Motherhood

What is the Ferber Method?

Team Peanut8 months ago6 min read

It’s 3am and you’re wondering if shut-eye is a luxury you will no longer have the privilege of enjoying. Ever. Again. In your life. And then, you stumble upon it: the Ferber Method.

Baby in bed

Interval training? Sleep association? Mmm. Sounds promising—but you have to ask: With its reliance on leaving your baby to self-soothe for periods of time, is the Ferber method cruel?

So many (very legitimate) questions.

Babies don’t seem to have the same relationship with the Witching Hour as we do. They’re perfectly happy to be wide awake at obscene hours looking for entertainment. Essentially, their body clocks look more like they come straight out of Alice in Wonderland than out of a corporate boardroom.

For you, however, keeping more regular hours is a little more important.

Sleep is a resource both precious and scarce for new mamas, and running on empty for the foreseeable future is simply not feasible. That’s why there are strategies like the Ferber Method out there, to ensure that both you and your little peanut get the rest you need.

Before we get started on some Ferber Method FAQs, know that this may or may not be an appropriate method for you and your baby. You get to decide if it feels right. There are numerous other sleep training methods out there that you might want to experiment with before you find what works for you.

That being said, let’s delve into the Ferber Method.

What is the Ferber Method?

While you may have heard the name tossed around on Peanut, the Ferber Method might be somewhat elusive. So here’s the lowdown:

It all started with a bestselling book called Solve Your Child’s Sleep Problems that was first published way back in 1985. (Yes, it’s possible that your parents used this very method on you!) Written by a doctor called Richard Ferber, the now updated book suggests strategies to help with a variety of sleep issues that may occur from before your baby is a year old, right into adolescence.

At their core, Dr. Ferber’s methods offer a comprehensive sleep program for your restless little one. While often misconstrued (or at least oversimplified) as just getting your child to “cry it out”, the Ferber Method is a full sleep training plan where you leave your child for specific, planned out intervals of time, in the hope that they will start to understand what “sleep time” means.

During these times, you have to be strong. If your child kicks up a fuss, you just have to let them. You know you’ll be back to soothe them when the interval is over.

The hopeful result?

Well, if all goes as planned, your baby will eventually be like, “Huh? Nobody’s coming? I guess I’ll have to work out how to do this sleep thing on my own.” (Hopefully, the next step is for them to say to themselves, “Wow. I completely understand what my mama is saying about a regular sleep schedule. I should totally try this.”)

It’s the interval training that gives the Ferber Method its other name: graduated extinction. (Because you’re extinguishing the behavior by not responding to it.)

And if the idea of not answering your baby’s cries is ringing alarm bells for you, you’re not alone. The Ferber Method is controversial for this reason. Which brings us to our next important question:

Is the Ferber Method cruel?

Is cry it out damaging? Because a baby cry is possibly a signifier of distress, those who are opposed to this method agree that leaving a tiny human to deal with that stress on their own is cruel.

The flip side is that, because the Ferber Method is based on intervals (as in, you’re not leaving your baby to cry it out indefinitely), it helps them develop the resilience to deal with stress while still having the comfort of being consoled—after a strictly managed period of time.

So, it depends on you. The Ferber Method may feel appropriate to you.

What age is appropriate for the Ferber Method?

This is important: don’t start the Ferber Method too early. It’s not appropriate for newborns. They’re just not ready for this sort of training. They’re still getting over the shock of not being in your womb. And they need nourishment when they need it, both in the form of milk and comfort.

So: don’t try the Ferber Method until your baby is at least 6 months old. Until then, you may want to try some other strategies, like setting a bedtime routine (yes, this is the time to practice your singing skills) and/or giving them a little baby massage.

But if your baby is old enough and you would like to give the Ferber Method a go, here’s how you can get started.

Ferber sleep training

Your Ferber Method guide

The Ferber Method goes something like this:

  1. Bedtime routine: From the time your baby is teeny-tiny, bedtime is an opportunity for some serious quality time. As per the Ferber Method, make bedtime a same-time-same-place affair. Put a little routine together. Bath, reading, cuddling. Repeat.
  2. Sleep associations: Linked to your bedtime routine, sleep associations help your little one learn, “Ah, this is sleep time! Sleep time happens when…” A dark room can go a long way in helping to form sleep associations.
  3. Progressive waiting: This is the interval training part of the Ferber Method. Here’s a summary of how it works: Once you’ve completed your bedtime routine, leave your baby alone and only check on them at prescribed intervals. (Don’t worry, to start with, the intervals are very short.) Start with 3 minutes, then 5, then 10. Regardless of how much they perform for you, try to wait the interval out.

Stick up a Ferber Method chart somewhere where your tired eyes can easily read it to help guide you through the process:

Ferber method chart

Ultimately, there’s no one-size-fits-all approach to parenting. The Ferber Method may be ideal for you, or you and your baby may want to run screaming from it. It’s your decision.

😴 More on baby sleep:
Newborn Sleep Schedule: Rough Patterns and Timings
How Much Do Newborns Sleep? A Rough Guide
5 Things I Wish I Knew About Baby Sleep as a First Time Mama