Ferber method for child sleep training

Parentree-editors 2008-12-11 10:00:01

Many parents struggle with good sleep for themselves and their child. You might have heard the term Ferber method for sleep training for babies or ‘ferberize’ your baby at night. Here we have thrown some light on these terms to help you stay abreast of different techniques for your parenting tool-kit.

There is never an absolute right or wrong answer in parenting. You should pick and choose different tools because each child and parent is different and the situations and needs also change. Of course, after educating yourself on different tools, you should ultimately let your instincts do the guiding.


The Ferber method is a sleep training technique invented by the American paediatrician Dr Richard Ferber to solve infant sleep problems. Sleep training methods are meant for helping a child fall asleep as well as stay asleep through the night.

Parents can use this method for babies starting from 3 months and ideally closer to 6 months and train babies to self-soothe rather than helping soothe a child. It is not recommended for newborn babies (less than 3 months) because newborn babies need help falling asleep and also need to breastfeed or feed frequently around the clock. This method can also be used for toddlers and preschoolers with separation anxiety and with sleep disorders.

The Ferber fans say that the Ferber technique is different from the Cry It Out (CIO) technique and is more of a modified CIO technique. In CIO, babies are left to cry and self-soothe completely and fall asleep totally by themselves.

Where to learn more

This technique is fleshed out in detail in Dr. Ferber’s book “Solve Your Child's Sleep Problems”. This book first came out in 1985. In India this book is available in large serious bookstores for about 395 Rs. (In Dec 2008). This technique is very popular in the United States and some other western countries. Make sure to get the latest edition (2006) that has been updated significantly.

How? The technique in a nutshell

  • Prepare your baby for sleep. First create a consistent and secure bedtime routine and ritual - soft words, lullaby, bedtime story, soft music, a cuddly teddy, perhaps a warm bath if cold, or a nighttime feed.
  • After tucking the child in bed, leave the baby for a predetermined time in bed (okay for the baby to be cranky or to cry). Wait outside the baby’s room and return to soothe the child (without picking him up), from time to time in a progressive manner. For example, the first night, leave the baby in bed for 1-3 minutes and return at the end of that time interval to soothe, until the baby dozes. Keep increasing the time interval every day depending on the situation.

The idea that the parent will return to soothe is reassuring to the child and makes the child feel more secure vs. just being left to cry it out.

Ferber method: Other considerations

  • Make sure that in the initial stages, the baby is not sick or going through any extreme issues.  Wait for the situation to get better, before trying for the first time.
  • The traditional technique is to keep increasing time intervals for 7 days before, settling for a particular time. But it is advised to be flexible and the change the time if necessary.
  • Even though this method is popular, it has been controversial. Many attachment parenting (AP) fans say that this is unnatural and that it is not a good idea to leave any child (whatever age) to cry it out. Over time, Dr. Ferber too has been modifying the original technique and making it more flexible. For example, originally, Dr. Ferber had said that in order for the technique to work effectively, babies should sleep in their own bed vs. co-sleeping (a big practice in attachment parenting, but later he has revised the method and said there is no hard and fast rule about where the baby should sleep - her bed or parent’s bed for the technique to be followed.

There is no right or wrong answer, whatever works best for you and your child. Read up what parenting gurus, your friends or the Parentree community say but then just follow your gut.

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