If you’re reading this post, you’ve probably made a determination to sleep train your baby. Whether you are just figuring what is the best sleep training program for your family, or you’ve already had your mindset on the Ferber method. No matter what stage you are in, you are already a step closer to getting your baby sleep trained.
There are many sleep training techniques each with its pros and cons. One of the more controversial, yet effective, sleep training program is the check-and-console method developed by neurologist, Dr. Richard Ferber. In his book, Solve Your Child’s Sleep Problems, the Harvard professor purports to teach infants to learn how to fall asleep on their own.
I knew I was going to sleep train baby Chunbo with the Ferber method the moment I read about it.
Like you, I was sleep-deprived. At 6 months old, baby Chunbao had no routine whatsoever. Some days he’ll nap 3 times and some days he’ll skip nap altogether. He used to get very cranky at night and I literally had to rock him in my arms for at least an hour before he dozes off (this is for both nap and bedtimes). I was desperate for a sleep training program that gets me results fast but nothing extreme like leaving my baby cry himself to sleep. The cool thing about Ferberizing is that it teaches the baby the fundamentals of self-sooth. Falling asleep independently is a learned skill. Once a baby maters that skill, he will be able to fall asleep unassisted and go back to sleep if he wakes in the middle of the night (aka sleep through the night)!
What Ferber sleep training method isn’t
- Ferber method involves some degree of crying so it is not meant for babies younger than 3 months or weight less than 12 pounds. Regardless of what method you choose, your pediatrician will be able to tell you if your baby is ready for sleep training.
- Ferberizing doesn’t mean leaving the baby to cry without checking-in on her. Excessive crying causes a rise in the stress hormone, cortisol, which inhibits brain and emotional development. Unlike the Extinction method where you leave the baby cry to sleep, the Ferber method involved crying for a specified period and periodic comforting on the caregiver’s behalf.
- Ferberizing isn’t just for nighttime sleep. It should be done for naps as well. Inconsistencies in nap and nighttime sleep training can be confusing for babies, undermining your sleep training efforts.
How to sleep train using the Ferber method?
After you’ve done the bedtime routine, put your baby down in her crib while she’s still awake or drowsy. Turn off all lights, sounds or anything stimulating and leave the room. Your baby will cry and that’s ok. Think of it as a teaching opportunity for her to learn to fall asleep on her own.
Wait about 3 minutes (1st wait) and go in to console her. Try not to turn on the lights and only do very gentle comforting like rubbing the back, patting the butt or shh. Your purpose here is to assure your baby that she is in a safe place while she learns how to fall asleep independently.
Your check-ins should be 2 minutes tops. Take a timer with you if needed.
Wait for about 5 minutes (2nd wait) and repeat the process. From there, return to check-in at progressively increasing intervals to comfort your baby. Here is a sample check-in schedule.
We went by this schedule when we Ferberize baby Chunbao. The first night, he fussed for about 40 minutes before falling asleep by himself. But by the fourth night, he fell asleep just after the first check-in!
Now, sleep training with the Ferber methods sounds pretty simple and many parents do swear by it. However, there are a few tips I’ve learned along my sleep training journey that’ll get your baby sleep trained in no time.
#1. Watch for snooze clues
Putting down an alert baby to sleep is like moving mountains. Make sure your baby is showing signs of sleepiness when you start sleep training.
Below is a list of common sleepy clues
- Eye rubbing
- Less active/slower motion – baby will stop moving or lie on the floor
- Sucking is weaker
- Time being awake – for those following a routine
Anticipate your baby’s natural sleepy times at both naptime and bedtime will allow you to get your baby into sleep mode before he gets overtired. If a 6 months old baby has been awake for 3 hours, it’s probably time to go down.
Be mindful that an overtired baby (skips naps, catches brief catnaps, or doesn’t get enough sleep at night) will have a harder time settling down and sleep longer stretches. Fussiness, crankiness, crying for no apparent reason are signs of overtiredness. Therefore, it is crucial to observe your baby for those early signs of sleepy cues.
#2. Instill a sleep-friendly environment
Baby needs to feel safe and comfortable in order to fall asleep. Would you fall asleep or stay asleep if it’s too hot, too bright, or too noisy? Make sure you consider the following:
- Set the thermostat to an optimal temperature (68 – 72degrees Fahrenheit)
- Dress baby comfortably. A fleece onesie for wintertime, a short-sleeved pajama for the summer, and a wearable blanket for those that roll around.
- Dark out curtain to keep any lights away.
- Use sound machines that play white noise or lullaby to help baby fall asleep.
RELATED POST: How to get your child to sleep alone
#3. Put baby in the crib awake
It can be VERY tempting to nurse or cuddle your baby to sleep. After all, who can resist that angelic face! The point here is to teach your little one to fall asleep independently, not to rely on you to fall asleep. If you rock, sing or nurse her until she is snoozing, the lesson is not learned. You want your baby to break the association that sleeping is to be rocked, singed or nursed. You are now teaching your baby to form a new association – ones where she’ll self-soothe and fall asleep without anyone’s help. So… put your baby down, give a gentle rub, say goodnight and immediately leave the room.
#4. Check-in on the baby at 2 minutes tops.
A brief check-in at your baby is to let her know that she is safe and not being abandoned. If you pick her up and start rocking her to sleep, you are not letting her learn how to self-soothe. Anything stimulating like turn on the lights, pick up the baby, talk, sing songs will undermine your sleep training efforts. Only very gentle reassurances like rubbing the back, patting the butt, stroking the head, or say shhh are the way to go.
#5. Be flexible on the check-in intervals.
Every baby and parenting style is unique so adjust the amount of time between your check-ins as needed. For example, if your baby is having a really hard time falling asleep, you can shorten your check-in intervals or use the same check-in intervals for a couple of days. The first day of sleep training is the hardest but if you progressively increase your check-in intervals, your baby will soon learn how to fall asleep unassisted.
Keep in mind that Ferberizing your baby at nap time will need to be slightly modified. If your baby cries for over 30 minutes, then there goes the naptime. Consider setting a limit of a total of 10 or 15 minutes of crying.
Baby Chunbao’s crying jags diminished steadily over 3 nights, and by the fourth night… drumroll, please… he fell asleep without a sound. Every nap and bedtime, we just put him in his crib awake. He’ll toss and turn, and eventually fall asleep. Even when he wakes in the middle of the night screaming, probably from nightmares, he’ll fall right back to sleep within minutes without anyone going in to comfort him. When we traveled across the globe, baby Chunbo quickly got over his jetlagged spells because we stick to the consistent strategies that got him to sleep trained in the first place.
I hope you find these tips on sleep training with the Ferber method useful. Keep reading Beginner’s Guide To Sleep Training to find out what steps we took to sleep train our baby in less than 5 days!