As a new mother, I am spending a lot of time learning about babies and sleep. Sleep is critical to a baby's health and development, and I want to help Finn develop good sleep habits. When he was 2-3 months old, he spoiled us by sleeping for seven- or nine-hour stretches without a peep. As he got older and his sleep cycles changed, he started waking up more often and seemed to need our help to get back to sleep. Recently, we have found that our "help" ends up aggravating him and making it even more difficult for him to settle. After doing a lot of reading, working to set up good habits and sleep rituals over the past couple of months, and consulting with our pediatrician, John and I have agreed to try the "progressive waiting" technique developed by Dr. Richard Ferber, to help Finn learn to go to sleep and fall back asleep on his own.
We know that everyone will not agree with this approach. Sleep training techniques are very polarizing, and Ferber's technique is often referred to as "crying it out", making it sound like heartless, cruel, and unusual punishment. Now, having read his book and talked to our doc, and taking into account Finn's personality and tendencies, we feel that this method will work well, and is the most efficient way for Finn to learn to settle himself. In a nutshell, you want your baby to learn to put himself to sleep without relying on sleep crutches like rocking, patting, shooshing, etc., which we think are helpful things, but actually aren't (as evidenced by Finn ratcheting up the crying and wakefulness when we show up).
Ferber's technique is a structured way to let your baby learn how to do this on his own with a minimum of interference from us. We go in and briefly check on/reassure him at prescribed intervals until he falls asleep on his own. And according to our doc, the earlier you can teach your baby how to take care of himself, the less likely it is they will have sleep problems as they get older (and which are harder to resolve as they age).
We're on night #2, and so far, Finn is doing really well. Last night we checked on him twice, and right after that, he fell asleep. A grand total of about 40 minutes spent on "Ferberizing." He awoke at 11:30pm and we did the intervals again, and he only needed one check. Tonight, we put him to bed and only checked on him once after 12 minutes, then he put himself to sleep. We're also doing this at naptime and he's making progress there, too. We were already 75% of the way there since we'd already set up a predictable bedtime routine, and had started putting Finn in the crib while he was awake, and then sticking around and soothing him to sleep.
We love our little guy, and we know he's smart enough and capable enough to learn to soothe himself, and so far he's proving us right on all counts. Good sleep habits are good for the whole family, and a well-rested Finn makes everyone happy.