How to: Ferber Method

By Christine Wheatley
The Ferber method teaches babies to soothe themselves to sleep.

The Ferber method is a sleep system invented by Dr. Richard Ferber for infants. When you use the Ferber method, or Ferberize, you teach your baby to put herself to sleep by letting her cry for a set amount of time; you then go and comfort her. This program shifts the focus from parental soothing to infant self-soothing. Begin this method with an infant who is 4 to 6 months of age or older and who has no medical sleep disorders or serious separation issues.

Preparation

Develop a bedtime routine for your baby. Include taking a bath, listening to soft music, reading a book and snuggling. Repeat the routine every night to signal your baby that it's time for sleep.

Discontinue any nighttime feedings before beginning the Ferber method. Replace the feeding with another parental association, such as rocking or cuddling.

Put your baby to sleep in a bed or crib that’s within hearing range. Have her sleep in your room or a different room, but make sure the place she goes to sleep is the same place she wakes up. Keep the sleeping arrangements consistent from night to night.

The Process

Place your baby in her crib on your first night of Ferberizing. Put her to bed awake but drowsy and ready to fall asleep. Leave the room and let her cry for five minutes. After five minutes have passed, go in and offer comfort: speak softly to her and rub her back or stomach. Comfort her for 2 to 3 minutes, but don’t pick her up to feed or rock her. Leave the room after comforting her.

Let her cry for 10 minutes and repeat the comforting process. Then leave the room again.

Let her cry for 15 minutes and repeat the comforting process. Keep alternating with 15 minutes of crying and two to three minutes of comforting for the rest of the first night until your baby falls asleep. Repeat the schedule if she cries during the night, beginning with the minimum wait time and working back up to the maximum time.

Put your baby to bed awake but drowsy in her crib on the second night. Repeat the procedure from the previous night, but change the time of the intervals to 10 minutes, 15 minutes and 20 minutes, with periods of comforting in between. Keep the 20-minute intervals until your baby falls asleep.

Place your awake but drowsy baby in her crib on the third night. Repeat the process but use 15-, 20- and 25-minute intervals alternating with comforting. Continue this every night, increasing the intervals by five minutes each night. By the end of the week, you should see an improvement in your baby’s ability to put herself to sleep at bedtime and soothe herself in the middle of the night.

Tip

Begin this process when you are well rested; you may not get much sleep for the first few nights.

Avoid picking your baby up or taking her to your room once you’ve started the process, as it will undo any progress you’ve made. Consistency is the key to success.

Warning

Consult your pediatrician if you see no improvement after a week; your child may not have an appropriate personality or temperament for this sleep method.

If you're not comfortable with listening to your child cry, don't use this method -- your baby may pick up on your discomfort and tension, causing the training to be less effective.

Never shake your crying infant, no matter how frustrated you may be.

If your baby vomits from crying too hard, the Ferber method recommends cleaning her up and continuing with the training process. If this is too upsetting for your family, however, consider switching to a different style of sleep training.

About the Author

Based in Royal Oak, Mich., Christine Wheatley has been writing professionally since 2009. She contributes to several websites, specializing in articles about fitness, diet and parenting. Wheatley has a Bachelor of Arts in art from Calvin College.