Baby in crib during Ferber Method sleep training

As you start to learn about different sleep training techniques for your baby, you may come across the Ferber method. Also known as “Graduated Crying-It-Out,” the Ferber method is just one option among many for sleep training. We’ve got the details about this technique, so keep reading to learn more about what it entails and whether it’s right for you and your baby.

What Is the Ferber Method?

If you’re unfamiliar with the Ferber method of sleep training, it’s helpful to know that this is a strategy that’s closely associated with pediatric sleep expert Richard Ferber, M.D., who, along with other experts, suggests that babies can learn to soothe themselves to sleep when parents follow certain guidelines. Some parents refer to the technique as “Ferberizing” your baby. Another well-known name for the strategy is Graduated Crying-It-Out. Just as the name indicates, you gradually let your baby “cry it out” to fall asleep. But unlike the full crying-it-out method, you’ll still respond to your baby’s cries throughout the night. However, you’ll slowly increase the intervals between response times and allow your baby to cry, which is believed to help them learn to fall asleep on their own in time.

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How Does the Ferber Method Work?

If you’re wondering how “to do” the Ferber method to sleep train your baby, the technique is fairly straightforward. You’ll simply allow them to “cry it out” for gradually increasing periods of time. You’ll start small, just letting your baby cry for a couple of minutes before checking on them. Then, as the night goes on, you’ll gradually increase the time you wait before you respond to your baby’s crying, but waiting no longer than 10 minutes. This structure can change based on what you and your baby need, but could look something like this, as an example:

  1. Follow your standard bedtime routine. To start, you’ll put your baby down in their crib after their normal bedtime routine, say goodnight, and leave the room.

  2. Complete the first interval. If your baby starts crying, let your baby cry for just a few minutes before going to briefly check on them. Soothe your crying baby by reassuring them that you’re just in the next room, that you love them, and that it’s time to sleep. Then, leave the room again.

  3. Increase the interval. If your baby starts crying again, wait a little longer, such as five minutes, and then go check on them. Keep the room dim and your voice quiet, speaking no more than you have to when reassuring your baby. You can give your little one a comforting pat but try not to pick them up.

  4. Continue lengthening the intervals. Depending on your baby's specific needs and temperament, you have some flexibility in the length of intervals. However, keep the longest interval (before starting over again) to no longer than 10 minutes.

Although the Ferber method is a sleep training technique that’s most often used for night time slumber, you could also use it for naps to keep your baby’s sleep consistent.

Ferber Method Chart, Schedule, and Guide

Again, you’re in charge of how long to make each interval. But to give you a step-by-step idea of what the Ferber method sleep training schedule could look like, check out the example of a Ferber method sleep chart below:

Watch the video below for a few extra tips on sleeping techniques!

Don’t miss these must-watch sleep tips from a pediatric sleep consultant.

When to Start the Ferber Method

When to start the Ferber method or any other type of sleep training may depend on a couple of factors:

  • When your baby starts sleeping in their own room. Many sleep training techniques are tricky to implement if you and your baby are room sharing; however, experts recommend sleeping in the same room as your baby until they’re 6 months to 1 year old. This reduces the risk of SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome) by 50 percent.

  • When your baby starts sleeping through the night. Some sleep training techniques aren’t as effective until a baby is sleeping through the night without waking. It may be best to wait until your baby has started consistently sleeping for long stretches of time at night before you launch into Ferber method sleep training.

By 3 months, 90 percent of babies have started consolidating their sleep, sleeping six to eight hours a night without waking. So, experts advise that parents can start sleep training as young as 4 months. But, of course, remember that your little one may still be sleeping in your room at that age, so it’s more common for parents to start sleep training after 6 months.

How Long Does the Ferber Method Take to Work?

Most sleep training techniques, including the Ferber method, require at least a few days to start taking effect. It's possible that your baby could fall asleep within just one or two intervals after a few days of the Ferber method. Of course, all babies are different, and yours might take a little longer to learn how to fall asleep and stay asleep on their own. In time, most babies will naturally fall asleep by themselves following their own natural rhythms. However, some babies are more sensitive to stimulation or have longer, louder bouts of crying. If your little one falls into that category, know that it might take a little longer to be successful with sleep training, but that, eventually, they will fall asleep on their own without any tears.

Is the Ferber Method Harmful?

Children's health and development experts agree that when infants receive love and attention during their waking hours, using the Ferber method isn’t harmful. It doesn’t damage babies or disrupt the relationship between babies and their parents. Learning how to fall asleep on their own is an important developmental milestone that babies will need to reach, and short periods of crying have been known to help children settle down, unwind, and fall asleep. Of course, all babies are different, and the Ferber method might not work for everyone. But as long as you’re giving your baby lots of love and responding to their needs when they're awake during the day, your baby will be fine whether you choose the Graduated Crying-It-Out method or another sleep strategy. Families who have adopted the Ferber method sleep training technique have observed the following benefits:

  • Babies falling asleep faster. Many families who used the Ferber method found that their babies learned how to fall asleep on their own faster.

  • Babies staying asleep longer. Ferber method families also found that their babies stayed asleep longer and woke up less often throughout the night.

  • Less stress for parents. Parents who used the Ferber method were generally less stressed when sleep training.

Is There a Modified Ferber Method?

If you opt for the Ferber method sleep training technique, feel free to modify it as needed. For example, if your baby is screaming and very upset during the Ferber method, you can adjust the intervals and check on your little one more often. Remember, no two babies or families are alike, so the Ferber method may not work for you—but that doesn’t mean you have to give up on it completely. Modifying the Ferber method might make the technique take longer to be effective, but some children naturally need more time and more attention during sleep training than others.

Beyond the Ferber Method: Other Sleep Training Techniques

The Ferber method is just one sleep training technique for you to consider. There are many other sleep strategies for a baby and even for sleep training a toddler, which include the following:

  • Crying-it-out. With this technique, you simply wait for your baby to stop crying and fall asleep without checking on them (unless in an emergency). It’s often confused with the Ferber method.

  • Bedtime fading. This technique helps you identify the best bedtime for your little one. Gradually, you’ll shift your baby’s bedtime later each night (by about 10 to 15 minutes) until you find the sweet spot when your baby is tired enough to fall asleep on their own.

  • Disappearing chair. Stay near your baby as they fall asleep on their own by sitting in a chair in their room but gradually moving farther from their crib each night. Eventually, you and the chair will be out of the room completely.

  • Countdown. Pick a block of time you’ll stay in your child's room and gradually shorten it. The first time block could be 20 minutes, the next 18, and so on until you reach 0 minutes.

  • “Hold on.” This strategy starts during waking hours to get your child used to waiting when you leave the room. Simply tell them to “hold on” during the day when you leave a room for a brief period and increase the waiting time gradually. Since your child will trust that you’ll return, you can do the same at night and, eventually, they’ll fall asleep when “holding on” for you to come back.

The Bottom Line

The Ferber method is just one option when it comes to sleep training, and it’s up to you to decide what technique is best for you and your baby (though you can always ask your child’s healthcare provider for advice). If you haven’t heard of the Ferber method before, perhaps its other name is more familiar: Graduated Crying-It-Out. Just as it sounds, you’ll let your baby “cry it out” to learn how to fall asleep on their own. But, instead of not responding at all to your baby’s cries, you’ll let your little one cry in gradually increasing intervals, up to 10 minutes at a time. Experts agree that any type of sleep training that involves your baby “crying it out” isn’t harmful if done correctly. That means taking into account your baby’s individual personality, temperament, and needs. Some babies may be ready to start the Ferber method at 4 months of age, but some may need to wait until 6 months or later. And because you’ll give your child lots of love and attention during their waking hours, graduated or complete “crying it out” won’t cause any emotional damage to your little one or negatively impact your relationship with them. But the Ferber method isn’t for everyone and is a personal decision. Although it has its benefits and typically takes only a few days to take effect, you must decide if it’s the right approach for your family. If you need help with sleep training techniques beyond the Ferber method, take our free 5 Fundamentals of Baby Sleep Class. As always, be sure to consult your child’s healthcare provider if you have additional questions or concerns.

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