What's The Ferber Method? See If This Sleep Training Is Right For You (& Baby)

by Lior Zaltzman
Originally Published: 
Ferber Sleep Training Method
Rebecca Schortinghuis/Getty Images

If you’re trying (ardently, passionately, desperately!) to get your baby to sleep, you may have heard of Ferber method sleep training. For some parents, this sleep training method is a blissful gift that helps them finally get their babies to snooze through the night. For others, the mere idea of it sounds like a form of torture — for everyone involved, but especially baby. Welcome to the world of parenting opinions! Two parents, 500 opinions, amiright?

Honestly, if you’ve been on literally any forum for moms, you know that people have feelings about sleep training. It can make trying to find the best sleep training method for you overwhelming, especially when you’re a sleep-deprived new parent.

So what exactly is the super-popular Ferber sleep training method? And will it work for you? Here’s what you need to know.

What is the Ferber method?

The Ferber method is a sleep training method that involves some form of cry it out (CIO) to help get your baby to sleep through the night by learning to self-soothe and fall asleep alone.

Dr. Richard Ferber, a pediatrician, created the method in his 1985 book Solve Your Child’s Sleep Problems. The book was revised in 2006 with more accurate, up-to-date medical information.

How does Ferber method sleep training work?

There are several components to Ferber’s method. Keep reading for a rundown of what “Ferberizing” involves.

Establish Baby’s Bedtime Routine

The first step is really working on baby’s nighttime routine, which is a key part of most sleep training methods. To accomplish this, you’ll want to have a fixed bedtime and relaxation routine. That routine may include a bath before bed, the dimming of lights, a lullaby, etc.

Put Baby in Their Bed

Once you’ve gone through your baby’s bedtime routine, you’ll be putting your drowsy-but-awake baby in their bed. Tell your little one goodnight and leave the room.

Let Them Cry

Then comes the (emotionally) hard part: letting your baby cry. Every night, you will want to increase the intervals in which you let them cry. The first night, you will want to start with three to five minutes. Then you will come back in and soothe them — briefly, without picking them up from the bed, turning on the lights, or feeding them. You really should only be in the room for a couple of minutes, offering just a reassuring voice and/or a gentle pat on the back.

Use the “Progressive Waiting Approach”

Increase the length of the interval each time you go to check up on your baby. So, while you started with three to five minutes, you’ll want to scale up to five to 10 minutes, then 12 minutes, then 15, and so on. Keep at this until your child gradually falls asleep.

Adjust for Subsequent Nights

The following night, you will want to start off with a longer interval from the get-go and continue with a longer one every night. The first few nights of this method can be tough, but if it works, it can be incredibly rewarding (oh, sleep, that sweet nectar!).

Can you use a pacifier with the Ferber method?

The Ferber method is about teaching your baby how to self-soothe without tools of comfort. This includes being picked up, coddling, and yes, pacifiers. Usually, the pacifier is the only weapon strong enough to stop a screaming baby, so we know it’s a big ask. However, babies should give up their binkies on day one of their training. You can still check in on them every five to 10 minutes to offer some comfort and reassure them that mama’s here.

When should I start sleep training my baby?

You do not want to start sleep training your baby too early. As sleep-deprived as it might make you feel, it’s completely normal for your baby to not sleep through the night those first few months.

“Signs that your baby is ready for sleep training include: sleeping for five to six hours or longer on occasion, waking more frequently at night after a period of stable sleep, and reaching four to six months of age,” Dr. Craig Canapari told The New York Times.

Is sleep training using the Ferber method harmful?

This form of sleep training has always been controversial, so it’s not terribly surprising that some camps believe it could be psychologically damaging for your baby. However, per a 2016 study published in Pediatrics — the official journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) — the Ferber method does not appear to be associated with any harmful effects or emotional issues. Plus, the Ferber method doesn’t exactly suggest just putting your baby down and letting them cry indefinitely. It involves very regimented, finite periods of crying. This process is also known as “gradual extinction,” and it’s designed to help baby learn to adapt to night waking on their own so they aren’t dependent on a parent’s comfort to get back to sleep.

Having said that, even Dr. Ferber himself cautions against looking at Ferberizing as a one-size-fits-all cure for sleep issues. It’s not intended for various causes of night-waking, such as separation anxiety, snoring, and other sleep-disordered breathing, circadian rhythm sleep disorders, night terrors, and more.

Will the Ferber sleep training method work for me?

Sleep training is highly individual, for babies and for parents. What’s right for one baby may not be right for another, and there is definitely no consensus about one tried-and-true way to sleep train among all parents.

First of all, you need to ask yourself, Am I OK with letting my baby cry? The answer for that may be no, and that is totally fine. There are gentler sleep training methods out there, and some parents choose to forego sleep training altogether. But also, your need for sleep is valid and important. You know sleep deprivation has an effect on how well you parent and how good you feel. So don’t let anyone shame you out of doing that. Sleep training may just be the best decision for you, as a parent.

Another thing to consider is that you may need to do this more than once. As your baby’s sleep cycle changes, as they go through growth spurts, or if they get sick, you may need to start sleep training over again. Be mindful of that as you move forward.

The reality, as told to NPR by pediatric medical experts, is that sleep training methods simply don’t work for 20 percent of parents. So, if the Ferber method doesn’t work for you, don’t take it as a personal failing — your baby will eventually learn to sleep, promise.

What are other sleep training methods?

The Ferber method doesn’t work for everyone and that’s OK. If you’re looking for other sleep training methods to put your baby to sleep on their own, there are other routes you can take.

Chair method: If you can’t bear to hear your baby crying in the next room, the chair method gives you and baby the comfort you need. After you prepare your child for bed, place them in the crib. Instead of leaving, sit in a chair next to your baby’s crib. After they fall asleep, leave the room, but if they wake up, come back and sit down until they fall asleep again. Every couple of days, move the chair further from the crib. Do this until you’re out of the room. This gradual distance makes it easier for your baby to adjust without having to go cold turkey.

Pick up and down: During this sleep training, put your baby down while they’re awake but sleepy. If they cry, wait a little while before picking them up. If they continue to cry, pick them up. After they’ve calmed down, put them back in their crib. Keep doing this until your baby drifts off to sleep. Just keep in mind this training can take a while.

Sleep training tips

  • When sleep training, don’t adjust the volume in your home. Of course, you can ask for lower voices from the family and put your baby in a quieter part of the house, but don’t worry about making the house silent. Your baby should be able to sleep when there’s a little noise. Don’t have a party in the next room, but let your house exist at its natural volume. Give your baby a chance to get used to the sounds of your home so they don’t become a super light sleeper.
  • Timing is everything, and if you want your baby to adapt to a schedule, it’s important to stay consistent.

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