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How effective is the Ferber method of sleep training?

Getting a baby to sleep through the night is challenging for any parent. Find out what the Ferber method of sleep training is and if it actually works!

When babies are first born, their sleep cycles tend to be very erratic. While they do sleep for a cumulative 17-18 hours in a day, they will only sleep for 2-3 hours at a stretch. For parents, this means having to get accustomed to their little one’s sleep routine until it starts to stabilize. If your baby is like most, then chances are this stabilization won’t happen on its own. To your baby, waking up and sleeping at odd hours will seem perfectly normal. You will need to help them internalize a normal sleep pattern so they can start sleeping through the night – and most importantly, allowing you to start sleeping through the night as well! The process of teaching your baby is popularly known as ‘sleep training’. Among the many sleep training techniques used by parents everywhere, the Ferber method has become one of the most popular. Here is everything you need to know about the Ferber method for sleep training and whether you should start using it for your baby. 

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What is the Ferber method for sleep training?

The Ferber method of sleep training was first developed by Dr. Richard Ferber, a leading pediatrician. This method focuses on helping your child develop healthy sleep associations and eliminating problematic ones. A ‘sleep association’ is something (it can be an action, event or sound) that your child connects to falling asleep. For example, most parents put their newborn baby to sleep by rocking them or singing lullabies. When you do this, your baby will immediately associate rocking and lullabies with going to sleep. When they wake up in the middle of the night, they will again need you to rock and sing lullabies to them to fall back asleep. The goal of the Ferber method is to teach your child how to put themselves back to sleep. By doing this, when your baby wakes up in the middle of the night, they will be able to fall asleep again very easily, without needing your help. 

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Ferber method: When to start?

You should start the Ferber method only when your baby does not need to be routinely fed during the night. When you are transitioning to bottle-feeding your baby, you can consider trying to sleep train them. For many babies, this will be around the 4-month mark, but for some, it can extend to 6 months. Your baby is unique, so make sure you start the Ferber method only when you know they are ready for it.

A step-by-step guide to following the Ferber method

A common misconception of the Ferber method is that parents should just allow their baby to ‘cry it out’ until the baby gives up and falls back asleep. In reality, there’s a lot more that goes into ‘Ferberizing’ your baby. 

1. Set the scene

Your baby’s pre-bedtime routine is just as important as their actual sleep. Just as your baby’s bedtime is approaching, dim the lights in the room or turn them off completely. You can start singing lullabies to your child or reading a story to them. Following a routine that is exactly the same every day helps your baby start to associate it with sleep. Over time, they will start to feel sleepy as soon as the lights are off or when you start reading them a bedtime story. Make sure though that your baby is still awake when you tuck them in. If they have fallen asleep, then they will continue to need your help to sleep during the night. 

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2. Let them cry with progressive gaps

Even if your baby is sound asleep, every parent knows that it is only a matter of time until they wake up again. When they do wake up, their first reaction is to start crying as a way of calling you to come back and help them fall asleep. As a parent, your first instinct will be to rush to them and comfort them. But try to fight this urge and wait for three minutes the first time before checking on them. Increase this gap to 5 minutes and then 10 minutes when they start crying on the first night. On the second night increase the gap to 5, 10 and 12 minutes. Keep doing this every night, increasing the duration of the gap each time. By the seventh night, you should be waiting for at least 20 minutes before you check in on your baby. By doing this in slow increments, you are giving your baby enough time to get used to falling back asleep on their own. 

You can use this Ferber method chart as a guide to planning your gaps each night.

3. Stay consistent

Like with any new method, consistency is the key to making the Ferber method for sleep training work for you and your baby. Initially, it might be extremely difficult for you to hear your baby cry and not be able to rush to them immediately. However, remember that while it is challenging in the short-term, it is for your baby’s own good. Helping your baby develop healthy sleep habits is one of the most essential skills you can teach them. Breaking the Ferber pattern at any point during the training time can undo any progress your baby has made, so you will have to start all over again. It can also confuse your baby because you’re sending them mixed signals. Because consistency is so important, you need to ensure that you and your partner are on the same page about the Ferber method before you start it. Both of you need to stay equally committed to the technique throughout the entire duration for it to work. 

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Does the Ferber method of sleep training actually work?

The Ferber method of sleep training has largely been proven to be very effective in helping your baby self-soothe and put themselves back to sleep. However, every baby is unique, so what works for someone else might not work for your baby. Most parents who use the Ferber method see any improvement in their baby’s sleep patterns from anywhere between a few days to two weeks. If you see absolutely no improvement in two weeks, you can try switching to Ferber method alternatives like the ‘No-Cry’ technique. But before you rule out the Ferber method of sleep training for your child, you should ensure that you follow it correctly and stay consistent.

Sleep training techniques like the Ferber method can help your child develop healthy sleeping habits that will come in useful for their entire life. For more advice on your growing baby’s needs, you can download the mfine app and schedule an instant consultation with your city’s top pediatricians!

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