Ferber or Weissbluth?

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We’ve talked about how Babywise may or may not be right for your baby’s sleep, why Pantley’s No Cry Sleep Solution doesn’t always work, and about Dr. Sears and Weissbluth’s online chat about baby sleep. This article will talk about the differences and similarities between Ferber and Weissbluth and which one may be better (or not) for your baby’s sleep.

Who are Ferber and Weissbluth?

Baby Sleep Training books Pantley Weissbluth FerberMost people know Ferber’s name because of the now popular term “Ferberizing,” a method for sleep training your baby, which involves letting him cry while you check on him at intervals. But, actually, if you read Ferber’s book, Solve Your Child’s Sleep Problems, there is a lot more information that is useful to know, such as how sleep develops in your baby, how sleep phases and biological/internal clocks work, the difference between night terrors and nightmares, how to deal with bed wetting, and much more.

Weissbluth, author of Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child, stresses the importance of healthy sleep habits in young babies and children, introduced the term “extinction,” illustrates why an early bedtime is of extreme importance, and theorizes that some children diagnosed with ADHD really simply need more sleep (not all, of course).

Similarities Between Ferber and Weissbluth

For which they’re most famously known, both Weissbluth and Ferber both strongly advocate using a crying method to sleep train your baby. They both provide guidelines as far as how to do so. Weissbluth’s “graduated extinction” is similar to Ferber’s method which I call “check and console.” Neither Ferber or Weissbluth advocate this method for all sleep problems, however. It’s not like Ferber or Weissbluth suggest letting your baby cry it out after a nightmare or wetting the bed, for example. Both primarily discuss allowing your baby to cry in order to change sleep associations and teach your baby how to self-soothe.

Differences Between Ferber and Weissbluth

Ferber and Weissbluth do have some differences in opinion on quite a few things, which is what confuses a lot of people, because almost all of the books contradict each other!

The first big difference is the average amount of sleep your baby needs. If you look at Weissbluth’s averages (~14 hours in a day for a young baby) and then look Ferber’s, Ferber’s are MUCH lower, in general. In fact, pick up 5 books and read this site and we are all likely to have different averages.

Ferber says to go in and check and reassure your baby at intervals and Weissbluth, while offering 4 different methods of sleep training, strongly suggests “extinction” (or not going in at all) yields the fastest results and is least confusing to baby.

Weissbluth strongly urges parents to put baby to sleep early (as early as 5 p.m., if necessary), while Ferber suggests that later bedtimes are often required to avoid your baby waking too early in the morning. Ferber also recommends very strict schedules for inconsistent babies.

Weissbluth discusses how your baby’s temperament will be a guiding factor in your experience with your baby’s sleep, while Ferber doesn’t seem to touch on this much, if at all.

Weissbluth says that many babies will need 1-2 night feedings up through 9 months while Ferber indicates babies need just one feeding at 3 months and none after 4-5 months old.

These are just a few of the differences and there could be more. These are the ones that come up most in personalized consultations.

So, Ferber or Weissbluth for your baby?

First, if I asked 10 of you how much sleep your babies get and then asked another 10 people, I would get different averages from each group. Keep in mind that the sources of averages are based on a finite number of babies and is just a sample. Averages are just those and you should use them as guidelines, not the end all, be all. Your baby has unique sleep needs, so respect those. Log her sleep for 1-2 weeks every so often and you will know how much sleep she needs, on average (every day may not be the same), at that age. In my experience with my own children and thousands of yours, Ferber’s averages are much too low for young babies, but seem exactly right around 2 years old and up.

I am asked the question, on occasion, about whose camp I’m in and the answer is that I’m not really in anyone’s camp. Just like Pantley’s No Cry Sleep Solution will work great for one family, it won’t for another. I can tell you that, in my experience (which is skewed towards a small and select group of children that have sleep problems), it is better to follow Weissbluth’s early bedtime ideas in young babies and young toddlers up to two years old, in many circumstances. I have seen an earlier bedtime make HUGE differences alone in many family’s situations. However, I find a 5 or 5:30 or even a 6 p.m. bedtime not very practical for most families. Even IF your baby can sleep 12 hours (mine slept just 11 to 11 1/2 at a young age), that means a ~5 a.m. wake-up time and you can get yourself into a perpetual early schedule. And, if you’re a working parent, that means either not seeing your baby at night or simply an impossible bedtime. But, after 9-10 months old, the lines start to blur and I really see Ferber’s ideas on sleep phases and internal clocks kick in for many babies and toddlers, along with stricter clock schedules doing wonders. All in all, it really depends on the baby.

I will wholeheartedly disagree with Ferber’s notion that all/most babies only need one feeding at 3 months and none by 4-5 months old, especially breastfed babies. True, maybe a baby won’t lose weight or become unhealthy, but it doesn’t mean he can comfortably go long periods without feeding from that young age, either. I do see some babies do very well without feedings at a young age, but definitely not all. Both my boys and especially my youngest who was a great self-soother, actually, struggled a lot with this!

As far as check and console or cry it out ala “extinction,” I think it’s a lot easier to say “Just let him cry” than to actually see it through, especially as a new parent. It sounds, to some, like it’s an easy way out, but it’s far from that. I have found that many babies can and will make very good progress without either of these methods and I often start with no cry (or limited crying) methods with the majority of our families. Will sleep be perfect? Sometimes, but not always, unfortunately. I am in Weissbluth’s camp that your baby’s temperament will make a BIG difference in what you get to work, and not only that, but your patience level, too. You may be too much of a hare and your baby’s a tortoise or vice versa.

The bottom line? None of these books know you and your baby. You do. And, your approach will be as unique as your family, a big reason why the Personalized Sleep Plan™ here on the site even exists.

What about you? Ferber, Weissbluth, Ferbluth, or Nobluth?

If you’re looking for ways to to get your particular baby or toddler into a healthy sleeping routine, please be sure to pick up your FREE copy of 5 (tear-free) Ways to Help Your Child Sleep Through the Night, our e-Book with tear-free tips to help your baby sleep better. For those persistent nighttime struggles, check out The 3-Step System to Help Your Baby Sleep (babies) or The 5-Step System to Better Toddler Sleep (toddlers). Using a unique approach and practical tools for success, our e-books help you and your baby sleep through the night and nap better. For those looking for a more customized solution for your unique situation with support along the way, please consider one-on-one baby and toddler sleep consultations, where you will receive a Personalized Sleep Plan™ you can feel good about! Sometimes it’s not that you can’t make a plan. Sometimes you’re just too tired to.

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14 Responses to Ferber or Weissbluth?

  1. Meagan says:

    We did extinction when he was younger (about 4.5 months) and it seemed to work pretty well then, but now (7.5) it just seems more complicated. His sleep slipped off track thanks to almost a solid month of holiday travel (including a 1 week 3 hour time zone shift) , cutting his first tooth, and a newfound ability to.both.crawl and get himself into a sitting position. I expect pulling up soon too. Right now we are doing extinction at 8pm bedtime and all naps (up to an hour) check and sooth once if he wakes before 11, one feeding between 11-2, wait and hope he self sooths between 2-5, and another feeding if he wakes after 5 (so he will, hopefully, not wake for the day). It’s probably too complicated, but seems to make more sense than something more obvious. But maybe that’s the lack of sleep talking- I’m trying to nurse him back to a couple extra hours of sleep while I write this comment. :-)

  2. Lydia says:

    With my daughter, I used extinction, and she was literally sleeping 12 hours at night by 6 months old. As for our new baby, who is 8 months old, we have done a blend of extinction and check&console based on the type of crying he has done. He is nursing and teething. Those teeth seem to be driving him nuts, so if he doesn’t nurse before going to bed, and then wakes up crying within 30 minutes of “going to bed,” I will go in and nurse him. Most of the time, he’s fine. But, I have found that I’m learning his cries.

    I’m a Weissbluth fan. I used his methods with my daughter (and still do – she’s 7), and everything “worked.” So far, he’s on the money with this little guy too – :)

  3. Mahua Mandal says:

    I read Weissbluth’s Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child, but I didn’t find much on babies’ different temperaments. Perhaps a line here or there, but nothing very in-depth. Did I miss something? And, certainly, nothing (from Weissbluth or Ferber) that addresses that some babies will scream at night (when you’re trying to do any form of CIO) like they’re literally being tortured. And, even though during the day you are POSITIVE they were only screaming like that b/c they wanted to use their crutch (breastfeeding, rocking, whatever) to fall asleep, how difficult it is when you hear that type of scream not to think “Wait. Maybe something really is wrong this time!” And, not mention that – sometimes – it is REALLY difficult to distinguish between a cry that is “I want my crutch, I’m so angry you won’t give it to me” and a “I’m in pain.” Which – unfortunately – happened to me when we used a type of CIO over a few months – yes, it took a few MONTHS! (we did check and console, so my husband did go in intermittently – I’m sure it took longer than rapid extinction). One the morning I found my son had thrown up, likely from a few hours before when I thought he was just fussing b/c he couldn’t go back to sleep on his own. But, in reality, he was starting to get sick. Obviously, I was devastated and felt guilty for weeks (and still do). Anyway, sharing all that to come to my main point: What really bothers me about both Weissbluth and Ferber (I’ve only read parts of a book by Ferber) is that they insist doing their method will work for ALL children and ALL families. I guess that is true for most books and methods out there on babies and sleep. But, really, I’m not sure WHY these “sleep experts” insist on saying that. B/c it’s not like they’ve met every single baby and every single family in the world. How can they make such assertions? I did get some useful info from Weissbluth, but truthfully, it was only after observing my son over his first year of life that I could glean WHAT in the book was useful for us and what pieces of information were not relevant to him (or didn’t work for him).

  4. Kendra says:

    I love Weissbluth’s message of “sleep begets sleep.” We have found it to be true, that is, whenever we can get him enough of it! We have tried extinction a lot, but we’re either not consistent enough, or it’s not right for our son. He used to cry for hours. Now he will just sit and make happy noises for hours. No sleep either way until we cave in and rock him or he crashes.

  5. Natalie B says:

    I haven’t personally looked into Ferber, but was recommended Weissbluth’s book HSH,HC by a close friend of mine whose parenting style is very similar to my own. I must admit though (and I am sure this is true for many parents), I am very much a trial and error/watch and see type of person. If my baby has a new development (which they always do), I wait and see what kind of effect it has. Change isn’t always a bad thing – babies are such dynamic creatures! I do agree with Weissbluth that sleep begets sleep, and I like his no-nonsense style of writing. I find in general it’s good practice to take baby-book advice with a grain of salt… use those critical thinking skills!

  6. Shannon says:

    I’ve been reading Weissbluth per the recommendation of friends since our 6-month-old was born. I’ve remained pretty strict about not letting our LO remain awake for more than 2 hours straight. This has translated into 4 naps per day (each over 45 minutes long, most an hour, sometimes more).

    It’s taken a while longer to get into a rhythm with our night sleep. I’m still breast-feeding and up ’til 5-1/2 months, our LO would wake up 2 – 3, sometimes 4, times at night and want to be fed (at least that’s what I was interpreting from his cries — or I fed him just to calm him down and go back to sleep myself). I was exhausted at having such fragmented sleep and figured at 6 months, we would try for extinction, especially since he would start eating solids and I felt he’d be getting enough nourishment to make it through the night. Here’s what happened:

    Night 1: Put in bed awake, but sleepy, at 8 p.m. He started crying at 11 p.m. Everything in me wanted to go in and check on him, put his pacifier back in or rub his back. But I resisted. He cried for 30 minutes and stopped. Phew. Then he woke up at 2 a.m. and cried for 15 minutes. Then back to sleep. He made it to 4:30 a.m. and woke up crying again and I went in and fed him. Put him back to sleep and he slept ’til 8:30 a.m. woke up happy as a clam.

    Night 2: Put in bed awake, but very sleepy, at 7:30 p.m. He started crying around 12:30 a.m. for just 15 minutes. Slept ’til 2:30 a.m. and started crying again, only 10 minutes. Then slept straight ’til 5:45 a.m. and I fed him, put him back to bed, and he slept ’til 7:45 a.m.

    Night 3: Put in bed awake, but sleepy at 7:30 p.m. I honestly don’t remember if he cried at all, because if he did, it was so short that I probably didn’t have time to consider going in. He woke up at 5:30 a.m. I fed him, put him back in bed and he slept ’til 8:15 a.m. Hallelujah!

    Night 4: Put in bed awake at 7:45 p.m. and he slept straight until 5:45 a.m. I fed him, put him back to sleep and he slept until 8:15 a.m.

    I was amazed at how quickly he learned to sleep through the night, with little or no crying to boot. I realize every baby is different, so I don’t expect this to “work” for every child, but for us, we are a fan of Dr. Weissbluth’s methods and his encouragement for babies to get a lot of quality sleep. I agree that you need to watch your babies cues, so I put him down for a nap when I see that he’s tired. Again, 4 naps a day and 11 – 12 hours at night. It seems like a lot of sleep to me, but I trust that he’s getting what he needs because that’s what his body is telling me he needs.

  7. Elizabeth says:

    I agree that there is no “one size fits all” approach to baby sleep. I’ve read many books and none of them worked completely with my baby (now 20 month toddler) who still does not sleep through the night. After a visit to a sleep specialist at Cildren’s Memorial who patted me on the back for my good work (??? But she still isn’t sleeping!) I am trying to just relax as much as physically possible. I’m doing the best that anyone can do in our situation.

    We also had a problem with extinction at 7.5 months … She cries off and on for hours. One morning I went in after 3 hrs of off and on crying to find her pj’s and sheets soaked. Her diaper had leaked.

    Also I never see anyone mention “The 90 Minute Sleep Solution” for baby sleep. Even our sleep specialist hadn’t heard of it (although he was familiar with the science behind it). That was the most useful for naps for us.

  8. Elizabeth says:

    Oh, and just wanted to add, the super early bedtime never worked for us… Just made her really angry! She almost always goes down around 8:00 (7-7:30 if she’s really really tired that day).

  9. Sophie says:

    We stuck mostly with Ferber. I found Weissbluth’s book incredibly difficult to read and confusing. Plus I found the early bedtime to be impractical. My daughter (12 months) never seems to get more than 9-10 hrs a night, no matter how early we put her to bed. Now she wakes around 4 every morning and cries intermittently until 6. Sometimes she falls back asleep, other times I’m not so sure. We put her down at 8, she naps at 10 and 2:30/3. We’ve tried bedtime at 7, but then she’ll fight it and wake up even earlier the next morning. I’m seriously considering feeding her when she wakes at 4, but I don’t want to start another bad habit. Any thoughts?

    All this sleep stuff is so frustrating!

  10. Mahua Mandal says:

    Elizabeth – I think we may have babies with similar temperaments. I entirely understand the off and on crying for hours (with the caveat that after many, many weeks of sleep training, and hours upon hours of crying, my boy is FINALLY sleeping 10-11 hours at night). I think your perspective of trying to relax as much as physically possible, and knowing that you’re doing the best you can in this situation is right on. Something for everyone – esp. those with very persistent babies who are naturally poor sleeper – to keep in mind. Thank you for sharing that, as it makes me feel like I’m not the only one with a baby who didn’t successfully sleep train in just 4 days!

  11. Jennifer A. says:

    My son (now 3.5) wakes up at least once a night about 50% of the time and has since he was born. I rocked/nursed my son to sleep until he was about 18 months old when he was able to fall asleep on his own without crying. My daughter (9 months) is a much better night sleeper than my son, although he was a better napper. She has since about 2 months old slept at least 12 hours at night without night feedings (except for the duration of two colds). I also rock/nurse my daughter every night and at nap time, the same way in the same chair in fact. Often my daughter is not fully asleep, but in a sort of dreamy milk induced sleep haze and falls asleep within seconds of hitting her crib mattress.

    My children have extremely different temperaments and I believe that makes all the difference in their sleep habits. I have never read a sleep training book but I do enjoy thoughtful dialogue, discussion and information that is presented on this website. I find Nicole’s personalized approach and perspective refreshing and so much more tolerable than a one-size-fits-all attitude. Keep up the great work and thank you for sharing your stories with us :.)

  12. @Meagan It doesn’t sound too complicated to me in that we often had different strategies for bedtime than night-waking and such. I recommend that after feedings, make sure he’s still semi-awake to keep the consistency that he always goes back to sleep on his own to limit possible confusion on his part. Thank you for commenting!

    @Lydia Goes to show even babies within the same family are different! :) Thank you for sharing our experience.

    @Mahua In Weissbluth’s book he doesn’t talk about all the temperament traits (that I remember), but does talk a lot about how there are different types of babies. For example, on Page 80 (in my copy), he talks about making different decisions for different babies. I appreciated that he wasn’t making the assumption that all babies are the same. Having said that, I agree that a lot of the books imply “do it my way and it will definitely work.” Soooo not true! There is no silver bullet that will work for all babies and all families. And, not all babies will cry just 3 days that the books imply. That was another thing that drove me nuts! :) Thank you for commenting!

    @Kendra Oh yes! “Sleep begets sleep” is sooo true in a lot of circumstances. Get better sleep during the day and help your baby sleep better at night. Your baby sounds like a good self-entertainer! That always makes it a little tougher. Depending on his age (when they are young, they are not afraid of the dark, usually), you might turn off the nightlight. We had to do that when our boys were babies until their imagination started flourishing around 14 months. :)

    @Natalie Sooo true! We *have* to expect change. Babies are not robots and go through A LOT of development so quickly these first few years.

    @Shannon That’s great you’ve seen such great success and so quickly! I wish everyone had such quick success, but unfortunately, we won’t. But, it’s great when some families find what works and what works well for the baby! Thank you for sharing your experience with us!

    @Elizabeth Oh no!! I’m sorry your 20 month old still doesn’t sleep through the night! :( That is exhausting, I know! I have heard of “The 90 Minute Sleep Solution” but don’t hear about it too many times in consultations. I often recommend 90 minutes of awake time in babies 4 months and younger, though. Thank you for sharing!

    @Sophie Is she hungry at 4 a.m.? If so, add in another snack somewhere in her daytime schedule, say right before bedtime, which can help a lot. My boys struggled a lot going 12-13 hours without eating, so we found a snack to be imperative.

    @Jennifer Awww, thank you! :) Seeing how different my two boys are (sleep-wise and otherwise) and reading soooo many family histories every day, there is no question that temperament, sensitivity to stimuli, self-settling tendencies, and personality are huge influences in what type of experience you have surrounding sleep. Thank you for commenting and your kind words! I knew my son would change my life, but never knew just how much. I LOVE this! :)

  13. Heather says:

    I appreciate that different families need different methods for their babies, but for the life of me I don’t understand Weissbluth or Ferber deciding that they have the ultimate answers to any/all family or child sleep issue. I have to say that I am an eternal fan of Dr. Sears, who in extreme summary says “do what’s best for you, your family, and your child…” and advocates a no-crying method from his own experience. And look! All of his children are well-adjusted, well-educated adults. I can’t for the life of me understand how anyone can let their child “cry it out,” but I know that some feel it’s what’s best and what’s right…to each their own. I will snuggle in with my 21-month old until she’s ready to be in her own bed and we can talk about it, as will my husband. And I will sleepily get her milk in the middle of the night if she needs it. And I have fed her on demand since birth. And she’s amazingly well-spoken and verbal and very tall and strong and social. And I work full-time plus. And so does my husband. Just for the record.

    To each their own. All children are different. I think it’s best that all parents realize that before they decide a particular scientist’s prescription for everyone is right for their child…large generalizations are always dangerous.

  14. @Heather That’s great that co-sleeping works for you and I agree that all families need to find what works for them. What works for one may not work for all. Thank you for commenting!