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.
Filed under: Infant sleep |