Are you considering sleep training and want to know more about the Ferber Method? If so, this article will educate you on what this method involves. I am a Certified Pediatric Sleep Consultant, a Registered Nurse, and a mom of a 14-month-old and a 2.5-year-old.
I have helped many families improve their baby’s sleep through sleep training. I have used a variety of methods, including a variation of the Ferber Method. After reading this article, you will understand how to implement the Ferber Method.
Bottom Line: Ferber Method is a type of sleep training technique used to help teach a baby to fall asleep without relying on external sources such as feeding or rocking to sleep. Parents follow timed check-ins throughout the night until their baby falls asleep independently.
The intervals used progressively increase throughout the night. Positive results are usually within 3-5 days of using the method. The Ferber Method helps a baby not only fall asleep on their own but sleep longer stretches at night.
The process of sleep training can feel overwhelming and daunting. Many sleep training methods are available but none are as well known as the Ferber Method. The Ferber Method has many substitute names and titles; Ferberizing, graduated Extinction, modified cry it out, timed check-in method, and progressively waiting.
If you are wondering who created the Ferber Method, it was Dr. Richard Ferber. He is a physician working as the Director of The Center for Pediatric Sleep Disorders Department at the Children’s Hospital in Boston. He also created a book titled Solve Your Child’s Sleep Problems.
Instead of purchasing the book and reading it in full, In this guide, I’ll have the Ferber Method explained and provide an overview of this popular and well-known method.
What Is The Ferber Method?
The Ferber Method is a form of sleep training teaching your baby how to fall asleep independently. Therefore a baby is not fed to sleep or rocked to sleep; no bouncing, swaying, or external source is putting the baby to sleep.
The purpose of this method is to teach a baby that they can fall asleep without other people or sources putting them to sleep.
Usually, when babies feed to sleep or fall asleep via motion, they struggle to shift into the next sleep cycle when they wake at night. Often a baby will be unsure how to fall asleep without the method that put them to sleep in the first place. Not every baby will create a strong sleep association but this is the case for many babies.
When external sources are out of the equation babies will fall asleep on their own and successfully connect sleep cycles without relying on someone else to do it for them. This itself is a gift, the ability to fall back asleep over and over again without depending on someone to help us do it.
The purpose of this method is to help teach a baby they can fall asleep on their own, which allows them to sleep longer stretches at night and eventually sleep through the night.
Wondering the difference between Ferber Method and the traditional cry-it-out Extinction method, the check-ins differentiate these two methods. Ferber Method allows checking in on your baby vs. staying out of the room the entire night.
When To Use Ferber Method?
It is always advisable to have a Pediatrician’s approval before using any form of sleep training. Most health care professionals state you can sleep train anywhere between 4-6 months.
Sleep training does not have a limited window of opportunity, if you decide not to sleep train by the 6-month mark, you can still use this method anytime leading up to the first year and into the early stages of toddlerhood.
The older a baby or toddler is, the harder using this method becomes. When parents understand that a 6-month-old baby can sleep through the night as long as they provide proper daily calories parents decide to make sleep a priority.
Since we know a 6-month-old can sleep through the night without receiving feeds, this is often a marker used to start the sleep training process.
Sleep training does not necessarily mean you are not allowed to provide a milk feed in the middle of the night.
I have many families I work with who exclusively breastfeed and keep one night feed at night due to a variety of reasons, these families still receive amazing results because they are avoiding feeding their baby to sleep and simply use the feed as a source of nutritional intake.
There is no exact perfect time to use this particular method. It comes down to parents using Ferber or any sleep training method when they have decided that lack of sleep negatively impacts their family unit.
Poor sleep occurs when a baby struggles to fall asleep and stay asleep, limiting sleep for everyone in the household and leaving everyone (including the baby) over-tired and irritable.
How To Use The Ferber Method
You would follow the bedtime routine you have already established. Ideally start with a feed, moving into the bath, diaper, pj’s, into the nursery, cuddle, book, and place down relaxed but awake in their sleep space.
Expert Sleep Tip: have white noise playing a few minutes before laying baby down for bedtime, a great signal that sleep is approaching and mimics the sound of the womb.
While placing your baby into their sleep space, have a good night phrase, this is another great signal and will work as a cue in the coming weeks. You can say anything such as, “I love you, sweet dreams”.
Upon placing your baby down, leave the room. If your baby is content, there is nothing you need to do. If your baby begins to cry you would start a timer. After a set amount of time (reviewed below), if your baby is still crying, you would go into the room to check on your baby and provide comfort.
Ideally, we want to provide comfort quickly vs. dragging out the process. The longer you are in the room not picking up your baby, the higher likelihood your baby will pick up their crying. For this reason we want to comfort quickly to help move this process along.
Ways in which you can provide reassurance and comfort include:
- Stroking your baby’s head or cheek
- Placing your palm on their chest or tummy
- Shushing or humming while patting your baby
It is recommended not to pick up your baby or revert to old ways of getting your baby to fall back asleep. Reason being it can condition the baby to cry until they get the method they are familiar with.
The Ferber Method is a process in which you as the parent are breaking away from old sleep associations and creating the opportunity for your baby to learn they can fall asleep without external sources helping them.
Upon leaving the room, if your baby continues to cry you would restart the timer, going in once the timer has reached the timed duration. This process continues until your baby has successfully fallen asleep on its own.
Since this method allows check-ins and provides comfort, it is known to be a gentler method in comparison to the extinction method.
Expert Sleep Tip: during any sleep training process we can see a hiccup or backtracking night. I often find this to occur on night 2 or 3, this is usually a time when parents feel whichever method they picked is no longer working but it means your baby understands this new routine and is protesting the change.
If you maintain consistency you should see improvements in the nights moving forward.
Intervals For Timed Check-Ins
There are many variations for timed checks that a family can use based on their comfort level and their baby’s temperament. Not every baby will respond well to frequent check-ins and some babies may find this overly stimulating. Below I will list the recommended timed intervals according to Dr. Richard Ferber himself.
- First, check in after = 3 minutes
- Second check-in after = 5 minutes
- Third check-in after = 10 minutes
- Ongoing checks after = 10 minutes
- First check-in after = 5 minutes
- Second check-in after = 10 minutes
- Third check-in after = 12 minutes
- Ongoing checks after = 12 minutes
- First check-in after = 10 minutes
- Second check-in after = 12 minutes
- Third check-in after = 15 minutes
- Ongoing checks after = 15 minutes
- First check-in after = 12 minutes
- Second check-in after = 15 minutes
- Third check-in after = 17 minutes
- Ongoing checks after = 17 minutes
- First check-in after = 15 minutes
- Second check-in after = 17 minutes
- Third check-in after = 20 minutes
- Ongoing checks after = 20 minutes
- First check-in after = 17 minutes
- Second check-in after = 20 minutes
- Third check-in after = 25 minutes
- Ongoing checks after = 25 minutes
- First check-in after = 20 minutes
- Second check-in after = 25 minutes
- Third check-in after = 30 minutes
- Ongoing checks after = 30 minutes
Often when I am working with clients baby is already putting themselves to sleep by night 5, it is very rare through my own 1:1 work that parents are needing to do check-ins after the first 5 days.
Expert Sleep Tip: the key to this process being as smooth sailing as possible is the proper wake window before bed. Often I find parents are trying to put their baby to sleep too early, resulting in an under-tired baby.
This creates a baby truly fighting the process because they simply are not ready for sleep, their sleep pressure is not low enough to fall asleep. Or the opposite occurs, parents have overextended their baby, keeping them up well beyond an age-appropriate wake window.
This results in an over-tired baby who is struggling to self-soothe and can wake more often in the middle of the night.
The piece regarding this particular method that I don’t love, it doesn’t teach parents to tune into their baby. Meaning if it’s day one and the baby is approaching the 5-minute mark with minimal crying, parents still enter the room because of the recommended timed check-in.
This may only exacerbate the baby who was on their way to self-soothing. Always keep in mind to tune in and not just base it off a timed value.
This is where working with a sleep consultant 1:1 can have a profoundly positive outcome. Not only will they be able to pinpoint an age-appropriate wake window but they can discuss the different times of cries we can hear from a baby because there is a difference between being distressed and protesting the change.
Responding To Night Wakings
For any middle-the-night wakings, you would repeat the process you used at bedtime. If you hear your baby cry, you start the timer and wait until the allotted time is up before checking and comforting your baby while they are in their sleep space.
According to Dr. Richard Ferber, middle-of-the-night feedings are taken off the table when using this method for 4 months and beyond.
This is why we often see sleep training recommendations starting around the 6-month mark, this is the time babies are starting solids and have the capacity to intake higher volumes for feeds during the day.
Sleep Training For Naps
I always tell my clients, that nighttime sleep consolidates before daytime naps, meaning you first want to tackle and improve night sleep before moving on to daytime naps.
I encourage my clients to maintain proper daytime sleep before moving into sleep training at night, meaning do not tackle both at once. This can leave you with a very over-tired baby which is what we want to avoid.
Once you feel you have mastered nighttime, which can look like your baby falling asleep in under 15 minutes and with minimal or no tears ideally, and sleeping longer stretches at night or sleeping through the night completely. This is when you can move on to sleep training for naps if you decide.
If you enjoy contact naps or having your baby nap on the go, there is nothing wrong with this and you can maintain your current routine if you feel it’s working for your family.
Only focus on sleep training for naps if you feel naps need help to improve.
Expert Sleep Tip: naps consolidate in length between 4-6 months of age. If your baby is close to the 6-month mark and still taking micro naps all day, this could be due to a sleep association or due to a scheduling issue such as the wake window lengths. First, perfect the wake window lengths before moving on to sleep training.
The process of sleep training for naps can take longer vs. sleep training for nights. It is recommended to focus on nap training for a two-week duration.
Is Ferber Method Safe?
This is a hot debate in the social media community, you have many health care professionals and physicians who claim through evidence-based research sleep training using the Ferber Method or Extinction Method is not only effective but safe.
On the other end of the spectrum, you have attached theory mom bloggers who claim sleep training and leaving your baby to cry out for any period is emotionally and physically harmful.
We as parents are wired to respond to our baby’s cries.
However, not all cries are necessary to stop. It is very important to realize our babies can cry due to protesting change, this is an emotional response to being unhappy and that is okay! Once we understand why the crying is occurring it can be easier to follow a sleep training process.
There is a difference between a baby crying due to hunger and a baby crying due to wanting to be rocked to sleep because we have conditioned them to depend on rocking as a way to fall asleep. It is very important to understand your baby’s cries and differentiate what they are communicating to you.
How To Be Successful When Sleep Training?
There are many moving parts to make any sleep training method produce successful results. The outcome does not only lie within the method chosen but also in daytime management.
I explain to my clients that daytime management includes daytime feeds, nap lengths, total sleep needs per age, wake window lengths, temperament, optimal room environment, and security within their sleep space.
When we focus on all aspects that impact our baby’s sleep we have a higher success rate of the sleep training method providing ideal results in the quickest time frame.
FAQs – Ferber Method
Question: Is Ferber Method the Same as Cry-it-Out?
Answer: Technically no, the cry-it-out method is known as the Extinction method. Ferber Method is known as graduated Extinction or modified cry-it-out. The main difference is with the Ferber Method we are doing timed check-ins and comforting our babies throughout the process.
Question: How Long do Babies Cry Using Ferber Method?
Answer: Some babies can cry for as little as 5-10 minutes before falling asleep whereas other babies can cry upwards of 45-60 minutes.
When following through with the method, maintaining consistency, and using an age-appropriate wake window, we should see the baby falling asleep in less time with each passing night.
Question: How Long does the Ferber Method Take?
Answer: Often we are seeing positive results within the first 4 nights of sleep training. As long as parents are maintaining consistency, it is one of the fastest forms of sleep training.
Sleep training has the potential to be stressful for parents and it takes a lot of mindset work to understand the science of infant sleep, why your baby is waking up frequently, and how through the sleep training process you can help dramatically improve sleep for your baby.
Being consistent is imperative for the successful results that stem from using the Ferber Method. When your baby knows what to expect they have an easier time falling asleep once they have developed that skill set.
If you are interested in helping improve sleep for your baby or toddler but you are still unsure if this method is right for you, connecting 1:1 with a sleep consultant can help provide insight into your baby’s temperament and the variety of methods available.
Not all babies will do better with a more gradual sleep training approach or hands-on method but you as the parent understanding the different types of methods can determine what you will execute the best.
This process comes down to the parent’s comfort level and if they can follow a set of guidelines regardless of their baby’s protests change. This process can be a lot easier with the help, guidance, and support of a Pediatric Sleep Consultant.
Kayla is a mama of two littles, each born during the Covid-19 pandemic. Prior to becoming a mom, she worked as a Registered Nurse for 12 years. Now as a Certified Pediatric Sleep Consultant, she owns and runs Serenity Sleep Consulting full time.
After having her first baby, sleep deprivation hit hard. She was desperate for rest and knew she needed to focus on establishing a healthy sleep foundation. Kayla researched infant sleep and started to focus on what she likes to call Sleep Shaping. Her son went from waking every hour to sleeping 4-5 hour stretch, followed by 6-8 hours, and eventually 12 hours at 3 months of age. This method has turned into her signature service, it allows her to provide education and tools to help families with newborns. She also works with those who have babies 4 months upwards of 4-5 years.
We all function at our optimal level with a full night’s rest and Kayla loves to support parents in this journey!