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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."


Ferber says, "It's pretty easy to tell if your child is scared. Do they look or act scared, or are they just saying that for attention? My favorite story is the child who woke up in the middle of the night, packed up his blanket, stuffed animal and book, and walked all the way to his parents' bedroom and said he was scared." In cases like this, observes Ferber, it's not to hard to figure that the child wants attention, but isn't really scared.


The importance of creating a good bedtime routine can't be stressed enough, Ferber says. Children shouldn't fall asleep in front of a television. If they are used to being rocked to sleep, you should break that habit. And, this is where crying can come in. When you are breaking bad habits, a child may cry. The goal here is to break a bad habit with support, and keep the upset to an absolute minimum."

Ferber adds, "The idea of going to the bedroom should be something the child looks forward to. If there are family evening activities that are enjoyable, reading a story, for instance, and that happens in the parents' bedroom, then the child has to leave the parents' room and go to his or her own room, which doesn't have an enjoyable activity associated with it. You need to have the entire enjoyable, bedtime routine happen in the child's room. That way, the child gets to stay in place where they associate enjoyable activities."


Part of the hubbub with Ferber is over the issue of co-sleeping, or the child sleeping in bed with the parents. Says Ferber, "It is entirely up to the family and what their philosophy is. Children can sleep well no matter what the setting. Sleeping in with the parents is not a cure-all to problems. I see just as many children with sleep problems who share their parents bed as those who don't."

To read an excerpt, click here.

"Solve Your Child's Sleep Problems" is published by Simon and Schuster, which is owned by CBS Corporation, as is

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