The Ferber method: what is it and how to use it

by Bryony Firth-Bernard |
Updated on

There are many different methods of sleep training to help get your baby into a good bedtime routine, one of which is the Ferber method. Here, we look at what it is and how it could help your baby (and you) get some much-needed shut-eye.

What is the Ferber method?

The Ferber method was invented by paediatric sleep expert Dr Richard Ferber, author of Solve Your Child's Sleep Problems. Other names for the Ferber method include the controlled crying method and the check-and-console method.

The point of the Ferber method, or "Ferberizing" your child is to reassure baby that you are always there, but it’s bedtime now, so it’s time to sleep.

“Bedtime is often a time of separation that can be difficult for many children, especially young ones. Simply sending a toddler to bed alone is not fair to him, and he may even find it scary.” To prevent these negative associations with Bedtime, Dr Richard recommends spending quality time together before bed, in the child’s room – for example reading them a story.

How the Ferber method works

The method is as follows: after your usual bedtime routine, whatever that may be - for example, bathtime, dressing them for bed, calmly reading them a story or talking to them - you put your baby to bed in their crib, making sure they are nice and relaxed, sleepy but still awake. You then leave the room.

If you hear them cry, you go back in and soothe them, preferably not by picking them up or feeding them. You can talk to them, stroke their tummy or their nose, hold their hand - reassure them that you haven't gone far, before leaving the room again.

If they cry or protest, go back in, repeat the same process, then leave again.

If they continue to cry, you stick to the same routine, adding a minute each time before going back into the room. The gaps between times you can go in and soothe your baby get longer, which can be mentally draining for you, but it's worth sticking with. Set yourself a timer so you know when to go back in and reassure them.

This can go on for an hour or more before your baby falls asleep, but no one said sleep training was easy!

The idea of the Ferber method is that it teaches a baby to fall asleep on their own.

When can I start using the Ferber method?

Young babies need to feed, sometimes in the middle of the night, and their sleep-wake patterns are still immature. For these reasons, even researchers who advocate Ferber sleep training warn that sleep training is inappropriate for babies under 6 months old.

It is in your child’s best interests to sleep through the night without interruptions. So, as soon as they are going longer without feeds, this is when they are ready to implement sleep training. Since all babies are different, this is usually around 5-6 months of age.

Does the Ferber method work for toddlers?

It can still be effective with older children, however, the older your baby gets, the harder it might be for her to learn to fall asleep on her own instead of being rocked, fed or soothed by you.

Tips and advice for sleep training your toddler

Ferber method chart: step-by-step

This Ferber method chart was first published in Dr Richard's book, Solve Your Child's Sleep Problems. It details the recommended check-in times, and how to make these intervals longer gradually as you progress through the sleep training routine.

Day 1

First check-in: 3 minutes

Second check-in: 5 minutes

Third check-in: 10 minutes

Subsequent check-ins: 10 minutes

Day 2

First check-in: 5 minutes

Second check-in: 10 minutes

Third check-in: 12 minutes

Subsequent check-ins: 12 minutes

Day 3

First check-in: 10 minutes

Second check-in: 12 minutes

Third check-in: 15 minutes

Subsequent check-ins: 15 minutes

Day 4

First check-in: 12 minutes

Second check-in: 15 minutes

Third check-in: 17 minutes

Subsequent check-ins: 17 minutes

Day 5

First check-in: 15 minutes

Second check-in: 17 minutes

Third check-in: 20 minutes

Subsequent check-in after: 20 minutes

Day 6

First check-in: 17 minutes

Second check-in: 20 minutes

Third check-in: 25 minutes

Subsequent check-ins: 25 minutes

Day 7

First check-in: 20 minutes

Second check-in: 25 minutes

Third check-in: 30 minutes

Subsequent check-ins: 30 minutes

What's the difference between the Ferber method and CIO method?

The Extinction method (also referred to as the cry it out method, or CIO method), which is a more extreme version of the Ferber method.

The key difference between the extinction method and the Ferber method is that during the Ferber sleep training method you periodically go and check on your child at specific times.

The extinction method entails you taking your child to bed, saying goodnight and leaving them there to cry it out until they go to sleep. It is considered a controversial method, however, there are those who find great success from it.

Pros of the Ferber method

• It works fast - you could see improvements within a week.

• Your baby learns to sleep through the night.

• It helps your baby deal with separation better, for example, if they are to stay at a relative's house for the night or with a babysitter.

• It's less extreme than the CIO method.

Cons of the Ferber technique

• It's emotionally tough to do as a parent - hearing your baby crying, instinctively you want to go to them and hold them.

• Some research suggests crying for long periods could cause emotional distress to the child, although other studies disagree.

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