Why the “Ferber Method” worked for us – Part II

In Part I of this two-part series, I explained all about our sleep struggles. Winston was not born a good sleeper, but I suspect that most babies out there aren’t either. We tried co-sleeping (worked for a few months) and putting him to sleep in his swing (worked for a few weeks), before we realized we needed to do some formal sleep training, so he could fall asleep on his own, in his crib.

During my frenzied internet searches (things like “why won’t my baby sleep” and “how can I convince my child to sleep in his crib”), I came across what is known as the “Ferber Method” from the book Solve Your Child’s Sleep Problems by Dr. Richard Ferber. There is so much misconception out there about the “Ferber Method”, probably due (at least on my part) to the very popular movie “Meet the Fockers“. Here’s a quote from a scene between Jack (Robert Di Nero) and Greg (Ben Stiller):

Greg: That baby might need a pull on that knocker of yours, Jack.

Jack: It’s OK. We’re Ferberizing him.

Greg: What?

Jack: The Ferber method. You let him cry it out so he doesn’t depend on coddling.

That scene, especially in the larger context of the movie and Jack’s character as a stern, uptight, unaffectionate man, had me convinced that the “Ferber method” was cruel, outdated, and not something I wanted to use with my baby.

But then I did a lot of internet research, talked to other moms (including my own, who “Ferberized” me nearly 30 years ago!), and –gasp– actually read the book. Here is what the Ferber method is not:

  • cry it out
  • anti-cuddling
  • mean
  • selfish
  • a perfect, end-all-be-all solution

I should also stop here and explain that the book, Solve Your Child’s Sleep Problems, covers so much more than getting your baby to sleep in their crib, which Dr. Ferber refers to as “eliminating sleep associations”. There are also chapters on sleep in general (including sleep cycles and why babies sleep the way they do), sleep stages, sleep regressions, night terrors, middle of the night feedings, schedule disorders, naps, and how to deal with jet lag – basically, if it has to do with sleep, this book covers it.

Our main issue, however, was getting Winston to fall asleep on his own, in his own space (his crib), without “sleep crutches” or “sleep associations” such as being held, being rocked, or being nursed to sleep. This is covered in-depth in Chapter 4 of the book.

Here’s a brief overview of what the Ferber method is: By the age of three or four months (adjusted for gestation age), your child can, and should, learn to fall asleep on his/her own, without outside help. To accomplish this, you put your child in his/her crib at an appropriate bedtime (he helps you calculate when this should be), after a soothing and loving bedtime routine (he has suggestions on that too), and leave the room. If/when your child cries, you wait a set interval of time before going in and reassuring your child (and yourself!) that everything is fine. Ideally, this is done with a pat on the back and some comforting words, rather than picking up the baby. Then you leave again. If/when your child cries, you wait a longer interval of time, and repeat the process. On the third time, you have reached your “max wait” and use that time for all successive rounds until your child falls asleep. Each night, you increase the wait time until your child falls asleep on his/her own.

The successively longer wait times are to let your child know that they are not alone, that they are still loved, that you are still there to support them, and to reassure yourself that your child is ok, but that they can and should be falling asleep on their own, without your help.

The science behind this method is that you want your child to fall asleep under the exact same circumstances that will be present when he/she invariably wakes up in the middle of the night. The example Dr. Ferber uses is to imagine you fall asleep with a pillow, but in the middle of the night while you are sleeping, someone comes and takes away your pillow. You might not wake up when the pillow is taken, but you will wake up at some point in the night (as we all do), and instead of being able to fall seamlessly back asleep, you realize that your pillow is gone. You wake up fully, searching for your pillow. You may even get out of bed to try and find it. Instead of transitioning smoothly between one sleep cycle and the next, you are disturbed and uncomfortable, and completely unable to fall back asleep. But if you were to go to bed without a pillow in the first place, it might be a tough transition at first, but over the course of a few nights, you would get used to the new normal and sleep just fine.

To put this in practical terms, if your child falls asleep nursing, or while being held, then you transfer them to their crib, when they wake up in the middle of the night, rather than going back to sleep on their own, they will want/need to be nursed or held again. This requires your intervention, and everyone gets less sleep. But once your child learns to fall asleep on their own, they will be able to move easily between sleep cycles, barely aware that they are awake at all. Everyone gets more sleep, and isn’t that the dream of every parent?

Here’s how the Ferber method worked in our house – on the first night we waited 3, 5, and 7 minutes. On the second night, we waited 5, 7, and 10 minutes. On the third night, we waited 6 minutes, and Winston was asleep!

I’m not going to lie. The first night was Rough. Although Winston only cried for about 30 minutes total (which is less time than he normally cried at bedtime!), having to stand outside the door and wait for the time to pass was heart-wrenching. Going in to pat him on the back and tell him I loved him, then leaving and hearing his cries was like being punched in the gut repeatedly. Looking back, I know sleep training was the best decision we made, and I know that teaching Winston good sleep habits is one of the best gifts I can give him, but at the time I felt like a selfish, wretched monster.

Night two was a little better. He cried for a total of 20 minutes, and as I saw some improvement, I began to think that maybe we’d make it through sleep training after all.

Night three he cried for 6 minutes before falling asleep. We didn’t even have to go back into his room after we put him down in his crib! I was so happy and so relieved, that I started crying. By night four we had cut the crying (which was really more like fussing) down to a mere 5 minutes and I started thinking that maybe I’d eventually be able to enjoy bedtime like a normal parent.

I don’t want you to think that this was the end-all-be-all solution to all our sleep problems. We still have times when Winston randomly screams his head off for no reason, or when he wants eat three times in the middle of the night, or when he wants to get up at 4AM to party, or when he refuses to fall back asleep. But most nights, he goes to sleep between 6:30 and 7:30 at night and sleeps until 6:30 or 7:30 the next morning. He’s one of those babies that seems to need to fuss a little before he can fall asleep, but usually he fusses for no longer than a few minutes.

Of course, now that we know Winston can and does fall asleep in his crib on his own, when he doesn’t fall asleep within ten minutes of fussing, or when he wails like a banshee when he’s in his crib (like last night, for example), we know something is off. He no longer needs our help to fall asleep, so he’s usually crying for another reason. Last night he was still crying pretty forcefully after ten minutes, so I went in, picked him up, sang him another lullaby, and nursed him again before putting him back in his crib. After that, he fussed for a few minutes before falling asleep. Winston has been sick the past few days, and I rightly assumed that he wanted more snuggles before bed.

One thing I’ve learned is that my husband and I know our baby better than anyone, and we need to trust our guts. Sometimes Winston needs to fight it out on his own in his crib (if we can tell he’s overtired, or struggling to get comfortable), but some nights he needs a little extra cuddling, and that’s ok. Some nights he surprises us with how easily he falls asleep, and some nights we’re staring at the baby monitor, silently pleading with our child to fall asleep already! Parenting is a constant adventure, after all.

Overall, though, the guidance in Solve Your Child’s Sleep Problems has helped us have more good nights than bad, and for that I am infinitely grateful. What are your favorite tips for getting your child to sleep? Did you do some sort of formal sleep training? Do you have a favorite bedtime routine?


Why the “Ferber Method” worked for us – Part I

Although the first three months of being a new mom are pretty hazy for me (lack of sleep will do that to a person), I will always remember how incredibly difficult it was to get Winston to sleep. Put him down in his crib? FORGET IT. Vibrating bassinet that was supposed to soothe babies to sleep? HA, NOPE. We tried every. single. thing. Swaddling, having him sleep in his carseat on the floor, propping up his mattress, nursing him to sleep then transferring him – nothing worked.

Now, at almost eight months old, he is a champion sleeper, who actually prefers to sleep in his crib. So what changed?

Part of it, of course, is that he “grew up”. We survived the fourth trimester, he grew out of his colic and acid reflux, and started to be a happier baby in general. But the main difference came from me purchasing, reading, and implementing the guidance found in Solve Your Child’s Sleep Problems by Dr. Richard Ferber. Here’s our full sleep-saga, and how the Ferber method worked for us.

[[Side note: I’ve broken this post up into two parts, because it is long. I’m including a lot of (possibly unnecessary) background information about what our life was like before sleep training. If you don’t care about this stuff, go ahead and skip to Part II. I’m including it, however, because when I was desperately scouring the internet for every bit of baby sleep advice I could find, there never seemed to be a “before” story. Only “this is what we did and it’s great!” I would read those and think, “Yeah, but my baby is a bad sleeper. Like, a REALLY BAD sleeper. What worked for you would never work for me.” So I’m here to say that the transformation in Winston’s sleep habits has been nothing short of miraculous. Every baby is different, every family is different, and what worked for us may not work for you, but it’s at least something to consider.]]

I know we all hear stories about moms who have babies that are great sleepers straight out of the womb. Maybe it’s our friend, or someone we follow on Instagram, or a coworker, or just a friend-of-a-friend-of-a-friend. Moms at play dates who are freshly showered, without bags under their eyes, who have that “I got amazing sleep last night” glow, because their baby started sleeping six-hour stretches at the young age of two months.

I did not – I repeat, DID NOT – have one of those babies. I don’t think most moms do either. The amount of baby sleep books and internet articles prove that most of us are in the same boat, frantically searching for any advice we can find on how to convince these tiny humans that sleep is good for them. If you’re feeling hopeless and stressed out, like I was, that your baby will never sleep, you should know that you are not alone. And your baby will sleep, eventually.


About a month after he was born, we had tried everything we could think of to get Winston to sleep in his own space (see above). We were desperate and sleep deprived beyond belief. We abandoned the idea of a bassinet next to our bed, decided to ditch the fancy co-sleeper we had purchased, and finally gave in to the only way he would ever sleep – in our bed nestled against me (see tips for safe bed-sharing here). It worked. Everyone got more sleep.


Rather than fighting to get him to fall asleep, then waking up and getting out of bed every three hours to feed him, then fighting to get him to fall back asleep, he slept cuddled in my arms and nursed as he was hungry. I could wake up briefly to help Winston latch, then fall right back asleep. Winston was able to nurse himself to sleep and went from screaming like a banshee every three hours to barely making a peep all night. I stopped worrying that Adam would fall asleep at the wheel while driving to work in the morning. Angels sang. It was the perfect solution.

Until it wasn’t.

Fast-forward three months. Winston was four months old, and all the pediatricians, baby books, and internet authorities (whoever they are) agreed that babies should be sleeping longer stretches at night – up to six hours. Well, Winston apparently did not get that memo. His “long” stretches were more like two hours. Most nights, I was lucky if I could remove my nipple from his mouth at all. He had found his all-night boob buffet, and he was not about to give that up. I was tired and frustrated with going bed at 8pm every night since that’s when Winston was ready to sleep. I wanted my own space back, but all the advice we found said that he was still too young for sleep training (especially because he was five weeks premature), and he screamed bloody murder if we even so much as looked at his crib.

So, we moved him to his rock and play swing and that worked! The rocking motion soothed him to sleep, and once he was away from me and my boobs, he realized he didn’t actually need to snack all night long. He started sleeping for five- and six-hour stretches. We knew the swing was a temporary solution, but figured it would buy us a few months until he was old enough for some formal sleep training at six months old.

Well, “the best laid plans of mice and men often go awry”, as the quote goes. Winston learned to roll over at four months old, and it wasn’t long before he was trying to roll over in his swing. Even though we strapped him in, he wiggled and squirmed enough that he could loosen the straps. His swing was no longer a safe sleeping situation.

Terrified that our child would hurt himself (or worse) in his swing, we had no choice but to move him to his crib. And so, when Winston was five months old (only four months old, adjusted for his gestation age), I purchased what I now believe is maybe the most misunderstood and misinterpreted book about child sleep training.

Check out Part II of this post for an explanation of what the “Ferber Method” is (and isn’t), how we modified his sleep training to fit us, and why I think Solve Your Child’s Sleep Problems is an incredible resource for parents.