This was a game changer for us with the girls. This gave us our adult time back. I know a lot of people have different opinions on sleep training but this is what worked for us so I’m sharing my experience.
The earliest it is recommended to start sleep training is around 3-4 months old. I know it sounds crazy but if you think about it, it actually makes sense. They are just getting into a good sleep schedule and they aren’t moving too much yet ie. rolling over or crawling so best time to set a routine. Of course, you can definitely use this method to train an older baby or toddler but the challenges become slightly more as they start to move around and become more verbal and vocal.
Mila was trained at 4 months and Charlie was trained at 6 months [we were in Mexico on vacation with Charlie at 4 months so we waited until we came back to train].
In a nutshell: The Ferber Method is essentially a self soothing training schedule with interval check-in’s with baby. In other words, a “cry-it-out” method but with timed intervals at which you go in and comfort the baby. I found that it was more like teaching the baby how to self soothe and fall asleep on their own while going in to remind them that they are not alone, that Mom is still close by if they really need something, but that it’s time for bed so they won’t be picked up, rocked, played with etc.
I will say it is not a method for everyone. It may not be for the faint of heart. It does take a lot of strength from the parent that is waiting and watching the timer during the “cry-it-out” intervals. Hearing your baby cry and not picking them up seems very wrong. If this sounds like you, I can relate– I almost threw in the towel. But then I had to remind myself it was for the greater good. They would gain their confidence and independence being able to fall asleep on their own and Jason & I would have evenings to ourselves once again.
I called this post “My Modified Method” because there is room for some alterations in the Ferber Method. For us that meant following “The Schedule” to the minute [we used the timer on our iPhones to keep us on track] but slightly modifying by giving the girls a soother to help them settle rather than just purely letting them “cry-it-out”. Others choose to give a bottle in bed [this of course would be for those training older babies that are able to hold a bottle and feed themselves]. Or another alternative I’ve heard is giving the child a stuffed animal or blanket for comfort, again age dependant. So it is definitely worth getting the book if you can take out the time to read the Dr’s options on how you can use the method to fit your child’s behaviours and age. Full disclosure, I did not read the book. I spoke with friends who had already done it and researched & read the Coles notes version of the book at went from there. It worked out quite well for me but doing your due diligence is always best.
Also, we use the same method for naps. We follow the same routine and method not to confuse the girls. They like routine and it gives them a sense of control and awareness of what’s going on and what the result will be.
Things we included in our bedtime routine while training were:
- A Blackout Curtain: for bedtime we use a blackout curtain. This is for 2 reasons: 1. to make sure the kids understand this is bed time and therefore means this is the long stretch of sleep while for naps we do not use the curtain so they know it is a short spurt of sleep. And 2. in the summers it is light out until almost 930-10PM some nights so we need the blackouts to again reinforce it is bed time even though its daylight out.
- Soother/Pacifier: this is optional. For our girls [this being the dental knowledge swirling in my brain] I preferred them to self soothe with the soother rather than the thumb being that from clinical experience getting rid of the soother is easier than getting rid of the thumb.
- Sound Machine: white noise is another controversial topic [honestly, I feel like everything is in motherhood but that’s a blog post for another day, lol] but it works well for our girls. They associate the white noise with bed time, it blocks out outside noises ie TV noises if Jason & I are watching a show after they are in bed, guests voices if we have a adult get together that is past their bed time or outside noises in the neighbourhood like police sirens, people chatting, a lawn mower etc.
- Sleep Sack: when the girls were little we used sleep sacks for both of them to avoid any suffocation hazards with loose blankets [Charlie still sleeps in one]. Now I have seen some that have a round or oval shaped soft weight in the chest area that is supposed to mimic the feeling of a hand on your chest promoting comfort and a sense of security. I will be trying this for baby #3 for sure.
When it came time to train this is what we did:
- go through bedtime routine complete with bath, book and feed as per the usual
- then, along with lights out and a goodnight kiss, you whisper in a soft, soothing voice that you love them, you will be close by if they need you and that its bedtime
- place them in the crib and exit the room
- then “The Schedule” begins // at this time no matter what babe is doing in the room ie crying, moving, calling for you, etc you leave them to learn how to self soothe // this is the hardest part, you have to be strong!
- after each timed interval is complete, if babe is crying or in distress you are able to enter the room but DO NOT pick them up // you are able to stand at a distance and show them you are still close by if they need you, you have not abandoned them, if they call and they need anything you will be there but you know they are changed, fed and safe so it is bedtime // at this point is where we incorporated the soother, we provided the girls with the soother as an alternative method of soothing instead of them needing us to pick them up & rock them etc // we would give them the soother, say again that we love them and exit the room
- you continue these intervals as they are documented on the chart for as long as necessary for your child to self soothe and fall asleep
- some days they are quicker to fall asleep than others // don’t be surprised if on day 2 or 3 they fall asleep after the first or second interval, it happened to us and we were like “Rejoice! Our daughter has been sleep trained in 2 days!” but no, day 3 & 4 she stayed up longer but eventually they start to understand that bedtime means bedtime and that Mama & Daddy are there but this is not time to play or eat, this is strictly bedtime
For reference: Mila was trained in 4-5 days // Charlie was trained in 5-6 days *
Now our bed time routine goes a little something like this:
- 730PM – 800PM: Books, Songs, Counting, etc then Bed & Tucked In [Mila with her stuffy & blanket and Charlie with her soother, sleep sack and stuffy]
- 800PM-830PM: They read or play on their own in bed until they fall asleep
In all honesty, there are still times they will call for us or Mila will get out of bed because she knows Jason and I are still awake. This is purely FOMO– they want to be with us if were awake but we stick to our guns. Bed time means bedtime. If you waiver on the rules they will remember and use that against you the next time. We always stick to a strict bedtime ie: once you’ve been tucked in– that is the end of the night, getting up [unless you have to go to the bathroom] is not accepted. So far this has been working well.
The girls now sleep from approximately 730-8PM until 730-8AM. Mila is now 5 years old and rises with the sun, lol, but she knows to play in her room until it is actually time for breakfast. While Charlie wakes with her internal clock and plays in her crib until someone comes to get her. No lie– Jason & I are both well aware of how lucky we are with our girls sleep routine and temperament. We are very grateful.
I will continue to edit and add to this post as things come to mind and I’m sure your questions and comments will help me add more to this as well. Feel free to comment below or DM me with any thoughts or questions any time.
Disclaimer: THIS IS NOT A 100% FIX // All children have different growth spurts, illnesses, etc that may need different degrees of attention so they will not ALL sleep through the night ALL nights but, for us, this works about 90% of the time 🙂 And needless to say, I am no expert on this subject. I am only sharing my thoughts and experiences. Always do your own research before proceeding with any treatments or training. **