The Ferber Method: Our Experience Baby Sleep Training

Baby sleep training wasn’t easy but it was definitely worth it in the end. With the help of the Ferber method, we did what few parents are able to do- have a full night’s rest from 4 months old and continue to have 8 hours of rest forever!

Shocking statement isn’t it? I know there are many people on the fence or who are skeptical about sleep training a newborn. Some think it is too harsh, while others think it just doesn’t work. I think I too felt the same way, especially when my husband and I blindly attempted to ‘sleep train’ our baby for the first time. When I mean blindly, I mean not reading properly any book or resource that was backed up by case studies or research. But once we saw results after the first night of sleep training our baby, I now can say with confidence that it works!

Today I wanted to share our experience of sleeping training our baby. I have to begin by saying that I’m not a professional by any means or an expert in sleep training. I am just a first time mother who wanted to resolve an issue that emerged when my daughter was 4 months old.

The information that I used in order to do the sleep training was a book called Solve Your Child’s Sleep Problems by Richard Ferber. This is the only resource I ended up using. Dr Richard Ferber is a leading expert when it comes to sleep problems for children. He is the director at The Center for Pediatric Sleep Disorders and has had decades of experience working with families with a range of sleep problems like bed wetting and sleep disorders. His book Solve Your Child’s Sleep Problems covers a range of sleep related issues, provides case studies and a step to step guide on how to sleep train your baby.

It was a process and it did take time. There is no quick and easy way to sleep train a baby or a child. For all the moms and dads out there who are thinking of sleep training, I can reassure you that there’s light at the end of the tunnel and it will be all worth it in the end.

Our Situation and Why we decided to sleep train

Before I get into our experience of sleep training our baby, I wanted to firstly give you a background on our situation and the reasons why we decided to sleep train our baby in the first place. Like every other parent, the first 3 months were pretty much normal. We struggled in the first month as Zoe would wake up every hour, was not feeding the best (she would doze off a lot during feedings) and being a first time mother, I was still trying to get the hang of breastfeeding and the balancing out expressing and on demand feedings 24/7.

By the time she was 2 months old, she was sleeping much better and I would literally wake her up every 4 hours in the night for her feedings to make sure she was getting enough food. This was doable and I would get 8 hours of rest but broken up as I was still be feeding on demand.

We also became co-sleeping parents by accident during this time, which meant that she would sleep when we did at night and had a tendency to rely on us being in the room in order to rest.

But one of the main reasons why we decided to sleep train was actually due to our own sleeping patterns. My husband and I slept normally at midnight and had a pattern of getting her into bed at 11pm. For a while, it worked for us but all of a sudden, it started taking Zoe an hour or two to fall asleep, which meant we would be sleeping at 1am or 2am at the latest.

There were a few nights where I literally slept at 4am because she would not go to sleep or would wake up every 30 minutes, crying and wanting a feed. We knew that we created the situation ourselves, that the bad habit was spurred on by our own sleeping routine way before she was born. Mixed with the fact that we were co-sleeping with our baby, it started becoming unhealthy for everyone, especially for Zoe. We were unsure how to stop these bad habits and patterns and realized that it was unhealthy for us to get her to go to bed when we did, which was pretty late.

This was the main reason why we decided to sleep train. Baby sleep training therefore would:
1. allow Zoe to sleep at night without us in the room (slowly moving away from our co-sleeping situation)
2. allow Zoe to rest at a more appropriate time like 8pm
3. remove any bad habits we were creating and replacing these with good sleep associations that would encourage her to sleep on her own
4. get proper rest not just for our baby, but for us as well 🙂

The idea was to have her sleeping in the middle of the bed and then at 11pm sneak in and go to bed.

At first, we vaguely knew the concept typically known as the ‘cry it out’ method. When we first tried it, without reading any books or doing any proper research, I personally found this hard to handle. Hearing her loud cry was unbearable. I didn’t know what to do or if I was doing it right. We both felt utter lost, confused and in fact it made it worst. We would give up half way because we were unsure what we were doing and as a result, we would end up sleep less and less with each attempt. I decided then and there that I did not want to do it, that it didn’t work for our daughter and that there had to be another way.

A few days later, we continued the struggle of late nights. I tried rocking her in my arms, placing her in the baby carrier and swaying from side to side and even putting her in the pram and rocking it back and forth. I tried getting everyone in bed earlier, hoping that our daughter would fall asleep a few hours later like she usually did. None of these options worked or if they did, it didn’t work for very long. It just wasn’t sustainable.

I felt lost, helpless and embarrassed that I did not know how to get my daughter to go to bed. Out of the frustration I had been feeling over the last few days, I decided to take matters in my own hands and read the audio version of the book Solve Your Child’s Sleep Problems. I have to admit that I didn’t read the entire book from start to finish. Instead, I listened from the beginning with the intention to but quickly released that you don’t need to. Ferber’s method actually runs through each chapter and what they are about. Some chapters were not necessary to read and so I marked the ones that would apply to my situation and made sure I went through all of these chapters.

I focused on reading the chapters and case study examples that were relevant to my situation and my sleeping problem. I found that reading chapters 1, 2, 9 and 12 were all I needed to feel confident about how to properly do sleep training with Zoe. So before you mark down the chapters that I read, please make sure to read or listen to the first 2 chapters first to get a feel of the other chapters and whether these would be useful for your situation.

The First Night of Sleep Training

I’ve heard in forums, articles and even while reading Ferber’s book Solve Your Child’s Sleep Problems that the first night is and will always be the hardest, mostly on the parent and not the baby funny enough! I had found when attempting to do sleep training with Zoe in the past, I could feel my heart ache in pain hearing her cries and screams. I could not bare it for very long and would pick her up and hold her. Thinking about it now, I probably was soothing myself more so than her. Our attempts of sleep training so far was just from basic hearsay and nothing we had actually sat down and read thoroughly.

But when Zoe was 4 months old, I decided to really take the lead on this sleeping training. This time around, I felt more confident, prepared and somewhat comforted by the Ferber method. On the same day when I read the book, I was keen to put it all into action.

I started getting our baby ready for bedtime at about 7pm. The first step I took was doing a nappy change to make sure she had a fresh clean nappy for the night and of course a big feed. Ferber recommends having a consistent routine for bedtime. Not only does it help give you confidence and reassurance of what you are doing, it also kept Zoe a little more calm and relaxed in the process. We then had about 30 minutes of quiet playtime on the bed. I also found it help to keep the communication opened and would tell Zoe how long we had before her bedtime.

When it was time, I placed her on her pillow in the middle of the bed, made sure the blankets were out of reach and gave her a few kisses on her hands and face. I told her “It’s bedtime now, mummy loves you very much. I know this is different, and it’s a little confusing but you need a good rest every night to grow big and strong. Have a good rest.

Once I left her side, I could hear her cries. I closed the door and walked away. Although it was difficult, I kept thinking about the book and reassuring myself about the point of all of this was. By doing so it made me feel a little more at eased to leave her crying. I kept thinking to myself, she will only cry for a bit and that she is not in pain but she is adjusting to the new routine.

I have to admit, it was difficult, especially because my husband was still at work. 10 minutes went by and she continued to cry loudly. I came in as calmly as I could, sat next to her on the bed and touched her chest with my hand. I remember saying to her “You’re upset. You’re crying because it’s a new routine and you feel confused and unsure about it. Don’t worry, it will get better. I am confident that you’ll be able to rest soon. It’s your bedtime now. Mummy is just outside the door and will be here to make sure everything is okay. Mummy loves you very much.” I would then calmly walk away and close the door.

Although she continued to cry, I felt like I was getting the hang of it. It took 2 hours crying but she finally did it. She fell asleep on her own! I was so proud of her and also so proud of myself. We both made it through the night. Granted there was a lot of crying, I felt so happy that she rested well for the next 8 hours.

Second Night of Sleep Training

The second night came around and again, I started with the new bedtime routine. I simply repeated what I had did yesterday. But this time, it took her 30 minutes to fall asleep. This was such a big leap from 2 hours to 30 minutes. I felt like we made so much progress literally overnight and started to really believe in Ferber’s methods of sleep training.

It was again another proud moment, where I felt more in control of the situation with a very tangible and clear path of what to do and what results I should expect to see. Even if it would of taken her longer to adjust, I would of still been as proud as I was.

Third Night of Sleep Training

By the time we hit the third night, she was sleeping after 10 to 20 minutes of sleep training. I was stunned. I didn’t expect it to happen so quickly. It made me realize that with the right information and loads of confidence to keep it consistent, sleep training does in fact work!

Keeping It Real: The Relapses of Sleep Training Our Baby

It wasn’t like after the third night everything was bliss. It takes a lot of dedication to sleep train a baby. As expected, relapses can happen.

There were a few nights where Zoe could not go to bed for whatever reason. We found that if we went to an event in the evening or at night and came home at a much later time then 7pm, she would have difficulties sleeping. If she was over stimulated during the day, stayed up longer than 2 hours before her bedtime or during her teething stages, we would experience a little difficulty. It would take her 20 minutes or even 30 minutes to get to bed, but we continued with the training format of coming into the room, giving her a sense of security and comfort and talking her through the situation. It wasn’t like it would happen every week or even on back to back days. It would just happen once or twice in a month.

This happened once in a while and was totally understandable since her routine was broken and she was obviously overstimulated and was well into the fatigue and over tiredness stage. It did make me realize that sleep training works if you keep consistent, set a routine and really stick to it. As a parent, it is our responsibility to maintain a level of comfort, familiarity and security for our baby and by setting a routine that they can rely on, it can make them feel loved, comforted and secure.

Update After 4 months of Sleep Training

Zoe is now 8 months old. She definitely knows how to self soothe herself to sleep. Given the right encouragement and through open communication, she has continued to sleep well with a few relapses here and there. She continues to put her hand over her mouth to indicate that she is sleepy and will continue to do so while soothing herself for a nap or for bedtime.

At 6 months old, we went on our first international trip for 3 weeks. She slept well on the flights (particularly the overnight ones!) as she had learned how to self soothe herself to take a rest. Given that the environments changed and she was back on co-sleeping in our bed for the whole 3 weeks, she did pretty well. We still tried our best to maintain a level of routine by getting her ready for bedtime at around 7pm. We were very proud and happy that everyone got the much needed rest.

We finally moved her into her crib when she was 7 months old when we came back home from our holiday. She also sleeps in a separate room next door to ours, which was another big moment. This meant that we could confidently let her rest at night without disturbing her trying to creep into the room late at night. I do find that she generally would sleep at 7pm and wake up early morning at around 5am for a feed, but goes back to bed until 7am or 8am. Currently, both my husband and I get a full nights rest, which has been amazing.

Looking back at when we first started sleep training, I really do feel it was worth the time and effort to really understand how to do sleep training. I highly recommend reading the book Solve Your Child’s Sleep Problems by Richard Ferber and implementing the Ferber method to ensure everyone in the household gets a good night rest.

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