Monday, April 28, 2014

Ferberization- Is it healthy for your child?

Quite a few pediatricians in India have begun recommending Ferberization as a way of encouraging babies to sleep independently.
Here is the outline of his methods (from his book)
Dr. Richard Ferber discusses and outlines a wide range of practices to teach an infant to sleep. The term ferberization is now popularly used to refer to the following techniques:
  1. Take steps to prepare the baby to sleep. This includes night-time rituals and day-time activities.
  2. At bedtime, leave the child in bed and leave the room.
  3. Return at progressively increasing intervals to comfort the baby (without picking him or her up). For example, on the first night, some scenarios call for returning first after three minutes, then after five minutes, and thereafter each ten minutes, until the baby is asleep.
  4. Each subsequent night, return at intervals longer than the night before. For example, the second night may call for returning first after five minutes, then after ten minutes, and thereafter each twelve minutes, until the baby is asleep.
A host of different academic research institutes have supported this method citing research that Ferber's method helps children sleep longer and through the night.  It has been a popular method in the USA for many years now. (

I find myself very anti- ferberization and fortunately, recent research supports my point of view. While the method does help the  children to sleep through the night, it is also teaching the child that he is alone without a back up.... leading to insecurity and separation anxieties.

When you leave a child unattended, crying for you, his cortisol level shoots up. Cortisol is a stress indicator. What is even more surprising is that the cortisol level shoots up every night even when the child is not crying. What that means is, while you have trained the child not to cry, his distress is very much present. Distress at such a young age is an important factor in adult anxiety, panic disorders and other mental conditions.

So then, does the intermittent reassurance by the parent (as suggested in the Ferber method) bring down the anxiety. On the contrary, I believe it doesn't. Because there is no comforting or picking up the child when he is crying, it leads to more distress. Seeing your parents make an appearance when one is evidently upset but watching them do nothing before disappearing, again, can feel like betrayal. And because this sleep method is employed in the pre-verbal stage, its processing and impact on memory could be devastating. 

Researchers at Harvard who examined emotional learning, infant brain function and cultural differences claim that babies who are left to cry themselves to sleep suffer long-lasting damage to their nervous systems.
By employing the Ferber method, you are teaching your baby that you cannot be depended on and that you cannot be trusted to help her when she needs it.

Now, even Dr. Ferber, in the 2006 edition of his book, advocates co-sleeping as a better solution and accepts that different strategies work for different families!!

As a psychologist, and even as a parent, it seems like the method does not take into account the child's emotional well being. While it seems to get the job done and puts your child to sleep, there is no way to know what collateral damage it has done.  To me, that's a big risk to take with your precious one.

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