What do you do when the Ferber Method doesn’t stick in a four month old?

My question has to do with sleep training. After reading various books and watching some of your webinars, we decided to do sleep training with our then 3.5 month old. She had started to really fight bedtime (basically crying when we brought her into her room and throughout the routine) and after vigorously rocking her to sleep, she was waking up every 10 minutes. Sometimes it would go on for hours and I would have to nurse her to sleep, which I never needed to do before. She was clearly exhausted but couldn’t put herself to back to sleep. Anyway, we did a modified Ferber (slightly shorter intervals). The first night was awful – 90 minutes. After 70 minutes we decided to pick her up to calm her but put her back down awake and that seemed to help. Within four nights she was going to sleep at night, crying maybe for a minute or two but often just moving around. Naps she might protest or talk for a few minutes but never requires a check. After about 10 days of going to sleep on her own, she started fighting bedtime and we needed to start doing checks all over again. This coincided with her four month shots so we thought it was a fluke and after 45 minutes I helped her to sleep. But it wasn’t just the night after shots. Ever since then she has refused to put herself to sleep at night. Of course husband and I aren’t on the same page about what to do (he has a really hard time hearing her cry). She still goes to sleep on her own for naps, no problem, but bedtime she does not want to at all. We’ve basically been putting her down and doing checks up until a certain period of time (it was 1 hour but now it’s often less). I know this is a no-no for Ferber but we’re all just exhausted. It’s frustrating because we know she can do it! I can’t find anything anywhere about the baby who goes to sleep on their own for naps but not bedtime, seems to be the other way around typically. Any advice or insight would be greatly appreciated!

I think that your daughter might not be quite ready for a Ferber-style intervention. Ferber does say that it is ok to do intervention this young, but generally we recommend waiting until a baby is a bit older for several reasons, but namely¬†because many babies just don’t have their feeding and sleep schedules “locked in” yet and that can lead to a lot of trouble and cause a lot of what you are experiencing. I have a few comments related to some of the things you mentioned, first, waking every 10 minutes sounds like the waking is related to a schedule issue (e.g. she’s going down too early or too late or her naps were insufficient and are causing “hyperarousal”) or that pattern of waking could be due to a medical condition. I would track her sleep and figure out what time she is consistently falling asleep to get a sense of where things need adjusting. Second, you are right that when you do something like the Ferber method, you do really want to be “all in,” meaning you want to make sure that your actions are followed by sleep. It’s really important that your baby experience consistency in your response in order to learn what you are trying to teach her. At first glance with your situation I would stop doing intervention now, since you end up stopping it often anyway. I would track her schedule to figure out if her biological clock might be preventing her from falling asleep and I would call your pediatrician to make sure that your child has no medical concerns that might be causing trouble (reflux, ear infection etc.). I realize that a consultation isn’t going to be right for everyone, but your situation is one that I think would be easier to figure out through a conversation. In every family there are so many factors that come into play when you are doing intervention. As I read your summary I had a long list of questions that came to mind for problem solving. I’ve given you a few suggestions here, but there could be other things that are at play too. Take care and good luck!


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