The Ferber Sleep-Training Method, Finally Explained

baby boy sleeping in bed with ferber method

After too many cranky nights and coffee-fueled mornings, you’ve finally decided to give sleep training a go. Here, one of the most popular—and controversial—methods explained.

Ferber, who now? A pediatrician and former director of the Center for Pediatric Sleep Disorders at Children's Hospital in Boston, Dr. Richard Ferber published his book Solve Your Child's Sleep Problems in 1985 and pretty much changed the way babies (and their parents) have been snoozing ever since.

So what is it? In short, it’s a sleep training method where babies learn how to soothe themselves to sleep (often by “crying it out”) when they’re ready, which is usually around five months old.

How does it work? First, follow a caring bedtime routine (like taking a bath and reading a book) before putting your baby to bed when she's drowsy but still awake. Then (and here’s the hard part) you leave the room—even if your baby is crying. If your child fusses, you can go in to comfort her (by patting and offering soothing words, not by picking her up) but, again, making sure to leave while she’s still awake. Every night, you increase the amount of time between these check-ins, which Ferber calls "progressive waiting." On the first night, you might go and comfort your baby every three, five and ten minutes (with ten minutes being the maximum interval time, although you would restart at three minutes if she wakes up later). A few days later, you might have worked up to 20-, 25- and 30-minute check-ins.

Why does this work? The theory is that after a few days of gradually increasing the waiting intervals, most babies will come to understand that crying only earns them a quick check-in from you and so they learn to fall asleep on their own. This method also gets rid of unhelpful associations at bedtime (like a cuddle with mom) so that your kid will (in theory) no longer need or expect them when she wakes up in the middle of night.

Is this the same thing as the cry-it-out method? Kinda, sorta. The Ferber method has a bad rep with many parents worried about leaving their baby alone to cry in their crib all night. But Ferber is quick to point out that his method actually centers around gradual extinction, i.e., delaying the time in between wakings and comforting at regular intervals. A better nickname might be the check-and-console method. Got it? Goodnight and good luck.

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Executive Editor

Alexia Dellner is an executive editor at PureWow who has over ten years of experience covering a broad range of topics including health, wellness, travel, family, culture and...