The Ferber Method Sleep Training Technique Explained

Helping babies sleep through the night is a major priority for all parents and sleep training comes in all shapes and sizes.

One of the most popular sleep training methods is known as the Ferber method. Developed by Dr. Richard Ferber, the director of The Center for Pediatric Sleep Disorders, at Children’s Hospital Boston, the Ferber method of sleep training is on of many effective ways to help your child learn to sleep through the night.
But what is the Ferber method and how does it work? Will it fit into your families lifestyles? Let’s take a closer look.

The Ferber Method Explained

The Ferber method is one technique used to wean children away from sleep associations and help him or her to learn how to fall asleep on their own. Eventually, this will lead to the magical destination of sleeping through the night because if your child can fall asleep without your help, then he or she can get BACK to sleep between sleep cycles.
The Ferber method is also known as the check-and-console method as you gradually teach your child how to fall asleep through a series of incremental check-ins. Over time, you increase the amount of time between check-ins, which allows your child time to practice falling asleep without using sleep associations.

The Ferber Method: How Does It Work?

First, as with any sleep training method, as long as your child is well you can start laying a healthy foundation for sleep. Start by laying your child down drowsy but awake at the start of bedtime, then leave the room. If your child fusses, feel free to check in and offer comfort, but be sure to leave while your child is still awake. From there, each night (or every few nights), you would gradually increase the time between your checks, allowing your child more and more time to learn to self-soothe and fall asleep independently.
Your plan for timed check-ins may look something like this:

  • Day 1 – 3 min (1st interval); 5 min (2nd interval); 10 min (3rd interval); 10 min (remaining intervals)
  • Day 2 – 5 min; 10 min; 12 min; 12 min
  • Day 3 – 10 min; 12 min; 15 min; 15 min
  • Day 4 – 12 min; 15 min; 17 min; 17 min
  • Day 5 – 15 min; 17 min; 20 min; 20 min
  • Day 6 – 17 min; 20 min; 25 min; 25 min
  • Day 7 – 20 min; 25 min; 30 min; 30 min
This example moves between time increments pretty quickly but you can use your own judgment to decide on the best pace that works for you and your baby.

The Ferber Method: Is It Flexible?

With the Ferber method, you can increase or decrease the amount of time between your check-ins as needed; you can also use the same check-in intervals for several days at a time, if you think your child needs more time to get used to falling asleep independently.
Finally, HOW you offer comfort during your check-ins is flexible, too. Some parents prefer to soothe just with their voices, while others pat their babies’ heads, rub their tummy, etc. Other families prefer to pick their children up briefly. All of these can work, provided your child doesn’t inadvertently end up falling asleep in our arms, since that’s what your child is supposed to be doing on their own.

The Bottom Line

The Ferber method can be an effective way to reduce nocturnal crying, protests, and requests for parental soothing, but it is important to note that:
  • The sleep training program is age-appropriate
  • You have considered your child’s individual temperament and personality
  • If your child has a conditioned fear of being alone or shows signs of conditioned vomiting, consult a behavioral therapist
  • Before training begins, make sure that all participating adults understand the procedure. Regardless of the method you choose, success depends on being consistent.
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Self-settling

Helping babies to sleep through the night is a main priority for all the parents I have ever spoken to, whether they have just one newborn or two. When I had Ariana I was lucky enough to enjoy 12 months maternity leave from work so she got to enjoy my undivided attention 24 hours a day and I lavished her with it. I rocked her to sleep, fed her to sleep, let her take her naps on my lap and then wondered why she didn’t sleep through the night until she was 12 months old. When I was pregnant with Kian and Kaira, I knew that I would have to teach them to self-settle as early as possible and that’s exactly what I did.

I didn’t find it easy at first though. I remember when they were a few weeks old and I had just laid them down in their bed for a nap for the first time during the day and when I went out of the room I can remember feeling like a part of me had been ripped from my body. I felt awful leaving them alone. I just wanted to run back in and hold my babies regardless of the fact that they wouldn’t have any clean bottles or clean clothes or anything else I had to catch up on while they slept. I sat on the floor outside their bedroom door with my head in my hands sobbing down the phone to my husband as he had just returned to work after 2 weeks at home with us, the mum-guilts got me bad! The two weeks Ste spent with us on paternity leave allowed us to nurse and hold the babies all day long and there was 2 of us to share the household tasks so as soon as I found myself alone with them I knew they had to start sleeping in their own cots to allow me time to do the work on my own, which came as a shock to my system and I felt really guilty about it.

I wish I’d had another mum of a newborn or two to talk to at the time, to reassure me that my feelings were perfectly normal and that things would get easier, which is what I would like to do for you now. I would like to say that of course it does feel strange after 9 months of carrying your baby/ies around inside you, putting them down in their own beds will feel unnatural at first but it’s as important for them as it is for you to get used to that separation. Babies need to learn how to settle themselves, no parent wants to be awake all night helping their babies get back to sleep when they naturally wake from their slumber every 40 minutes or so, and it’s putting them down in their own cots for all naps (including day time) that is the start of the process.

What I still tell myself is that babies need sleep in order to grow and develop. Depriving them of their own ability to settle themselves back to sleep is not going to do anyone any favours in the long term. Babies thrive on routine and I reminded myself of that every day when I felt guilty taking them to bed and laying them down in the dark for their naps, they were happier and much more alert babies because they were well rested and getting them to bed at night was easier because they associated their bedroom with sleep.

Necessities for helping babies to self-settle:

Swaddles

photo 4 (1)I am a huge fan of swaddling. It’s something the midwives did in hospital when all 3 of our children were born and although I didn’t continue at home with Ariana, I did with the twins and I became a convert, I would highly recommend it to any parents of newborns. Some people use a cotton blanket folded into a triangle but we preferred the Miracle Blanket, which is the perfect size and shape for newborns right through to 6 months old. We purchased several from Mothercare and they significantly reduced the babies natural startle reflex, which would jerk them awake regularly if they were not tucked in so securely.

The only down side of swaddling is getting babies used to sleeping without them again. Kian and Kaira were five months old before we stopped swaddling them completely, after a weaning off period where we left one arm out of the swaddle for a couple of weeks, then went on to leaving two arms free and then out came the legs. Altogether, I think it took about a month for them to get used to sleeping without being swaddled but it was well worth it in the early days!

Dummies/pacifiers

dummiesI really recommend dummies, particularly if a baby is swaddled as their natural instinct is to suck and they can’t find their thumb if they’re swaddled. I also didn’t want my children to become thumb suckers as I knew that it would be a really difficult habit for them to break and their teeth could grow out of shape and the thought of all the germs on their little hands when they’re older really put me off. I knew with dummies, I could restrict their usage to bedtime only and they became a great sleep cue for all of our children. As soon as we popped them into bed, they grabbed their dummies and we could see their eyes closing instinctively and were asleep by the time we’d left the room some days!

Dummies have also been proven to help protect babies from cot death by regulating their heartbeat, which was all the encouragement I needed to give them to my children when I heard it! I love the ones by Avent as they are orthodontic and all come with a lid and so are much more hygienic if you want to take them out with you. I let Ariana have hers in bed until she was three years old but I’ll write about how we stopped her using it in another blog post.

Dummy clips

imagesOne of the major downsides of dummies is teaching babies to find them for themselves in the dark. There are a variety of glow in the dark options available but I find they only glow for a short period of time (not enough to get through the night) so the best option in my opinion are dummy clips. There are a variety of these on the market too, but I find the ones that stay put the most effectively are these by Mam, available at Boots. Of course, it isn’t feasible for very young babies to be able to find their own dummies for the first few months, so it is to be expected that parents may have to get out of bed to replace them if they’re lost, but this phase soon passes and children soon learn exactly how to follow their clip string to find the dummy.

Blackout blinds

blindsI’ve mentioned the importance of making a room pitch black even in broad daylight in a previous post. We have fitted a roller blind, blackout curtains, lined curtains, pelmets and even stuff cushions up into the cracks between the pelmet and curtain rail to make the kids bedrooms dark for their day time naps. There’s loads of research done on the affect darkness has on releasing the brains chemicals to induce natural sleep patterns and as parents, we want to teach our children that bedtime is for sleeping as early as possible and a dark room for naps is the way to do it. You’ll be glad when your babies are the only ones you hear of that sleep beyond 5:00am!

Comforters

comforterWhen I was pregnant with the twins, we gave Ariana a very important job to do and that was to choose their comfort blankets. She selected one blue and one pink bunny from Precious Little One and she brought them into hospital for them the very first day she met her new brother and sister and they have slept with them ever since. I place them on their left hand side whenever I put the babies in bed and they nuzzle their faces into them knowingly that it’s time for sleep. Another sleep cue that I think has worked wonders with our three.

I have to admit, there was a settling in period where we all got used to this new routine of teaching the babies to settle themselves but it was only a couple of weeks and when that breakthrough came and I had two newborns that I could put to bed awake and they would get themselves to sleep, I started to get my life back together and I felt the proudest I ever have of them and of myself!

Of course, there’s a lot more to encouraging babies to self-settle than buying the right equipment. There needs to be strength within the parent that will be at home with the child to teach this life skill and not feel guilty about not picking them up every time they cry. It takes practice to put a baby down, swaddle them, give them their comforters, turn off the light, leave the room and not feel bad about it but when you reach that magical destination known as ‘Sleeping through the Night’, you’ll be so glad that you persevered.

There will be times when they cry and you will probably cry on the other side of the door too, but it’s important to remember that this is a very short term phase that ALL families have to get through because what are the other options? It’s OK to let just one baby sleep on your lap during the day every day if that’s what you choose to do, but there just isn’t enough room for two on there and what happens at night if they can’t sleep alone during the day? Kicking my partner out of bed to make room for two babies was never an option for me and it wasn’t recommended by my Health Visitor either due to safety reasons. I was never going to be one of those parents who drive around all night to get their children to sleep either or push their pram at 3:00am just to get them to sleep. It’s not practical when you have other siblings to care for or the mountains of work you need to do when the babies sleep. Nothing would ever get done if they didn’t take their naps in their bedroom.

So as long as you know your baby or babies are well and are regularly putting on weight, there’s no reason why they can’t learn to self-settle from the first few weeks of life but my advice is only based on that from my own experience and that of other parents of multiples that I know.

I’m always answering more specific questions on Instagram and through the about page, or feel free to leave your comments below. I will talk about more specific routines that worked for us in further blog posts.

Thanks for reading.

Love from Leyla

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Establishing a routine

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Although in my pre-mum life I wasn’t always a person that’s keen on routine, but since having kids I’ve found it the only way I can manage my day and the million things I have to do during it.

Even when I only had 1 child to care for, as the months went by I found myself creating a routine with Ariana  that allowed me to plan my week around a well rested baby so I knew during my pregnancy with the twins that I would incorporate a similar structure when they arrived.

I remember wishing there was a place I could read about recommended routines for twins, just to give myself a head start on what to expect from an average (if that exists) day caring for two babies and I found Gina Ford’s Contented House With Twins book a great place to start although I found her routines to be quite rigid in parts and not really tailored toward a home that already has children living in it so I’m really hoping that I can fill in some blanks for prospective parents of multiples on my blog.

I know the thought of a routine seems pretty restrictive to some and many times I’ve left play dates to get the kids home for their scheduled nap to the horror of some parents who are happy to let their children run around until they drop, but in my experience you will wait a long time for cues from a baby about how exhausted they are. If anything, kids can seem even more energised and hyper when they’re at their most tired and they don’t take kindly to being taken away from all the fun they think they’re having when they’re absolutely shattered.

Kian and Kaira were in completely different sleep patterns when they were born. Kian was a sleepy feeder and would fall asleep on his bottle before he finished it, whereas Kaira was quite happy to sleep all day but be awake all night. I remember waddling up and down the hospital corridors on the second night after their birth from 1:00 – 4:00am holding Kaira tight while she gazed bright eyed at me as we learned the features of each others faces under the fluorescent lights. It was a lovely time for us to bond and I enjoyed every minute of it, but I also knew deep down that I had another exhausting day ahead of me looking after another newborn that didn’t leave any time to catch up on the sleep I was missing with a caesarean to recover from. I knew I would have to get my beautiful new babies in the same feeding and sleeping pattern when we got home.

I’m really lucky to have a partner who has embraced fatherhood and we both worked really hard to support each other and maintain a level of calm in our home that I think all newborn babies need. Having a routine in place helped as even though we were both too exhausted to think straight, we could work the essential jobs around their naps and of course give Ariana all the attention any 2 year old needs on a daily basis especially when their world has been turned upside down.

I suppose what I’m trying to say is that for me there is no substitute for a day that’s structured around regular feed and nap times and I honestly can’t imagine trying to cope with twins without a routine. Kian and Kaira were taking their daytime naps together from being just a few weeks old and I remember having visitors at the time who expressed they couldn’t believe how calm the house was with three small babies in it. By 6 months the twins were sleeping through the night and now at a year I can stand at the bottom of the stairs and declare its ‘nap time’ and they will both crawl quite happily up to bed and I can lie them down and turn off the light and they get themselves straight to sleep. I really hope I can help other parents get there relatively easily in my following blog posts.

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Love from Leyla