Funny, he doesn’t look like Satan

An interview (video) with Dr. Ferber about his sleep method and the new edition of his book. I’m not sure when and where someone decided that Ferber is ‘recanting’; I just reread the old edition of his book, and the interview seems quite consistent with what he said back in 1985. While the method is commonly called “cry it out”, the idea is that the babies will eventually cry less, not more. And studies show that this, in fact, happens.*

Interestingly enough, there is no mention of cosleeping or the “family bed” in the old Ferber book – I can only assume because at the time, the “family bed” wasn’t the fad it is today. As he points out in the interview, cosleeping as a philosophy is neither a help nor a hindrance to establishing proper nightly routines – though if you react to a baby’s crying and bring her into your bed at night as a response, you may be setting the scene for future night troubles. On the other hand, cosleeping babies are not immune to sleep problems, either.

This last has been recently bolstered by a newly released study which found that parents of children 5-17 months who had difficulties falling asleep, and who reacted in certain ways to their babies’ crying, ended up with a greater chance of their children’s sleep issues becoming long-lasting:

“It is very hard to let your child cry it out when they are toddlers,” says Dr. Elsie Taveras of Harvard Medical School, referring to parents’ tendency to pick up their children or bring them into the family bed to help them sleep. “But if you approach it differently — ‘I am not even going to start my child making these sleep associations’ — it’s much easier to prevent [future problems].”

That point is central to a new study by Valérie Simard of Hôpital de Sacré-Coeur in Montréal, which examines the link between parents’ bedtime behavior and sleep disturbances in children during infancy and early childhood. Simard administered yearly questionnaires to 987 parents, whose children were 5 months old at the start of the study. She found that certain “maladaptive” parental habits — such as the mother staying with the child until he or she fell asleep, or the parent giving a child food or drink upon nighttime awakening — appeared to develop in response to babies’ early sleep difficulties, at 5 to 17 months of age. In turn, however, some of those calming strategies, which parents reported continuing to practice at 29 to 41 months, led to disrupted sleep — bad dreams, short sleep time and delays in falling asleep — in children of preschool age.

The findings, published in this week’s Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine, suggest that bedtime behaviors that soothe infants don’t always benefit older children. “Giving food or drink to the child may be an appropriate answer when he awakes at night during the first months of life,” Simard says, “However, most often, children at 29 to 41 months do not wake up because they are hungry.” According to Simard’s study, children whose parents fed them when they woke up in the middle of the night at age three were more likely to have nightmares and short sleep times at age four.

Babies who grew accustomed to falling asleep with a parent in the room, being held until they fell asleep, or being taken into a parent’s bed when they couldn’t sleep were also more likely as older children to have trouble falling asleep and to sleep fewer hours during the night. “Co-sleeping with the child does not seem to be a good solution for comforting a child after night awakenings,” Simard says. But that doesn’t mean that children should be left to wail endlessly, or that parents should never console them. “It might be appropriate to be present in the room, comforting the child for a short time,” Simard says. But it’s most important “to let the child develop a capacity to comfort himself on his own.”

Simard et al can be read in full here. She seems to be saying (if I understand the study correctly – and all those esoteric abbreviations make it quite difficult!) that though the original problem is with the children’s difficult temperament, parents can either reinforce the sleep problems by behaving in a maladaptive way (offering food, letting the child in their bed etc.), or they can (by implication) behave in such a manner that extinguishes the sleep problem – by encouraging the babies’ self-soothing behaviors.

*There was a study done by Ainsworth and Bell in 1972 which suggested that babies whose mothers respond to them faster cry less later on; however, attempts to replicate that study have failed and shown quite the opposite happens. Also, a critique of the original study demonstrated that Bell and Ainsworth’s conclusions were not supported by their data.

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9 Responses

  1. 99% of the people who rant and rage about Evil Ferber haven’t actually read the book. Or so it seems, anyway – based on what I read on the internet, I was expecting something a lot more hardcore, before I actually read what he really said.

    Should I ever get the chance to meet him, I’d be hard pressed not to give him a huge hug thank you!

  2. He looks and sounds like someone’s kindly grandfather, doesn’t he? 🙂

  3. So I guess you would not be interested in burning his Effigy? That is ok, I have a large list already.

  4. Why would I? Ferber’s one of the good guys…

  5. I flunked ferber. Read the book. Tried. Failed. He is not for everybody. I guess that is one of my main points in childrearing. No one plan is going to work. All babies are different..

  6. Esther, I saw a flyer from pinned to a bulletin board at a coffee shop on Sunday. Made steam come out of my ears. Would love to have you weigh in on their claims because judging from the very slick brochure and website, these people have a lot of money and are probably reaching a lot of parents with this crap.

  7. Li, I’ve written about the MMR-autism non-connection already – here. I’m planning to get to the thimerosal-autism issue one day, but it really is a HUGE topic and though I’ve been following it from pretty much day 1, it’s very hard to summarize. I think I’ll write a future post with links to the best sources on the subject – of which there are many.

    Pinky – I don’t think people have to CIO, just that they can, and either doing it or not can be good parenting.

  8. the “family bed” wasn’t the fad it is today.

    I know I’m late to the post, but I just had to point out that bed sharing isn’t really a fad. In the more affluent times we live in today (at least here in the US), having separate beds and separate rooms for our children is a relative luxury. In the past and currently in many places in the world, beds were/are expensive and multiple room homes were/are for those with more money than most. In the past and in many places today, it is common to have multiple family members share a bed. I shared a bed with my sisters until I was almost out of elementary school.

    In fact, keeping in mind how much more resources many people have today than in the past, a reasoned argument could be made that to expect prolonged solitary sleeping from infants is more of a fad, since it’s arrival on the scene of human history is actually quite recent.

    That’s not to say there’s anything wrong with having a baby sleep alone. Some babies like it that way. Some don’t. Everybody’s different. For us, we co-slept with our youngest until he was old enough (2-3 years) to safely stuff into bed with his next oldest brother. They liked it that way, and so did we.

  9. My understanding was that Ferber’s ‘recanting’ was not over his methods, but over the views he expressed about bedsharing in the first edition of his book. I forget exactly what he said, but some old-fashioned stuff about how the parents should think carefully about why they’re doing it because they’re really doing it for their own needs and it can delay independence in the child, yadda, yadda, yadda. (Please, please, don’t take that as an exact representation of what he said, because I could very well have the details wrong. The point is, he expressed opinions on the subject that I don’t really feel to be supported by any evidence.)

    Anyway, from what I’ve heard, he’s recently recanted that particular opinion and stated that he had changed his mind and now felt that bedsharing could possibly be a legitimate solution for some families. The bit about him recanting has, needless to say, been quoted out of context all over the Internet, leaving many people with the belief that he’s recanted his entire book. He has, so far as I know, done nothing of the sort.

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