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The Right Baby Sleep Strategy For YOU

Posted by: Andrew on November 15, 2012 | 1 Comment

Have you ever noticed that there are two questions that almost everyone asks about your baby?  First is the obligatory "how old is s/he?" question which is almost always followed by "is s/he a good sleeper?" question.  If you admit that your baby isn't a good sleeper, it's almost guaranteed that this will be followed by a "war story" or two about the person's own baby and also usually some advice about what you're doing wrong, or how the asker solved their own baby's sleep problems.

When it comes to helping teach your fussy baby to sleep, there is certainly no shortage of advice - with a lot of it contradictory and confusing.  There are people who advocate letting your baby "cry it out" and others who advocate a very hands-on strategy to soothe and feed your baby whenever s/he demands it.  With all the information out there, it can feel impossible to figure out the "right" way to do things.

Well, the good news is that most sleep experts and pediatricians agree that there is no one "right way" to help your baby learn to sleep.  The trick is figuring out what is "right" for you and your baby, and this is a personal decision that takes time to figure out for many parents.  To help you think through the options, we've summarized some popular baby sleep strategies below:

The Ferber Method

Perhaps the most famous baby sleep strategy is the Ferber Method.  And this baby sleep strategy has no shortage of loyal followers and critics.

At it's foundation, the Ferber Method encourages babies to fall asleep on their own.  Between 4-6 months, most parents start the Ferber method by putting their baby to sleep in their crib and leaving the room to fuss.  If needed, after a certain predetermined amount of time, the parent is encouraged to return to the room to comfort the baby without picking him up or feeding him.  Once the baby gets used to this, the amount of time before the parent goes in the room is increased in what Ferber calls "progressive waiting."  Eventually, the baby should learn to sleep independently and self-soothe.

Critics charge that this method is harmful to babies sense of attachment and allowing a baby to remain distressed for any period of time without attempting to comfort them immediately can be emotionally harmful.

Modified Ferber Method

This is not an "official" baby sleep strategy, but I've talked to lots of parents who change certain aspects about the Ferber Method to better match their parenting style and comfort level.  Some parents keep the "progressive waiting" interval the same as Ferber suggests, but provide more hands-on soothing if needed.  Others modify the "progressive waiting" interval so they wait less time before going in to soothe their baby, or stay longer on a certain interval before increasing to a longer time between soothing sessions.

Parent Led Scheduling

Some people, such as those who follow the "Babywise" movement advocate for putting parents in charge of creating a sleep and feeding schedule, and not allow the baby to sleep or eat on-demand.  In this baby sleep strategy, the parent figures out when the baby needs to eat and sleep, in consultation with a pediatrician if necessary, based on the baby's age and individual needs.  You then make that be the schedule and work to maintain it.  A key part of this strategy is the belief that you should never rock, nurse, or give your baby a bottle to help her fall asleep.  Instead, you should feed your baby when she wakes so she doesn't learn to associate sleep with sucking.

Gentle Sleep Strategies

Still others advocate for "no cry" solutions such as Dr. William Sears or Elizabeth Pantley.  These people believe that night wakings are a normal and important part of babies' development and feel that it's important to feed on-demand at night when the baby wakes, while also having a soothing and predictable bedtime routine.  Pantley advocates using the baby's innate suck-to-sleep response to help them learn to sleep on their own.  She advocates feeding a baby until s/he is almost asleep, then putting the baby in the crib to sleep.  She also recommends using white noise or womb sounds in the nursery since the familiar sound will help soothe the baby when s/he wakes at night and signal to the baby that it's time to sleep.

The Right Baby Sleep Strategy For You

Whatever sleep strategy you decide on, it's important for it to feel right to you.  From personal experience, I know that I shifted around in what strategy I thought I would use and which one I ended up using.  I've talked to a lot of parents who say the same thing.  They tell me that before they had a baby, they thought they would never use a certain sleep strategy, but then ended up trying it and liking it.  So, the important thing to remember is that there are lots of options, and it's most important that you feel comfortable and confident in the baby sleep strategy you choose to use.

My recommendation is to try 'em all.  See what feels right.  And go for it.

Andrew Dolbin-MacNab

About the Author:

Andrew Dolbin-MacNab is a father, web developer, and one of the founding members of Pediasleep, a leader in the production of white noise and other soothing sounds to aid the healthy sleep of infants, cosleepers, and parents. Having successfully survived his daughter and son's early sleep problems with the help of white noise, he is also an expert on infant sleep problems and their solutions.

Pediasleep can be found online at


Picture of Alana

My husband and I had big fights over how to help our baby sleep.  He never wanted to let her cry at all, and I was a fan of what I guess could be called “modified crying it out” because I never wanted her to cry for longer than 5-10 minutes, but I felt like it was okay and even good to let her cry for a little to learn how to calm herself down without us. 

The hardest thing for us was getting on the same page about what sleep strategy to use.  I’d do it one way when it was my turn to help her sleep, and the next night he’d do it his way.  We were about as inconsistent as you could be, because we were both using entirely different methods. 

Once we figured this out, and sat down to negotiate our own sleep strategy (using bits and pieces of each other’s system), we became much more effective at teaching our daughter to sleep.  In fact, after only about 2-3 weeks of both of us being on the same page, she started sleeping much longer at night and was easier to get back to sleep when she did wake.

So, I think you are right when you say to find a strategy that is comfortable and makes sense to YOU, and then stick with it in a consistent way.

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