If Your Baby Won't Sleep Through the Night, Try the Ferber Method

This technique is said to help babies self-soothe

Baby at home
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If your infant's night waking have left you much too acquainted with the wee hours of the morning, you're likely wondering what you can do to get her to sleep for longer stretches. 

The Ferber Method is a well-known baby sleep training technique established by Dr. Richard Ferber. The technique involves implementing a loving, soothing bedtime routine with your baby, and when she wakes, allowing her to cry for progressively longer intervals until she learns how to soothe herself back to sleep on her own.

Does This Mean I Have to Let My Baby "Cry It Out"?

Sometimes called the "cry it out" method, this technique does not involve leaving your baby to wail and cry all night by herself, contrary to popular belief. You will enter your baby's room to pat and comfort her after a predetermined "waiting" period. But instead of picking her up and feeding her, you make a quick appearance—long enough to reassure her and yourself that she's okay—and leave the room. 

This helps your baby learn that crying will not result in being fed or rocked, and after about a week of gradually increasing the "waiting" period of your check-ins, the theory goes that your baby will begin to fall asleep on her own. 

Since there really is no exact age when the Ferber Method is appropriate for all babies to use, talk to your doctor to see if your baby is old enough. It may be around the five-month mark that your doctor gives you the green light to try.

How to Implement the Ferber Method

In the days and weeks before you implement the Ferber Method, establish predictable and consistent bedtime routines. Ferber maintains that one of the best ways to avoid sleep struggles is to establish positive sleep associations as a newborn. Bedtime routines help to signal to your baby that he is soon expected to fall asleep. These routines can lay the groundwork for independent sleeping. While methods that involve crying it out are not appropriate for newborns and young babies, you can establish solid sleep routines during these early months.

Begin by going through the bedtime routine that you have already established. Place your baby in her crib awake. Turn out the lights (night light if needed), say goodnight and leave the room. Do this even if your baby begins to cry.

After a predetermined time, if your baby is still crying, go back into the room only for a minute or two. Leave the lights off, keep your voice calm and quiet. Pat your baby's back in a reassuring way, but do not pick her up. Leave the room promptly.

This time stay out of the room for a slightly longer period of time before returning to reassure your baby just as you did before. Again, keep the lights off, your voice down, and do not pick up your baby. Continue this process of progressively waiting for longer periods of time before returning to your baby's room. Continue progressive waiting until your baby falls asleep on her own.

If your baby wakes up in the middle of the night, start back over in the process starting with the lowest wait time from the beginning of the night.

On the second night, wait a little longer than you did the previous before you enter your baby's room. Continue to progressively wait for longer intervals until your baby has fallen asleep on her own.

How Long Should I Wait Before Checking On My Baby? 

Dr. Ferber suggests these time lengths for progressive waiting in Solve Your Child's Sleep Problems:

  • On the first night wait for 3 minutes before entering the room. Increase the next wait time to 5 minutes, and finally, 10 minutes for the third and any additional visits needed.
  • On the second night wait for 5, 10, then 12 minutes.
  • Additional nights: continue to slightly lengthen each period of time.

It's Okay to Adapt the Method to Suit Your Family 

Evaluate how the method is working for you. Dr. Ferber states that by the third or fourth night, most babies are falling asleep on their own. Resistant babies may take a week. Ferber also encourages parents to adapt the method and times to suit their family's needs. 

Depending on your baby's needs and your personal comfort level, you can lengthen or cut down your waiting periods. And while it's important to stick to a set bedtime schedule, there will, of course, be times when you need to be flexible, such as when your baby is sick, when you're traveling, or any number of other scenarios. 

Be sure that all those who are involved in taking care of the baby understand how to use the method. Consistency is important to achieving success.

If things aren't going well, you can always opt to try the Ferber Method again in a few weeks time or try a different night-time parenting approach.

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Article Sources
  • Ferber,  Richard.  Solve Your Child's Sleep Problems. Touchstone, May 2006