Baby Sleep Controversy Revisited

Controversy came to the nursery 21 years ago, when pediatric sleep expert Dr. Richard Ferber published a widely followed book that seemed to advocate letting babies cry themselves to sleep.

"Not so," says Ferber, and now, he's out with a revised and expanded edition of "Solve Your Child's Sleep Problems."

He wants to clear up many of the misconceptions, as he sees them, surrounding his sleep techniques.

On The Early Show Tuesday, Ferber addresses the baby sleep flap once and for all.

He says, "When I started doing this work, letting the baby cry was one of the existing methods of putting the baby to sleep. It made no sense then and somehow implied that crying was good for sleep. It isn't. From the beginning, I wanted parents to identify the problem: why wasn't their child falling asleep or staying asleep? The goal is to fix the problem. The goal is to eliminate crying if it already exists or keep it to a minimum."

Ferber says that, in his work, he's identified lots of reasons kids don't fall or stay asleep, and to "Ferberize" is to figure out a solution.

He speaks specifically about problems with feeding, wrong sleep schedules, and kids being scared. He also gives his take on "co-sleeping."


Ferber says, "Sometimes it's a case of the baby being feed too often and too much. If a baby gets too many bottles or nurses too much, that can cause sleep problems. Processing food in the nighttime is disruptive. Eating at night causes the digestive system to be stimulated when it should be quiet. The body temperature is up when it should be low. And feeding at night teaches the youngster to be hungry at night."

What's the solution? He says, "The treatment is to gradually cut down on the feedings, so you can eventually eliminate it the nighttime one. There are lots of ways to do that. You can space feedings out and decrease the amount of milk."


Ferber calls this "one of the most important problems. People often want their kids to sleep more hours than they can sleep. And, the optimum number of hours has been revised. It used to be that we wanted a one-year-old to sleep 15 hours a day, and that's too much. A one-year-old should sleep 9 1/4 to 10 1/4 hours a night. With an irregular schedule, the child never develops an internal body schedule. Too much napping can prevent good nighttime sleeping and too much nighttime sleeping can prevent good napping."

He adds, "A good sleep schedule can actually result in less crying."