Ferber Method for Sleep Training: A Guide for Parents
Little Yawn Collective - Nov 02, 2021
You know you’ve officially become a parent when instead of discussing the different restaurants you want to try, or concerts you want to go to, you now discuss your baby’s sleep training methods in great detail (and we wouldn't want it any other way!).
With your sweet bundle either already home or shortly on the way, sleep is probably one of the biggest things you think about. You already know and expect the early days to have plenty of wake-ups during the night, but as your baby gets older, the possibility of them sleeping several hours at one time is a shimmering hope.
Everyone needs sleep, and we don’t need research to tell us that when everyone has had a restful night, parents are better at parenting, and babies have more pleasant days. Read on to see how sleep training can help your baby (and you!) sleep longer throughout the night.
Why Sleep Training?
As your baby grows older, sleep is essential to their overall well-being. As you are well aware, your sweet one can be quite the snoozer! You may sometimes wish those periods of slumber were longer and not in the short spurts they tend to occur in.
If you want (or maybe wish?) for your little one to sleep more hours at night than during the day, sleep training is a helpful push to push more zzz’s into the nighttime hours.
The end goal for sleep training is for your baby to sleep for several hours at a time and during the night instead of during the day. If they do wake up in the middle of the night, the training will help them to be able to go back to sleep on their own instead of immediately crying for a parent to come to soothe them back to proper sleep habits.
This is helpful when for example, the neighborhood dog barks or an ambulance in the distance wakes your child up. These occurrences are not harmful to your child. They are just a part of life (although semi-annoying for everyone)! Incorporating sleep training will prevent you from getting up multiple times during the night to soothe your baby because of these small factors you cannot control.
Sleep training methods have been found to be beneficial for both babies and parents. When incorporating sleeping methods for your infant, their sleep quality has been found to improve significantly.
Parents also see substantial improvement in their sleep, which helps with parental mental health as well (yay!). As we know, it is important to take care of your own self so you can be the best parent for your baby.
Different Types of Sleep Training
There are different kinds of sleep training methods that you can incorporate for your child. Every baby is different, and some will respond to certain methods more effective than others. Depending on your baby, you may want an approach that is more hands-on or one that is more observational and requires you only to act when necessary.
Some babies do very well with calming themselves down, while others will want a parent in their gaze and need a soothing touch to feel better. The differing sleep methods all have different levels of being involved.
You can be hands-on or be more of a support system as your baby learns to fall asleep on their own. An effective sleep training method that we will go into further detail about is the Ferber Method.
What Is the Ferber Method?
This method of sleep training has been developed by Dr. Richard Ferber. It involves following a schedule of intervals on checking in on your child after they have been put down to sleep as a way to gradually give your child an opportunity to self-soothe themselves asleep, often referred to as “Ferberizing.”
Once you put your baby down to sleep, you listen for any crying. If they are crying, you incorporate a proper sleep schedule of timed intervals to check on them. This allows you the chance to check up on your baby to let them know you are still there but also gives them time to fall asleep on their own.
If your baby isn’t crying, you will not need to start the timed intervals (and maybe do a little dance of relief!). The timed intervals allow you the chance to step back to listen and observe what your little one will do without immediate intervention but also allow your child the reassurance that you will come to check on them if their crying goes past longer periods of time.
There are opponents to the Ferber Method, as some parents do not want their child to cry for any period of time without immediate comfort from a parent. Critics say that infants will just “give up” whenever they realize a parent will not be coming in to comfort them and that they cannot self-soothe.
However, we do know that infants can self-soothe themselves by sucking their thumb or a pacifier. What happens when you take a baby’s pacifier away? The baby will usually let you know that they do not like this by crying!
With the Ferber Method, you are not abandoning your baby until they exhaust themselves from crying. You are checking on them and providing comfort while gradually allowing them the opportunity to learn how to self-soothe and self-control.
What the Ferber Method Doesn’t Do
Knowing what the Ferber method consists of is essential. But it is also necessary to understand what it is not. The Ferber Method is not where you leave your child completely alone to cry-it-out until they give up or exhaust themselves. It also does not take the place of your already established bedtime routine.
Your child’s bedtime routine could be considered one of the highlights of both your and your baby’s day, where you can bond together and relax as you prepare your baby to sleep. The Ferber method is what occurs after your little one is snuggled in bed and ready to sleep.
When establishing a bedtime routine, remember to keep it simple and full of comforting care. An example of a sweet and simple bedtime routine may look like this:
- Bathtime! Try a Soothing Shampoo & Body Wash with Calendula to make your baby smell oh-so-yummy!
- Towel off and apply a soothing Body Lotion with Oat & Shea Butter for soft baby skin before putting cozy pajamas on. The real question here is, are they footy pajamas or do you put on cute socks?
- Snuggle in a chair and read a book, or talk to your baby and recap the day.
- As they become drowsy, place them in their crib for the night and say goodnight.
Just like the Ferber Method, you will want to ensure that your bedtime routine is a consistent routine that your child recognizes as a time to calm down and get ready for the end of the day.
Children respond well to routine. They are more relaxed and comfortable when their evening is predictable.
How Exactly Does the Ferber Method Work?
The Ferber Method consists of increasing time length intervals that you follow before checking on your baby if they are crying. Here is how the first night of the Ferber method may look like:
- Follow your normal bedtime routine.
- Before your baby falls asleep, put them in their crib and then leave their bedroom when they are still drowsy but still awake. A key part of the Ferber method is that your child is still awake when you leave the room.
- If your baby starts to cry and throw a tantrum, wait three minutes before going back into their bedroom to check on them. Give them a reassuring pat on the back and give them sweet words to comfort them. Try not to pick them up from their crib. Leave the room again while they are still awake.
- If they start to cry again, wait but for five minutes this time. Again, give reassuring touches and words and leave the room.
- For the third and additional check-in, wait 10 minutes between each time you go into their room, again reassuring them that you are still there.
- It is recommended that you start the intervals over if your child has fallen fully asleep and been asleep for a few hours. So if your baby cries, you would wait three minutes before going into their bedroom to comfort them and continue with the process of the lengthened intervals.
On subsequent nights, the timings will lengthen. On night two, you would first wait five minutes, then ten minutes, and then 12 minutes, respectively. The times on each subsequent night will continue to lengthen as your baby learns to self-soothe.
There are multiple charts online with different time intervals. You can also alter the timing intervals to better suit your needs, or repeat intervals for a few days at a time before moving on to the next interval.
Just like your bedtime routine, be consistent, and your baby will learn this new sleep routine. It is a period of adjustment for both baby and parent. Let’s be real here, it will be hard to hear your little one cry, but you know you will be able to check on your buddy to give them comfort and encouragement.
When starting the Ferber Method chart, your baby’s crying can be expected to diminish after three to four days. After about a week, your baby should have made a vast improvement.
Remember, as your baby continues to grow and change, there are bound to be hiccups from time to time. Especially if your normal bedtime routine changes or if your child is not feeling well. You can continue gentle sleep training at any amount of time, and just like muscle memory, your baby will rebound and will be right on track again with their sleeping routine.
Considerations With the Ferber Method
When considering using the Ferber method, there are several considerations you want to make.
The first is your baby’s age. You can begin sleep training at four months old, but experts say that it is probably better to wait until your baby is at least six months old.
You will want to be past the swaddling stage with your baby. Also, when your baby is super young and still having nighttime wakings during the night to feed. If you are still feeding multiple times during the night, it may be best to wait until nighttime feedings are less frequent.
Babies may become confused during sleep training if some bouts of crying are met with a parent coming in to feed them.
Additionally, with the Ferber method, you leave your baby in their crib or bassinet to sleep, so if you are co-sleeping, your baby may not be quite ready for this method. Wait until they are primarily in their crib or bassinet for naps and nighttime sleeping before implementing this type of sleep training.
It is important to consider what events you have coming up in your calendar when beginning sleep training. If you know that you’ll be traveling to another family member’s house soon, you may want to push off starting any new sleep training methods with your baby. If there is any change in your bedtime routine or location, it is recommended that you start the training over from the beginning.
This method relies on consistency, and it’s best to know that you have multiple nights to dedicate to it. Expect to start the intervals from the top multiple times.
Even if you are at home, think about if there are any big changes going on in the household? Moving? Is the baby starting daycare? Will one of the parents be out of town for work? It is worthwhile to wait until everything is normal (and a little monotonous) to introduce a sleep training method.
You will definitely not want to undergo any type of sleep training when your baby isn’t feeling well, including teething. Once they are better and back to their happy selves, you can resume sleep training. You will want to start from the beginning so you do not confuse your baby on why they are being left a little longer to cry.
Sleep training requires a unified front in the household. Make sure both parents are on board, and have agreements in place when it comes to following the guidelines for the crying out method. It will be hard to hear your baby crying, and you’ll want to immediately go to their aid to comfort them. Make sure both parents are supportive of each other and have agreed on the time intervals. The training will not be effective if your baby is not allowed some time to self-soothe. (You may have to self-soothe some tears too, and that is okay!) A little patience and care will go a long way for everyone.
When to Stop Ferber Method Training
As you are well aware by now, sometimes plans don’t quite work out 100% when it comes to a baby. Every baby reacts to new things differently, and sometimes it takes just trying it out to see that it may not be the right time to incorporate the sleep training process.
Some babies may respond faster or slower than others! The most important thing to remember is to have patience and be consistent. If your baby’s crying is not getting any better, it may be time to take a break.
You may experience some setbacks from day to day, but if there is no overall improvement after about a week, reevaluate and try again later. Of course, you will want to intervene if your baby has any physical needs, like coughing, a runny nose, or changing their diaper.
Speak with your baby’s pediatrician as well, so they can rule out any issues that may be causing your baby discomforts, like teething issues or tummy troubles. Know that you can always come back and try this method again when you feel that your child is slightly more ready.
As a parent, you know your little buddy the best!
As your baby grows and changes, so will their bedtime routine.
Here at Little Yawn Collective, our mission is to empower parents and build confidence to establish bedtime routines that work.
No matter what your bedtime routine looks like, or if you choose to incorporate sleep training for your little one, we know that bedtime can be hard!