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Having a baby is a life-altering, magical experience. But it also comes with many changes, some of which were expected, and others that may have been a complete surprise. A large percentage of your time likely now goes to taking care of your baby, including the time you used to spend getting some much-needed shut-eye.
Just like eating, rolling over, and crawling, babies need help getting to sleep by themselves. Little ones naturally depend on their parents' comfort to get back to sleep, but after a while, this can become an altogether exhausting ordeal for parents, many of which are overworked, overstressed, and desperate for a few good hours of uninterrupted sleep.
That’s where the Ferber Method comes in.
After spending several hours waking up to a crying baby, many new parents wonder how they can get their little one to transition into a stage in their development where they sleep soundly throughout the night. If you and your partner find yourselves increasingly desperate to get some shut-eye, consider using the Ferber Method to sleep train your baby. This unique technique is doctor-created any designed to aid parents in helping their newborn adjust to independent sleeping.
With a little persistence and consistency, sleep training can help your baby sleep throughout the night without crying. But it takes time and patience. This guide will discuss the Ferber Method, how to start sleep training your baby, and which parents its best for.
The Ferber Method, also commonly known as the “cry it out” method, was created by pediatrician Richard Ferber. This method involves allowing your baby to cry for a set amount of time when they wake up in the middle of the night.
The goal of this process is to encourage your baby to fall back asleep by themselves and learn to self-comfort vs. cry for attention. Also known as the “gradual extinction” method, the Ferber Method involves checking in on your baby frequently throughout the night, and gradually decreasing the frequency of these “check-ins” over time. Doing so weans your infant from relying on your to be present in order to feel safe and comfortable with falling back asleep.
In Ferber’s 1985 best-selling book, “Solve Your Child’s Sleep Problems,” Ferber explains that in order to get your baby to sleep independently, you must remove the associations your baby has with getting a good night’s sleep. This means you should stop immediately rushing to your baby’s crib the moment they start crying, rocking them back to sleep, and utilizing feeding or other comfort items to facilitate rest. By removing those comforts, your baby will learn not to rely on them to fall back asleep.
Consistency is important for an infant. Establish a bedtime schedule for your baby and stick to it (no matter how difficult). When it’s time to go to sleep, place your baby in the crib while they are still awake and comfort them with a song or storybook until they dose off into dreamland. Make sure the environment is relaxing with no distracting sounds or lights. Generally, the darker the room the better. Also, make sure that the temperature is optimally set and any other noises are kept to a minimum.
Once your baby is asleep, leave the room. If your baby starts to cry, allow them to cry for up to 3 minutes before checking in on them. Upon re-entry to the room, comfort your baby in order to get them to fall back to sleep, but don’t pick them up, feed them, or turn on the light. Do this for a minute or two, and then leave the room again. When your baby inevitably wakes up again and begins to cry, wait 5 minutes before comforting them. On the third “wake up”, wait 10 minutes before repeating the same strategy.
This “progressive waiting approach” is part of Ferber’s sleep training protocol and should be gradually increased each day. For example, on the second day, instead of letting your baby cry for 3 minutes at the start of the night, allow them to cry for 5 minutes, then 10 minutes on the second time they wake up, and 15 minutes the third time.
By day seven, you should allow them to cry for up to 20 minutes before providing any comfort by way of intervention. The idea is that by gradually increasing the amount of time your baby is alone after waking up, they will stop relying on your comfort to get back to sleep.
Sounds easy enough, right? Although simple, this method can pose challenging for parents to adhere to. It is difficult to let your child “cry” in your absence when you know you are easily capable and able to comfort them. Remember, the development of healthy, independent sleep habits is also a vital component of your baby’s development. Learning to independently self-comfort and get themselves to sleep will not only benefit your child in the long run, but will also provide you and your partner with a more consistent sleep schedule, allowing you both to get some shut-eye of your own.
In order for the Ferber Method to be effective, you must be consistent. On the second or third night, babies tend to cry the most and can be very difficult to ignore. You may feel like giving in at this point because you can’t stand to see your little one so distraught, but don’t. The increased crying usually means you’re on the brink of improvement and soon will see a difference in your baby’s sleeping habits.
While it may seem like an eternity to sleep train your baby, the good news is it should only take a few days to a week to see progress. But keep in mind, consistency is key. Checking on your baby too frequently, giving them a bottle in the middle of the night, and picking them up to comfort them will only prolong the sleep training.
Using the Ferber Method to start sleep training your baby is appropriate at 6 months old, but no sooner than that. Infants younger than 6 months need to be fed throughout the night and usually have irregular sleeping patterns.
Each family is different, so do what’s best for your family and child. It’s okay to wait until your baby is 7, 8, or even 9 months old. But waiting too long can make sleep training difficult. At one year old, children begin to form habits and it’s hard to break them.
There has been some controversy surrounding the Ferber Method. Some critics claim letting your baby “cry it out” can have negative emotional effects. However, there are no studies to support this claim.
In fact, there is no evidence that crying increases stress levels for babies that have undergone the “gradual extinction” method, according to a 2016 Pediatrics study. Babies that were sleep trained were able to fall asleep faster and didn’t wake up as frequently compared to the control group that didn’t use sleep training.
If you and your partner are ready to start getting a better night’s sleep, get prepared to sleep train your child together. Make sure you’re both on the same page about the baby’s sleep schedule, what comforting methods are allowed once the baby has been put to bed, and sticking to a consistent check-in method.
Be prepared to not get much sleep for the first few nights. To mitigate the drowsiness, start the training during the weekend so you can recoup from the lost sleeping time. The first night will be the toughest, there will be many crying episodes and you will probably be frustrated. But knowing what to expect ahead of time will help reduce the stress and keep you and your baby on track with training.
Sleep training your baby using the Ferber Method can lead to a better night’s sleep for you and your baby. Establishing a set bedtime and check-in schedule will help your baby gradually fall asleep by themselves and sleep soundly throughout the night. Getting more shut-eye leads to a more productive day for you and better temperament in your baby.
The Ferber Method consists of very specific instructions, and following them to a tee is the fastest way to see progress with your baby’s sleeping. Remember to be consistent with your sleep training and don’t give in to your baby’s crying by picking them up or feeding them once they have been put in their crib, this only prolongs the process. You will experience sleeplessness the first few nights and your baby will have more crying episodes than usual. But the good news is that the Ferber Method only takes about a week to work if done correctly. You owe it to yourself and your little one to get a good night’s sleep.
Stay tuned for more friendly advice from the team at Hubble!