American paediatrician, Dr. Richard Ferber, wrote the book, “Solve your Child’s Sleep Problems”, in the mid-80s and has been credited with improving the sleep of millions of children. A revised edition published in 2006 acknowledges the changes in our understanding of children’s sleep.
What is Ferberisation?
Ferberising is a series of steps that parents can take to encourage their baby to go to sleep on their own. It works on the principles of:
If a child only learns to go to sleep with their parent helping them, they don’t learn how to settle to sleep on their own.
“Progressive Waiting”, where parents delay the time they take to respond to their crying baby. The child is given reassurance and soothing, but this is under the discretion of the parent. Eventually the child learns that it is sleep time and they are not going to get lots of attention.
Partial waking during sleep is normal for children and adults, but if parents interfere with their child’s attempts to resettle themselves, habits of reliance are established.
Parents are advised to not try Ferber sleep training until their baby is 4-6 months old. Little babies cannot change their behaviour because of how they are cared for. It is unrealistic for parents to expect changes before their baby is emotionally and physically ready.
Follow a regular, predictable routine of settling, which calms your baby and lets them know it is bed time. Place them into their cot before they are asleep.
Calm and soothe your baby if they are distressed, but only for a few minutes and then leave the room, even if they are still crying.
Stay out of the room for 3-5 minutes before you re-enter. Give your baby brief reassurance by patting or stroking their head before leaving the room again.
This time double the period of time you were out the first time e.g. 6-10 minutes. This is known as Progressive Waiting and relies on how comfortable you feel leaving your baby to cry and how many times you’ve already been in to them.
When you have built up the time of being out of the room to 15 minutes, don’t increase this any more, but wait for another 15 minutes before you go in each time. Keep doing this until your baby is asleep or, you have both had enough.
The goal is to leave your baby before they are asleep and teach them how to settle themselves. You control when you go into your baby based on timing, not their type of cry.
If your baby is sick, has a change in routine, or something different is happening with your family life, you need to be more flexible.
You should be able to notice an improvement in your baby’s sleep within a week. Extend this to two weeks if you take a more relaxed approach. The Ferber Method relies on parents being consistent, firm and loving each time you return to reassure your child. But success also relies on parents not deviating from their settling routine.
Will using The Ferber Method hurt my baby?
Ferber’s techniques have received a lot of criticism since they were first developed. Many parents and professionals who work with children subscribe to the “No Cry” approach, feeling that all crying should be a prompt for parents to respond to their child immediately. Some parents are very concerned that leaving their crying baby disrupts their emotional development and sense of security, but recent research has shown that it has no long-term adverse effects on the child’s emotional and psycho-social development.
The first generations to be “Ferberised” are now in their early 20s and appear to be just fine. They aren’t easily recognised as a group who have major issues with separation or who have disrupted relationships with their parents. Ferber has revised his original philosophies to include:
Supporting parents co-sleeping with their children if they choose to. This is fine as long as the parents and child are happy and it is working for them both.
It is reasonable for parents to be flexible and do what works for them. Rigid schedules don’t work in the real world of families, and parents need to use their motivation and energy to do what feels right.
Who supports The Ferber Method?
Richard Ferber and his team at the Center for Paediatric Sleep Disorders at Children’s Hospital, Boston are obviously great believers in this settling method.
When other settling strategies have not worked, The Ferber Method is another option to try.
Parents that are exhausted and feel that their energy to spend quality time with their child is being compromised can benefit from using The Ferber Method.
N.B. Your child’s personality and temperament will impact on the way they settle to sleep. Children with developmental problems, or who are particularly vulnerable or sensitive, would probably benefit from other settling methods.