The Ferber Method Explained – Age to Use, Separation Anxiety, and Is It Harmful?

Ferber Method Sleep Training

Sleep training, or teaching your baby healthy sleep habits, can be confusing and frustrating. One of the most popular sleep training methods is The Ferber Method, also known as Ferberizing or graduated extinction. This method involves letting your baby cry at increasingly longer intervals until they are sleeping through the night and taking longer naps. Here’s everything you need to know about this sleep training method.

What is The Ferber Method?

The Ferber Method was developed by Dr. Richard Ferber, the director of The Center for Pediatric Sleep Disorders, at Children’s Hospital Boston to help your child learn to sleep better. The method is outlined in detail in his book, Solve Your Child’s Sleep Problems but if you don’t have time to read a book with 464 pages, here’s everything you need to know about Ferberizing.

This method is designed to help teach your baby or toddler how to self-soothe, sleep in longer stretches or through the night, and take longer naps. The main difference between this method and Cry-It-Out (or Extinction when you stay out of the room completely) is that you support your baby or toddler during the learning process by visiting them at increasing intervals for a period of time. I will outline a couple of example sessions below in more detail.

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Age to Use The Ferber Method

The best age for The Ferber Method is around 6 months old before your baby is sitting up and standing up. However, you want to wait until you stop swaddling your baby.

Some families start at 4 months old during the 4-month sleep regression while others wait until over a year old. There isn’t a “right” or “wrong” time and you know your baby best! However, I generally do NOT recommend The Ferber Method for babies younger than 3-4 months old. Of course, every situation is different and there isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach that will work for everyone.

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How Does The Ferber Method Work?

First, as with any sleep training method, you start by laying a healthy foundation for sleep. This means going through your pre-sleep training checklist, making any necessary changes to your baby’s sleep and feeding schedule, and having a way to keep track of the time. I cannot emphasize enough how the right schedule will make sleep training so much easier (and sometimes avoids sleep training altogether!).

Once you’ve laid the groundwork, you can start Ferberizing. Here’s the step-by-step process:

  1. Do your bedtime routine ending with a consistent phrase or song.
  2. Lay your baby or toddler down drowsy but awake.
  3. Leave the room (or sit in a chair if you prefer to try to stay in the room).
  4. If your child starts to cry, start your timer. If your child is not crying, no need to start the timer.
  5. Once the timer goes off, go check-in and offer comfort. Be sure to stop soothing and/or leave while your child is still awake.
  6. Repeat the check-in and comfort process with different intervals until your baby or toddler falls asleep.

But, what intervals should you use?

Which intervals to use can depend a lot on your baby’s intensity, how persistent they are, and your comfort level with crying. Some babies fuss a little while others scream their heads off. The book suggests starting with intervals at 3 minutes, 5 minutes, then 10 minutes. And, each day/night you are supposed to increase each of those intervals by 3-5 minutes. Here are a couple of examples for different temperament babies:

Mild-mannered Easy-going baby

  • Day 1 – Check 1: 3 minutes, Check 2: 5 minutes, Check 3+: 10 minutes
  • Day 2 – Check 1: 5 minutes, Check 2: 8 minutes, Check 3+: 12 minutes
  • Day 3 – Check 1: 8 minutes, Check 2: 12 minutes, Check 3+: 15 minutes
  • Day 4 – Check 1: 10 minutes, Check 2: 15 minutes, Check 3+: 20 minutes
  • Day 5 – Check 1: 12 minutes, Check 2: 18 minutes, Check 3+: 25 minutes
  • Day 6 – Check 1: 15 minutes, Check 2: 20 minutes, Check 3+: 25 minutes
  • Day 7 – Check 1: 20 minutes, Check 2: 25 minutes, Check 3+: 30 minutes

Intense Spirited Baby

  • Day 1 – Check 1: 3 minutes, Check 2: 5 minutes, Check 3+: 8 minutes
  • Day 2 – Check 1: 5 minutes, Check 2: 8 minutes, Check 3+: 10 minutes
  • Day 3 – Check 1: 8 minutes, Check 2: 10 minutes, Check 3+: 12 minutes
  • Day 4 – Check 1: 10 minutes, Check 2: 15 minutes, Check 3+: 20 minutes
  • Day 5 – Check 1: 12 minutes, Check 2: 18 minutes, Check 3+: 20 minutes
  • Day 6 – Check 1: 15 minutes, Check 2: 18 minutes, Check 3+: 20 minutes
  • Day 7 – Check 1: 15 minutes, Check 2: 18 minutes, Check 3+: 20 minutes

Why does this work?

The idea is that you are supporting your child as they learn a new skill. Just like they will fall on their bottom many times before actually learning to walk, they will have some failures until they succeed. By allowing them time to self-soothe, you are breaking the habit of them needing you to put them to sleep.

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How Long Does The Ferber Method Take?

Generally speaking, most babies will cry for an hour or less but there are a few persistent babies who cry for longer periods (1-2 hours) the first 2-3 nights. Many people will start to see progress within 3-4 nights though that doesn’t mean you will be “done.” If your baby is crying for over an hour for more than two nights, consider reevaluating your schedule or addressing the 5 things we recommend you do before you Ferberize.

I typically recommend being consistent for at least 1-2 weeks since it takes time to make new habits and every day might be a little different with your schedule and other variables.

If you’ve been sleep training for more than two weeks, that would be cause for us to look into other reasons your baby is crying for long periods of time. Keep in mind that some babies will continue to cry for a few minutes (5-10 at the most) long-term. Anything more than that, and I’d say it isn’t working.

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What About Night Feedings?

In the book, Dr. Ferber says to NOT feed your baby at night after 3-4 months old. Keep in mind that, based on my 13+ years of experience as a sleep consultant working with families personally, when a baby can sleep all night without feedings varies significantly especially if you are breastfeeding. Therefore, if you plan to implement The Ferber Method exactly as outlined without night feedings, then I recommend you wait until your baby is capable of going 11-12 hours without consuming milk. Many families can still use The Ferber Method even continuing to feed at night once or twice, though.

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What About Naps? Are Those Different?

Day and night sleep are handled by two different parts of the brain, so we typically address naps separately from nighttime sleep. The main difference with using The Ferber Method for naps is we put a limit of one hour to the sleep training session. If your baby hasn’t fallen asleep, we typically take a 1-hour break and then try again. Different babies need different approaches but this works for the majority of situations.

Nap training often does take longer than nights, though. Plan to commit to two weeks of consistency for optimum results.

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What About Separation Anxiety and Is This Method Flexible?

Definitely! The best sleep training methods are those that you can adapt to fit your needs and circumstances. 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, for example.

Babies go through peaks and valleys for separation anxiety beginning around 7 months old. If you are concerned your baby is going through a peak, consider waiting to sleep train, having shorter intervals, or consider sleep training while staying in the room. You can implement this same method by sitting on a chair in the room.

Be aware, however, that some children get really frustrated if their parents stay in the room during sleep training. It can be very confusing to have mom or dad so close by but not offer comfort or put the baby to sleep. Of course, the check-ins allow you to reassure your baby periodically, teaching them that whenever you leave, you come back, which is the primary reason for separation anxiety in the first place.

Finally, HOW you offer comfort during your check-ins is flexible, too. Some families prefer to soothe just with their voices, while other families will pat their babies’ heads, rub their backs, etc. Other families prefer to pick their children up briefly. All of these can work, provided you don’t inadvertently end up putting your child to sleep during one of your check-ins That’s what your child is supposed to be doing on her own! The key is to find the right approach for your baby. The first few nights are usually the worst no matter what strategy you choose.

Is The Ferber Method Harmful?

In general, The Ferber Method is considered safe and not harmful to your baby. Crying for small durations of time with periodic reassurance from parents will not cause long-lasting damage. However, keep in mind that it is important to be “fixing” the right problem.

There are many reasons a baby wakes at night and letting a baby cry for many hours when he is hungry or sick would NOT be the right thing to do. There is a difference between letting a 4-month-old cry to get him to sleep 12 hours without eating when some 4-month-olds still need two nighttime feedings versus a 12-month-old waking every hour simply to be held at night and everything in between.

I strongly recommend that you view your baby’s sleep from a holistic perspective and ensure you are setting her up for success. You should look at the entire daytime schedule, feedings, health, etc. Lay the proper foundation and sometimes very little crying is necessary to help her sleep through the night!

The Ferber Method: Making It Personal

This article offers a general overview of how the Ferber method works – but putting this sleep training method into practice may be tough indeed! Many families wonder how to cope with the crying and fussing between check-in intervals, or how long to do the check-in process each night. If you want a more personalized approach to The Ferber Method, we can give you just that. Connect with us and we’ll guide you to the rigth resource, and walk you through every step of the way!

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112 thoughts on “The Ferber Method Explained – Age to Use, Separation Anxiety, and Is It Harmful?”

  1. My 8 month old already goes to sleep on his own (sometimes depending on when he ate last he ends up nursing to sleep, but most often I lay him down awake and he goes to sleep on his own, no problem). he wakes usually twice in the night – first anywhere between 11:30-1am and then again between 4:20-5:15am. He takes breast milk and formula. I guess my question is, can I use the Ferber method to try and get a longer stretch before the first feeding? After the 4 month sleep regression he never goes more than 3-4 hours and mama is tired! He is overall an easy baby – happy disposition, naps well (sometimes not great at daycare, but at home naps really well). I would just love a longer stretch of sleep for my sanity!

    • I should add that since I’ve commented his wake-ups have been more consistent – once at 1 am and again around 5am – going back to sleep after both. I feel like this is probably ‘normal’ but I hope eventually I can cut out that first feed.

    • Hi Kara,
      Thanks so much for your comment! I’m sorry to hear you’re having some trouble with night weaning. Some 8 month-olds are still eating 1-2 times a night, but talk to your pediatrician – it may be fine to try to wean that earlier feeding. If you decide to do that, you can use any sleep coaching method that seems like a good fit for you and your baby. Many people do use Ferber with good results. I hope this helps, and good luck!

  2. My baby is almost 7 months and for the last 2 months he waks up every 30 min or 1 hour i have a bedtime routine a simple one and always go to bed 7 so he can be asleep by 7;30 he falls asleep on his on i don’t hold him but he still wakes up all night crying He is perfectly healthy I’m tiered and hasn’t slept more the an hour help

    • Hi @Xheneta –
      Thank you for writing to us, and so sorry to hear that your little one has been waking SO often for the last couple of months! We know how tough this is, so please hang in there!!
      Around 4-5 months of age can be a difficult one for many babies, since their sleep is permanently changing from a “newborn’s” sleep, and this often leads to more frequent wake-ups at night and disrupted naps.
      It sounds like this article would be a very helpful read: https://www.babysleepsite.com/baby-sleep-patterns/4-month-sleep-regression/
      Waking every hour is really brutal, and if you would like personalized help to work through these issues, we can definitely help! Please consider our Personalized Sleep Consultation packages or our selection of e-Books. If you choose to purchase a consultation package, one of our trained expert sleep consultants will craft a Personalized Sleep Plan for you and your son, based on both your unique family history and on our own 10+ years of experience working with tens of thousands of parents from around the world. Then, your consultant will help you implement the plan at home via email and/or phone, and will answer any follow-up questions you may have. The consultant will also make changes to the plan as necessary and support you through any sleep speedbumps too. You can read about all of our sleep consultation packages and purchase directly online here:
      https://www.babysleepsite.com/services/
      And, you can read about our Do It (Mostly) Yourself options here, if you don’t think you need one-on-one expert help but could use some expert direction:
      https://www.babysleepsite.com/diy/
      Please contact us if you have any questions, and thanks again for writing!

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