June 7, 2017

Baby Wise and the Ferber Method

I know this post is not for everyone. To begin with, if you don't have kids, words like Baby Wise and "the Ferber method' have no meaning to you, nor should they. If you do have kids, you're probably aware of these methods and know the controversy that surrounds them, and you may not agree, which is fine. However, these are the methods we used with A and I plan on using them again with baby girl, but there's a lot that I forgot. And since I won't have the "luxury" to sit and read through these books again with a baby and a toddler, I thought I'd write up a blog post now to basically serve as my "CliffsNotes" for when the time comes.


Before I begin, I don't think we started with any type of method with A until he was 2 months. The entire first month I just fed on demand and winged it. Then we tried for some more structure.

Baby Wise calls for a Parent-Directed Feeding ("PDF") method, which combines the baby's hunger cues and the progression of time to direct feedings. The "formula" is: Hunger Cue + Clock + Parental Assessment ("PA") = Feeding Time.

The PDF approach = full feedings about every 2.5-3 hours, rather than a cluster of small feedings. How do you know if baby got a full feeding:
  • Sufficient time. 10-15 minutes per breast or 20-30 minutes for formula-fed babies
  • Hearing the swallowing of milk
  • Baby pulls away from breast or bottle when satiated
  • Baby burps well after feeding
  • Baby naps well
Do you wake a sleeping newborn to feed? Yes, if you need to wake her to prevent her from sleeping longer than the 3 hour cycle.

The Baby Wise routine (emphasis on routine, it's not a strict "schedule") is a "feed-wake-sleep" cycle. The more constant the routine, the more the baby can establish a feed-wake-sleep rhythm, which will lead to continuous nighttime sleep.

As important as the order of each activity within this routine is the quality of each activity. So feedings, especially with breastfed babies, need to be full feedings (which is sometimes hard to do since newborns always doze off to sleep!) But full feedings = productive wake times, which impact nap time, and a good napper is a better feeder. See the cycle?

Also, no sleep props, which means intentionally nursing baby to sleep, special blankets or stuffed animals, motion and vibration sleep props and co-sleeping (although we did use a sound machine for A in the beginning).

Sleep Training 

And now for the controversy. Both Baby Wise and the Ferber Method call for crying it out ("CIO"). I'm not going to lie: when we did this for A, it was painful. I remember crying myself, as I watched him crying from the monitor, wondering if I was doing the right thing. BUT, while the first day was the worst (and it's not like he sat and cried for hours on end), each day was progressively better and the whole process took us maybe 3-4 days tops. Now, at 26 months old, he's still a solid sleeper (with some regressions here and there for growth spurts or whatnot).

So when it comes to CIO, there IS a method to the madness. You're not just letting the baby literally cry him/herself to sleep with no methodology behind it. First of all, you put your baby down to sleep after she's well-fed and with a clean, dry diaper. You also check on her during the CIO process to make sure baby isn't in pain. That way, you'll know your baby isn't crying out of hunger, pain or a wet diaper. Also, you'll know your baby's different cries and you apply common sense here. If baby is crying abnormally, go get her.

With A, I don't think we fully applied the Ferber method until he was about 4 months old (doctor said it was okay because at that point, his body weight could sustain him through the night without feeding). This method takes a progressive-waiting approach for getting baby to sleep through the night:

              Day          At First Wait          Second Wait          Third Wait          Subsequent Waits
1                     3                             5                         10                               10
2                     5                            10                        12                               12
3                   10                            12                        15                               15
4                   12                            15                        17                               17
5                   15                            17                        20                               20
6                   17                            20                        25                               25
    7                   20                            25                        30                               30    


  • Pick a starting bedtime no earlier than the time baby usually falls asleep. You may even want to make bedtime 30-60 minutes later than usual for the first few nights to speed up the learning process.
  • Put baby in crib awake
  • If baby cries, check on her briefly at increasing intervals. The chart suggests the number of minutes to wait before doing so, but if they're too long for you, shorten them.
  • When you do check on baby, it's brief. You're in there for 1-2 minutes just to reassure her that you're there, it's time for bed, etc.
  • If you reach the maximum number of waiting minutes for a particular night, continue to leave the room for the same interval (no longer) until baby falls asleep while you're out of the room.
  • Baby will most likely be sleeping well by the third or fourth day.
  • Use the same waiting schedule for naps, but if baby hasn't fallen asleep after 30 minutes, end that nap time. She may fall asleep on her own later, which is fine, as long as she does so by herself, without any associations you're trying to break.
Sample "Schedules"

Remember, this is more of a routine than a set schedule, so the times aren't set in stone. For newborns, weeks 1-2:
  1. Early Morning (7 am): Feeding, diaper change and hygiene care. Followed by minimal wake time, then down for a nap
  2. Mid-Morning (9:30 am): Feeding, diaper change and hygiene. Minimal wake time. Down for nap.
  3. Afternoon (12 pm): Feeding and diaper change. Minimal wake time. Down for nap.
  4. Mid-Afternoon (2:30 pm): Feeding, diaper change, minimal wake time, down for nap.
  5. Late Afternoon (5 pm): Feeding, diaper change, minimal wake time, down for nap.
  6. Early Evening (8 pm): Feeding, diaper change, minimal wake time, down for nap.
  7. Late Evening (11 pm): Feeding, diaper change, down for sleep. Let baby wake up naturally, but not to exceed 4 hours of continuous sleep for the first four weeks.
  8. Middle of Night (1:30 am): Feeding, diaper change and right back to sleep.
  9. Pre-Morning (4 am): Feeding, diaper change and right back to sleep.
Looks exhausting, right? Well thankfully, the "schedule" has merges as baby gets older, with longer wake times and a longer time in between feedings. The book sets out sample schedules all throughout the first year of life, but right now I'm just trying to mentally prepare myself for the first few weeks lol.

So that's a really brief overview of Baby Wise and the Ferber Method. I realize this approach may not be for everyone, but it's what worked for us with A and I plan on doing the same with baby girl. And if any mamas out there are looking for more resources, an awesome blog with tons of info is Chronicles of a BabyWise Mom. I used to read through it for tips as I was breastfeeding and highly recommend checking it out if you're going to "Baby Wise" your baby.

Good luck, mamas. It's not easy, but just remember, this too shall pass.

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