Breaking it down simply
Sleeping a learned habit. As new parents, you probably notice that your baby has no idea how to put themselves to sleep and it involves a lot of trickery and bribing on your part pretty much in the forms of rocking, singing, shushing, and purchasing tools such as white noise machines, to convince your baby to close his eyes and go to sleep. There are all kinds of sleep training methods along with various ways to help your baby acquire some healthy sleep habits. The Ferber sleep training method is just one of the most commonly used methods here in the US. First, we are going to answer the question; what is Ferber sleep training? What sort of technique is this? Well for anyone who is yet to hear of it, Ferber sleep training is also referred to as ferberizing, and it is a method in which you allow your baby to cry at longer intervals until he or she is capable of taking longer naps and sleeping throughout the night. The former director and founder of the Center, Dr Richard Ferber, developed the Ferber method for Pediatric Sleep Disorders at the Boston Children’s Hospital.
When my son was 6 months old, I attempted to “Ferberize” sleep train him. I am going to be honest with you, it was very difficult, especially since my son sleeps in the same bedroom as me. He would cry very loud, and long, and my mommy guilt would set it. I also had other people living in my household, who couldn’t bear to hear him crying either. It was very stressful and upsetting to everyone. The plan was the first night, I was supposed to let him cry at least 10 minutes before going in and checking on him. After that, I was supposed to wait 15 minutes. Then after 25 minutes, etc. And you know what? I didn’t even last 5 minutes of him crying, neither could anyone else who was within earshot. I shot right in my room, scooped up my baby, and started bouncing and ‘shushing’ him. Eventually he fell asleep. I made a big mistake by putting him back in his bed once he was fast asleep. But I thought “okay he is asleep now” – basically cheating my own self and putting my son to sleep. He was not able to self soothe and put himself to sleep. That was the whole purpose of “sleep training” him.
The very next night I attempted to sleep train my son. What happened was, he started crying and I waited for about 6 or 7 minutes. I couldn’t make myself wait the whole 10 minutes as planned. When I went in my room, and got my son, I gave up and brought my son to bed and went to sleep myself. I totally gave up! I couldn’t deal with allowing myself to wait either outside my room, or far away enough to not let my sons crying bother me for the allotted time that I had made plans for. What I am saying is, you need to make sure you stick to the plan – whatever plan it is. If you don’t stay consistent, you will surely confuse your baby and send mixed messages. The Ferberzing will be delayed and it will become increasingly difficult to implement this plan of action at all.
So you have probably heard about this method in helping babies self-soothe to sleep and it has been associated with the doctor so closely that it is usually referred to as I said before, “Ferberizing”. The Ferber sleep training method and any of its variations are also known as the Cry-It-Out /CIO method. The Ferber method has brought up some controversy among sleep experts, pediatricians, and parents. Even though some of the concerned parties swear by the Ferber method, others believe it can develop emotional scars lasting for life in the child. However, the purpose of getting to know what the Ferber sleep training method is all about is to help parents get a deeper understanding of their options when exploring sleep training methods.
Ferber sleep training offers the same goals as any other sleep training method. This includes helping your child learn to fall asleep without your intervention and weaning the child away from any sleep associations to establish a foundation for the child sleeping all through the night. If the child can get to sleep without your help, then he or she can also go back to sleep quickly after waking up at night between sleep cycles, which is completely normal. When using this method of sleep training, you will be gradually teaching your child to fall asleep without you intervening through a sequence of cumulative check-ins.
For me, the “check-in” was supposed to be after a good 10 solid minutes. I didn’t last 10 minutes in the beginning. I totally wussed out. Make sure that you can deal with hearing your baby cry for a time before checking in on them. Here is something else; you will need to increase the time allocated between each check-in over time. So after 10 minutes, I could go check in on my baby, but I couldn’t stick around and pick up & rock my baby. It was just a quick “check in” meaning you go in, tell your baby “shhhh, go to sleep, mommy loves you” etc and then dip out again. Then I was supposed to wait another 15 minutes, then I could go check on baby again, then wait another 20 minutes, etc. Do you see what I mean? This gives your little one time and space to practice going to sleep by herself without the use of any sleep associations while providing soothing and periodic reassurance.
The ideal age to start using this method would be 6 months old before the child is standing and sitting up. I personally waited until my son was 6 months old before I attempted to first sleep train him. There are parents who start using it when the child is 4 months old while other parents prefer to wait until the child is just over 1 year old. There is no wrong or right time to use this method and you know exactly what your baby needs and doesn’t need. However, the Ferber method is generally not recommended for babies under 3 to 4 months of age but situations can differ. On the other hand, if you want to employ Ferber sleep training without feedings during the night, then it is wise to wait until the baby can go for 11 to 12 hours without milk.
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Before implementing any sleep training method, you should first establish a healthy sleep foundation for your baby. This involves going through everything on your pre-sleep training checklist and adding any required changes to your child’s feeding and sleep schedule. You can begin ferberizing after you have developed this foundation. You can start by putting down the child at bedtime when he/she is drowsy but still awake and then leaving the room. If the child cries or starts fussing, you can go and check on him to provide comfort, but ensure you leave the room while he is still awake. If the baby is not crying or fussing, then you should just stay out of his/her room. Proceed from there by gradually increasing the period between each check-in every night or every other night. This gives the baby more time to fall asleep independently while learning to self-soothe. You can increase the time between each check-in interval by 2 minutes, 5 minutes, 10 minutes, 15 minutes, 20 minutes, 25 minutes, or 30 minutes. Personally, I was told by my pediatrician to first wait 10 minutes, then 15 and then 20 and then so on in increments of 5 minutes. Use your judgment for each interval and go at a pace working for both you and the baby. This could mean moving more slowly if need be.
Ferberizing is quite flexible and you can change it to suit your circumstances and needs. This method allows you to reduce or increase the periods between check-ins as required. You can also use similar intervals for check-ins for a few days at a time if you feel that your baby may need a bit more time to adapt to falling asleep independently. You may also be worried about separation anxiety especially in relation to this method. Babies experience varying degrees of separation anxiety starting at around 7 months of age. If you are worried your baby is experiencing a peak in separation anxiety, it is wise to consider sleep training while in the room, keep shorter intervals, or wait before sleep training at all. The Ferber sleep training method can still be implemented while sitting in the baby’s room.
Some children can become especially frustrated if the parent remains in the room while sleep training because it can be a bit confusing to have you so close by but not putting him/her to sleep or offering comfort. The check-ins enable you to offer the baby periodic reassurance which lets them know that you will come back whenever you leave, and this is the main reason separation anxiety creeps up in the beginning. When you check-in on your baby, you should make it loving, soothing but brief. Do not linger or rock your baby to sleep.
Now that I have answered the question, “What is the Ferber sleep training method?” you are probably wondering if it is safe to use. The Ferber method is very safe for the baby and not at all harmful. As long as you are meeting your baby’s needs during the day; by changing their diaper as soon as it is wet, feeding them before they feel the pangs of hunger, making sure they are warm when its cold outside and dressed cool for when it is hot, cuddling and playing with them in the daytime – then your baby will be emotionally solid and well aware that you love them and that they are cared for. I know the anxiety a parent can feel doing this sleep training, but in the long run, these are one of the hard things you need to do in order for your little one to learn how to put themselves to sleep. Kind in mind; this is less likely to work successfully if your baby is not sleeping well for other reasons. If done well and you are committed to making it work, your baby’s sleep will likely improve within a week or so.
How are your are doing with sleep and your little one? Are you considering sleep training? Are you in the middle of sleep training? Have you sleep trained your baby and found that suddenly they are going into a sleep regression? It is all very natural! I do want to hear about it in the comments below.