As any new mother will agree, one of the hardest things about caring for a baby is getting him or her to go to sleep at night. Enter world-renowned pediatrician Dr Richard Ferber, credited with creating a method for teaching babies to soothe themselves to sleep, popularly known as Ferberising.
What Ferberisation means
Also known as graduated extinction, a variation of extinction training, this method recommends that parents follow a loving bedtime routine and then put their babies to bed a little before bedtime while the baby is drowsy but awake. On the first night, the parent has to stay away for 3 minutes at first. After a quick check during which you are not to pick up or hold your baby, you have to leave for 5 minutes. Thereafter, brief checks at intervals of 10 minutes are allowed until the child falls asleep.
Using gradual extinction
The extinction method is very simple. If your kids cry, let them. If you give in to their demands for attention you will only reinforce the behavior, and create a pattern. Ferber takes the extinction method and makes it gentler. You can check on your child at intervals the first night, and for every night that follows the intervals gradually increase from 3, 5 and 10 minutes subsequently, to 5, 10 and 12 minutes subsequently. Hence, graduated extinction.
Does it work?
Meher Dave, mother to baby Mikhail, says it does. "I heard of Ferberisation from a friend in the States who swears by the technique. I'd say there are 2 main points you have to keep in mind if you want to do the Ferber method successfully. First, you have to condition yourself to know that it's ok to let your child cry a little, even though it goes against our natural instinct. Second, you need to do a very soothing night-time ritual. We bathe Mikhail and massage him, which he loves. By the end of his feed he's almost asleep. Then it takes about half an hour of doing the Ferber method and before you know it he's sleeping. To all new moms I'd have to say-try it out, it really works."
Common sense vs Ferberisation
"It took two tries for us to get it right," says Meher, "but if you do it correctly and are patient, it does work." In Dr Ferber's book Solve Your Child's Sleep Problems, one long chapter is titled 'If Things Are Not Getting Better'. It offers ideas on how to proceed and provides encouragement to parents who might consider giving up. Sheena Nandrajog, mother to young Ishaan, says using common sense is better than the Ferber method. "We adopted a self-soothing method even without knowing about Ferber. Ishaan had to learn that as hard as it was for us to stay away, he was going to have to go to sleep himself. But there are times when your baby needs you, and needs to be picked up or rocked, and sometimes it's the only thing that works." The Ferber method is explicit about not picking up your baby.
Dr Firoza Bhabha, renowned Mumbai pediatrician has some dos and don'ts for new parents.
"Don't go to any extremes. Don't let your child cry half the night. Also, if you feel like something might be wrong, do check on your child. And my advice to all young mothers is, don't worry. In all likelihood, your baby is going to be happy and healthy and grow up just right."
So, whether you're a first-time mom or it's your second or third time around the wheel, and you're still struggling with forming a sleep routine for your baby, do read Dr Ferber's book and give the method a try. After all, as the great Dalai Lama said, sleep is the best meditation.