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How to Implement the Ferber Method for Sleep Training Your Baby

Updated: Mar 18

The Ferber Method often goes by a number of different names: controlled crying, 'check-ins', 'pop-ins' and controlled comfort. This article will give you everything you need to know about the method so that you feel confident implementing it for your child.

In this article:

What is Ferber Sleep Training

What is the Ferber Method?

The Ferber Method is also known as controlled crying, graduated extinction, timed-checks, 'pop-ins' and controlled comforting. Although this method has many names, this method in its original form is the Ferber method. The method was devised by Paediatrician Richard Ferber and is from his Pediatric Sleep book Solve Your Child's Sleep Problems * and is known as the Ferber Method for this reason. It’s a very successful sleep training method for babies aged between 6 and 18 months of age.

It is a sleep training method that is used to help babies and young children learn to sleep through the night. It involves gradually increasing the amount of time that a child is left alone to fall asleep, while also providing comfort and reassurance at regular intervals.

Is it the same as controlled crying?

Yes. The Ferber Method is simply another name for controlled crying and vice versa. It is seen as a gentler alternative to the full-blown cry-it-out or extinction methods.

Is it the same as the cry it out method?

No. The Cry it out method suggests that you place your child in their cot at bedtime and you leave the room and you do not return until morning - even if they cry. Ferber, on the other hand, allows you to return to your child and comfort them at intervals that start short and increase over time.

Why is the Ferber Method or Controlled Crying used?

The Ferber Method, or controlled crying as it is also known, is a sleep training method. Sleep training methods are used to teach a baby to fall asleep independently in a cot to try to encourage them to sleep through the night.

Lots of babies struggle to fall asleep without being fed or rocked to sleep, which isn't always a problem when it's just the start of the night, but very often babies wake multiple times a night needing the same assistance to then get back to sleep.

The method aims to help babies to fall asleep without needing assistance at the start of the night, so that when they wake during the night, they no longer need rocking or feeding back to sleep.

When is the Ferber Method or Controlled Crying appropriate to use?

At what age can I start using The Ferber Method?

The first thing to say is that Ferber himself does not recommend this method for children under 6 months of age and for toddlers over 18 months of age. This is because babies under 6 months don’t yet have the understanding that you will return when you leave the room, even when you return again to offer comfort - the method is simply too confusing and distressing for them.

At 18 months and beyond, children are too aware of what is happening and it can be too distressing. So while you may see other sleep consultants recommend this for children older or younger, I choose to only recommend it for children between 6-18 months of age.

Who is the Ferber Method not appropriate for?

Ferber also says it shouldn't be used for babies who have an anxious temperament and display the signs of separation anxiety. It also shouldn't be used for babies with underlying medical conditions. It's worth saying that babies under 6 months of age aren't always capable of sleeping through the night as most will still wake for at least one feed every night.

The reality is that this method should only be used for babies between 6-18 months of age who are securely attached, of a calm temperament and who have no underlying medical conditions.

baby asleep

My Opinion on Ferber

I am not against it and I have used it in the past with my oldest son as I couldn't get him to settle for naps without being breastfed to sleep and I stopped breastfeeding just after he was 6 months old.

For him, the method worked very quickly, there was very little crying,10-15 minutes at most, after which point sleep became more consistent for him.

As a sleep consultant, however, it's not a go-to method for me when I work one-to-one with families. Not because I disagree with the method, but because I tend to find that if a client wants to work with me, they usually want to try a gentler approach, or they have already tried this method and it just didn't work for them.

When I work one to one I tend to always try other approaches first. There have been occasions where I have used this method, but by and large, I try to use something more responsive and bespoke.

How to implement the Ferber method

What are the rules?

Before attempting any sleep coaching methods you should make sure you have your sleep hygiene and nap routine down to a tee - make sure the sleep environment is conducive to sleep, the nap routine is well balanced and your bedtime routine is calming and predictable and well established first.

Here is a general outline of how to implement the Ferber method:

  • Establish a bedtime routine: This should include activities such as bathing, brushing teeth, and reading a book.

  • Put your child in their bed or cot when they are fully awake, say goodnight and leave the room: This will help them learn to fall asleep on their own.

  • If your child cries or fusses, wait a set amount of time before going back in to the room comfort them.

What are the timings of The Ferber Method?

If you're wondering how long are the Ferber check-ins, then see the table below for the set times you should wait before you go back in to check on your child:

Check-In Times

1st Check-In

2nd Check-In

3rd Check-In

All other check-ins

Day 1

3 mins

5 mins

10 mins

10 mins

Day 2

5 mins

10 mins

12 mins

12 mins

Day 3

10 mins

12 mins

15 mins

15 mins

Day 4

12 mins

15 mins

17 mins

17 mins

Day 5

15 mins

17 mins

20 mins

20 mins

Day 6

17 mins

20 mins

25 mins

25 mins

Day 7

20 mins

25 mins

30 mins

30 mins

Ferber Method Chart

The Ferber Method Check-In Timings Chart

How long do you let your baby cry with The Ferber Method?

The times above end up being pretty long, so don’t worry! It’s fine to adapt this and to give yourself a maximum time you would go before you comfort. This might be 20 minutes. In general, most children do not need to go to the full 30 minutes required on day 7.

How long does it take for The Ferber Method to work?

In my experience, for people who experience success with the Ferber method they typically report that their babies only needed up to three nights where they were crying for between 3-10 minutes before it worked.

If after 3-5 days your baby is regularly needing you to repeatedly go for those full 20 minutes and they are distressed and they even vomit, I would suggest this method is not right for your baby and you should stop, take a break and try a different method at a later time.

What do you do during the check-ins?

The Ferber rules say that when you go in to comfort your child, do so in a calm and soothing manner: You can pat or rub their back, or speak to them in a soft voice. However, do not pick them up or engage in any other activities that might stimulate them. Try not to stay for more than a minute or two.

This is what can be hard about the Ferber method. Our natural instinct as parents is to scoop up and comfort our babies when they are upset. But this can often send mixed messages. If you pick your child up to calm them and then place them back in the cot and restart the timer, this can sometimes escalate the situation as your baby thinks you are going to rock or feed them to sleep, and when you don't this can be confusing. But you know your child best, if you feel picking them up to calm will reset them, then you can do this, but be aware this could escalate and prolong the process. But I would suggest that you still set a limit of 1-2 minutes during which you do this.

When you go into the room to comfort your child, remember that the aim of the check in is not to stop them crying altogether. The aim is for you to provide some comfort, to show your child that you are still there and haven’t abandoned them. If they are still crying after a couple of minutes, you should still leave the room and set the timer for the allotted amount of time.

Repeat this process each night until your child can fall asleep on their own: This may take several days or even weeks, depending on your child's age and individual needs.

It's important to be consistent and patient when implementing the Ferber method, as it can be difficult for both parents and children. Being inconsistent will prolong the method which can cause further distress.

What do you do if your baby wakes in the middle of the night?

This all depends on the age of your baby and how quickly you want to see results. I usually suggest that if your baby does wake up in the middle of the night and they are used to having feeds, then it is unfair to expect them to suddenly sleep through without. So I suggest that you try to first establish a stretch of sleep that you know your baby is capable of managing without a feed, the first 3-5 hours often represent a natural pattern to sleep. If your child wakes before that time you would use the Ferber method to resettle, and then if they wake after that point you can offer a feed. Then you may try to extend that period over time.

Does it work?

Every baby is unique so there is no guarantee that this method will work for your baby, so you really need to make sure it's a method you're comfortable with. If after a number of days, your baby is having to cry for prolonged periods and you're seeing no improvement I would consider alternative options.

Alternative Sleep Training Methods

Ferber is the most popular method of sleep training, but it certainly isn't the only method out there. You can find other methods in my blog - links are below:

The Pick Up/Put Down Method

If you want to take a slower and more tailored approach, I also have an online course where I detail two super responsive methods to move your child from feeding or rocking to sleep to falling asleep independently. It's very affordable, and you can find out more information here.

Promotion image for The Essential Gentle Baby sleep Course

*Affiliate Link


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