What is the Ferber Method?
One of the biggest concerns parents of young children have is sleep–their children’s and their own. In response to the almost universal parental question of how to get my child to sleep at night, some specialists have developed promising techniques. One of them is the “Ferber method”, proposed by the American pediatrician Richard Ferber in the 1980s.
Based on his personal experiences and the work of other authors, Dr. Ferber published a book in 1985 entitled Solve Your Child’s Sleep Problems. It discusses common infant sleep problems and offers tools for parents to teach their children to fall asleep on their own. Naturally, this book was read all over the world.
Below, we’re going to tell you everything you should know about this method and the implications of implementing it. This way, you’ll be able to make more informed decisions. Be sure to keep reading!
What is the Ferber method?
The “Ferber method” is a behavioral technique that aims to teach a toddler to fall asleep on their own. That is, in their crib, in their room, and without the need for contact or assistance from their caregivers to fall asleep or stay asleep.
Ferberization is based on the theory that when the child achieves a certain “independence” at bedtime, they’re able to manage awakenings on their own and don’t need to demand their parents during the night.
To achieve this goal, Richard Ferber proposes a strategy of training the child’s behavior. The main point is to ensure that the infant doesn’t cry or wake up in the early morning, so as not to interrupt their rest or that of their parents. And how does he recommend doing it? Letting the child cry until they understand that their parents aren’t going to come to their room to put them to sleep.
This way, according to the author, both parents and children will enjoy a quality night’s sleep.
How the Ferber method is applied
In this section, we’re not going to develop the method extensively, but we do want to highlight some essential points.
As we anticipated, the main objective of the Ferberization is to get the child to fall asleep on their own, and for that, parents must lead them to modify their behavior. The child will naturally seek close contact with their caregivers to relax and naturally induce sleep.
So, the Ferber method proposes a strategy of gradual (or staggered) extinction of the habit of sleeping with company. The plan lasts 7 days and promises that, at the end of that time, the child will finally fall asleep alone and will continue to do so during each nightly awakening.
Each night, it’s necessary to repeat the same previous ritual, with a slight delay in the parents’ response time to the infant’s demand. According to the author, this favors the child’s and parents’ habituation to achieve the desired success.
To begin with, parents should prepare their child’s room with a safe crib or bed, place a drawing made by the father within sight, a mobile made by the mother, and leave an object of attachment of the child’s choosing. Then, they should get the child ready for bed and kindly explain what’s going to happen: “Now you’re going to sleep in your crib and mom and dad are going to leave the room”.
In order to calm the child’s expected distress, Ferber recommends responding to the child’s calls at predetermined and increasingly longer intervals (detailed in a table). But the intervention of the parents is limited to talking to their child from the door, without touching the child or lifting them from the crib at any time. Not even if he cries inconsolably, hits himself, or vomits.
During nighttime awakenings, repeat the same strategy, regardless of the quantity or quality of the crying. Just go to the room, check that everything is all right, comfort the child by speaking and from a distance, don’t turn on the lights, and leave again even if the crying hasn’t stopped.
Advantages and disadvantages of the Ferber method
Dr. Ferber indicates that between 3 and 5 months, most children are physically and emotionally ready to begin falling asleep on their own. However, before 6 months, it’s not advisable to take them out of the nursery for other reasons.
Many people consider this method to be a bit cruel to the child and that it requires full-fledged training. Moreover, bringing about change in the parents isn’t something that occurs automatically, as it takes a huge effort to stop coming to the baby’s crib when they cry.
But for others, Ferberization is a fairly effective practice for instilling good sleep habits in babies. And at the end of the day, letting them cry for a few days or weeks in exchange for better sleep is a price worth paying.
Just as there are parents who disagree regarding their positions, so do health professionals and researchers. It’s not uncommon for evidence supporting the safety of the method to coexist with that which warns of its potential risks in the future.
It’s complex to determine which is the best way to help your baby to sleep, so we’re going to expose the advantages and disadvantages of this controversial method.
Read also: My Child is Afraid of Their Crib
- The baby manages to initiate and sustain sleep for an extended period of time without calling the parents during the night.
- The habit of sleeping alone can be acquired from an early age (from 3 months).
- The child’s parents will rest for several hours at a time, as they won’t have to assist the baby at each awakening.
- During the day, it’s possible for little ones to learn to calm down on their own and to demand less from the adult caregiver.
- The baby doesn’t learn to fall asleep on their own but learns that no matter how much they cry or demand the parents’ attention, they won’t be available to meet their needs.
- The infant’s crying and anguish at feeling helpless produces a neuroemotional shock (Jové 2005).
- It favors stress in early stages of life, which translates into brain toxicity and neuronal loss (Kloet 2003).
- It increases the risk of developing antisocial, aggressive, homicidal, and self-injurious behaviors in the future (Mause 1991, Lidberg 2002).
- There’s an increased tendency to develop depressive disorders, hyperactivity, lack of self-confidence and self-esteem, and reduced empathy (Mause 1991).
- There’s an increased prevalence of sleep disorders in the future (Jové, 2005).
- Disorders regarding attachment and bonding with caregivers.
- Manifestations of post-traumatic stress.
You may be interested in: Is It Good or Bad to Let a Baby Cry?
Other alternatives for the baby to get to sleep at night
First of all, it’s worth clarifying that a child’s sleep is an aspect that also matures over time. No baby is born without the ability to sleep, but their sleep patterns are frankly different from those of adults. And this has a biological reason and a scientific explanation.
Want to know more?: Tips to Help Your Baby Sleep Better
Nevertheless, we parents suffer from chronic fatigue and it’s logical to want to buy any promising solution we can find, but not at any cost. So, here are some tips to implement at home to help you organize your baby’s nighttime rest. Take note!
- Keep a daytime and nighttime routine, so that your baby gets used to the sequence of events and can anticipate bedtime.
- Play a lot with your baby, take them out for walks, and show them what the world is like during the day. This way, little by little, they’ll understand why adults spend the night sleeping and will feel like staying active during the sunlight hours.
- Adopt some relaxing rituals to induce relaxation so that the desire to sleep comes naturally. Give them a warm bath in the evening, give them some massages, sing them a song softly, reduce outside stimuli, and don’t withhold your affection. They should feel secure that no one will abandon them when they fall asleep.
- When feeding or changing their diaper during the night, try not to keep them awake. Make gentle movements, prevent them from getting cold, use a very dim light, and don’t stimulate them too much.
- Ideally, put them to bed half asleep: Breastfeed them, rock them, and tuck them in, but lay them on the mattress before they go into a deep sleep. If they wake up, rock them lying down gently with your hand and bring your scent close to them.
- Respond to your baby’s demands day and night, as this will help them feel safe and secure and reduce stress.
About the Ferber method, we can say…
Whether or not to implement the Ferber method will depend on the parents’ decision and what they’re looking for. However, it’s important to be aware of what it involves before putting it into practice.
Keep in mind that children’s sleep evolves and that parents often fail to adjust their expectations to reality. For this reason, understand the stage your child is going through, accompany them with love and empathy, and try to be respectful of their developmental pace. Sometimes, wanting to go faster than nature has a much higher cost than you and your child should have to pay.
All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.
- Ferber, R. (1992). Solucione los problemas de sueño de su hijo. Medici.
- Jové, R. (2005) Dormir sin lágrimas. Dejarlo llorar no es la solución. La Esfera de los Libros. España. Disponible en: https://www.academia.edu/7882600/Rosa_Jove_Dormir_Sin_Lagrimas
- Sadeh, Avi. (1996). Stress, Trauma and Sleep in Children. Child and Adolescent Psychiatric Clinics of North America. 5. 10.1016/S1056-4993(18)30356-0. Disponible en: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/265280437_Stress_Trauma_and_Sleep_in_Children
- Anna M.H. Price, Melissa Wake, Obioha C. Ukoumunne, Harriet Hiscock; Five-Year Follow-up of Harms and Benefits of Behavioral Infant Sleep Intervention: Randomized Trial. Pediatrics October 2012; 130 (4): 643–651. 10.1542/peds.2011-3467. Disponible en: https://publications.aap.org/pediatrics/article-abstract/130/4/643/30241/Five-Year-Follow-up-of-Harms-and-Benefits-of?redirectedFrom=fulltext
- Mause, Ll., de. (1991) Historia de la Infancia. Alianza Editorial. Madrid.
- Kloet, E.R. (2003). Hormones, brain and stress. Endocr.Regul.,37,2,2003,pp.51-68.