Dr. Ferber, or How I Learned To Stop Worrying And Love the CIO

OK, not Dr. Ferber. Jennifer Waldburger and Jill Spivack. And not cry-it-out so much as what folks call “controlled crying.” But oh, how I love them all.

SleepEasy Solution

One week ago today, we had a baby–the cutest baby pretty much ever, incidentally–who liked a 30-minute session of rocking, singing, feeding, and occasionally for me to lay across her bodily in the crib before falling asleep. Then she’d sleep for 30 minutes, wake up, and I’d rush in to do a little rocking and laying-across to bridge her to her real sleep time. (The first 30 minutes were merely a sleep appetizer, you see.) If I didn’t get in there soon enough, she’d be fully awake and fussing, so I’d send another 20 minutes getting her to go down. Two or three hours later, she’d wake up for food or a wet diaper or some cuddles, and we’d oblige. 2 1/2 hours after that, she’d wake up for real, talking to herself, and fuss and cry unless one of us was in the room with her while she had her 2 AM playtime. After an hour, back to sleep, then back up again at around 5 for one last diaper change/bottle suck/cuddle.

Every three hours, she’d be up, which really, in the grand scheme of babydom, ain’t so bad. I’ve learned how to cram a full sleep cycle into 2 1/2 hours, so three hours was great. The whole “sleeping through the night” thing eluded us–five hours in a row was a two-time fluke, not an actual condition–and after a few half-hearted attempts at winging Ferberization, we figured we’d just gradually get her off her sleep dependencies (the swaddle and the bottle) and she’d figure it out on her own.

After Night #2 sans swaddle, when we were up every 45 to 60 minutes, and both RocketMan and I slept on the floor of the nursery, RocketMan made an executive decision: the sleep training starts now. Fortunately, the previous weekend I’d done a little browsing in Borders and found The Sleepeasy Solution, a straightforward manual that covers naps, weaning, swaddles, bedtime, night wakings, and even has a chapter for cosleepers (which we’re not). Best part? No long-ass chapters espousing sleep theory and telling me why my baby needs to sleep. I know why my baby needed to sleep. I just didn’t know how to get her there.

Sleepeasy Solution is a modified Ferber method, which some folks call “controlled crying”; others call it CIO, or “cry it out.” It’s not for everyone. Some people can’t stand to hear their baby cry for any length of time; some think it results in adult anxiety issues; others think it’s just plain cruel. Personally, I think that three nights of crying will not have any more impact on my baby’s future mental health than would, say, a week spent in the NICU. All that said, it’s no picnic.

Here’s the basic plan.

  1. Create a good sleep space. In our case, that meant blackout curtains for the doorways (remember, our nursery is a converted hallway); a white noise machine; and a red light nightlight. We like the red bulbs at night because the short wavelengths don’t make your pupils shrink. You can go from a bright to dark room, and vice versa, without night blindness.
  2. Create a sleep routine and begin it so that it ends at bedtime. For us, that means changing into the sleeper; reading a book quietly; diaper check; then turning out the lamp and doing an out-of-crib feeding. (I say “out-of-crib” because we’d long been using the never-recommended shortcut of feeding her in the crib so as not to rouse her too much.) Top it off with a verse of “Blackbird” whilst cuddling, then into the crib she goes, with her blankie, pacifier, and a kiss on the head. A word about the lovey blanket: my sister bought me the Comfort Silkie, which I stuffed in my bra and slept with for two nights so it smells like me. She wasn’t into it until we started sleep training, and now she clutches it like a lifeline. Write down the exact minute you left the room.
  3. Commence the graduated check-ins. This is the hard part.
    1. Start the clock when she starts crying. We used my iPod’s Stopwatch feature; the great thing is, it has a “lap” feature, so you can see the length of time since the previous check-in as well as the full length of time she’s been in there.
    2. At five minutes, if she’s crying, check in. The authors recommend standing a few feet from the crib and talking softly for no more than 30 seconds. If you want to give her a pat, that’s fine, but be warned that it might make her cry harder. For us, RocketMan talked sweetly and softly; for me, I discovered one full round of “Blackbird” is exactly 30 seconds long, and that’s what I did. Exit.
    3. Start the next lap. Next check-in is ten minutes later, same thing.
    4. Third lap: 15 minutes. And it’s 15 minutes for every subsequent lap.
  4. And presto! She’s asleep.

Except not.  A quick clarification: The first night of sleep training was December 30, and we’d decided I’d go to say farewell to Annie’s Social Club a night early (mostly because I am loathe to go out on New Year’s Eve), and he’d go out New Year’s Eve. The plan seems counterintuitive–starting sleep training when one partner is absent–but it worked brilliantly for us. Why? Because we weren’t sniping at each other and second-guessing during the hardest nights. We each had a plan, and we stuck to it. And the best part was that I got a night off of baby duty, and then he did, and on the third night–when conditions greatly improved–we were able to trade off as usual.

I texted RM from Annie’s at 8:30, and his response was gratifying: “Asleep @ 10 minute!” When I got home at 11:30, though, he leapt on me at the door with a “Shhh!” Turns out that after her sleep appetizer–her 30-minute pre-sleep nap–the fun began. She cried from 9:30 to 10:40, when she finally zonked out. At 11:30, she woke up and ate half a bottle. And at 12:45 AM. And 3:20 AM. And 5:55, 6:40, and 7:10. By the 6:40 wakeup, she began crying in earnest again, and RM began the check-ins. A word about night wakings: if your baby’s weaned from night feedings, you can probably go without feeding her at all, but the Agent of Chaos still eats at night, so we’re working on weaning her as we sleep train. And there’s always the wet diaper possibility.

Lesson #1: During night wakings, check the diaper and change it if necessary. Feed her outside the crib, and put her back in while still awake. UPDATE 2/8/2010: ONLY do this if you haven’t done night weaning.

New Year’s Eve, she went down at 6:50 PM; fell asleep at 7, and woke promptly at 7:30. Here are my notes from that night:

5/10/Q@15/Q@15/Q@15/WD @ 1:25

Translation: Checked in at 5 and 10 minutes; quiet at 15 minutes. That meant that at the 15-minute mark, she was quiet or just complaining. This, to me, is the most important part of the sleep training.

Lesson #2: Don’t check in just because the clock tells you to; listen to your baby.

Has she been crying only intermittently? Is she just fussing? Was she crying two minutes ago, but is quiet now? If so, don’t check in. Restart the clock and wait another interval. The last thing you want to do is remind her that you’re around and upset her all over again.

So on Night #2, after the 5 and 10 minute check-ins, she cried off and on for 50 minutes, getting gradually quieter, so I didn’t check in at all. I did, however, notice that after that 50 minutes–around 9 PM, she began crying again, harder. I suspected something had changed. This is the other hard part: how do I check her diaper if I’m not supposed to pick her up? Nothing to lose, I figured–worse comes to worst, I’ll have to start all over again, and it can’t be any harder than it already has been. So at the next check-in time, I crept up to the crib, felt her diaper, and yep! Wet. So I picked her up, changed her diaper, singing the whole time, put her back down, gave her the blankie and paci, and left. By 9:30, she was sound asleep.

Lesson #3: If she’s on her way to sleeping, and she sets off again, check the diaper and change it.

Poke this kid with a stick, and she ain’t waking up.

The rest of the night tracked like the night before. Un-fun. After two hours of 20-minute naps interspersed with crying, I got her up at 7:15 AM, figuring it was morning, so treat it that way. That day, we began the nap training, which was similar to night training, except that we leave her in the crib for an hour; if she’s asleep at the 60-minute mark, let her keep sleeping; if not, get her up. Start the check-ins if she’s really wailing. The first day of nap training, she only took three 30-minute naps, not nearly close to the 2-3 hours recommended, so after her third nap, we popped her in the sling and she conked out for two hours–slept hard enough that even when we took her out of the sling, watched a movie, spoke in regular voices and had all the lights on, she still slept. You’re not supposed to let them nap in the evening, but she was tired, and the last thing we wanted was starting the night routine with an overtired baby.

Lesson #4: If, by 4:30 PM, she hasn’t slept enough, stage an “emergency nap”–go back to the surefire nap technique so she gets the sleep when she needs it.

Night #3, she was asleep within 20 minutes, and required only the 5-minute check-in. By 9:51–her scheduled post-appetizer wakeup–we hovered at the clock. But she slept on. And kept sleeping until 10:20, a full hour after falling asleep, when she required only two check-ins. At 11:20, she woke again, this time for a wet diaper and small snack… and then she slept from 11:35 to 4:35.

Five hours. That’s officially sleeping through the night. After a half a bottle and a diaper change, she slept from 4:45 to 9 AM. Four hours. Insane.

Her first nap the next morning? 90 minutes long. 90. MINUTES. LONG.

And last night, Night #4? Down at 7:20 PM. Asleep at 7:22. I kid you not. At 10 PM, I woke her for a “dreamfeed”–gently waking the baby so she doesn’t need as much to eat in the middle of the night. She guzzled 6 oz., thanked me for the diaper change, and was asleep within two minutes of putting her back down. Woke up at 3 PM–without crying, by the by, just chatting to herself–and RM changed her, fed her, and after a long bout of talking to herself, she woke up at 8 AM, cheerful and bright-eyed.

That’s five hours and four hours again, for those of you keeping score. And a full night with not one tear.

Of course, napping this morning had her crying for 30 minutes. But they say naps are always harder.

Great job! But didn’t you feel horrible hearing her cry?

Actually, no. I didn’t cheer, but I didn’t feel horrible. I felt pretty awful when I’d go in for the check-in and she’d look at me, face crumpled up like Mr. StayPuft’s “Why did you shoot me?” look. But in I’d go, and out I’d go, and plug into the stereo with RocketMan’s headphones. Keep in mind that we can’t go into another room and turn up the TV–her nursery is just behind a curtain off our living room. So we had to keep the sound down and the headphones up.
What really made me feel like Mommie Dearest was hearing her the next morning. She sounded like me after a long night of singing Pat Benatar–in everything I’d read online, I hadn’t seen much about the baby crying herself hoarse, and that’s what mine did. She’s still hoarse this morning (and her nap crying didn’t help), but I’m hoping in a few more days she’ll sound more Julie Andrews and less Lindsay Lohan.

Do you worry about the long-term effects of letting her cry?

No. If I do the math, in the last 96 hours, she’s cried for roughly six hours, or 6% of the time. And she cried consistently, and hard (what we call “Fifth Gear”) for maybe 90 minutes, all told. Is that fun? No. Did she like it? Hells, no. But if the little Agent of Chaos is doomed to grow up feeling unloved and anxious because of six hours of crying spread out over 96 hours, then we’re doing a lot more wrong as parents than just sleep training.

What if she goes back to her old habits?

If, by the end of two weeks, she’s consistently gone back to crying for sleep and waking every three hours, then we’ll call the last two nights a fluke, and try something else. But I don’t think that’ll happen.

If you managed to stick with me this far, thanks. I know it’s been a long blog, but I often can’t find the real downlow on stuff like this, and I appreciate reading other people’s experiences. And, as always, I only have five months’ worth of parenting experience, so scrap everything I just said and head over to Regretsy for some fun New Year’s reading.

And also, go Steelers.


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26 Responses to Dr. Ferber, or How I Learned To Stop Worrying And Love the CIO

  1. Pingback: Doing the Best We Can « Rocket City Digs

  2. Heather says:

    Thanks for the run down. I’ve recently read the same book, and cannot decide when the perfect time to sleep train my DD is. She has two types of nights. She either takes the 7pm power nap and refuses to sleep till 10:30 or 11 and then wakes every three hours or so, or she goes down fighting at 7:30 or 8 and wakes every 45 minutes all night long. We nurse out of desparation every time she wakes up. I am most confused about the night weaning, and to me it sounds a bit worse than the sleep training. Timing the feeds and looking at a clock all while completely sleep deprived??!! I just can’t manage to do it.

  3. Adrienne says:

    So is E still a good sleeper? I am in the process of CIO (to the horror of all my friends) and it seems to be going well. We are night weening after CIO too. L was waking up every 45 min -2 hours. Two hours was the best we had done in weeks. I was a zombie. I’ve been feeding him at night after 6 hours, so 2am, but last night i caved and fed him at 5:30am as well, and then he slept till 7:30. After reading your night weening blogpost i’m not sure I should have done that, but maybe we’ll worry about night weening in another few weeks.

    Thanks for the post.

    • Jody says:

      Firstly, don’t sweat your friends. What’s right for your family is right for your family. And there’s a reason they’re passing laws about letting air traffic controllers sleep.

      At 21 months, she’s a terrific sleeper. She has some bad spells–occasionally we’ll need to comfort her in the night, and sometimes she regresses and we have to do another bout of check-ins, but that never lasts more than one or, at most, two nights. Then she’s back to right as rain. We put her to bed at 8 PM (no matter how amped she seems to be, once she’s in the sleepsack and we say “night-night” she’s ready for bed) and 19 nights out of 20, she’s down for the night and wakes somewhere around 8 or 8:30ish AM. We’re not really sure, as she stays quiet and entertains herself until David goes in to get her up.

      According to the book we used, night weaning is supposed to come BEFORE sleep training, but getting her to go to sleep on her own was such a nightmare that we wanted to do that first. And really, the night weaning isn’t that bad as long as you stick with the advance feeding concept–wake him up a half hour before he usually eats, feed him a little bit, and then put him back to sleep, and gradually wind down the amount you’re feeding him over a series of nights. After a few nights you’ll have trained him to know that people don’t eat at night.

      This is all assuming, of course, that your little guy is sleep-trainable in this way–a lot of kids just aren’t, in which case you’d need to try another method. But if it seems to be going well, keep up with it. Take a lot of notes and make sure you and your partner are on the same page before bedtime. Good luck!

      One other tip: as Heather mentioned, watching the clock can also be really difficult, which is why we bought a large-display digital clock that shows the seconds ticking. We couldn’t live without it now!

  4. Pingback: I’d be a perfect mother if you paid me for it. | Rocket City Digs

  5. Ashley says:

    Thanks for the descriptive post. Your situation sounds more like mine than anything else I’ve found. My baby is 5 months and we did night one of this method last night. Baby was hoarse this morning and it’s been stressing me out all day. It’s comforting to read someone else’s experience and see that the progressive check methods do work and helps keep me focused on the overall goal. I also had not previously night weaned, and last night chose to not feed baby. I now think that was a mistake, so I will aim to feed once tonight as a transition to the eventual night weaning.

    • Jody says:

      I’m glad my post is helping! We did the night weaning after sleep-training and it worked beautifully. Our problem was not that she was waking up to eat, but that it took 30 minutes for her to get back to sleep. Once we taught her to go back to sleep on her own, night weaning was a cinch. Just stick with it for a few nights. You’re not alone–it’s an awful experience, but if it works, it’s so worth it. Just be sure to keep the notes–it helps enormously with your focus!

      Three years later, and she and her little sister (who always fell asleep on her own–every kid is so different!) are sharing a room and helping each other sleep! I’ll be blogging about that soon enough!

  6. Diana M says:

    Hey! I love the Blackbird song and your description of how you started CIO is the most useful post out there so far! :) I’m wondering when you started the nap CIO? was it after the first night?

  7. Diana M says:

    another question – did I read it correctly that you started CIO when she was one week old? I’ve been researching online and most sites don’t recommend CIO until 6 months, but I’m going to start tonight with my 7-week old.

    • Jody says:

      Oh, heavens no! She was five months old. Good luck.

    • Miri says:

      Hi. I know you’re probably exhausted from the lack of sleep and going to get relief soon. Iunderstand because I’ve been there too! But it’s super implant to wait and be patient until your baby can handle This method. The reason this method shouldn’t be used with babies under 6 months is because they are not developmentally ready for it, both physically and mentally. At seven weeks babies still need constant feedings during the night in order for their brains and bodies to develop healthily, and they haven’t reached the psychological developmental milestones needed for self soothing. Trying this method too soon can cause a deficiency in nutrition, as well as damaging psychological effects on a baby, so it is crucial to wait until at least six months. It’s easy to miss this point since many sources tell you to wait till six months but don’t explain why, so it makes sense that if you’re struggling with sleeplessness you might be trebled to try it early, but it’s just not worth it asks it doesn’t work early. What the author meant was that one week prior to the blog, hey baby wasn’t sleeping but now she is, not that she was One week old (I misunderstood that too at the beginning because she started the blog with the words “one well ago today we had a baby… who….”, instead of saying something like, “one week ago, our baby used to…”). I wish you luck with your baby and lost of loving patience until your baby is ready for sleep training! Once your baby is old enough, this method really does work :)

  8. Heather says:

    Hi! Great read.

    I am doing The Sleepeasy Solution right now! GRRRR. So tough.

    Did you little one’s voice come back – mine is hoarse after 3 days of screamy naps and I am feeling I should stop so I don’t damage her voice! Thoughts?

    Thanks soooo much:)

    • Jody says:

      It came back a few days after the last screamy night! Just like us screaming at rock concerts, takes a few days to bounce back.

  9. linda says:

    Hi Jody, thank you for your story. My baby just turned 4 months last week and I am desperate to start sleep training but is terrified. ….I still swaddle him at night. Did you successfully wean off swaddling at the same time? Will their startle reflexes wake themselves up at night?

    Thank you

    • Jody says:

      With Eliza (the one discussed here) we tried gradual unswaddling–first one arm, then the other, then whole-body. I think we did the whole thing at the same time as sleep training. It bothered her for a bit, but she got used to it.

  10. Beth says:

    How do you do the night weaning? My 6 month old is up every hour or 2 and the only way I can get him to sleep is feed. Want to start CIO but will it confuse him if I do feed him once? Did CIO with now 3 year old and she wasn’t eating this much at night. Hope you are atill answering questions!

  11. Jami says:

    How long would you have gone if you didn’t see improvement? We are on day 6 of CIO and naps are still horrific (she usually cries through her first nap then is so exhausted that she takes her second nap, then cries through her third, etc), getting her down initially at night is maybe a little better but when she wakes up in the middle of the night (no idea why….she hasn’t eaten in the middle of the night in weeks) it takes forever (over an hour) and then will sometimes wakes up shortly thereafter. She is soooo hoarse and I just don’t know if we should wait it out or if we just have one of those babies who it’s not going to work on.

    So far we are getting no more sleep than we were when we started; only difference is that she has cried more in the past 6 days than she has her whole life. She is 5-1/2 months old. TIA.

  12. Fran says:

    Hi- I found this article really helpful so first off – thank you!! I was wondering, with naps- if they are still awake from start of being out down and you get them up do you then just wait till next scheduled nap? Or did you put bub down again after picking up? Also I was wondering if there is a sudden ex celebration in crying did you ever break with your time periods and go in?? Or just tough it out for the set time? Thank in advance!

    • Jody says:

      The second night, I did go in and get her at around 5 AM, because she just wasn’t sleeping, and I needed some rest, too. But I toughed it out a LONG time.

      As far as naps go, I think we left her in there for the full hour, whether or not she slept. If she was awake at the end of the hour, we got her up; otherwise, just let her sleep.

  13. Lyndsey says:

    Hi, I have a 5 month old son who is pretty good at sleeping at night but has always been terrible at napping. 30 minutes is the usual the occasional 40 minutes and very, very seldom he may sleep 1 hr.
    We were rocking him to sleep but with him getting close to the 20lb mark its gotten very tiring and becoming a bad habit. We’d be rocking him for 20 minutes + just for a 30 min nap. He is however usually good at finally falling asleep under the hr at night by himself. We started the cio method again a few nights ago.
    We just started trying to let him cio for naps and he literally laid there for an hr and a half and slept for 30 min both times… 2nd time he barely would eat his bottle and was so grumpy. not sure what to do. Feeling like this is neglecting him. (I must mention that in that hr and a half, the first time he cried on and off but laid there for the first 30 min cooing away before the on off cry. the 2nd time he laid there for almost the hr without a whimper. then he had a soft whine and fell asleep about 30 min later.) When up he was obviously exhausted so after trying to feed him my hubby bounced him, he fell asleep in 3 min but once hubby set him down 10-15 min later he woke up with being set down. did his nightly routine after a little play and he fell asleep at bed time within 10 min. Just would like some help on how to deal with this napping issue.

  14. Monica says:

    I know this post is 5 years old, but just wanted to say thank you so much for sharing your experience. I was looking to sleep train before doing night weaning too, and this post made me confident it could work, whereas before I kept delaying it because I wasn’t sure how to go about it. We’re just 6 days in and it worked wonders with my 4.5 month old! He was up every 2 hours for feeding and in bed with me after the first waking a week ago, and now without even starting the night weaning, he’s only up once for a feed and in his crib the entire night. Amazing!! And I started with naps today and he was asleep within 30 seconds and has been asleep for an hour. I read this post every day for the past week as motivation, so I owe you a huge thanks!

  15. Jody says:

    WordPress has been messing with my comments, so here are a few recent comments that ended up on other posts:

    Pahlawan says:
    October 10, 2015 at 6:38 am

    Help!! I have a beautiful 8.5 month old baby girl who does not sleep well at all! She wakes anyhwere from 3-6 times a night. We have a good bedtime routine and she will generally go down ok at night. I am an exclusive pumper so she is breastfed and she also does really well with eating solids (she does baby-led-weaning) and has lots of fresh fruits, veggies and meats. She will usually only last 2 hours between waking up, when she wakes up the only thing that will put her back to sleep is a bottle. I know it’s probably teaching her that if she cries, she gets a bottle so we are reinforcing a bad habit but I have a very very very hard time letting her cry! She also has a terrible temper on her and will throw a HUGE fit if she doesn’t get her bottle! Any advice on weaning her from the bottle or other tips?

  16. Jody says:

    Pepi says:
    October 10, 2015 at 6:28 am

    Nicole,I’m confused about if snanditg next to the crib while your baby fusses because you put her down drowsy but awake is considered CIO. My 10 week old baby is breastfed and I nurse her before going to sleep. I try to follow the advice about putting her down drowsy but awake but she cries. The last two nights I have stood next to her crib and soothed her without picking her up while she fussed and cried b/c she wasn’t completely asleep when I put her down. All day I am always reactive to her cries and tend to her whenever she needs something. I am just having a hard time striking a balance between making sure that she is drowsy but awake and not putting her to bed while she is completely awake. I thought that if I know she is fed, changed, and needs to sleep then it is okay if I put her down while snanditg next to her crib. Do you consider this CIO and would you wait to do this? If so, what is the alternative to having her fully asleep before I put her down? She won’t do drowsy but awake without the crying. Both nights she did go to sleep after I calmed her down and walked out of the room for about 5 mins while she fussed.

  17. Jody says:

    Mohammad says:
    October 10, 2015 at 6:18 am (Edit)

    It has been almost 2 monhts, sorry about the delay in a response! I am sure your baby is sleeping differently by now! But just in case No, standing by her crib and soothing her while not picking her up is not considered CIO. You are there for her and she knows you are there, and putting her down awake and staying with her till she is calm, or even staying until she is all the way to sleep is a good way to help her learn to fall asleep in the early monhts. I hope you are both doing well!@ Jess: I am sure your son’s sleeping habits have changed a bit by now, and I understand that you do not want your older son woken up while the younger son learns to sleep better. If he is still not sleeping through the night, keep in mind that many 6 month babes do need to eat 1-2 in the night. Or if you are ready for some sleep training, perhaps you can start on a weekend, or a night where your older son can sleep over at a relatives or friends house for a night or two? This may get you through the first and possibly hardest nights. Hope all is well!@ Jenn: I am sorry that it has been so long with no reply. I am sure that things have changed since your post, and really do hope that things have smoothed out by now! You can try to sleep train at night and not at naptime. Different parts of the brain handle each type of sleep, and usually you can work on one area at a time with success. It may make it feel less overwhelming to work on one at a time too. It is also common for babies to cry for 5-10 minutes before falling asleep at night, and this can continue for quite a while. If you are still struggling, since it would have been for a few monhts, I would recommend That you consider a sleep consultation package. Here is a link to services, and I do hope that you are sleeping well and do not need it! @ Mama Jo: Thank you for sharing your successes! I can not stress enough that every baby and every family is different, and you have to do what works for you, and baby!

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