Is your baby awake during the wee hours of the morning? Those hours can be dark, difficult, and lonely! If you’re in desperate need of sleep, then you may be interested in sleep training with the Ferber Method.
The good news is that Dr. Ferber states that 4-months-old babies can begin to sleep for longer stretches of time. He also states that 4-month-olds can self-soothe, eliminating the need for sleep crutches. Dr. Ferber is a sleep scientist, Pediatrician, and creator of the Ferber Method.
If you’d like to gradually put your 4-month-old baby on a sleep schedule, then sleep training with the Ferber Method may be right for you.
It certainly was for me since I began a new work-at-home job when my daughter was only 8 weeks old. By 12-weeks, my job shifted to full-time and I knew a sleep schedule for my 4-month-old baby was of utmost importance!
PLEASE NOTE: This post was written specifically for moms that are sleep training with the Ferber Method. The Ferber Method has incorrectly been referred to as the Cry It Out Method. I did not let my daughter “cry it out,” but gradually put her on a routine without sleep crutches. I believe that everyone should make the best decision for their family and child in regards to their baby’s sleep. In my case, I started working from home when my daughter was 8 weeks old so I was certain that sleep training with the Ferber Method was the best decision for our family. My daughter is almost 6, she’s a great sleeper and I have no regrets about sleep training with the Ferber Method.
What is the Ferber Method?
Basically, it’s teaching your baby to fall asleep on their own, without help from you, by incorporating a loving, yet consistent bedtime routine and implementing “progressive waiting” until the baby can fall asleep by themselves.
Here is a brief explanation of the Ferber Method from the Baby Sleep Site.
People have misinterpreted his method and incorrectly referred to it as “Cry It Out.” Before choosing this method, I read a book called “The No-Cry Sleep Solution” as an option. But I decided that I was too sleep-deprived to have the energy for it. Also, with my work-at-home job I needed a sleep training method that was a bit faster. Sleep training with the Ferber Method took us a total of 4 days.
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Why I’m Glad We Chose the Ferber Method
Now that my daughter is approaching 6 years old, I realize that sleep training a toddler (or a little kid) involves MUCH more crying than sleep training a baby! Plus it involves tantrums and maybe even negotiating. This is also true of breaking a sleep crutch with a toddler or older child. I’m so glad that I sleep trained a baby rather than waiting until it became more difficult with an older child. Even if there was crying involved. Because either way, there would be crying involved.
There are those who think any amount of crying will incur psychological damage. But I’d be interested in knowing if there’s empirical evidence on babies that spent time in the NICU who were left to cry, didn’t have their mom there to console them, and had to be on a strict eating schedule. Food for thought.
It is comforting to know that Dr. Ferber is a medical doctor that specializes in sleep disorders. He has more clinical experience and medical expertise to back up his claims than people out there, without medical expertise, who write books on sleep training.
5 Tips for Sleep Training with the Ferber Method
Let’s get to this. If you’re ready for sleep training with the Ferber Method, I’ve got 5 tips for you!
Before we dive into the tips, I’d like to mention that:
- We followed the guidelines Dr. Ferber outlines in his book.
- We didn’t let our baby cry unnecessarily.
- Sleep training with the Ferber method took us about 4 days total.
- Be prepared for 3-5 rough nights if you stick to your plan.
1. Utilize the 5 S’s by Dr. Harvey Karp
When your baby needs soothing during the sleep training process, I highly recommend using the 5 S’s that Dr. Karp mentions in his DVD and book The Happiest Baby on the Block:
- Side-Stomach Position
Visit his website, Happiest Baby for more information.
2. Teach Baby Night from Day
In order to reduce baby’s nighttime wakefulness, help your baby learn day from night as much as possible.
By keeping the room lighter when your baby sleeps during the day and as dark as possible at night you can help your baby learn day from night. In addition, nighttime changes and feedings should be dark and unexciting. This gradually helps to decrease baby’s desire to be awake between 2am and 5am.
During the day, take advantage of the times when your baby is awake by being more active with the baby, doing tummy time, going outside, etc.
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3. Put an End to Sleep Crutches
To have successful sleep training, it’s important to gradually end anything that’s a sleep crutch: habits like nursing, holding or rocking to sleep.
For example, if you were to rock your baby to sleep and then put her down when she’s totally asleep, when she wakes up she would cry because it’s not how or where she fell asleep.
Dr. Ferber offers a funny analogy that it would be like if we fell asleep in our bed and then we woke up on the kitchen floor in the middle of the night. We would think “why am I on the kitchen floor?”
It’s unsettling. If we were a baby, we would cry too.
How to Break the Nursing to Sleep Habit
One habit that I had to break was letting my daughter fall asleep nursing. If she fell asleep nursing then I would wait at least 5-10 minutes after nursing her before putting her down (like the wake, eat, play, sleep routine from On Becoming Babywise). Then I would put her down drowsy and content in her crib so she would remember that she fell asleep that way.
I also created a bedtime routine that I did in the exact same order before I put her down whenever it was time for sleep, including nap times. This helped signal that it’s time for sleep. The routine didn’t always include a bath. But it always included the other elements of the routine.
Whatever routine you decide on, it’s important to be consistent.
4. Decide When to Eliminate Night Feedings
Some sources talk as though sleep training and eliminating night feedings are one in the same. For us, sleep training was training her, or teaching her, to fall asleep on her own and setting a sleep schedule and routine.
Babies have to be of a certain weight until they can sleep through the night, but our first daughter couldn’t go 12 hours without eating at 4 months of age even though she technically weighed enough to do so.
We didn’t simultaneously cut out the night feedings while we sleep trained her. However, that meant that she would wake up anytime between 1am and 5am to feed!
If it was 5am, I felt horrible making her wait until her first feeding of the day at 7am since she was already hungry at 5. But then if I fed her at 5am, the whole schedule would be thrown off.
In hindsight, what I should have done was give her a night feeding at the same time every night like clockwork so she would have enough calories to get through the night but I could still get my much-needed sleep. 11pm would be ideal for this last feeding of the day for mom, which would still be considered a night feeding for baby.
This tip is to decide if you will eliminate night feedings while you are sleep training with the Ferber Method, or if you will do these things separately. Unless of course, your baby no longer feeds during the night – then congrats to you!
5. Get Your Baby on a Daily Schedule
We utilized the wake – eat – play – sleep routine that’s outlined in On Becoming Babywise.
Our first daughter gradually got to the point where, at 8 weeks old, she could sleep for 6 hours, which is considered “sleeping through the night” for that age. The only exception to this was when she was going through a growth spurt, which felt like it happened a lot more often than I expected!
For more on baby growth spurts, check out The Wonder Weeks.
I helped our daughter gradually ease into a schedule in a flexible, non-rigid way. I devoted at least 1 full week to stay at home, without running errands and such, so I could implement a consistent schedule in a focused way.
In putting baby on a schedule, there are 3 crucial matters:
- Put your baby to bed AWAKE.
- Know their age-appropriate wake time. For a 3 or 4-month-old, this is no more than 2 hours and may be more like 1.5 hrs.
- Decide what the consistent bedtime and nap times routine will be. I did an abbreviated version of the bedtime routine for nap times.
Where to Begin When Putting Baby on a Schedule
Since we actually weren’t on a schedule at all, I wasn’t sure where to begin. However, from day 1 I had kept a log of her feeding times, how long she fed on each breast, and how many wet/dirty diapers she had. This helped to give me an idea of the average of how long she could go between feedings, how many feedings she had per day, and at what times.
I started with the wake-up/bedtime “bookends” of the schedule. I checked what time she usually went to sleep. It was somewhere around 9 or 9:30pm so I made 9:30pm the official bedtime. Then I set 8:00am as the official wake-up time and went from there.
The idea of a bedtime confused me at first since babies have fairly late bedtimes until they drop the 3rd or 4th nap. But setting a “bedtime” helped me personally to classify any feedings after “bedtime” as night feedings. So an 8pm feeding would be a “day” feeding since it’s still part of her “day” before bedtime.
Once I implemented an official bedtime with a routine to signal bedtime, and woke our daughter up at the same time consistently in the morning, the schedule in between wake-up/bedtime fell into place.
What if Baby is Tired Before Naptime?
If she was tired when I woke her in the morning, I would put her down a bit earlier than the target time for nap #1. I also would let her sleep a bit longer (but not too long, like 30 minutes more) for nap #1.
I always fed her right when she woke up from her naps. If she could only be awake for 1.5 – 2 hours then it was a matter of counting the hours until the next nap time and penciling it into the target schedule accordingly.
NOTE: Setting the new schedule/routine wasn’t quick, it was very very gradual. Changing a baby’s schedule isn’t an easy task! It can take a week to move a nap time, wake up time, or bedtime by just 30 minutes.
I took the sample schedule below as a starting point in creating a predictable routine for the baby. I didn’t follow it rigidly but used it as a helpful guideline.
(NOTE: They mention breast compressions in their article – I definitely didn’t do that! My dad’s an OB-GYN and he doesn’t recommend it from a health perspective.)
Those are the 5 tips I have for you when it comes to sleep training with the Ferber Method. I wish you luck in your sleep training endeavors!