What is the Ferber Method and Should You Bother?

Ahhh…sleep. It’s a glorious thing, yet many of us get nowhere near enough. WebMD provides a comprehensive list of how much sleep people need by age (I, personally, require 8 hours of sleep every night of my life or I am an unkind, unpleasant, uninviting, raging you-know-what).

Adults know they should sleep more than they do, but there are so many hours in the day. To-do lists are longer and more time-consuming than ever. And we live in a world were being as busy as possible is noted as a status symbol.

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I think sleeping eight hours a night and not having bags under my eyes the size of a Neverfull GM is status symbol, but you do you, boo. This leads me to infant sleep schedules…or the lack thereof, according to many new parents. The lack of sleep that’s out of your control has many of you asking about the Ferber method and whether it’s a good idea.

I am no parenting expert, but I do have four kids. It’s been almost nine years since we had an infant in the house (we had two infants the last time), but we do remember a thing or two about sleeping babies and rest. Now, at the risk of sounding like I’m bragging (and I am, because go us), we never needed sleep training. All four kids, the twins included, immediately slept six hours per night. By the time they were 3 weeks old, they were all sleeping 8-10 hours per night (and not losing ANY weight and they’re all healthy, happy, and amazing, so simmer down and mind your business). The Ferber method is a foreign concept to me, so let’s learn together.

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Who is This Ferber Person?

The Ferber method is named for Richard Ferber. He’s not a mom, but he is a doctor, so that counts, right? Dr. Richard Ferber is the director of the Center for Pediatric Sleep Disorders. This center is located at the Children’s Hospital in Boston. His resume is long, but I’ll sum it up for you. He’s a sleep expert (in the children’s genre) with more than three decades of experience. He’s an author, and he’s the creator of the Ferber Method of sleep training. You may occasionally hear it referred to as Ferberization. I won’t be using that term because, quite frankly, it sounds ridiculous.

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What is the Ferber Method of Sleep Training?

Simply put, it’s a way of teaching infants and children to fall asleep on their own. This method involves allowing children and babies to cry without being picked up, soothed by others, or acknowledged for a pre-determined amount of time. Now, it is important to understand that there are numerous methods of sleep training that involve crying it out, and not all of them are the Ferber method. When you hear the term ‘cry it out,’ used to describe sleep training, it might refer to any number of methods, not just the Ferber method.

Let’s go ahead and acknowledge the elephant in the room – this is not a sleep method for everyone. No one, and I do mean no one, enjoys hearing their baby cry. However, the concept is not for the weak. It is not for the feint of heart. It is, however, for those who want to teach their children to soothe themselves. Provided your baby is clean, dry, warm, healthy, well-fed and not hungry, there is nothing wrong with letting them cry it out. It is simply a personal preference some parents are uncomfortable using.

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When Do I Try the Ferber Method?

Dr. Richard Ferber recommends using the Ferber method when your child is around the six-month mark. You can certainly use it sooner or later, but it’s recommended for children ages six months and older. Why is this? It turns out that babies are thought incapable of self-soothing, which is the point of the exercise. This also happens to be the timeframe doctors believe babies can sleep through the night without eating.

Again, I’ll point out that we never woke our babies to feed them. Our pediatrician was adamant that you don’t wake a sleeping baby. If they’re hungry, they’ll wake up. If they are losing weight, wake them up. But since all four of our kids slept through the night and never lost an ounce of their birth weight, he didn’t see any issue whatsoever. When the twins were born, our little girl did wake up every morning around 4 am to eat. I’d change her and feed her while my husband woke, changed, and fed her twin brother. That was the routine until they were about and month old and began sleeping until 6. Our son never woke up during the night to eat. Your pediatrician is the best source of information regarding this topic, though.

Another point worth noting is that no one is telling you that you must sleep train. It’s up to you. You are the mom and dad. You do the decision making for your kids. While you might hear other people recommending it – you might even feel judged by them – you know your baby best.

If the constant advice and/or potential criticism bothers you, use this as a practice session for advocating for your baby and putting their needs first. Who cares if it makes other people uncomfortable? Trust me when I tell you that you’re going to make a lot of people uncomfortable with your parenting decisions for the next 18 years. Get comfortable with being uncomfortable right now. You are welcome.

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Why Would I Use the Ferber Method?

If your baby is six months old and not sleeping through the night, you’re exhausted. I was exhausted raising babies who did sleep through the night. Parenting is hard. There are a million parenting methods, and everyone has parenting advice. We haven’t even gotten into the parenting hacks yet. My point is simple: You cannot be the best parent to your little one if you are an exhausted, sleep-deprived shell of a human. You need sleep. Your baby needs sleep. Everyone needs sleep.

If your baby doesn’t learn to fall asleep and stay asleep on their own prior to the six month mark, you might consider sleep training. You have to sleep, or you cannot function. Perhaps you think that it’s normal because you’re a new parent, and new parents don’t sleep – but you’re mistaken. You must get adequate sleep at night to function properly. According to WebMD, there are a myriad of negative effects happening in your life if you are not sleeping enough.

The Negative Effects of Sleep Deprivation

  • Exhaustion causes accidents: Driving while sleep deprived is as dangerous as driving drunk.
  • Being sleep deprived makes you stupid: Being tired affects your cognitive abilities by impairing your ability to pay attention, to be alert, to concentrate, and to solve problems.
  • Sleep deprivation causes major health problems: Heart attack, stroke, heart disease, irregular heartbeat, diabetes, high blood pressure, and many additional health issues are caused by sleep deprivation.
  • Not getting enough sleep affects your sex drive: If things in the bedroom aren’t going well for you, try getting more sleep because it lowers your testosterone.
    Lack of sleep causes depression: People who don’t get enough sleep are five times more likely to suffer from depression.
  • Not sleeping enough makes you look old: People who don’t get enough sleep tend to have dark circles, thing skin, and fine lines…in short, you look old, tired, and not great.
  • Not sleeping enough causes memory issues: If you can’t remember things, what’s the point?
  • Lack of sleep makes you fat: If you get less than six hours of sleep per night, you’re 30 percent more likely to suffer from obesity. Obesity also leads to a plethora of other serious health issues.

If you’re not sure why you should use the Ferber method to get more sleep, do it because you don’t want to live with health problems or kill yourself driving – or be unattractive.

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How Do I Use the Ferber Method?

It’s not a complicated process, but it is a process you need to understand prior to using it. The key is to allow your baby to soothe themselves back to sleep if they cry. The first step is to put your baby to bed, tell them you love them, and leave the room. The second step is to let the baby cry. If the baby doesn’t cry, you needn’t do anything. If the baby does cry, there are timeframes you wait before you go back in.

The first day, you’ll check on your crying baby after 3 minutes. Check again after five minutes. The third time is after 10 minutes. Any time you check on your baby after that should be every 10 minutes.

The second day, you check on your crying baby after five minutes, 10 minutes, and 12 minutes. The third day, you check on your baby after 10 minutes, 12 minutes, and 15 minutes. Day four, you check on your baby after 12, 15, and 17 minutes. On day five, you check on your baby at 15 minutes, 17, minutes, and 20 minutes. Day six is 17, 20, and 25 minutes. Day seven is 20, 25, and 27 minutes.

Experts believe your baby should start to respond to this type of sleep training after approximately three nights. However, it is imperative to remember that all children are different. It’s also imperative you never leave your baby to cry it out if they are sick or suffer from any health conditions.

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What to Remember About the Ferber Method

If it works for you, great. If it doesn’t, move on. It’s very simple. However, there are still a few important facts to keep in mind when you’re using this method of sleep training. The single most important thing to remember is that the Ferber method is not designed to teach your kids to sleep. It’s simply designed to teach them to soothe themselves if they are troubled while sleeping. This prevents them from waking you up and spending hours on end being upset in the middle of the night. They’re able to care for themselves, which is the goal.

The second thing to remember – and we are merely reiterating this after mentioning it a million times before (apparently, I nag, so there’s that) – is that this method is not a guaranteed method. Some babies respond well. Others do not.

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Should You Try the Ferber Method?

Sure, why not? There’s no reason you shouldn’t if you are okay with it. A lot of parents use it. Sometimes, it works. Other times, it does not. You won’t know unless you try. If I may, and I am not a doctor, suggest a few things that worked for us when it came to our babies sleeping through the night, I will.

I breastfed our babies, but I never produced enough to feed them all day. By the end of the day, I was depleted and had nothing left. We supplemented with several ounces of formula before bed.

I also let our babies sleep all day without worrying, and they all stayed up in the evenings. For example, until the twins were 2, my husband worked outside of the home. His office was an hour away, so he’d leave before any of the kids were awake in the morning, and he’d get home around 6 pm. It was habit for me to let the kids all sleep during the day but keep them up later so he could spend time with them when he was home. They were extra tired before bed from playing with daddy, bath time, and the nightly routine.

Which leads me to the other thing that really worked for us – routine. Our kids (like their mommy) are creatures of habit. They adore routine and schedules, and we always had one. We’d deviate from it if we were out or if we were doing something else, but 9 times out of 10, we had a schedule. They learned quickly that their evenings were playtime with daddy, dinner, bath, reading and cuddling, and bed. No one ever fought it.

A Quick Note to Remember

I am not a sleep expert. And I am not a doctor. I am a mother of four healthy, happy, intelligent kids who make amazing grades, are stellar athletes, and who are all pretty damn hilarious. I like to think that’s an accomplishment, and I like to think it has a lot to do with what great parents we are. So, while I’m not an expert, I’m not a novice either. Happy sleeping, parents!

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