Sleep training for newborns has gotten a lot of attention in recent years. However, it is not a new concept. One of the most popular sleep training methods is the Ferber Method, which Richard Ferber developed in the 1980s. It’s a gradual “cry it out” method of sleep training.
Here are the steps to using the Ferber Method for sleep training:
1) Put your baby down drowsy in their crib. It is important that they are not fully asleep. Remember, the point is to teach them how to fall asleep on their own.
2) Make sure you have a timer ready. Trust us, you will need a timer. You may have one on your phone that you can use.
3) Set the timer for 5 minutes, and walk out of the room. It is likely that your baby is crying. Let your baby cry for 5 minutes. After 5 minutes if your baby has stopped crying and gone to sleep, consider yourself extremely lucky. Most likely, they will still be crying. Once the 5 minute timer has ended, go in and comfort your baby.
4) Now you are comforting your baby after letting them cry for 5 minutes. If you can avoid picking them up to comfort them, this is ideal. This may not be possible. You may need to pick them up to comfort them. Now repeat step 1, which is to put your baby down into the crib while they are drowsy. Move on to step 2 which is to set your timer, again. This time, set your timer for 10 minutes. Then, leave the room.
5) Painfully watch the timer as it counts down 10 minutes and you hear your baby crying. If you are lucky, your baby will manage to self-soothe and fall asleep before the 10 minutes is up. If not, at the 10-minute mark, go in and soothe your baby. Again, if possible, leave them in their crib and pat their back or butt to soothe them. If this doesn’t seem to be working, you can pick your baby up to soothe, but this is not ideal.
6) Once your baby is calm again, put them back into the crib drowsy and set your timer for 15 minutes. Leave the room and watch the timer count down.
7) Repeat the above as needed until your baby is able to self-soothe and fall asleep.
Deciding to sleep train is a personal choice, but it should be guided by your pediatrician. We know the early days of having a newborn is very hard, but do not attempt to sleep train a very young baby. Most pediatricians advise against sleep training before 4 months and ideally not even before 6 months.
Before 4 months, your baby does need to wake up frequently to feed. After 4 months, it is possible for your child to have 5 to 6 hour stretches of sleep at night, but this still means you should feed them around the 6 hour mark. After 6 months, it is okay for your baby to go longer stretches without eating, somewhere between 8 and 10. For parents who are waking up every 2 to 3 hours, even a 5 to 6 hour stretch of sleep sounds like a dream. Another reason to avoid sleep training before 6 months is because the American Academy Of Pediatrics recommends rooming in the same room as your child (but not the same bed) until 6 months of age to reduce the risk of SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome). Also, babies do not generally have regular sleep cycles until they are 6 months old. This means attempting to sleep train before 6 months may be extremely unsuccessful and frustrating for you and your baby.
You need to do what is right for you, your child, and the rest of your family. A crying baby up all night can be challenging for not just the baby’s health, but also for the health of the rest of the people living in the home. Be sure to alternate with another caretaker when possible to handle the nights.
Whittingham K, Douglas P. Optimizing parent-infant sleep from birth to 6 months: a new paradigm. Infant Ment Health J. 2014 Nov-Dec;35(6):614-23. doi: 10.1002/imhj.21455. Epub 2014 Jul 28. PMID: 25798510.
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