All About Ferber Sleep Training – An Overview

What’s Ferber Sleep Training?

Remember parents…sleeping is a learned ability. Even new parents probably notice that babies have no clue how to sleep on their own. In the event they actually do manage to sleep, it involves heavy intervention from parents. When you finally get your baby to let go and take a nice nap or go to sleep, you’ll need to sing, rock them, shush them and reassure them, use things like white noise, and many more different things. Despite all these crazy and weird things we have to do to get our babies to sleep, thankfully there are different kinds of sleep training methods that have been proven to be effective.

What the Ferber Sleep Training method entails is that you’ll essentially be letting your baby cry more and more for longer periods of time until they are finally capable of taking longer naps, as well as sleeping without too many interruptions throughout the night. The Ferber method is actually one of the most widely used methods in the United States. It was developed and founded by Dr. Richard Ferber, who developed it while at the Boston’s Children’s Hospital.

When my daughter was about six months old, I tried to sleep train her using this method. I’m not going to lie to you and say that I tried it and it worked right away. However, some parents have much more cooperative babies than others. For me personally, my daughter was definitely not cooperative! She made just about anything I tried doing as difficult as possible, which led to headaches and me getting frustrated because she wouldn’t listen or work with me. She would shriek and scream, and I kept running over to check on her because I couldn’t bear the thought of not making sure that she was okay. Not only was this stressful to me and my husband, but it was overwhelming to everyone else in my house too.

Here’s how my first night went: NOT how I imagined it would. Although, I shouldn’t be surprised, considering nothing usually goes as planned, especially with children! Anyways, the plan was to wait for my daughter to cry for at least 10 minutes before I went and checked on her. Following that, then the next time would increase to 15 minutes. After that, it should be 25 minutes and so on.

Guess what everyone? I couldn’t even make it 3 whopping minutes without running to her and reassuring her that everything would be okay. It also didn’t help that the first time I tried to do this, she cried in such a loud screech that I felt it could break the sound barrier! Following this first mistake, I actually went and made another one. Once my daughter was fast and sound asleep, I put her back in her bed and helped her get to sleep. This was basically taking the easy route and cheating, because instead of letting my daughter soothe herself to sleep, I intervened and did most of the work myself. The entire purpose of sleep training is to help them learn how to get sleep by themselves, not rely on mommy or daddy to help them sleep.

The next night, I attempted to give it another go. Not surprisingly, I also couldn’t make it to the entire amount of time that I was supposed to wait before I intervened again. This day in particular was difficult because it was a really long day at work and this night, I cheated again, even worse than last night. Actually, I brought my daughter in my room because I really needed to get some sleep this night. I didn’t want to leave her alone, and I didn’t want to wait because it was so exhausted that day. At this point though, I did realize that I was sort of cheating and that if I really was going to give sleep training a try, I had to do it correctly. This time, I was determined to at least give it a correct go at it before I could call it quits. You absolutely need to stick to the plan, whether it’s a bedtime routine or daytime routine. Cutting corners isn’t going to help anyone and will do more harm in the long run. Consistency is so important, and if you aren’t, not only will sleep training your baby be ineffective, but it might actually confuse them and make them misunderstand what you’re trying to do. Ultimately, your baby’s sleep training will be delayed, and each day that you delay it, you and your baby could potentially miss out on much more sleep.

Why Should You Use the Ferber Sleep Training Method?

The Ferber sleep training method is a widely known method and has many different names for it including “cry it out” or “CIO” methods as well. This method certainly isn’t without its controversies, whether among parents, pediatricians, or even sleep experts. While some people agree that the Ferber method is one of the best methods available for sleep training your baby, others seem to think differently. Others think that it can emotionally scar your baby. Before we address any of that, let’s dig deeper into what the Ferber sleep training method entails to get a better understanding of why people prefer it, as well as why people don’t.

The Ferber sleep training method offers similar end-goals compared to other sleeping training methods for your baby. These include aiding your child so that they can learn how to fall sleep without you helping them, as well as gradually weaning them away from poor sleep association – so that they can establish a set of foundations for themselves to sleep throughout the night. Essentially, it states that if a child is capable enough of going to sleep without the intervention of their parent, then it also means that they can go back to sleep right after they wake up during the night. This method will be slowly teaching your child how they can fall sleep without your help via a series of sequential check-ins on them to make sure that they’re okay.

Like I said before, even though the check-in time should have been at least 10 minutes, I only made it to about three, which is clearly not following the rules of the method. It will definitely be tough at first, but I ask that you to try to follow the rules as much as you can. Remember to increase the time that you wait as each check-in is done over time. Here’s an example: after 10 minutes, go check in on your baby, make sure they’re okay, and then leave again. The “check-in” is only really making sure that they are not visibly harmed or anything serious, which is why you’re supposed to leave the room again. You can give them a short shush and a quick “mommy and daddy love you very much” and then leave the room again. Then, the next time, increase the amount of time for you check on them again. This means waiting 15 minutes, then checking, then waiting 20 minutes, then checking, etc. And so on. By doing this, it’ll give your baby enough time and the tools that they need to start practicing trying to go to sleep all by themselves without using Mommy or Daddy.

When Can I Start Using the Ferber Sleep Training Method?

It’s recommended to begin this particular sleep training method at around six months old, before they start to stand and walk or sit up. Although some parents can start as early as four months old, I personally waited until my daughter was at least six months old before I gave sleep training her a go. Some parents even wait until their child is a year old before beginning sleep training. There isn’t a specific absolute right time to begin sleep training, especially for this method. Remember though, the Ferber sleep training method is typically not recommended for any babies that are under four months old. If you do choose to do this method, but if you prefer to wait until your baby can go to sleep without feeding during the night, then you might want to wait until your baby is able to go for about 11 hours without milk.

How Does the Ferber Sleep Training Method Work?

Before you even consider implementing this sleep training method, let alone any sleep training method for your baby, your baby needs to have a healthy sleep foundation first. This might include going through and thinking about what might needs to be added to your checklist to prep and make sure they’re all ready to go and begin sleep training. You might need to change or alter your child’s feeding, as well as their sleep schedule. The best way to begin this sleep training method is to ensure that you are being consistent with them and have been for quite some time. You can begin prepping for this method by making sure that you start putting your baby to sleep when they are in sleepy, but still awake, and then leave the room shortly after. If they start to cry, or act fussy, then you can definitely go and check on them to make sure that they are okay, providing comfort, but yet still leaving the room when they are awake. If you notice that your baby isn’t actually crying or being fussy with you, then you can actually just stay out of their room and let them do their own thing.

Remember that what you’ll be doing is gradually increasing the time that you check on them each night or even every other night. The science behind this is that it gives your baby ample time to fall sleep by themselves, while learning to soothe themselves to sleep at the same time. There is no correct amount of time between check ins. Some parents prefer to keep the check-in time intervals shorter, while others prefer to keep them longer. I asked my pediatrician and they told me to use increments of five minutes for my daughter. Use your own judgment for what you think would be best, and based on the results, you can easily alter or adjust if need be.

Is the Ferber Sleep Training Method Flexible Enough for Me and My Baby?

One is the best aspects of the Ferber sleep training method is that it is extremely flexible to meet the needs of just about any baby and their parents. You can gradually increase or even reduce the period of time between check-ins to find the sweet spot that works best for you and your baby. This is great for parents who feels that their baby isn’t progressing at a pace fast enough. It’s also worth considering if you are worried about separation anxiety related to this method. Regardless of if you choose to follow this method or not, babies experience separation anxiety at around seven months old in different degrees. If you feel like your baby is experiencing separation anxiety, then it might be worth it to consider sleep training in the same room as them. You might also want to consider keeping your intervals shorter so that you can make sure that they are okay, or you might want to hold off on sleep training entirely. A positive to the Ferber sleep training method is that it can still be implemented while you’re in the same room as your baby.

Some children might become fairly irritated if you do decide to stay in the room with them while sleep training. This is because it’s confusing to them that you’re in the room with them, but not helping them get to sleep or offering them any comfort. The entire point of checking in with them is that it reassures them that whenever you do leave the room, that you’ll be back, and if there’s anything wrong you will eventually return to make sure that they are okay. Separation anxiety could slowly start to creep up in the beginning of this method, and the reasoning above is why it happens. Make sure that when you check on your baby, make it soothing, and caring – but remember to keep it short. Especially, do not rock your baby to sleep or stay in the room longer than you need to be.

I hope I gave a general overview of the Ferber sleep training method and how it works. This method is actually very safe for babies, and isn’t detrimental to their health. As long as you’re giving your baby all the attention that they need during the day – by changing their diaper, feeding them, making sure they are comfortable and warm, or cool when it’s hot, playing with them and spending time with them during the day – then your baby should be strong enough emotionally and know that you love and care about them!

I know this can be especially tough in the beginning of sleep training, but over time and in the future, you will definitely be glad you did. The initial anxiety can be hard to overcome, but if you can do this, you’ll let your little one learn and develop the tools so that they can sleep better. This will eventually lead you and your family to sleep better as well. Remember, if your baby is not sleeping well throughout the night for other reasons, regardless of how well you sleep train them, it’s much less likely to work if they have some other underlying issue. If you are committed and are consistent, you might actually see improvements as early as a week!

How is your sleep training going with your baby? Are you even sleep training at all? Are you waiting to sleep train them in the future? Have you already trained your baby? Have you sleep trained them but found that they are experiencing sleep regression? Please let me know as I love to hear from any other parents in the comments below!

About the Author Elizabeth

Hi everyone, I'm Elizabeth. My beautiful daughter Alice keeps me awake occasionally...but when I'm busy and can't sleep, I post parenting tips and different ways you can get your baby to sleep soundly through the night, and even naps!