing that the time period would eventually reduce and that she would get used to the idea.

After only two weeks, it was done! I was amazed. I could put her down, give her a kiss and leave the room and she did not peep. Even if she was not tired, you would hear her talking or making sounds and then eventually she would fall asleep by herself. That was it, it took those two weeks only, no crying herself to sleep necessary.

As they grow older

To this day we have no sleep issues with our daughter, she is a great sleeper. Sure, sometimes she has a phase where she’ll wake up during the night lots or won’t go down so easily but it never lasts more than a couple of days. Inevitably something is not right with her, teething or not feeling well for instance.

However, we do not force her to stay in her bed. Sometimes if she’s upset by a nightmare or something else she will ask to come into our bed and we allow that. The next day she’ll go back to her normal routine herself. She knows that she can rely on us to comfort her in the appropriate way for the situation.

It’s about listening to your child, having compassion and being consistent in your response. We maintain a consistent bedtime ritual, so she knows we are getting ready for her bedtime. Sometimes she doesn’t like it but once we’re in her room she’s happy and goes down easily. Every night we read a couple of books, she gives me a big hug and gets into bed, I then leave the room. Sometimes I have to return but not often. She sleeps all night and we are a very happy family.

Our 4 month old is the same and has slept through the night since she was 7 weeks old. She’s in our room and we’ll do exactly the same with her. I would not dream of allowing her to cry herself to sleep, there is no good reason for it. She is so helpless and needs your attention and love.

We have two happy, easy sleeping children and we never let them cry themselves to sleep. It is possible but it takes a lot of time and perseverance. But it is the only option as far as I am concerned.

Studies of human infants confirm that crying is physiologically stressful-increasing a baby’s blood pressure, heart rate, and cortisol (stress hormone) levels. Imagine what impact prolonged crying plus no response from you, has on your child? Don’t do it………


{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

Julie April 7, 2009 at 8:20 am

Wow… As usual I am amazed with everything I have been learning and looking forward to everything you guys will teach me! It makes all absolute sense and the great thing is, we can actually create our own methods, depending on each child, parent, culture and circumstances.
It seems like the trick is : listen and respond to your child. Whatever happens. Your child is expressing all those emotions to you because he/she trusts you, and through you, him/herself. He/she is identifying him/herself through you. Don’t let them down!

Sam January 11, 2010 at 7:35 am

What a heartening read, I hope you’re suitably proud of yourselves for taking this route and inspiring others to do the same! It isn’t easy and I agree with everything you say here re compassion, consistency and trust. I’m at the 10 month stage – do you mind me asking how old your little one was when she would actually ask to get into bed, when you began to think about her being able to fall asleep without you in the room?

pew January 11, 2010 at 9:28 am

Thank you Sam. Yes, we’re certainly glad we did it the way we did and can’t imagine doing it any other way. She was 18 months when we started leaving the room to let her fall asleep by herself. She started already asking to get into bed before falling asleep probably a month or two before that but we stayed in the room. Every child is different and you’ll have to work out when yours is ready. Our second one is now 13 months and I can tell already that she’ll probably reach that stage much sooner. We just feel that them falling asleep, feeling safe and secure is such a vital step in their whole future and their own development. To us it’s very logical and it makes me very sad when I hear of people letting their little ones cry themselves to sleep. I wish you luck and please persevere with it, it will be rewarded a hundred times over with a very happy, secure, confident child.

Sam March 7, 2010 at 8:31 am

Thanks Pew. As a first time Mum I’ve been shocked by the very widespread attitude that leaving your baby to get distressed is teaching them to sleep! I’ve been worried about it all year, worried that if I co-sleep and rock to sleep I will raise a terrible sleeper or never have any sleep myself again. Worried that I am spoiling her, that she ‘needs to know who’s boss’, that I am too soft for motherhood. I have finally found the confidence I needed to continue on as we were, because it feels right and because they are so small for such a small amount of time. I wish that this attitude weren’t so all-pervading and that we were given advice on other methods and on coping with sleep deprivation rather than a so-called quick fix. Thanks for your article and response, My little girl is 1 this week and she can go to sleep on her own when she is comfortable enough to do so.

pew March 7, 2010 at 9:41 am

Well done Sam for finding your stance on this. It is so important to be confident with your decision and stand by it in the face of ridicule from others. It will pay off in the end. Our second darling is now almost 15 months. We’ve been able to put her down and leave her to fall asleep by herself already for the last 2 months. She just did it by herself, it needed no work on our part really. She shares a room with her older sister who turned 3 yesterday. They both go to sleep without any complaints and sleep all the night through. And it still happens sometimes that one of them wakes in the night and comes into bed with us. I really enjoy that! It doesn’t do any harm, in fact it gives them more security knowing that you’re always there for them. The next night they just go back to their own bed, no problems. Keep at it, you’ll end up with such loving children as a result.

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