"If feeding is offered, babies may learn to expect it at night," Dr. Ferber says, advising parents to keep interaction to a minimum if a baby wakes at night. Instead, Dr. Ferber teaches parents to use their voices as a salve to soothe—but doesn't encourage picking up the child, feeding, or rocking. Under this method, parents should increase the period of time between each bedcheck. These waiting times are charted out in Dr. Ferber's book and are based on how comfortable the parents are with the technique, how many days it's been in use, and how many times you've already gone to check on your baby throughout the night. And after a week or two, babies learn to fall asleep without parental help.
Routine is fundamental to the Ferber method, so developing a bedtime routine is essential. Dr. Ferber argues that if children grow to recognize the steps in a bedtime routine, they will soon feel safe and comfortable enough to drift off into dreamland on their own. Rather than the intuitive approach that the Searses endorse, Dr. Ferber prefers establishing a set routine that to help babies develop a sense of schedule—his approach tries to establish an environment where nighttime parenting is unnecessary (no need to "parent" a child to sleep). However, Dr. Ferber understands that there will be times these bedtime rules will need to be flexible, such as when your child is sick. If your baby is older than one year, Ferber also suggests using a transitional object, such as a stuffed toy or blanket, as a comfort when you aren't there.
Before using this method, Dr. Ferber says you should be sure that the daytime necessities and living environment (feeding, stress, playtime, parental attention) are all operating well, as these can all contribute to a baby's problems falling asleep. Also, keep in mind that Dr. Ferber only recommends using his method if your baby is six months or older. As most sleep experts agree, by this age most infants no longer need a nighttime feeding.
Teaching children to sleep is far from an exact science. But with some help from the experts, you can pick a plan that will work best. No matter which sleep method you try, be consistent but flexible; trial and error will eventually help you find something that works for you and your family. Most parents find that if they establish a pattern—whether it be one that involves nighttime parenting or one that focuses more on the child falling asleep independently—and stick to it as closely as they can, babies begin to learn how to sleep. "After three to four months, babies develop sleep associations or dependencies," points out Dr. Karp. "When you do it right for the first days of life, it soon becomes automatic."