Alternatives to Ferber

Archived Q&A and Reviews

From: Lucy

Just about all of the responses about sleeping through the night have included some version of the Ferber method. I was wondering if anyone had used any other methods either to get a baby to sleep in the first place, or back to sleep after awakening.

My son is 9 months old and essentially I nurse him to sleep and nurse him during the night when he wakes. I'm not completely thrilled with this arrangement, but feel like it is the best thing for us at the moment. I am curious if others have continued to do this until the baby makes some indication for a change in the routine, rather than the parents deciding to do things differently. Or, to put it another way, has anyone noticed that a baby will eventually adjust to different sleeping patterns on his/her own without using some cry it out variation?

From: Glosson

I read the advice about Ferberizing your baby at 7 months. I am hoping to get some advice from someone who has used this method. My baby is 6.5 months old and up until now I have gone to her at night every time there has been a whimper/cry. I nurse her to sleep. Sometimes she stays with me and other times I put her in her crib (in our room) until the next feeding session. I would love to sleep through the night but I can not stand to let her cry. I feel cruel. But anyway, I am exhausted because I wake up several times at night and have to nurse her to sleep every time. I work full time during the day. I have read everything from Sears to Ferber/Spock and just dont know who to believe. They all sound convinced that they have the best way. How do you decide? I am so confused. I just bought Brazelton's Touchpoints and read that. He says to stay with the baby so she does not feel deserted but NOT to pick her up. HELP. Can you tell me why you decided to Ferberize; why 3 moths was too young but 7 was OK; was it terrible to go from nursing her to sleep to just leaving her to cry? I am willing to listen to anyone on this. Thanks!

From: Allison

We read Sears and Ferber. Our problem with Ferber was his title: solving YOUR child's sleep problem. The child has no problem, it's the adults (and western civ.) who have the problem. The child is just doing what's natural and biological for the child to do. Ferber's analysis was really helpful, we just didn't like his recommendations. (Oh, we also read Joseph Chilton Pearce's Magical Child and re-read it for inspiration.) I like very much what Sears (Martha) said, that parenting is not a 12 hour job. And her quote of a doctor speaking at a convention saying Where is it written that we have a RIGHT to a full night of sleep... I found that managing my attitude about our whole dilemna was the most critical thing. As long as I was doing what my heart felt was right, I knew I couldn't go wrong. Sleep deprivation is indeed crazy-making and challenging, but all the more so if you feel that you're being robbed of something. Hey! You're a parent, accept it, cope with it, and refrain from seeking advice that rationalizes something you really feel guilty about doing. I felt that temporary hardship was surmountable and surmountable in a joyful, humorous, SPIRITUAL, desperate and pathetic sort of way.

We kept our first in bed with us 'til he was 7 months; the second 'til he was 8 months. My husband and I both work hard, full time, plus he's on call and I travel for business so we each take unexpected nights alone with the kids. We then moved each child into their own room and crib, and read and held or read and layed down next to them to fall asleep. They are 12 months and 2 3/4 years old right now. Up until last month, I had not had a full night of sleep for 3 years, except for 2 occasions. (Even when traveling and sleeping at a hotel, my ability to stay asleep was impaired.) The miracle happened 5 months ago when the 2 year old, Miles, started sleeping through. The second miracle happened 1 month ago (we're not sure if it's permanent yet) when the 12 month old (Jack) started sleeping through. I have now had one month of full nights of sleep. I feel like a million bucks, like I just spent a week lounging in the Caribbean.

I love my boys. I jump when they cry at night, and I will if they start waking up again. I have no qualms about that, anymore. It's what I do, and I'm willing to pay the consequences (sleep loss) as I reap the benefits of that choice (my own perceived sense of trust, and doing a good job at building their sense of security, not dependence). My husband and I are on the same page and that's got to make it a lot easier. Life is sweet and short. Do what you feel is right, and what your stamina permits. Your babies love you totally. And as Dickens' said, It is no small thing when those who are so fresh from God love us.

From: Peggy

Someone asked:

I would be interested to know if there are many babies/toddlers who sleep through the night who have never had to cry it out.

Yes! My 2.5 year old son still sleeps with me. My memory is fading, but at about one year old, he was sleeping through the night 99% of the time. The biggest problem for me was that he tossed and turned a lot, usually ending up sideways; this was in a queen bed, but it was disturbing my sleep (kicks in the abdomen and body-lobs over my head! :-) etc) so although he was getting pretty good sleep, I was not. I mostly just waited it out, knowing it wouldn't last forever, but some nights I would put him in his crib just so I could maybe get some sleep (this sometimes was easy for him, othertimes more difficult). Now he is 2.5 years old, sleeps very well, doesn't toss very much, and he's been doing this for at least 8 to 12 months. But, I must admit, I think this boy was pretty easy; other kids and parents have a harder time for any of a number of reasons (maybe for my next one I will have to reread all these sleep emails and reconsider my strategy!). All I can say is this worked for me. I do think kids learn on their own the natural progression of things. I am getting my son ready for his own bed (pretty soon you are going to have your very own bed, just like a big boy!), and he seems open to it, as he is in the my own and do it myself stage. I'm not a pediatrician, but my own belief is, when doctors say a child should be doing such and such by X months, in reality, if the child does it any time in the interval X months plus-or-minus about 12 months, everything is just fine. I have not heard of a 4 or 5 year old who has not been able to go to sleep on his own since infanthood due to too much cuddling or sleeping with parents. Maybe there are some? I'd like to hear.

From: Karen

Response to question about children sleeping through the night without having to cry it out. Yes, but my daughter didn't wake up to be fed. She slept through the night starting at 6 weeks (she was big, born 3-1/2 weeks late and was a very good eater) but starting at 4 months she woke up frequently from teething pain (tylenol was -almost- her first word)! This lasted off and on until all her teeth were in (and her first didn't come in until right before her first birthday). The one time I did decide to try to let her cry it out, being pretty sure it wasn't teething pain, I found out the next day she had an ear infection. Since then I decided to take her at her word - she woke up and cried because she needed something, even if I couldn't tell what it was right away. When she got older and woke up it seemed like it was for emotional comfort or assurances - she woke up mainly after the days she had the least time with me.

Another mother said her child did the same thing, seeming to try to make up for lost time with Mommy during the day by waking at night. Generally when things are tough for her in some way, either because of external or internal changes, she needs us more and the time before sleep and waking in the middle of the night are one of the ways she asks for the extra nurturing she needs. We seem to learn over and over again that she WILL make changes WHEN she is ready, as our pediatrician keeps telling us; it's our job to be sensitive to that readiness, offer her opportunities to develop, but not push - though we frequently question this approach when it is inconvenient with our own wishes. This approach has worked for us with sleeping, though I realize other children and families are different.

We were in a similar situation a few months ago when we finally moved our (then) 18 month old daughter into her own room. We had finally decided we needed it to do it for our own privacy and the fact that I felt it was time for her to learn to go to sleep on her own as we were spending up to an hour every night just getting her to sleep. I was never one for the cry it out approach but unfortunately we too found out that our daughter would not go to sleep if we were not in the room with her. She often appeared to be sound asleep but would wake up immediately if we tried to leave the room. And as big as she was it was virtually impossible for the three of us to sleep comfortably in our double bed.

Fortunately I found a link to a web site belonging to a doctor who sells his own sleep video. I am NOT hawking this product, but this method worked for us and basically it involves a gradual process of teaching your child how to go to sleep by him/herself, but also with you nearby. Part of it involves finding your child's natural bedtime, which might be much later than you usually put him/her to bed, but the time at which he/she is genuinely TIRED and wants to go to bed (and then you can change it once the routine is established). You begin by changing the bedtime routine so that the baby knows that things are different, and then placing the baby in the crib when he/she is still awake, and placing a chair next to the crib. You have to decide beforehand how much time you are willing to let the baby cry before your pick her up, comfort her, etc. and then stick to that. Remember, though, that you will be there the whole time. You shouldn't talk to the baby, but just be there and pick him up and comfort him when your time limit is up (whatever you decide that is--it could be 5 minutes). Eventually you progress to moving the chair to the doorway, and then outside the room, so that your child still has the feeling that you are there if he needs you, but that he can go to sleep by himself.

This process took about 2 months with our daughter, and progress was not always completely smooth, but both my husband and I were comfortable with it and it seemed quite painless. I felt much better knowing that however much she might cry or be frustrated (which wasn't usually that long), we were always there and she could trust that we wouldn't leave her. I felt that this method struck a good balance between making her feel loved and safe, and also imposing some structure for her (before this we would always have her go to sleep on our bed, with one of us lying down next to her, and then move her to her crib, occasionally waking her up, and making the process agonizingly long).

Here is a link to the site: The narration can be slightly annoying, but if you watch it with an open mind and pick out what works for you, I found it to be very helpful. This is just one more option to consider, best of luck!

One suggestion, which I read in a very reputable baby dr's book (whose name I can't remember), would be to delay your daughter's bedtime until she's practically exhausted, so that when you put her to bed, she can't help but fall asleep. Then, as she learns to associate bedtime with going to sleep on her own, you can gradually move her bedtime up so she's going to sleep earlier. It may take a few late nights before the pattern changes, but it sure worked for us (parents of 2-year-old twins). The only twist for us is that my husband has reverted back to lying down with the kids until they doze off, simply because they (and he) enjoy it so much. But they stay asleep, and we can easily move them to their own beds. The Dr who gave this advice was of the opinion that there is no need to let babies cry it out, and he swears by his method. The only thing I'd add is that many babies just aren't ready to go to sleep at 7:30, so you may have to strike a compromise. Good luck!
Two things: 1) It may be better to put the child to bed still somewhat awake and aware. I am told that it can be disconcerting to go to sleep in one place and wake up in another.

2) The crying: I was happy and non-guilty with the technique I read and used, which was to:
- Let the child cry for 5 minutes (or 1, or 3, if you prefer).
- Go in, comfort the child in the crib (without removing them from the bed), and leave.
- Wait twice as long, and do it again.
- Wait twice as long, and do it again, as
many times as needed.

I found that, without comfort, my child would cry indefinitely, but with the comforting,, my child would relax and fall asleep. I feel guilt-free with this approach because it makes very clear the parent's expectation -- that the child should go to sleep at that particular time in that particular bed -- while reassuring the child that s/he is not forsaken or forgotten, and that Mommy (or Daddy) cares.

Because I had previously let my child cry for a very long time, at first it took several trips back and forth before the child went to sleep. But it very quickly took only one or two trips. Using this technique, all three of my children became very good at going to sleep at the bedtimes that we, the parents, chose.

Doesn't it just seem like children should sleep with their parents? There are always so many posts about children wanting to sleep with their parents that it just seems obvious to me that that is a natural inclination. Our children slept with us until they felt ready to sleep alone and I think it's only natural and that parents should allow this to happen. Other mammals stay with their young at night. Why don't we?
First I wanted to offer a co-sleeping suggestion... I'm not clear as to the reasons why you cannot sleep with your daughter, I am assuming it is because you don't want to go to sleep so early. We have placed our mattress on the floor and my son goes to sleep around 7ish there. If he happens to fall off it's only a few inches to the ground (he's never fallen off), and I would imagine at the age of 12 months your daughter would be able to crawl off if necessary. Now to the crying issues...

I first want to recommend two books to you, the first is The Aware Baby and the second is Tears and Tantrums, both are by Aletha Solter who offers an attachment parenting perspective. My son has also been a crier and I understand how heart wrenching it is to hear. Both of these books offer a lot of information regarding the positive health benefits of tears... crying actually helps children release the stress of there day and become more calm... tears are actually healing. Don't you always feel better after a good cry?? Why wouldn't it be any different for babies? Anyhow, Solter's perspective has been very healing for me and I now encourage my son to cry rather than try to distract him from his emotions.

My son no longer cries when going to bed (as of 13 months), but when he was crying I would hold him in my arms and talk to him and encourage him to get all the ikkies out. Sometimes it would be 5 minutes, sometimes it would be 30 minutes, and a few times it was an hour, but he would cry and cry and I would hold him... sometimes, the strength of his emotions was very hard for me... sometimes, I would put him down when he seemed like he didn't want to be held, but he would come back to me and I would again hold him even though it seemed he would be struggling away... eventually he would get it all out and fall into a deep sleep while in my arms and then I would put him in the bed and he would stay asleep. This has been very effective and satisfying for our family, as I do not believe in leaving a baby alone while they cry it out.

I hope this his been helpful, best of luck to you and your family....

I have some middle of the road advice for babies/kids in the parents' bed and getting them to sleep. Often the choices get so polarized: either you have to parent them to sleep (a la Sears) or let them cry it out alone (a la Ferber). After much agony with our first child (now age 7), we worked out a middle path with him and our daughter (now 3). Basically, they fall asleep in their own bed, and if/when they wake up in themiddle of the night, they get to come in our bed. The benefits of this are 1) we get the bed/evening to ourselves at first, and dont' need to lay down with them to get to sleep, which tends to make us fall asleep, 2) when they need us, we're available 3) we get to cuddle in bed through the night, which IS fun, if not all night. We did have to buy a king sized futon...

The method we used to get them to learn to fall asleep has involved many middle-of-the-road techniques. With my first child, who had a really hard time with separation, I'd breastfeed, using a tape of music that would conintue while I put him in the crib. I'd stay, patting his back, for a very long time. He might cry, and then I'd lay him down, and pat his back. (With my daughter this never happened, she was easier). Then for while I followed Penelope Leach's advice. Leave, but never for more than one minute, and come back, but never stay longer than 30 seconds (See her discussion in Your Baby and Child from Birth to Age 5). Say, Im here,go to sleep, it's alright. But basically, if you can get them to lie down, and pat their back, or sit in the room and say shhh you can gradually get them used to being a little distanced from you as they fall asleep. We found story tapes, turned on softly, worked very well (Curious George, Frances stories, etc.) Eventually, just the tap is necessary, with maybe a few calls from the other room of I'm here, go to sleep! EVen now we just read in the next room, or fold laundry or something. So they have distance, but not total separation, which is, I think, too frightening. They DO need autonomy, but not by force. Then, if/when they wake up (sometimes as early as 11) we let them come in our bed. Gradually, it has worked out that my 7 yr old comes in around 6 a.m., on his own, and my 3 yr old might wake up to use the potty, but half of the time wants to go back in her own bed. But if we ever said they couldn't come, forget it.

This is only for those who even can stand to think of a family bed, but getting them to fall asleep in their own bed, and buying a king-sized futon, has made it all worth it for us. Good luck!

I want to thank the dozens and dozens of people who wrote with advice about my daughter's bedtime crying. As so often happens, the day after I wrote my piteous plea and things hit bottom, the whole situation got a bit better spontaneously. Then I took some advice from folks and pushed her bedtime back a half hour, and that change and the added confidence I felt made a big difference. For now, there's usually no crying at all when she goes into her crib (90% asleep).

I was really touched by everyone's concern and advice, and I was especially grateful that of all the responses, and all the very strong feelings and beliefs on this issue, not one person was harsh or judgmental. Thank you all!