The Ferber method is a technique for training babies to sleep, which was created by Richard Ferber, M.D., who is a pediatrician and the head of the Center for Pediatric Sleep Disorders at Children’s Hospital Boston. In 1985, Dr. Ferber authored a popular book called Solve Your Child’s Sleep Problems, which he subsequently revised in 2006. This book outlined his approach of letting infants weep for a specific length of time before offering them comfort.
The Ferber method, also called “graduated extinction,” is a technique aimed at assisting babies in learning how to self-soothe and sleep on their own without any external aid, or how to go back to sleep without requiring any help if they wake up in the middle of the night.
The Ferber method and extinction-sleep training (known as the cry-it-out method) are two different sleep training techniques. The cry-it-out method was a common approach in the late 19th and early 20th century, based on the belief that children shouldn’t be spoiled. This approach involves leaving your child to cry until they eventually fall asleep. On the other hand, the Ferber method is distinct because it involves periodic check-ins on your child at increasing time intervals. Craig Canapari, M.D., director of the sleep medicine program at the Yale School of Medicine and author of Never Too Late to Sleep Train, explains the differences between these two techniques.
Keep reading to learn more about the Ferber sleep training method, how it works, and when to start “Ferberizing” your little one.
How Does the Ferber Method Work?
Although it may seem difficult, putting the Ferber method into practice is actually quite straightforward. First, follow a consistent bedtime routine, then place your sleepy baby in their crib while they are still awake and exit the room. If your baby cries, wait for a specified amount of time, such as three minutes on the first night, before returning to briefly comfort them. This comfort could involve gentle patting or speaking in a calming voice, but it should not include picking them up, feeding them, or turning on any lights. The reassurance should last no longer than one to two minutes.
To implement the “progressive waiting” technique, Ferber recommends leaving the room for a longer period of time, possibly five minutes or more, while your child cries. If your child continues to cry, you may need to return and briefly comfort them before leaving again while they are still awake. This process can be repeated, gradually increasing the length of time you wait before returning, until your child falls asleep without your presence. If your child wakes up during the night, the same process can be used to help them go back to sleep.
During the second day, it is recommended to start by letting your baby cry for a period of five minutes at first, followed by 10 minutes, and then 12 minutes. On the third day, it is suggested to begin at 10 minutes, followed by 12 minutes, and then 15 minutes. The strategy is based on the concept that after a few days of gradually increasing the waiting time, the majority of babies will eventually learn to fall asleep independently, understanding that their parent will not come to pick them up when they cry.
How Do You Do the Ferber Method?
Here’s a Ferber method chart detailing the recommended check-in times:
- First check-in: 3 minutes
- Second check-in: 5 minutes
- Third check-in: 10 minutes
- Subsequent check-ins: 10 minutes
- First check-in: 5 minutes
- Second check-in: 10 minutes
- Third check-in: 12 minutes
- Subsequent check-ins: 12 minutes
- First check-in: 10 minutes
- Second check-in: 12 minutes
- Third check-in: 15 minutes
- Subsequent check-ins: 15 minutes
- First check-in: 12 minutes
- Second check-in: 15 minutes
- Third check-in: 17 minutes
- Subsequent check-ins: 17 minutes
- First check-in: 15 minutes
- Second check-in: 17 minutes
- Third check-in: 20 minutes
- Subsequent check-in after: 20 minutes
- First check-in: 17 minutes
- Second check-in: 20 minutes
- Third check-in: 25 minutes
- Subsequent check-ins: 25 minutes
- First check-in: 20 minutes
- Second check-in: 25 minutes
- Third check-in: 30 minutes
- Subsequent check-ins: 30 minutes
When Can You Start ‘Ferberizing’ Your Baby?
Dr. Canapari suggests that the ideal time to initiate any form of sleep-training technique is between the ages of 4 to 6 months. He also mentions that although it is possible to implement such methods until the child reaches the age of 2, it becomes increasingly challenging as the child becomes older.
According to Dr. Canapari, during most forms of sleep training that involve extinction-based methods, such as the Ferber method, the second or third night is when babies tend to cry the most. This is known as an extinction burst and is often the point where many parents give up on the approach. Dr. Canapari explains that this burst is actually a sign of progress and improvement. He advises parents that the crying typically reduces after this phase, and they may see improvement in about three to four days after starting the intervention.
Some parents may find it difficult to tolerate even a brief moment of their baby crying and perceive it as cruel. Dr. Canapari explains that this response is rooted in our evolutionary instinct to respond to a child’s cries, which contradicts our natural tendency to disregard it. However, it’s important to note that specialists haven’t found any connection between the Ferber method and any emotional harm inflicted on infants.
Are There Any Tips for Ferber Sleep Training Success?
Consistency is crucial in implementing the Ferber method for child-rearing, as is often the case. Dr. Canapari suggests that the process should not exceed a few days or a week, and if it does, it is essential to ensure that your partner is in agreement. Picking up and rocking the baby when they cry at night can prolong the process and should be avoided. Dr. Canapari acknowledges that some parents may feel guilty or stressed about modifying their child’s behavior, but emphasizes that healthy sleep habits are essential for both the child and the parent’s well-being.