Not sure if the Ferber Method is working for my 10 months old son

by Monica - Answer by Heidi Holvoet, PhD
(Ontario, Canada)


I have started the Ferber Method last week and we are going on day 4 as of today. I noticed the 1st day it took my son 40 mins to get to sleep. I use the 5 mins interval to enter the room, 10 mins later, then 15 mins later.

Each time I re-enter the room I would put him down and then patted him on the back (PDPB) for 5 mins. at each interval. I noticed he would fall asleep on the last 15 mins interval, but would have a bowel movement, so I changed him.

The 2nd day he would fall asleep 50 mins later increasing to 10 mins interval to enter the room. Again my son would fall asleep at the last interval which was 20 mins with PDPB. At 12:30 pm he woke up in vomit and had a bowel movement again. I changed and cleaned him up then rocked him for 10 mins. to sleep. The 3rd day it took 40 mins for my son to fall asleep increasing to a 15 mins interval, then 20 mins, then 25 mins. No bowel movement or vomitting. However, he woke up at 4:30 am screaming. I tried to sooth him with PDPB, but he would'nt stop crying. Finally, I picked him up and rocked him for 10 mins put him back in his crib and he started to cry until I took him in my own bed.

The 4th day was tough. It took him 1 1/2 hours to fall asleep. I changed my entering the room and PDPB making my stay 20 mins in the room giving my son lots of patting on the back and sushing him to sleep. It seemed like he was fallen asleep then he started to cry whenever I stopped the patting and sushing. I left the room then re-enter 10 mins later doing the PDPB and sushing for 5 mins. again would cried every time I stopped the patting and sushing. Left the room, then re-enter the room 15 mins later I picked him up b/c he was choking on his cough from over-crying.

At this point I was devasted and in tears from this dreadful sleeping process and ordeal. I rocked him for 10 mins and he was sound asleep and he woke up as soon as I put him down in the crib. I left the room and let him cried for a good 20 mins to sleep.

Bedtime is at 8:30 pm every night

I don't know if I should continue this Ferber method because my son is taken longer to fall asleep and crying more. He use to be able to fall asleep with me rocking him for 10 to 15 mins each night and never wake up in the middle of the night. He only fusses 3 to 4 times a night either for the pacifier or patting him on the back. I'm afraid the Ferber Method may have damage his trust and comfort in me.

The reason I chose to start the Ferber Method sleep training is because the rocking isn't working out for me anymore. It had caused back pain and numbness in my arms. Also, I will be going back to work soon and I want him to be able to sleep on his own.

I need answers and I need helpful advices. If there is another sleeping method that doesn't require CIO and is effective please let me know. My son likes alot of patting,soothing, and reassuring in order for him to fall asleep. Thank you in advance.

From a concerned mother,


Heidi's Answer:

Dear Monica,

Thank you for explaining your situation so clearly. I understand your concern, and will do my best to help you out.

First of all, not to worry, there is no need to let your son cry it out if you do not want him to.

I do think you were on a good track before starting with the Ferber method. Your baby boy seemed to go to sleep rather easily, indeed with your help (but for just 10-15 minutes) but then basically was sleeping through the night. That indeed shows that he was able to sleep well and had the confidence to do so.

Not a bad situation at all at that age, if it weren’t for your back pain because of the holding and rocking of course … So you were absolutely right to try and find a way to avoid that.

As you know for sure, the Ferber method involves crying it out. It is controlled crying, with only 'short' periods alone, but it is clear that the crying, and possibly even vomiting, are indeed part of the process.

One important ingredient for the ferberizing to succeed, is that you as parents realise that aspect and are behind it 100%. That way you will not doubt during the difficult crying moments and be able to be consistent.

According to the book, your son should be sleeping on his own by now, or at least after a week. Dr Ferber does agree that it can happen that it doesn’t work by that time, when your baby is not ready for instance, and then suggests to let it rest for a few weeks, and then try again.

Another reason can be that it just doesn’t work because you do not believe in it and therefore are not determined and consistent enough. From your message, it seems you are not 100% at ease with letting your baby cry. And I think that is one of the reasons why it does not work right now.

Please don’t take this badly. On the contrary I can only encourage how well you were doing before, and how you are just more inclined to trust your feelings and attend to your baby’s needs rather than let him cry it out. That said, it is good to look for alternative ways to help your baby go to sleep on his own so you can relieve your back pain. Luckily there are other ways.

The first thing I would advise you now is to determine whether you want to try Ferber again in a few weeks, or are definitely going for an alternative. If you still consider Ferber, do re-read the book and assure yourself you agree with all aspects fully before you try it again. Remember also that even if it works, you may find yourself going through the process again if he ever snaps out of it because of teething or a cold that disrupt his sleep.

Otherwise, let’s have a look at the alternatives. My site is dedicated to gentle (no or few tears) but effective ways to guide your baby to sleep well, not just for a few nights but for life.

I do not think your son’s trust in you is completely lost after these 4 days of crying it out. But it is good to reinforce it now and clearly show him that you are there for him. Let me suggest the following steps:

- Take a few days to go back to normal. Rock your son to sleep as you used to.

- Make sure you have all the basics in place: a regular sleep schedule (including regular naps during the day), a good bedtime routine, a pleasant and safe crib, … You may download my free e-book Baby Sleep Essentials for a clear overview of these basics.

- Then in a few days, you start working on the self soothing. Be relaxed about it and do not expect too much too quickly. The idea is that you will still rock your son, but you gradually put him down earlier and earlier so he goes from putting down asleep, to very very nearly asleep, to very drowsy, to drowsy to awake. This whole process may take a couple of weeks, don’t rush but see how it goes, one step at a time.

If, during the first steps, he wakes up when you put him down, you may choose to pick him up straight away and start over, or first try to soothe him with stroking his belly, the pacifier, … while he is still in the crib. Then only pick him up if it doesn’t work at all (but before he gets all upset). Whichever feels most appropriate.

Once he’s down half awake, you may want to stay in his room, or walk around in the hallway near his room, so he knows you are around.

Be patient and relaxed, especially when you are in his room and it may seem to take forever for him to settle. Take some deep breaths to help you relax.

And, very helpful (!): in the morning, or after a nap where you did this too, praise him for having gone to sleep so well (even if it was just a little step forward), this will help build his confidence further too.

You may also want to check my self soothing page for further tips or my No-Tears Self Soothing guide for detailed step-by-step guidance.

Do leave a comment if you have further questions or concerns, or to share how it is going.

Good luck,

Comments for Not sure if the Ferber Method is working for my 10 months old son

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by: Bethany

I have a form that is step by step directions on Ferber's method, and I think the problem may be that you are spending too much time with him when you re-enter the room. The directions that I have stresses that you are to stay in the room no more than 2 min at a time. I was worried at first too and started staying in the room until my son fell asleep. I found that it was taking longer for him to fall asleep, and because he was not able to comfort himself to sleep without me rubbing his back he needed me in the room. Once I went back to no longer than 2 min it has not been a problem.

10 month breastfed baby
by: Anonymous

My son is 10 months old goes to sleep no problem but wakes ever 4 to 6 hrs to. Nurse in the middle of the night. Sometimes less. We were very successfull using ferber on our daugher but my son no way. He screams until he stops breathing because he gets so upset even vomits... I nurse him and he goes right back to sleep. Help this mama needs some sleep any suggestions?

by: Heidi - BabySleepAdvice

Dear Anonymous, if these night nursings are new then it can be a growth spurt and you can go along with it for a week or so. At the same time top up his food intake during the day by increasing his portions, adding an extra milk dessert after a solids meal, an extra snack, ...

If it's been going on for a while, then also ensure he gets plenty of food during the day and then gradually reduce the amount he gets at the night feeds. You can start by offering one breast only, or unlatching him a little earlier each night.

Consider also transitioning to a cup of water.

Either way this will help reduce his hunger feeling and once he's not hungry anymore, it will be easier for him to sleep through.

Hope this helps!

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