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The politics of sleep

From Ferberization to attachment parenting, we examine the politics of slumber...

Posted: 12 March 2013
by Sophie Westnedge

Slumber is often a highly prized and rare commodity among new parents, so it’s no surprise getting your child to sleep can become an emotional affair.

Take the furore created by Dr Richard Ferber, the founding director of the Center For Pediatric Sleep Disorders, in Boston, who, back in 1985, published a book encouraging parents to leave their babies to cry themselves to sleep. Some suggested it was tantamount to child cruelty, but Ferber insisted it was to help babies learn to self-soothe. In his opinion, children just need to learn to sleep well.

Ferberization, as it became known, was the antithesis to Dr William Sears’ Attachment Parenting, which advocates keeping children in close physical contact to boost emotional and physical wellbeing. Such child-centred philosophies have enjoyed a resurgence of late. When Time published a hotly debated cover featuring a three-year-old latched on to his mother’s breast last year, sales of Attachment Parenting books soared.

But, of course, parenting is a personal thing. Some are devotees of Gina Ford’s regimented routines, others prefer a more relaxed approach. And now Dr Ferber has updated his landmark bestseller, drawing on the advances made in understanding sleep and trying to correct misconceptions about his techniques. Solve Your Child’s Sleep Problems (Vermillion, £12.99) covers everything from routines and naps to bed-wetting and nightmares, all backed by scientific theory and strategies.

So has the good doctor mellowed over the years? Well, even he now concedes that sharing a bed with your baby can sometimes be beneficial.

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