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Should You “Ferberize” Your Baby?—A Commentary by Ian Ayres ’86

The following commentary was published in The New York Times on June 9, 2008.

Should You “Ferberize” Your Baby?
By Ian Ayres ’86

Joshua Gans, (author of the forthcoming Parentonomics), has an interesting post on “data-driven Parenting.”

Turns out that there is a cool web service: Trixie Tracker, that allows parents to record and revisit information on sleep, nappy changes, feeding (both breast-milk and solids), medicines, and pumping.

Keeping track of your child’s evolving sleeping patterns (via the internet or even your iPhone) can help you visualize helpful or distressing trends.

The owners of this and similar services have suggested a willingness to share their data with researchers. But the biggest opportunity is to use one of these sites as a platform for running randomized tests.

For example, there is still a bit of a controversy about whether it is useful to “Ferberize” babies. The Ferber Sleep Method is a warm, loving bedtime routine after which you lie your baby in bed awake and leave him (even if he cries) for gradually longer periods of time.

There was a great Mad About You episode (shot as one continuous take) of the Buckmans Ferberizing their infant.

A short term randomized test would not be able to assess whether Ferberization scars the child in the long term. But if Trixie Tracker recruited some parents to participate in a randomized study, you could assess the impact on the children’s sleep patterns and on the parents’ sleep and psychological well-being.

The idea is that Trixie Tracker would ask its registered users if they would be willing, for the sake of science, to be randomly assigned to the Ferber (loving, “leave them crying”) method or the rock them asleep method.
 
Many parents would refuse outright. But some couples are torn and might welcome contributing to finding out what works. I don’t think a randomized control trial has been run on this basic question that catches the sleep-deprived attention of many new born parents.