New parents confounded by their baby’s sleeplessness are faced with two schools of thought when they seek advice. The first is espoused by Dr. William Sears, among others. It is referred to as co-sleeping, sharing sleep or the family bed. As far as the steps involved in this method, there is really just one – sleep with your baby (but make considerations for the baby’s safety before doing so). The second school of thought is called the Ferber Method. “Ferberizing” your baby involves a process that is outlined in Dr. Richard Ferber’s book, Solve Your Child’s Sleep Problems. The method is summarized here.
The Ferber Method shows parents how to teach their child to soothe himself to sleep from the age of 5 or 6 months. The method has proven controversial, mainly because it has been misunderstood as a harsh system of letting the baby cry it out until he falls asleep. As the outline below shows, there is considerably more parental involvement in the Ferber method than many people have been led to believe.
Begin with a warm and loving bedtime routine. The importance of routine is emphasized by virtually all sleep experts and Dr. Ferber is no exception. Bedtime routines typically involve a warm bath, a story and lots of cuddling.
If the baby is still nursing at night, gradually replace feedings with another type of parental intervention, like rocking to sleep. After the association with feeding is gone, you can start teaching the child to fall asleep on her own.
Place Baby in the crib awake. This step is critical to the Ferber method. Dr. Ferber believes that putting the child down while she is awake encourages her to learn to fall asleep without parental involvement.
Do not sleep in the same room.
When Baby wakes, follow a schedule of “interventions”, as outlined below. Interventions include rubbing or patting Baby’s back. Talk softly and stay for only 2 or 3 minutes. Do not pick up or feed the baby. Use the schedule below as a guideline, but adapt it to your needs:
- Day One - Let Baby cry for 5 minutes before going in to comfort her. Next time, wait 10 minutes. The next time, wait 15 minutes. If Baby is still crying after 15 minutes, keep the crying interval at 15 minutes for the rest of the night.
- Day Two – Increase the first interval to 10 minutes. The second crying interval should be 15 minutes and the third should be 20 minutes. Keep the crying interval at 20 minutes for the rest of the night.
- Day Three – Increase the first interval to 15 minutes. The second crying interval should be 20 minutes and the third should be 25 minutes. Keep the crying interval at 25 minutes for the rest of the night.
Many children start sleeping well at the end of this three day schedule. If not, most will begin to respond by the end of one week.
Benefits of the Ferber Method
Supporters of the Ferber Method believe that the process of teaching a child to sleep on his own encourages independence. It has also proven to be highly effective in reducing nighttime wakefulness in babies, resulting in better sleep for everyone.
Ferber’s method was designed to avoid unnecessary crying and to provide comfort to the baby. In the 2006 revised edition of his book, Dr. Ferber adds more flexibility to his method. He states that a wide range of approaches to sleep may be needed and that parents must also consider what is best for their families.