Confessions Of A

When we are at our wit's end we might try anything to get a good night's sleep, hoping our babies will too -- even if it means trying something we don't necessary believe in. Writer Brette McWhorter Sember shares her experience using the Ferber Method to get her baby to sleep.

Guilty as charged

Guilty. We did it. We lay in bed one night and let our eight-month-old son cry. We had no plans to implement the Ferber Method. In fact my husband and I both strongly believed it was cruel to leave an infant sobbing in the dark. We plead temporary insanity, or maybe self-defense.

Everyone has heard about the Ferber method. You teach your baby to fall asleep on his own by making incrementally spaced trips in to comfort him as he cries. You do not pick him up or touch him, but you let him know you are there. It is a behavior modification program that teaches your child to comfort himself. I never dreamed I would experience it first hand. We certainly did not have the patience to rock our second child each night as we foolishly did with our now seven-year-old daughter. Bedtime was an undertaking with her -- more complicated and delicate than stealing state secrets. After singing song after song, we would gently carry her to the crib, rocking, swaying and humming while checking for eyelid flutters. We would lower her inch by inch until her body touched the mattress. Very slowly, we would withdraw first one hand then another, leaving just fingertips to maintain contact. Then carefully the finger could be retracted as we glided ever so quietly backwards out of the room. At any step, the eyes might snap open to expose our treachery and then the whole process would begin again. Years later, we still yawn at the thought of that procedure. We agreed our second child was simply going to learn to go to sleep!

Becoming a Ferber family

Fat chance. Our little boy required rocking, singing and swaying from the beginning. Gradually he became a tyrant, waking us up 10 times per night. The final straw was a vacation with my husband's family when we took turns rocking and singing in our tiny room, knowing the whole family was awakened by each frequent, demanding shriek of outrage. We came home from the trip certain things would improve once we were all sleeping in our own beds. The first night home, at 1 am after the third wake up call, in our sleep starved delirium we gave Dr. Ferber a chance. It took about an hour of screaming and carefully timed trips back and forth to the crib, but we all did eventually sleep that night. After two more nights of less and less frequent awakenings, we were a Ferber family.

Sounds pretty simple, right? But when you lay awake at 3 am and feel your heart, broken by the multiple stab wound wails that you just know you should be responding to, it seems simply inhumane. When you walk into that room and a face, red from screaming and coated with tears and mucous, confronts you accusingly, you simply want to gather your child into your arms and calm the hyperventilation with hugs and soothing clucks. Even when the Ferber method works, you can't help but believe that if you were a better parent you would be willing to rock and sing all night, or to make room in your bed for an extra little body.

We beat ourselves up, even after we discovered that the method worked. Nothing about it seemed right -- except for the fact that it did work. Soon we could just put our son in bed and he would drift off on his own. But I missed those rocking chair times. I missed that soft little head in the crook of my arm and the quiet breathing against my skin. Now our little Ferber success story goes to the bottom of the stairs each night and asks to go to bed. If you try to rock him or cuddle him at bedtime, he squirms away. Even in the middle of the night, with a terrible cold, he refuses to be rocked or sung to. We taught him to comfort himself, not knowing we were taking away our own ability to do so for him.

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Comments on "The Ferber Method"

Allyse March 31, 2014 | 12:51 PM

We tried the Ferber method with our first child. I was a complete mess - I was crying along with him, my shirt was soaked from milk release, and it didn't take me long to realize this was not for us. We wound up bring him into our bed, which made nursing SO much easier. We ALL got more sleep and life was much better for the whole family. With our second, we just started out with the family bed. My kids are both adults now. They moved out of our bed and into their own rooms at about 2 years old. After they moved into their own beds, they never returned to ours, not even one night. They never had any trouble with independence, or self-soothing, or anything else. For us, a few months of sharing our bed was a better trade off than a few nights of our child crying. Either way, the adults choose who will "suffer" in this scenario. I found that it only took ME three nights to grow accustomed to co-sleeping, and I certainly didn't spend them crying. My two cents!

Kim March 21, 2012 | 1:21 PM

We used the Ferber method with both of our boys (now 6 and 4) and are about a month away from starting it with our baby girl. It is hard - I had to do all kinds of things around the house in between going in to comfort them, just to distract myself and keep me from going in and picking them up. Sometimes (a lot of times) I was crying right along with them. However, even though it was hard for a couple of nights, it was so very worth it in the long run. They have been great little sleepers and we are all happier when we aren't tired. And I don't know if it was just this particular couple's child that doesn't like to cuddle, but we haven't experienced that at all. Both boys still loved to be cuddled and rocked as babies, and they are both still big snugglers! Bottom line, you have to do what works for you as a family, and this worked for ours.

Analisa October 17, 2011 | 8:06 PM

Sorry, Rose. I don't know why I decided your name was Julie! Must have seen her name a couple of comments below yours just as I started typing.

Analisa October 17, 2011 | 8:04 PM

Oh, and Julie, in case you haven't noticed yet, the method is much harder with naps. To do it the real Ferber way, you check in on them with the same interval you would at night; however, you only let the child cry for 30 minutes before you give up on the nap and get him/her out of bed. At that point, you wait for the next naptime before you try again. From talking to my friends, naps are the hardest part, and it seems to take most kids at least a week before they nap well again. Again, I think this is a part of the method that is open to interpretation. In my case, my son wasn't on much of a nap schedule before we started sleep training, so we're going to give him some time before we try for anything more regular. For now, we just look for cues that he's really tired before we try to put him down, and he is usually asleep within 20 minutes and then sleeps 1-2 hours each nap. It's quite inconvenient, as we are currently slaves to his naps and can't plan much outside the house since we never know when he's going to sleep, but it was also very inconvenient to have a fussy, tired baby all the time. And 3 weeks into it, he is settling into more of a predictable schedule on his own, so we're starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel!

Analisa October 17, 2011 | 7:55 PM

I couldn't agree more with some of the sentiments expressed in this article. We "ferberized" our son at 4 months when we realized that his nap- and bedtime rituals were becoming increasingly complex and dysfunctional. I would like to point out that there are a lot of different ways to implement the method. In our case, we feel that our son still needs a feeding at night (he was very small at birth and is still catching up), so we haven't tried to make him sleep through the night. We just have used the method to teach him to fall asleep on his own when he is tired. It has made us saner and has resulted in him sleeping better as well, which has made him a happier kid. It has also made for more consistency in the way we handle sleep times between my husband, the nanny, and me. No doubt, it is heart-wrenching to listen to your child cry. It is also hard to let go of those cozy moments snuggling your baby to sleep. I had insomnia for the first week that our little one slept well, and I realized it was because I missed the quiet times we had spent together in the wee hours. But with the whole family more well-rested and less frustrated, we are actually able to have more fun in the long run. And, as I can attest, a Ferber kid can still be snuggly. I wish this article hadn't ended on such a sour note because it detracts from the points that the Ferber method works and that it helps babies and their families.

Rose October 09, 2011 | 1:29 AM

I have a 8 month old who just will not sleep. I am going to give this a go tonight and hopefully continue to do so until I succeed. To those who have done this, does the method apply during the day as well? Julianne I totally agreewith your comment!!!

Julianne October 08, 2011 | 9:59 PM

You obviously did not read the article Julie. If her baby was sleeping through the night and not crying I'm SURE she wouldn't need the Ferber method. Read people! So dumb. We are soooo very happy that your baby has slept through the night since the first week but WE DONt CARE about what your baby does! That's why we are reading these articles. I applaud this mommy for writing this!!! Hooray. So are u planning on letting your baby sleep in your bed till she's 18? Sounds pretty wrong to me too and Sad! Don't judge......we are all trying.

julie September 15, 2011 | 7:34 AM

this article is old, but hopefully somebody will benefit. sorry, letting your little baby, cry alone in the dark is sad. just sad. i have a 21 month old and she still sleeps with me. no problem to go to bed, no crying. she's been sleeping with me since 1 week old. why did you have a baby? by the way, Ferber is a man, and men don't know anything about being a mother.

Emily January 23, 2011 | 5:12 AM

I take it Sandra doesn't have kids, lol. Well let me know when that 24 hour job gets relief. Its negligent.. as a parent... to not teach your child to sleep well and sleep sound. and on top of that, its negligent as a mother/father to not get the sleep necessary to care for them. Ferber is a difficult method, but its BETTER than letting them CRY it out all night long. I don't use ferber to a t. I do touch my son and pat him on the back if he is having a particularly hard time to sleep. Theres a book called "the baby whisperer" and I love her method for helping your baby self soothe. Most of the time I don't have to help my son fall asleep, but the last thing I want is for him to think I'm not coming for him when he cries. I know its hard, and I don't judge.. I was a ferber baby and I turned out great. You can't afford (physically and mentally) to be waking up all hours of the night.. and for that matter, either can our babies.

jessica June 27, 2009 | 5:42 PM

Wow, some people are very judgemental, and mean in their responses to this family. All loving and caring parents try and do the very best for their kids, and sometimes that means doing things that are in their best interests regardless of how you are feeling. Of course parenting isn't a 9 to five job, figure that out pretty quickly once you get them home from the hospital. My son is five months old, and I am currently trying the ferber method. I have read all the pros and cons to the research. I also have an undergraduate degree is psych, and a Master's degree in elem.ed. I don't know if this will work, but I want to try it. I know it IS important that children learn to fall asleep on their own, and I find it very hard to belive that 3 nights out of his whole entire life is going to make him not trust me, or be emotionally dysfuncational...give me a break.

BG February 20, 2009 | 3:31 PM

I am totally on board with doing this for your children to help them sleep. It is very important for them to be able to self-comfort and be able to sleep throughout the night. I do not believe in always "abandoning" or abusing your children but I also know parents who let their kid still come to bed at 7-10 yrs old. Even 4-5 yrs old every night in your bed is damaging to you relationship with the child and between the parents.

Sandra February 18, 2009 | 2:36 PM

When you have to "resort to", "break down and do", "hated doing it", "said we'd never do it", and on and on and on, doesn't that tell you that what you're doing is unhealthy and damaging, and borderlines on abuse, according to current experts? Just like feeding, nighttime parenting is an essential part of being a parent. Being a mom isn't just from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Read the studies - you will see what neglecting your baby alone actually does to his blood pressure, heart rate, endorphins, hormones, and more. That baby will be a teenager soon. VERY soon. You will not remember rocking and cuddling and loving him to sleep at night, for this extremely short period of time. God bless all of you, and hug those babies tight. You are blessed to have a miracle, one that deserves to be parented 24 hours.

Joan February 05, 2009 | 8:23 AM

Some interesting responses to this family's story. I detect a note of sarcasm in the last paragragh of their article. It doesn't really sound to me like they are necessarily happy to be a Ferber family with a son who won't accept comfort from them even at a time any child or adult for that matter would want comfort, when they are sick with a cold. No?

Dori January 14, 2009 | 6:52 PM

We tried it as well when our baby was 5 mo. and it worked. I am glad we did it, even though it was very hard to let her cry. It only took 3 nights and it was worth it. Getting a good night sleep is important for the whole family, especially the breast feeding mom!

Shelly July 24, 2008 | 11:55 AM

This article is so right on. My husband and I have also resorted to the Ferber method. Initially, it tore my heart and gut out to hear our 10-month old son sobbing, wailing, and screeching, but a few nights of solid rest put my anxiety at ease. We are all sleeping more soundly now.

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