The Ferber Method often goes by a number of different names: controlled crying, 'check-ins', 'pop-ins' and controlled comfort. Here we discuss what the method is, who it's best used for and how to implement the method.
So 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 known as the Ferber Method for this reason. It’s a very successful method of getting a baby to sleep independently without needing to be rocked or fed to sleep. However, it does come with some controversy, and as such it has over the years been renamed and adapted.
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.
Who is the Ferber Method right for?
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 personally choose to only recommend it for children between 6-18 months of age.
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.
So the reality is that the Ferber 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.
My Opinion on the Ferber Method
I am not against the Ferber method. 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 a method I try to avoid using for my one to one clients. 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.
Why use the Ferber method?
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 Ferber method aims to help babies to fall asleep without needing assistance at the start of bedtime, so that when they wake during the night, they no longer need rocking or feeding back to sleep.
How to implement the Ferber method
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, 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.
See the table below for the set times you should wait before you go back in to check on your child:
All other check-ins
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. Most people report that their babies only needed one or two nights where they were left 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.
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.
However, I would suggest that if you feel picking your child up to calm them is what you need to do, then please do that. 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 all together. 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 is able to 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.
Alternatives to The Ferber Method
The Ferber method 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.