Sleep training a baby is perhaps one of the most difficult parts of parenting. When your baby wakes up crying in the wee hours of the night demanding a cuddle, milk, or your attention before going back to sleep, this is a clear indication that you need to initiate sleep training. If you are looking for the most effective sleep-training methods that guarantee excellent results, the Ferber Method might be exactly what you need.
The Ferber Method
Also referred to as Ferberization or “graduated extinction”, the Ferber Method is a sleep-training approach developed by American pediatrician and book author, Richard Ferber. This method primarily aims to teach babies how to learn the art of falling asleep independently. This sleep-training strategy is performed by allowing the baby to cry for progressively longer periods before checking in on him.
The belief that the Ferber method encourages you to allow your baby to “cry it out” until he gets exhausted and finally falls asleep, is a hoax. The truth is, letting your child cry all night until he learns to pacify himself is the principle behind another sleep-training technique called extinction-sleep training. Graduated extinction is a gentler and less stressful approach compared to other sleep-training approaches.
Various studies can attest this method works well for babies. But there are also claims that the Ferber method is nothing but another inefficient and overrated sleep-training technique on the market. The good news? The American Academy of Sleep Medicine conducted some fact-checking and found that nineteen (19) different studies about the Ferber method showed that this strategy is indeed highly effective.
How Does It Work?
While sleep training can be extra-challenging for both the child and parents, the actual process of the Ferber method is simple, clear, and straightforward. “Ferberizing” your baby is done by performing the following steps:
- Changing sleep associations. Sleep associations are objects or activities that help your baby fall asleep such as pacifiers, loveys, bottle feeding, or rocking back and forth. The goal of the Ferber method is to teach your child to fall asleep on his own or fall right back asleep independently when he wakes up in the middle of the night.
This can be done by eliminating negative sleep associations and enhancing positive sleep associations. When you keep involving yourself in your child’s sleeping habits such as rubbing his back until he falls asleep, he will never learn how to sleep independently. Try giving him a lovey instead.
- Setting a bedtime routine. Setting a brief, consistent, and age-appropriate bedtime routine can help your child fall asleep on his own. A bedtime routine includes activities that help your baby fall asleep such as putting on pajamas, changing diapers, reading his favorite bedtime story, or singing a lullaby.
- Comforting. Comforting means letting your baby know that you are just nearby. This helps him feel safe and comfortable. Comforting activities may include singing a lullaby, talking to your baby gently, or patting his back. Just bear in mind that comforting should be done briefly and should only last for 1-2 minutes.
- Progressive Waiting. Progressive Waiting Approach is one of the most essential parts of the Ferber method. Some parenting experts call this the ‘cry it out’ part or allowing your baby to cry. Dr. Ferber strongly urges parents to allow their babies to cry for progressively longer periods before checking on them. The Ferber method suggests allowing your child to cry initially for three minutes on the first night, followed by five minutes, and finally ten minutes. You can increase the waiting time intervals on the second night. Dr. Ferber claims your baby is having a good night’s sleep on the third or fourth night.
Sample Ferber Method Chart
To better understand this, below is a sample chart showing the check-in increments for one week (Day 1 – Day 7). This chart was published by Dr. Ferber in his book.
Check-in 1: 3 minutes after the child starts crying
Check-in 2: 5 minutes after the child starts crying
Check-in 3: 10 minutes after the child starts crying
Subsequent waits: 10 mins. after the child starts crying
Check-in 1: 5 minutes after the child starts crying
Check-in 2: 10 minutes after the child starts crying
Check-in 3: 12 minutes after the child starts crying
Subsequent waits: 12 mins. after the child starts crying
Check-in 1: 10 minutes after the child starts crying
Check-in 2: 12 minutes after the child starts crying
Check-in 3: 15 minutes after the child starts crying
Subsequent waits: 15 mins. after the child starts crying
Check-in 1: 12 minutes after the child starts crying
Check-in 2: 15 minutes after the child starts crying
Check-in 3: 17 minutes after the child starts crying
Subsequent waits: 17 mins. after the child starts crying
Check-in 1: 15 minutes after the child starts crying
Check-in 2: 17 minutes after the child starts crying
Check-in 3: 20 minutes after the child starts crying
Subsequent waits: 20 mins. after the child starts crying
Check-in 1: 17 minutes after the child starts crying
Check-in 2: 20 minutes after the child starts crying
Check-in 3: 25 minutes after the child starts crying
Subsequent waits: 25 mins. after the child starts crying
Check-in 1: 20 minutes after the child starts crying
Check-in 2: 25 minutes after the child starts crying
Check-in 3: 30 minutes after the child starts crying
Subsequent waits: 30 mins. after the child starts crying
Ferber Method for Naps
Remember that day sleep and night sleep are controlled by different parts of the human brain; thus, naps and nighttime sleep should be addressed separately. Your baby’s nighttime environment is quieter and more sleep-friendly compared to his naptime environment. It is also important to note that your child needs progressively less day sleep as he gets older.
Why state these facts? This is because not all sleep-training strategies work well for both nap time and bedtime. Parents are strongly urged to be more persistent in nap-training their children. Surprisingly, Dr. Ferber’s sleep-training approach can be successfully used for naptime training.
The only difference is that you are required to limit the training session to one hour. If there is no progress after that given time, a one-hour break is imposed before trying again. Your success will depend heavily on the following factors – the child’s temperament, your schedule, and your parenting style or preferences.
When to Start the Ferber Method?
Like most sleep-training strategies, the Ferber method can be introduced to the baby at around 5 or 6 months old or before he learns how to sit and stand on his own. At this age, your child is capable of self-soothing and sleep through the night without the need to feed. Some pediatricians even suggest using this method as early as 4 months old. However, parents may need to take precautionary measures as directed by health professionals to ensure their children’s safety.
Introducing the Ferber method for babies younger than 4 months old is strongly discouraged by different pediatricians all over the world. This sleep-training strategy is believed to disrupt sleep and the normal brain development of the infant. Also, during this stage, your child’s self-soothing skills, a crucial part of his development, are still forming. Feel free to ask your pediatrician about this matter.
Tips for Successful Ferber Sleep Training
Sleep-training, like any other child-rearing practices, can be challenging. Ensuring the success of your chosen strategy can only be attained through dedication, consistency, and of course, following these helpful tips:
- Never initiate sleep-training during big life changes in your baby’s life. Teething, getting a new babysitter, moving to a new bedroom, or when your baby is sick, are some of the major events that can delay sleep-training your child. Whenever possible, take advantage of “rest days”, vacation, or even the weekend in initiating the Ferber method. Remember, you will generate the best results when your child has been getting good naps.
- Teach your child soothing activities as early as 6 to 8 weeks old. Establishing an effective bedtime routine for your baby as early as 6 weeks old can help him feel relaxed and easily fall asleep. Soothing activities such as cuddling, playing nursery rhymes, giving a warm bath, or reading a story help your baby feel relaxed, comfortable, and loved.
As mentioned, a consistent bedtime routine can encourage your child to fall asleep on their own. He will also learn and understand, sooner or later, that he needs to sleep alone in his crib, not in his mother’s arms.
- Avoid night feedings. It is a common fact that babies get accustomed to getting nighttime feedings, especially in the early stages of their development. But “Ferberizing” your baby requires you to avoid middle-of-night feedings, especially when he reaches 6 months old and above. Obliging to your baby’s nighttime hunger just prevents you from achieving your main goal – to teach your baby to sleep independently.
This may also affect his daytime eating. When your child consumes so many calories at night, he tends to eat less in the daytime. This vicious cycle will continue unless you find the courage to deal with it appropriately.
- Avoid fully night weaning too early. The weaning process should start gradually and smoothly. Bear in mind that your child is too young to handle all these milestones in his life. A full night weaning should be introduced when your child reaches 4 to 6 months old. Dr. Ferber states in his book Solve Your Child’s Sleep Problems that overfeeding your child, especially at nighttime, may cause sleep disorders to your baby.
Pediatricians strongly urge parents not to rush nighttime weaning as it only leads to early waking. When things get a little hard and tempting, stick to your main goal – to train your child to fall asleep on his own.
- Be consistent. Sleep-training your little one can be a little stressful and demanding. Consistency is the key to reaping excellent fruits of success in this “Ferberizing” journey. When your child wakes up crying in the middle of the night, do not comfort him. If you end up sabotaging your efforts just because you cannot bear seeing him in a “miserable” situation, think again.
As with other sleep-training strategies, the steps involved in the Ferber method can be complicated and hard to implement. However, if you are eager and consistent, the crying will eventually decrease and your baby will get a good night’s sleep – on his own.
Sleep-training approaches such as the Ferber method are indeed a great tool for teaching parents to realize the value of independent sleep for babies. It can also provide your child the skills he needs to trust his instincts and capabilities. With proper practice, you will eventually perfect the Ferber method of sleep training for babies. Just keep that burning desire within you and you will reap excellent results in time. When all else fails, consult your pediatrician.