Ferberizing Benji — Update

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That nasty, persistent flu I wrote about in my previous post took an even further downward spiral and eventually kept me mostly sequestered in my room for three whole days! But I’m finally over it and am now up and about again.

Whew! I’ve been meaning to write updates on lots that happened in the last week. It was a big one for little Benji! The first I’ll report on is that Benji is now sleeping through the night. He has also in the last couple days started taking his morning nap again without much struggle and without needing me to nurse him to sleep. 

We started on this sleep training journey almost two and a half weeks ago. I was diligent enough to record it on my blog the first day we started, on July 10. Although many friends and even research studies have reported success with this rather gnarly method of sleep training called “Controlled Comforting,” or, more popularly known as the “Ferber method,” I was a big skeptic. I was sure that my son who was once upon a time a pretty good sleeper but turned rather difficult at around months 5 and 6 (due to waking up to nurse often during his growth spurt and when we were traveling) was an outlier and would not succumb to any kind of training. Why was I so skeptical of this method? I think it’s because I kept talking myself out of it. When Benji was crying non-stop for hours on end (yes, HOURS; his record was 2 whole hours), doubt set in really deep in irrational parts of my brain and I managed to convinced myself that it was not going to work.

But it did. It eventually did. And begrudgingly, I’ll admit that Dr. Ferber’s method, painful as it was, WORKED for us. It was not easy and I don’t think it is for a lot of people. Most of our friends who (bless their hearts) wrote us about the method told us to stick it out and forewarned us to have a heart of steel before trying the method, but I did not realize it was going to be this difficult. I was really on the verge of giving up…and I would like to write out some pointers to hopefully provide a clearer picture to any parent who is thinking about trying this method and how you can make it work for you.

1. Set small goals. We tried Ferberizing Benji in the day AND night but quickly realized that this was too difficult for us and Benji. He was SO sleep deprived the first few days because he could not sleep in the day, and took forever to fall asleep in the night. An overtired baby will take even longer to fall asleep. So at around the 3rd day, we switched strategies and only Ferberized him in the night. Our first goal then was simply to have him fall asleep on his own in the night, and sleep through the night (for at least 10 hours).

2. Be PATIENT. Be prepared for days and days and days (and days and days) of crying and crankiness. When we first started the method, we were a bit too positive and thought Benji would “be Ferberized” quickly, possibly by day 3, as some people reported. But this turned out to be not true for us. Benji cried for probably a good 10 days straight. Some nights waking up at midnight and crying for an hour or so before settling himself to sleep. While we like to think our kids are the best, we have to be realistic and realize that our kid might really be the outlier and take a slightly longer time than others to be sleep trained. I was VERY impatient, and as mentioned earlier, kept thinking to myself “are we there yet? Are we there yet?” And after a few minutes, when I didn’t see any results, started doubting the method. When in actual fact, Benji needed more time and thank goodness, Bry, the believer, was there to prevent me from impulsively walking into the room several times and picking up my child to soothe him.

3. Expect fights with your partner. Bry and I were constantly bickering during the nights we sleep trained Benji. I kept wanting to soothe Benji but Bry kept talking me out of it. It was a difficult situation and we both wanted the best for Benji, but it was difficult to try to reason anything when your baby is screaming his lungs out for minutes and hours. 

4. Be strong. Between us, Bry was obviously the stronger one. He truly believed the method would work. And even when he started doubting the method, he realized there was no other better alternative and in a way had no choice but to continue with it. There were moments when I hated Bry’s stickler for this method, but boy, am I glad he fought hard with me to keep doing it!!

5. Have a supportive network. Look online or offline for people who have done this and who are able to support you through the sleep training. Online, I remember going to forums and reading people’s success stories with this method. My friends on FB would respond to my desperate pleas for comfort and encourage me to keep going with the method.

6. Read carefully about this method, and check your steps. I like this website that outlines the method systematically. This website also gives a great 10-day “what to expect” guide to the method.  It took us about 5 days to get the Ferber method right. Initially, out of habit, we were still making nursing the last activity before putting Benji to sleep. Which was not ideal since we want Benji to be able to soothe himself to sleep and not require my boob  to help him do that.

I was also very concerned at the start of this training, about psychological harm to Benji, if any, especially since he was going through a bad phase of separation anxiety when we started this sleep training. I read an onslaught of information online about cortisol levels in babies during sleep training.  One site that really broke down information into digestible bits for me, is scienceofmom.com. Written by a scientist-now-mom, the author wrote a series of articles about sleep training and I read up every single one of them. One of them, about “helping babies cope with stress and learn to sleep” was particularly interesting. As mentioned in a previous post, this article by Dr. Canapari, a doctor who specializes in childhood sleep problems, was also extremely helpful, especially his reminder about “extinction bursts.”

7. My child can do more than I think he can if given a chance. This is a bold statement to make for a 7 month old (now 8 months!) but it helped get me through some of the interminable nights. One of my friends wrote me and said she adopted a bit of the controversial Babywise mantra, which is that she is giving her child the confidence that s/he has what it takes to sleep independently. And sometimes, I adopted that mentality and ran with it. At times, when we went in to check in on Benji during those minute long intervals, Bry or I would say to Benji “it’s hard, I know, but you can find a way to soothe yourself to sleep. You are capable of it.”

8. Be consistent. Both parents need to be consistent with the approach. You also need to be mindful of the routines, and make sure at least for the duration of the training, that your baby is following the same routines everyday. It’s basically an experiment!

Later, I’ll also write about how we got him to nap without much struggle in the morning. We still have his afternoon nap which we haven’t quite worked out as yet, but we will get there eventually!

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5 comments
  1. Deni Lyn said:

    Whoa. I have no idea how you did this! I would definitely have broken after such sustained crying. I’m a complete coward! I still frequently pace with our 14 mo old in a wrap/carrier to get him to sleep at night because it only takes a few minutes and I’m too scared and lazy to listen to him cry for so long. (He will nap without protest). Thanks for sharing the tips and your doubts/struggles/successes with this method. Glad you are feeling better as well!

    • the speech monster said:

      Yeah I think ours was quite a bit longer than most of our friends’. Sleep training is not necessary for everyone and it sounds like your little guy is quite easy to put down anyway!

  2. Congratulations and great job– you, your husband, and Benji can now all enjoy the dividends of a good night’s sleep.

    • the speech monster said:

      Thanks. Yes, we most certainly are! 🙂

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