The concept can be traced back to a book published by Dr. Emmett Holt in 1895, but was popularized by Dr. Richard Ferber in 1985.
"Ferberizing" involves leaving your infant (four months of age or older) safely in their crib and returning to the room after increasing amounts of time until the child is asleep. For example, let him cry for three minutes, return (but don't pick up), five minutes, return, ten minutes, etc. Theoretically, the child is crying because they don't have the ability to soothe themselves--because they've always used some "crutch" such as cuddling, nursing, a bottle, etc.--something which the method strives to teach. Three-to-seven nights crying-until-he's-sleeping is supposed to deliver a child who is able to lay down at bedtime and fall asleep, sans drama.
Someone opposed to Ferberizing might argue that the method works not because of a profound psychological discovery, but because you are pushing the child to the point of sheer exhaustion.
Other fears surround long-lasting effects of not responding to the child when they need you.
If you listen to Erik Erikson, this point of a child's life strives to resolve "trust vs. mistrust": Either the child will learn to trust based on having their needs met (are fed when they cry, for example) or the opposite.
This last little tidbit echoed in my mind and rattled my soul for the better part of my son's first year. Then, circumstances changed.
The following is stream-of-consciousness writing that occurred during the first night of my son's cry-it-out training.
It was the night when we both cried it out.
My son is currently screaming his face off, standing up in his crib while "learning to put himself to sleep".
How did we get here?
There was no way, no how I was ever going to employ the methods of "cry it out" (or CIO on mothering message boards)…until two weeks ago.
For 7 1/2 months, we had a so-so sleeper.
He's never slept through the night. (Thank you, Facebook friends, for bragging about your alien newborns who sleep for seven hour stretches, by the way.) He would wake one-to-three times per night, and I was okay with that. My body rhythms had adjusted to these wake ups, and anything seemed better than CIO.
Then came the eight month sleep regression. Regression is, in fact, a misnomer. Regression implies that his sleep returned to some former degraded level. No. It sank to an all-time low. He woke up with every sleep cycle (every 90 minutes) all night, every night.
The only remedy for a quick return to sleep each night was bedsharing.
Don't get me wrong. I am deeply connected to our son, and bedsharing only added to that mother-son intimacy; however, it woke my husband more than was acceptable for what his job requires, which landed me and baby in bed and my first love on the couch.
The first week was cute. It was warm, cuddly and everything I'll probably look back fondly upon when our beautiful son and his hormones are rolling his eyes at me.
And then, it wasn't quite as adorable.
The novelty had worn off for both of us, and his previously deep, comforted levels of sleep were replaced by tossing, turning, head-flipping, kicking and hair-pulling, waking both of us up all too frequently. Not to mention, my 6'5" husband on our 6'3" couch.
Some mornings I was an utter zombie, or, at the very least, was using huge amounts of energy to keep my crabbiness to a minimum and my patience at nearly normal levels.
Plus, husband time had taken a serious hit. Our two nightly hours of time to ourselves was replaced by entertaining an over-tired eight-month-old, and nights of cuddling my head into my husband's chest were a distant memory.
The benefits I thought I was giving our son by not "teaching him to soothe himself" (by crying it out) were now far outweighed by his need for sleep, my need for sleep and his parents need to…not always be parents.
I was doing him absolutely no favors with the current set-up.
So, here I sit. Night number one of crying it out.
He was "drowsy and awake". He ate a fat-kid helping of organic vanilla yogurt with homemade pureed pears.
I can't even write that sentence without second-guessing myself.
My child is (still) screaming, nearly 45 minutes into this "method", while I sit idly by, but I bother with organic yogurt and homemade baby food because I'm paranoid about BPA, pesticides, antibiotics and growth hormones? Should I just throw in the towel entirely and feed him Mac 'n Cheese tomorrow?
What a fraud.
No, Abby, you aren't a fraud. You're teaching him to get a much better night sleep than he has been getting. Your Montessori lessons won't do much good to a fussy and tired child, and you'll be the best mother you can be if you're well-rested. Oh, and you'll have a full conversation with your husband again.
Yeah. That's it. That's why I'm doing this.
My body feels like it's shaking a bit. It's not (I checked), but it feels like it. I can feel my heart beating against my rib cage.
My phone is vibrating with 42 alerts from all the Facebook cloth diapering co-ops to which I belong, which is nothing other than irksome.
Again, cloth diapering. I'm bothering to use cloth diapers to avoid the chemicals that otherwise rub against my little angel's skin, to help the environment (and to save a few bucks)…and my baby is screami…
Wait a second. It's quiet. HE'S quiet. Fifty minutes. We survived.
Now, if he doesn't hate me in the morning…
For the record, he didn't.