You know the “slept like a baby” phrase? I’ve never really understood it.
Any parent of an infant can tell you that teaching a baby to sleep and stay asleep can be a real challenge.
Over the years, the idea of sleep training has become more widespread, and there are many more resources for struggling, sleep-deprived parents.
If you have looked into sleep training, you have likely run into the Ferber method and the cry-it-out method — two very popular techniques used by many families. You may be skeptical of the cry-it-out method as it seems to get a bad rap, but is it justified?
Is the Ferber method better than the cry-it-out method? While neither method is considered harmful, many view the Ferber method as a more gentle approach to sleep training as parents check in and offer comfort during increasingly larger set intervals of time. The cry-it-out method, however, allows the baby to cry without the parents providing comfort.
Each method aims to accomplish the same thing: getting you and your baby more sleep. However, they each have a unique approach in reaching that goal.
Let’s compare these two popular and effective methods. After learning about each, you can decide which is best for your baby.
Ferber Method vs. Cry It Out
How are these two methods similar, and what are their main differences? Let’s take a look.
How the Two Methods Are Similar
Each of these techniques is geared toward teaching little ones to fall asleep on their own. Both methods emphasize very little (if any) parental intervention.
Like other sleep training techniques, these methods depend on consistency in order to be effective.
|Ferber Method||Cry-It-Out Method|
|Parent or caretaker checks in on the crying baby regularly at gradually increasing time intervals||Parent or caretaker leaves the child alone even if they begin to cry until they fall asleep.|
|Parent offers comfort in the form of patting the baby’s back or talking in a soothing voice.||No comforting techniques are used by the parent to soothe the baby if he/she wakes during the night.|
|More gentle form of sleep training||More rigid form of sleep training|
The Ferber Method, also known as gradual extinction, is a gentle form of sleep training for infants that was developed by Richard Ferber.
Ferber Method Explained
While this method is designed to teach babies to self-soothe, it does involve some comforting from parents or caretakers, especially in the beginning.
Basically, the Ferber method works through a series of training sessions where a parent leaves their baby alone for strictly timed intervals and only offers small comforting gestures after the interval has passed.
The idea is that most babies will eventually learn to fall asleep on their own after a few days, knowing that they will not be picked up when they cry.
Implementing this method is quite simple; it just requires discipline and timing on the parents’ part.
- Follow your bedtime routine. Lay your drowsy child in the crib while they’re still awake. Then, leave the room.
- Complete the first interval. If your baby cries, wait for a period of time before going into the room to comfort them briefly. For the first night, wait three minutes before returning to the room. Comforting should not involve picking the baby up, feeding them, or turning on the light. Only soft pats, rubbing, or speaking in a soothing voice. After a few minutes of reassurance, leave the room again.
- Extend the time interval. If your child begins to cry again, allow them to cry for five minutes before returning to comfort them.
- Continue extending the intervals. Repeat this process, but lengthen the wait time each time your baby cries. Each night, the initial wait time is the same as the final wait time from the previous night. Continue extending intervals until they are no longer needed.
One of the biggest benefits of this method is that babies learn gradually and still receive some comfort along the way. It is a more gentle form of sleep training that has proven to be very effective.
Like all sleep training techniques, no two babies are the same, and this method may not work for everyone. It could also become difficult to keep up with the changing time intervals and maintain consistency.
Is the Ferber Method Harmful?
You can rest assured knowing that experts have not linked the Ferber method to emotional scarring in babies or any disruption in relationships as long as the parent is attentive and responds to the child’s needs during the day.
Beginning sleep training too early, however, can be physically harmful for a baby who still needs nighttime feedings in order to gain the necessary weight. You should not begin sleep-training a baby until 4-6 months of age.
Ferber Method for Naps
To maintain consistency and see the most progress, the Ferber Method should also be implemented during naptime. Lying a baby in his/her crib for most of their naps will help create a consistent routine important for sleep training.
Another, more rigid, sleep training method is the cry-it-out method. Let’s take a look at what exactly it entails.
Cry-It-Out Method Explained
The cry-it-out method, also known as the extinction method, is exactly what it sounds like — letting your little one cry until they eventually wear themselves out and fall asleep without any parental intervention.
The CIO method involves putting your baby in their crib, fully awake, and allowing them to fuss or cry until they fall asleep without any help from you. The idea is that they will eventually learn how to fall asleep on their own.
In the beginning, it could take your little one up to 45 minutes or an hour before falling asleep, but it varies from baby to baby.
Most parents who use this method claim that the duration of the crying decreases each night until, usually within the first week, the baby may simply fuss for a couple minutes and fall asleep.
If you choose to implement the CIO method, it is best to begin it around 5-6 months when your little one can go through the night without feeding.
Keep in mind that by 6 months, babies are wise to the fact that their cries equal your response. It may take a few nights for them to realize that you will not come to comfort them when they cry in the middle of the night.
There are no “crutches” in this method, which could be a benefit for sleep training. Also, babies are encouraged to self-soothe with this technique, which could promote greater independence over time.
For many people, the CIO method feels too rigid and intense. It can also be able to neglect a baby’s urgent needs (diaper change, sickness, etc.) if a parent is focused on letting them cry it out.
Is the Cry-It-Out Method Harmful?
This question has been debated A LOT, and there are varying opinions on whether or not letting your baby cry for an extended period of time is safe, physically and emotionally.
Many studies show that letting an infant “cry it out” does not cause any adverse effects on mother/parent-infant attachment so long as all of the baby’s needs are met (fed, changed, healthy, safe, etc.)
Ultimately, as long as you know that your baby is in a safe place and isn’t hungry, wet, or sick, it is okay to let her settle down on her own.
If your baby begins crying frantically or excessively, it’s best to check on them and confirm that they are not ill or in need of a diaper change. While you want to teach your child to fall asleep independently, you do not want to completely neglect them.
Cry-It-Out Method for Naps
If you choose to implement the CIO method at night, you should also use it during daytime naps as well.
Which One Is Better? Ferber or Cry-It-Out?
Determining which sleep training method is best depends on personal preference and what is best for your baby.
All babies are different and have different needs. The Ferber method may be best for one family while the CIO method is best for another.
What Age Should You Begin Sleep Training?
It is best to wait until your baby is at least 4 months old before beginning any form of sleep training.
Popular Sleep Training Methods
There are many more sleep training options if neither the Ferber or CIO Method is right for your baby.
- Chair method – A parent sits in a chair beside the baby’s crib until they fall asleep. If the baby wakes, the parent sits back in the chair. Each night, the chair is scooted farther away from the crib until the parent is out of the room.
- Pick up, put down, shush-pat – Parents give baby gentle reassurance but not too much help.
- Bedtime routine fading – Continue with whatever method you are using, but decrease the amount of time you spend doing it until you are no longer doing it.
- Bedtime hour fading – Put your baby to bed at the time they naturally fall asleep each night. Do this for several nights and then begin shifting bedtime 15 minutes earlier each night.
Does Sleep Training Cause Psychological Damage?
There is no evidence that sleep training causes psychological damage as long as it is done correctly and all of the baby’s needs are met.
Plenty of high-quality studies show sleep training is safe and developmentally important for babies.
How Long Do You Let a Baby Cry It Out?
In the beginning, your baby may cry for up to an hour before finally falling asleep. However, this amount of time should decrease every night.
If your baby consistently cries for longer than 20-30 minutes, even after a few weeks of sleep training, you may need to try another method.
How Long Does It Take To Sleep Train?
Every baby is different, but experts say that, on average, it takes between 3 and 7 days of consistency to achieve successful sleep training results.
Sleep training can be hard, but many parents say that it is worth enduring the initial struggle.
Every family and every baby is different, and, fortunately, there are many good options. Regardless of which method works for you, there is better sleep ahead!
Charlynn is an educator and mom to fraternal boy/girl twins. She loves learning through the experiences she has with her littles and using her knowledge to help other moms as they embark on the journey of motherhood.