Family Beds And Ferber

Sleep. It's the stuff of which dreams are made -- particularly when you have a newborn baby... In part two of this article, Ann Douglas, author of The Unofficial Guide to Having a Baby, has some information about different ways to cope.
Ann Douglas

The Family Bed
Other families come up with different methods of coping with their night owls. According to biological anthropologist James McKenna of the University of North Dakota, many parents choose to take their babies to bed with them because it enables them to get more sleep. Because there is still a bit of a taboo about the so-called "family bed," many parents are unwilling to admit that they sleep with their babies, despite the fact that such co-sleeping arrangements are the norm for the vast majority of babies worldwide and there are many proven benefits to both mother and child. "We've been mis-schooled as to what is normal and beneficial for babies," said McKenna.

Mary Lynn Carver of Dallas, Texas, feels that her decision to sleep with her son Ryan during his first months of life was good for their entire family, but stresses the importance of having both parents committed to the idea. "Both the husband and the wife must agree about the sleeping arrangements or it will cause problems. I was very lucky in this regard as my husband Jeff and I both enjoyed the extra sleep as well as the chance to get to know our baby. When we started putting Ryan in his crib at night, it was great to have our bed back, but Jeff said he missed holding hands with the baby as they went to sleep."

The Ferber Method
Many parents choose to use the so-called Ferber method of teaching their babies to sleep through the night. This method involves responding to a baby's nighttime crying at timed intervals (i.e. five, ten, fifteen minutes), and minimizing the amount of nighttime interaction between parent and child.

Suzi and Joe Prokell of Richardson, Texas, relied on such a technique to teach their eight month old son Jacob how to sleep through the night. "The rewards were immediate. He's slept through the night ever since and he's been much happier during the day."

While the Ferber method is considered to be highly effective - most parents see a tremendous improvement in their child's sleep patterns within a period of days - not everyone sings its praises.

Dr Marc Weissbluth, a pediatrician at Northwestern Memorial Hospital in Chicago and the author of Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child is one of its most outspoken critics. He argues that it makes more sense to leave well enough alone, and encourages parents to respect - rather than attempt to alter - their baby's emerging sleep patterns. "Parents can't change the evolving rhythm of a baby's sleep patterns any more than they can change the seasons," he said. "What's more, parents who artificially interfere with their child's sleep patterns risk doing more harm than good."

Sleeping through the night
Most sleep experts agree that any attempts to encourage a baby to sleep through the night should be left until the child is at least six months of age. "Prior to that time, a child's brain and nervous system are simply not sufficiently mature to enable him or her to sleep through the night," explained Dr Charles Pohl, the director of the Pediatric Sleep Centre at Thomas Jefferson University in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

While your first solid night's sleep following the birth of your baby may be a long time in the making, eventually it will come. In the weeks and months that follow, you may find yourself surprised by a sudden aching longing to find yourself pacing the floor by the light of the moon with a precious newborn infant cradled in your arms.

Back to Part 1: Infant sleep patterns

More on baby and sleep:

--  7 Ways to reduce the risk of SIDS

-- Are you preventing your baby from sleeping through the night?

-- Baby crib safety tips: A checklist for parents


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