The Ferber Method is a technique invented by Dr. Richard Ferber to solve infant sleep problems. It involves "baby-training" children to self-soothe by allowing the child to cry for a predetermined amount of time before receiving external comfort.
"Cry it out"
The "Cry It Out" (CIO) approach can be traced back to the book "The Care and Feeding of Children" written by Dr. Emmett Holt in 1895. CIO is any sleep-training method which allows a baby to cry for a specified period before the parent will offer comfort. "Ferberization" is one such approach. Ferber does not advocate simply leaving a baby to cry. More extreme methods are often mistakenly referred to as "Ferberization", though they fall outside of the guidelines Ferber recommended. Some pediatricians, however, feel that any form of CIO is unnecessary and damaging to a baby.
Dr. Richard Ferber discusses and outlines a wide range of practices to teach an infant to sleep. The term ferberization is now popularly used to refer to the following techniques:
- Take steps to prepare the baby to sleep. This includes night-time rituals and day-time activities.
- At bedtime, leave the child in bed and leave the room.
- Return at progressively increasing intervals to comfort the baby (without picking him or her up). For example, on the first night, some scenarios call for returning first after three minutes, then after five minutes, and thereafter each ten minutes, until the baby is asleep.
- Each subsequent night, return at intervals longer than the night before. For example, the second night may call for returning first after five minutes, then after ten minutes, and thereafter each twelve minutes, until the baby is asleep.
The technique is targeted at infants as young as four months of age. A few babies are capable of sleeping through the night at three months, and most are capable of sleeping through the night at six months. Before six months of age, the baby may still need to feed during the night and it is probable that the baby will require a night feeding before three months.
Ferber made some modifications in the 2006 edition of his book Solve Your Child's Sleep Problems. He is now more open to co-sleeping and feels different approaches work for different families, children & situations.
Researchers Michael L. Commons and Patrice M. Miller, associated with Harvard Medical School's Department of Psychiatry, studied childrearing practices in the US and elsewhere, and determined that parents should keep their babies close, console them when they cry, and let them sleep with the parents. Commons and Miller determined that the widespread American practice of putting babies in separate beds, separate rooms, and not responding quickly to their cries may lead to incidents of post-traumatic stress and panic disorders when these children reach adulthood. It may also lead to greater susceptibility to stress. Commons and Miller wrote, "Parents should recognize that having their babies cry unnecessarily harms the baby permanently... It changes the nervous system so they're overly sensitive to future trauma."
In popular culture
- Robert De Niro's character in the movie Meet the Fockers tries to utilize the Ferber Method in teaching his grandson.
- In the Modern Family episode Up All Night, Cameron and Mitchell are seen trying to ferberize their daughter Lily.
- In the Raising Hope episode Sleep Training, Hope's grandparents try to sleep-train her.
- In the Mad About You episode The Conversation, Jamie convinces Paul to go one night with the Ferber method. Through the process they confront the moral and psychologic ramifications.
- In the White Collar episode Taking Stock, Mozzie accuses Diana Berrigan's nanny Karen of being a Ferberizer.
- The Care and Feeding of Children: A Catechism for the Use of Mothers and Children's Nurses (1907 edition) by Dr. Holt, L. Emmett, MD
- Mistaken Approaches to Night Waking Excerpt from Sweet Dreams: A pediatrician's secrets for your child's good night sleep Lowell House, 22–28 By Paul M. Fleiss, MD, MPH, FAAP, 2000
- Sears, William MD, et al., The Baby Sleep Book, Little, Brown and Company, 2005
- John Seabrook. Sleeping with the baby. The New Yorker, November 8, 1999. abstract The New Yorker archive, full article booknoise.net – includes interview with Dr. Ferber. "There's plenty of examples of co-sleeping where it works out just fine. My feeling now is that children can sleep with or without their parents. What's really important is that the parents work out what they want to do."
- The Ferber Method Helps Some Children Sleep Longer clinical bottom lines and summary of key evidence, 1999. University of Michigan Health System, Department of Pediatrics.