What follows assumes your baby is at least 6 months old, and is waking up for a feeding at least once a night. It also assumes that your baby doesn’t consistently put him or herself to sleep at the beginning of the night.
In my experience, there are a few non-negotiable “musts” if you want your baby to sleep all night: The baby must be sleeping in a space not occupied by the parents. If she awakens and sees you, it is virtually certain that she will not put herself back to sleep without your intervention.
Also, when the decision is made to put the baby down awake (may be drowsy, but he does not know he’s in his crib), it must be consistent, every single night. You may have heard me say, you may put your baby down asleep as often as you put your spouse down asleep.
To start, we must convince your baby to put herself to sleep. My original method allows you, when she starts screaming hard, to stop the process and pick the baby up to rock her to sleep. Unfortunately, any baby older than about 4 to 4½ months will not respond to this finesse method. That is, you’ll do the same thing night after night, with no progress being made.
It’s important that the routine leading to the baby’s bedtime be fairly consistent night to night. That is, each bedtime occurs in a fairly narrow time-window, preceded by a series of rituals, like bathing, dressing, songs, reading, prayers, etc, that ends at the appointed bedtime.
When you put your baby down for the night, do it silently. Massaging, hugging, holding tightly are all ways to say, “I love you” without your voice.
As you leave your baby’s side, expect major screaming to start. This is when you start timing intervals. Ferber’s original method used 5-minute blocks, one stacked on another, for the intervals, 3 intervals each night. The 3rd interval is then repeated over and over until the baby falls asleep (2-3 hours would not be uncommon the first night in a 6-month old). Since the repeated interval under Ferber’s method is 25 minutes on the 3rd night, a period of time which seems “forever” to a parent of a young baby, I have cut the “blocks” to 2½ minutes each.
Thus, the first night, you leave the room for 2½ minutes, then 5 minutes, then 7½ minutes, repeating 7½ minutes over and over until she’s asleep. The visits into the room should be brief, not more than a minute. Again, no talking, but any kind of physical contact is okay (just remember, you have to put her back down again). The purpose of the visit is not to comfort the baby, as it won’t, it’s simply to let her know that you haven’t abandoned her.
It’s best to make a table for the time intervals: Across the top would be 1st, 2nd and 3rd interval, down the left side of the table, the night of the process, 1 through 7. Then, using the 2½ minute “blocks” you fill in the columns. The 3rd night intervals would be 7½, 10 and 12½ minutes, with 12½ minutes being the repeated interval. By the 7th night you’re up to 17½, 20 and 22½ minutes.
You keep going until the baby puts himself to sleep. Remember, the 3rd night is the hardest. If you can go that long without giving in, it will from then on get progressively easier. In fact, if this seems too hard, I would strongly encourage you to wait until you’re willing to be up all night if you need to. You won’t need to, but until the baby senses your resolve, he is likely to keep pushing until you “cave.” What’s more, once you give in the first time, when you go back to try it again, it will be that much harder.
It will take an average of 7 to 14 nights to convince your beautiful little angel that she can put herself to sleep, and for possibly the very first time, put herself to sleep without being fed or rocked.
While you’re working on the bedtime routine above, you want to start weaning the night feeds down to 2 minutes or 2 oz, depending on whether your nursing or bottle feeding. I would take up to 2 weeks to make that adjustment. The reason for doing this is that the night feedings by about 4½ months are called “trained night feedings.” That is, they aren’t really needed, but are established hormonally in the brain by consistent feeds at a certain time. The example I give: Set your alarm for a random time at night, say 1 am, get up when the alarm goes off and eat a small sandwich. Within 4 nights you won’t need the alarm.
If your baby has been getting 8 oz night feeds, that’s like a feast, so if one night you suddenly deny her that amount, she is going to be very hungry AND very mad. If you’ve taken 2 weeks to wean her down to 2 oz, then she’s a bit hungry, but not starving. Then, it won’t be quite so hard when you finally deny her.
I would stay in a holding pattern with the 2 oz feeds until you have completed the bedtime routine. That is, the baby is now, without exception, putting himself to sleep. You are now ready to “lower the boom.” Don’t do it however, if you’re tired, it’s the holidays, your spouse is gone on a trip, etc, just wait a bit longer.
The last step is to repeat the same stepwise crying intervals you just completed for bedtime. It is quite unnerving, and tiring. But when you’re done, you’ll have your baby sleeping 9 to 12 hours, uninterrupted, each night. Good luck!