To Cry, or Not To Cry: 'Ferberizing' Clarified

Nov. 16 2005 —, 2005 -- After 20 years of "Ferberizing" their babies, many parents are wondering if they did the right thing -- for themselves and for their babies -- by allowing their youngsters to cry themselves to sleep.

It's a method that is not only taxing on parents physically, but also emotionally.

"You just feel like a bad parent if you let your baby cry," said Matt Rees who has an infant daughter, Sofia.

The confusion centers on page 78 of Dr. Richard Ferber's 1985 book, "Solve Your Child's Sleep Problems." The chart lays out a seven-day timetable for how long to leave one's baby alone before "going in to visit your child briefly" to comfort him or her. By day seven, the baby is crying for as long as 45 minutes before being reassured.

The Wall Street Journal reported Tuesday that Ferber now says that allowing children to cry for extended periods of time was not meant to solve all sleep problems. A revised edition of "Solve Your Child's Sleep Problems" that will come out this spring will offer other solutions besides leaving a child alone in his or her crib. The original book has sold about 1 million copies.

Sleep coach Suzy Giordano pushes moderation. She helps parents, like Rees, who tried the "Ferber method" on his daughter, get their children off to sleep.

"There comes a point when a baby is crying that you are not teaching them anything anymore," Giordano said.

Nonetheless, Ferber stands by his book.

"Actually, there is no change, I think that's a misconception," said Ferber, the director of the Center for Pediatric Sleep Disorders at Children's Hospital in Boston. "Our approach has always been one of compassion."

His idea, Ferber said, was to merely keep a baby's crying to a minimum.

Ferber said that the key to solving a child's sleep problems is to understand the child's needs. If the child has a great deal of separation anxiety during the day, that child will most likely have trouble sleeping alone at night. Dealing with a child's emotional needs must take precedent so a child can feel confident at night -- that might mean more physical contact at night.

However, if a child does not seem to have separation issues but is merely going through normal adjustments, crying for a little bit might be necessary for the child to learn to sleep alone.

"I think that when we work with parents and explain to them, that when they have a youngster fall asleep in their arms you suddenly abandon them in their cribs … you are not doing them any service," Ferber said. "You are turning the tables on them."