To sleep, Perchance to freaking stay that way . . .
November 4, 2005 2:39 PM   Subscribe

I’d be interested in hearing people’s experiences with letting their baby cry him/herself to sleep. After 5 months of (literally) almost constant contact with an infant, I’m starting to falter.

My first child, I went the whole attachment parenting route, and he ended up sleeping in our bed until he was almost 2. This one, I swore I would put down regularly from birth, but right from the start, he cries if he’s not held. He could be in the deepest sleep ever, and the moment he leaves my arms, he’s awake – and he’s pissed! I’ve heard the horror stories of children crying so hard that they throw up and the warnings that ferberization creates an early sense of distrust between parent and child, but I can’t do this routine for much longer. I’ve tried the No Cry Sleep Solution without success, and I’ve tried tactics like warming the bed, white noise, and sitting with him while he cries. Nothing works. He’s sleeping on the nursing pillow while I type this.

So I’m thinking about taking the dreaded plunge into Ferberization or some modified version of it. And since I’m nervous about the whole endeavor, I’d love to hear experiences, both good and bad, that other MeFi parents have.
posted by bibliowench to Health & Fitness (24 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
This is a hot, hot, boiling hot topic, as you may already know. All kids are different, what works for one kid doesn't work for all, etc. etc. etc.

All that said, I've used Dr. Wiesbluth's "Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child" with my kids and it works great. Basically there's a week of putting the baby down at the same time each night and letting them cry to sleep. After a few days they catch on that the crying gets them nowhere and they cry only for a few minutes or not at all. My kid now asks to go to sleep, rolls over and conks out on his own. It's great!

The key is consistency, not foisting your own anxieties onto the baby (they can tell if you're freaked out), and not listening to anyone who tries to tell you that you're a bad mom for doing this. You need to have a sane life and to get some sleep yourself in order to be the best parent. It's not good for you or them if you're a frazzled wreck. Commit to trying it for two weeks consistently before declaring that it doesn't work, though.
posted by bonheur at 2:49 PM on November 4, 2005

For all its worth, I tried that with my son. It didnt' work at all. He didn't sleep for more than three hours at a stretch until after his first birthday. To this day, eleven years later, he still has trouble sleeping.

He's autistic. Which obviously we didn't know at the time when he was an infant.

So my only point is, your child is almost certainly a normal, healthy baby and using a healthy sleep strategy will probably work for you if applied consistently. But if it doesn't, it may well not be your fault.

Best of luck, I know darn well the value of a good night's sleep.
posted by Lokheed at 2:55 PM on November 4, 2005

He'll be fine either way. Attachment parenting works from the kids perspective and Ferberization works just fine too. With two of our kids we got to a point where we put them in their beds and let them cry. However, most people won't recommend that you just ignore them completely. The standard routine is that you go in two minutes after laying them down, then 20 minutes after that and say, "It's time to go to sleep", lay them down, given them their blanket (or whatever), help them find their pacifier, then leave. Don't pick him up or play or kiss or hug him or anything like that. Here's the book we read. Both of my kids who went through this sleep like angels to this day (ages 7 and 4). The one that we allowed to sleep with us now sleeps just fine too. I think this whole issue is a much bigger deal to parents than it is to kids. Honestly. Do what you're comfortable with. As long as you're not abusive or cruel your kid will come out of this just fine either way.
posted by crapples at 2:55 PM on November 4, 2005

Wow, I guess I don't need to write much since bonheur has beat me to it. I also recommend Wiesbluth, though my wife has read more of the book than I have. We've learned that a little crying can be a good thing, and it's really amazing how they eventually learn to fall asleep on their own. Our first was an angel, the second, now three months has been more fussy but he too is learning to fall asleep on his own. Just recently I have learned to tell when he is tired of me rocking him and just wants to be put down to sleep and it usually works great.

I can tell you're anxious about the "let them cry" thing, but you don't need to go to the opposite extreme to teach your baby to sleep well. When we "let them cry" it is usually for 10 minutes at a time and they're usually asleep before that. When you first start to do it you have to let them go longer, but you can decide how much crying you can stand.

We let our first go 87 minutes the first time and he finally fell asleep. The next night it was 20 minutes or so, and he was down to less than 10 minutes after that. With our second we have had more longer sessions, but as we've learned to recognize his signals and he's gotten better and better.

Overal the key is to recognize when they're getting tired before they start to complain.

Also, to echo crapples: Do what you're comfortable with
posted by jacobsee at 3:02 PM on November 4, 2005

I had a friend who took the let'em cry approach, and it was very unnerving to be at his house during these fevered screamfests. Maybe some soundproofing is order. You could still use a baby monitor turned low.
posted by StickyCarpet at 3:10 PM on November 4, 2005

Wow. Four posts and nothing broken.

Seriously, whenever I see new parents the tenor of my advice is along the lines of, "your baby will be fine no matter what but you may wind up divorced and insane without some sleep". Do whatever fits best given you and your spouses philosophical sensibilities and the baby's willingness to be "trained".

A five month-old does not need nighttime feeds in most cases. If the crib is in a different room I would agree with what everyone else has said. And some kids are just super easy and others will fight every effort until later, i.e. ten to twelve months. Godspeed.
posted by docpops at 3:11 PM on November 4, 2005

My neice slept with my sister until she was almost two. She tried letting her cry herself to sleep, but it didn't work. My neice would get hysterical and scream bloody murder. When sis finally went in, the baby would be covered in tears and snot.

My sister finally tried this trick that she saw on SuperNanny.

She put Sara into her crib, tucked her in, said her goodnights, and turned out the light. Then, she stayed in the room, sitting next to the crib in a chair. She did not speak, or make eye contact with Sara. But, Sara could see her. She cried, but not nearly as hysterically. She was comforted that Mommy was in the room, even if she wasn't holding her. After 10 minutes or so, she was asleep. Within three nights, my sister was able to simply say goodnight, turn out the light and walk out.

My neice now goes to bed happily every night in a toddler bed with no problems. As others have said - every kid is different, but this might be worth a try for you.
posted by clh at 3:12 PM on November 4, 2005

When we were new parents we were advised to leave him crying. He cried until he threw up. It was not nice, for anyone, and we were still getting bits of sick out of his cot months later.

Since then we just did what seemed right. Currently our fourth boy is still coming in our bed at night, but he gets himself to sleep in his own bed. He's two, and in our view isn't old enough to understand why we'd prefer him in his own bed.

Do what's right for you. Humans have been parents way longer than they've been writing books about how to do it. I honestly don't believe that your choice of method now will have a long term effect.
posted by Glum at 3:21 PM on November 4, 2005

Does your baby cry anytime he's not held or just when it's time to sleep?

Does he sleep in the car ever?

Your question almost reads as if you mut hold your baby all day and night, during waking and sleeping hours, to prevent him from crying. If this is the case you may want to begin by just getting him used to not being held all the time.
posted by u2604ab at 3:31 PM on November 4, 2005

Glum Is it really important that a 2 year old child understand why things have to be a certain way? For example, do you let him eat as much candy as he wants? Because he surely won't understand why he can't do that either.

It seems like letting a child in bed with an adult might be a bad idea because you might injure or smother the child rolling over while you are asleep. See this article which has opinions from both sides.

I am firmly in the let them cry camp. It is the best way they will learn crying is not a way to control you. If the child cries until barfing, well that's certainly going to be unpleasant for him and probably he will learn that crying is a poor strategy.

Of course all families are different so one should do what feels correct and seems to work.
posted by jockc at 3:43 PM on November 4, 2005

I'm an AP parent too, with 3 children, and I very well understand the frustrations that can arise from constant contact. My oldest was like you describe your child (what I would term 'high need'. ) All 3 of our children were trained to sleep by Daddy; we call it Daddy Boot Camp. That simply means that Daddy was the one to put them to sleep. That didn't work for naps of course, but it gradually transferred naturally into the days ('gradual' is pretty much an AP mantra). It worked very easily with our youngest two, not so much with our oldest (who like yours seemed to have a higher need for contact)- lots of time my husband would ease out of bed only to have the baby wake up and have to start the process all over again (still it was easier with Dad than with Mom & all that is associated with her). Hang in there and remember that AP also means taking care of parental and family needs. Also, you are still new at learning to read your baby's cue's and assessing when the needs are 'valid', so go easy on yourself and try not to feel guilty about any of your decisions.
posted by LadyBonita at 3:48 PM on November 4, 2005

Friends of mine had great success with clh's sister's SuperNanny technique.
posted by scody at 4:16 PM on November 4, 2005

I read Secrets of the Baby Whisperer and found it helpful for getting my son through his bed-time routine issues. She is quite practical and kind in her approach, seeking a balance between AP and Ferberization. Consistency was a major component that helped with our son. Once he could recognize the pattern for the evening (dinner, bath, story, bed), he fell right into the pattern. I think it took a week or two for it to really sink in for him. We got lucky because once he had his routine down, we could put him to bed and carry on with whatever evening activities we wanted. He'd even sleep through the dog barking at the pizza delivery man.

No matter what approach you take, I wish you luck and much patience. It is so hard some nights and you need and deserve "You" time too.
posted by onhazier at 5:53 PM on November 4, 2005

I read the Wiesbluth book too. Our baby was sleeping in our bed with us until around 11 months. He screamed like crazy the first night we left him alone in his crib, for at least an hour. But he did quickly get the picture, and he stopped fussing entirely within a week.

He still has occasional outbursts, but the key is basically to be consistent. If your baby learns that you will come and pick her up after 20 minutes of crying, she will cry for 20 minutes every night until you come pick her up, and you won't get anywhere.
posted by designbot at 5:59 PM on November 4, 2005

Four kids.

The three eldest, we got to go to sleep by themselves (around 2-3 years old) by letting them cry for succesively longer periods of time. ie, we would let them cry for a minute, go to see them, comfort them, let them know you were there. Then the next time, say two minutes, then the next 5, and so on. It took no more than a few nights to get it to work. It seemd like miracle work.

Our youngest is 5, and he still lands up in our bed most nights. We tried for the longest time to use the "let them cry" route to no avail. He would continue to cry everytime, no matter long we waited, to the point where was coughing a lung out.

We are now getting him to stay in his room, and go back to it in the middle of the night because the hallway is lit up like a pulsar.

My take on the whole thing is that a lot things work on most people. If it doesn't, then sometimes it is not worth fighting city hall.

In the end, in our case, sleeping trumps out anything else. At some point the kid will be able to sleep without crying. Sometimes it just requires patience and adaptation.
posted by notcostello at 6:39 PM on November 4, 2005

I'm all for Ferber. It's worked out great for us and I think it's not so terrible as someone seems to have made it out to be to you.

You get to come back and reassure the kid at regular intervals (in fact, it's pretty much what notcostello describes above). AFAICT, it covers all the bases. One the one hand, the kid isn't going to learn to sleep without your presence unless you leave him alone. On the other hand, you want to know that there's not something else wrong (what if he's thrown up on himself? What if he...? etc.) and the kid needs reassurance that the parents haven't just abandoned him. With the Ferber approach the kid gets to see your face and knows that he's not abandoned, and the parent is reassured that the kid's arm isn't stuck under the mattress or something :-)

In any case, there is no crying-free method. No matter what you do, you're going to have to do something the kid doesn't want you to do. I thought Ferber was a pretty gentle method, actually. It actually worked for us in three nights. But different things work for different people. There is no one right answer. There are many possible approaches. If one thing doesn't work, try another.
posted by winston at 6:58 PM on November 4, 2005

I'm a let them cry guy, but with our first my partner was concerned and there was lots of rocking to sleep etc.
My own feeling is that rocking to sleep then trying to put down a kid is sneaky, and almost teaches them you will desert them while they snooze. I'd cry if I woke in the midst of a desertion too.
We ended up with a book that we always call the nazi sleep book, as it takes a pretty strenuous and disciplined line saying:
Put them to sleep.
Wait 5 mins, go back, reassure, say good night again.
Wait 10 mins, go back reassure.
Wait 20 mins, go back, reassure etc.
Wait 40 mins etc.
We never had to go past 40 mins IIRC.
We tried the same approach on our second from the beginning. It worked too.
I think for sanity in the whole house, kids need to learn to go to sleep without 3rd party intervention.
It took a few days for the kids to get used to it, and our 2 yro still refuses to sleep sometimes, but that is him being naughty, not scared or lonely - "play time - not bed time!"
posted by bystander at 7:47 PM on November 4, 2005

We did roughly the same thing as bystander with our second when he turned a year (first slept through the night from 8 weeks). First night was about 15 minutes of crying, second night about 10, third night about 5, and that was it. Added bonus: The first night was also the first time he ever slept through the night.

I'm a proponent.
posted by pardonyou? at 8:22 PM on November 4, 2005

This Co-sleeping article was enough to convince me to let my son share our bed for as long as he wants. We don't have a "nursery", and he's never spent a night alone in 9 months. About one night per month has been a "fussy" night leaving us tired the next day, but that's a small price to pay for the joy of having him close.

I recommend this same author's book Our Babies, Ourselves for any parent who is concerned about the long-term impact of our recent Western methods of child-rearing emphasizing independence over connection.

The United States ranks 43rd in the world in infant mortality (official 2005 statistics of deaths before 1 year of age), so I'm very reluctant to follow any advice from U.S. "experts" about how to care for my child. Instead I prefer techniques that were used for millenia such as co-sleeping, breastfeeding on demand, child-led weaning, babywearing, etc. It's called Attachment Parenting these days, but it was how things were done, period, until very recently in human history, and are still done in most of the world.
posted by Bradley at 1:16 AM on November 5, 2005 [1 favorite]

I lived in Malawi, Africa for a year in high school and what struck me was how happy the people were, especially the children. Babies rarely cried and usually for good reason (constipation or other pain). The main difference in parenting between the U.S. and Malawi was that babies, up to two, it seemed, were in near constant physical contact with someone. The women wore the babies in the small of their back, held there by a length of cloth, as they hoed, carried pots of water, did laundry, sold vegetables, etc. Obviously, this wouldn't mesh well with American culture and independence, but it makes evolutionary sense: Babies are meant to be held because that's where they are safest. Having their children literally attached to them didn't slow the Malawian women, because the babies were quiet 95% of the time. The few times the woman I was closest to laid her six-month-old son down in our Western crib, he slept without a problem, I think, because he had so much contact otherwise. A new lowerback appendage doesn't personally sound attractive, but everyone involved seemed content, though the children learned to walk later than they tend to in the U.S.
posted by wendyfairy at 4:27 AM on November 5, 2005 [1 favorite]

I scanned most of the responses above so forgive me if this has been said..but have you had your pediatrician check for acid reflux? My niece (now 4 months old) had the same exact problem for the first two months of her life until finally the doc put her on an acid reflux medication (zocor? i dunno..i can't remember what it's called but it's a very common med) and voila end of crying.
posted by spicynuts at 8:00 AM on November 5, 2005

Pretty much what wendyfairy and bradley said. I tried letting my first child cry herself to sleep once or twice; she literally cried for almost 3 hours, screaming, throwing up - it was unbearable and that was it for me and I never even tried it with my second child, who was easier anyway. I rocked my kids to sleep, lay down with them when they were a little older and moved them to their own beds. They've grown up fine and I was fine and nobody had to shriek and scream and be miserable.

jockc, babies do not cry in an attempt to control their parents. They don't think like that. That attitude really terrifies me - babies cry because it is their only method of communication. Leaving a screaming, vomit encrusted child alone so s/he won't be "controlling" you and will learn that screaming and vomiting is a "bad strategy" is child abuse, pure and simple.
posted by mygothlaundry at 9:14 AM on November 5, 2005 [2 favorites]

The method of elongating the time between each visit is not the same as letting them cry until they fall asleep.

Was not aware that it was called the Ferber method, but if memory serves, it assuages their fears that they have been abandoned.

You can only strecth out the time to any appreciable effect if they lay back down before you leave and are ready to try and go to sleep.

The stretching out of the time is not point nor is it a solution in of itself, it is the child's understanding that they have not been abandoned, no matter how long since the last time they saw you.

Anybody who lets a kid cry for three hours is an idiot.

For our first 3 children, it worked ridiculously fast, in a night or two. And I do not mean figuratively in a night or two, but literally in a night or two.

With our last, I tried valiantly, and I pushed as long as I could (with my wife and parents screaming at me by the end), but it just did not work.

And in the end, parenting sometimes means adapting to the particular needs of the child and he needed sleep, as did we, so we accomodated him and it has all worked out.

And always check with the paed just to be sure.

All the solutions offered are like venn diagrams. Most kids fit in one or several of the circles, not all do.
posted by notcostello at 7:53 PM on November 5, 2005

If you consider letting your child cry it out, I strongly recommend you read Hold on to your Kids by Gordon Neufeld. After reading the Amazon blurb and seeing the US cover (I read the Canadian version) it may not seem relevant, but it really is a must read book, about the importance of a good relationship between parent and child.

I agree with mygothlaundry. A baby does not try to control a parent by crying, a baby cries because s/he is upset. He spent nine months in the most comfortable place in the world, in super close contact to his mother, and now all of a sudden she is expected to understand that she should fall asleep on her own, in her own bed.

Of course, this does not help the OP. I wish I could offer some advice to make this easier, but for me the easy way was having my child sleep in our bed. I do suggest you try to find some time for yourself. I can relate to feeling touched out. I think it is easier to start during the day, and let the nights be for a while, but that may not work for you. I wish you all the best.
posted by davar at 3:20 PM on November 6, 2005 [1 favorite]

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