Ferber or Weissbluth?

Ferber or Weissbluth?

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. Which one will be better (or not) for your baby’s sleep?

Who are Ferber and Weissbluth?

Most people know Ferber’s name because of the now popular term “Ferberizing.” Ferberizing is 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 info includes 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. He introduced the term “extinction,” illustrates why an early bedtime is of extreme importance, and also 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 also provide guidelines on how to do so. Weissbluth’s “graduated extinction” is similar to Ferber’s method which I call “check and console.” Neither Ferber nor 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! In fact, I’ve found that almost all baby sleep 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. 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. 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 are more. These are the ones that have come up most in my 15+ years of 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 that. 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.) In my experience with my own children and thousands of families that I’ve helped, Ferber’s averages are much too low for young babies, but seem exactly right around 2 years old and up.

On occasion, I’m asked the question about whose ‘camp’ I’m in. 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, 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 this 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!

Concerning cry it out or “extinction,” I think it’s a lot easier to say “Just let him cry” than to actually see it through. This is especially for new parents. 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.  I still typically 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 works best. 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. Whether you are for Ferber, Weissbluth, or “Nobluth”, one thing is certain. Baby sleep problems do not discriminate! Parents from around the world, from every walk of life, struggle with sleepless babies and toddlers.

What about you? Ferber or Weissbluth, or Nobluth? 

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15 thoughts on “Ferber or Weissbluth?”

  1. 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.

    • @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!

  2. 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 :.)

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