There are many methods of how to sleep train a baby. Modified Extinction, Unmodified extinction, and the Ferber method are all popular method of sleep training that involve systematic ignoring in children. I have tried a few of these methods, and wanted to share my personal experience in my journey on how we sleep trained Madi. Please discuss with your health care provider prior to sleep training.
Unmodified Extinction – aka – the “cry it out” method of sleep training
The Cry It Out method is a common sleep training method of how to sleep train a baby. It involves putting the child to bed at a designated bedtime (this was 7:30 PM for us), and then essentially letting them cry themselves to sleep.
This is the last method of sleep training I tried and was actually successful with this sleep training method. Here is what I did:
- I put Madi to bed after her normal bedtime routine. Prior to this, I used to stay in the room with her until she fell asleep. Tonight was different; after I placed her in her crib, I said my goodnights and left her room.
- As expected, Madi was very upset and started crying.
- Graeme and I watched Madi on the baby monitor to see how much time it took her before she fell asleep. On the first night, this was 30 minutes. It felt more like 20 hours.
- We refrained from re-entering her room, picking her up to cuddle, or breastfeeding her which were all habits we did previously. This was very challenging emotionally.
In all honesty, the first night we used unmodified extinction, I had tears in my eyes as I watched her cry and stand in her crib. But after 2 nights of doing unmodified extinction Madi was falling asleep independently without crying.
The Modified Extinction method
Modified extinction is another method of how to sleep train a baby. This is where you time your return to your baby’s room after you have placed them in their crib. The time starts when your baby starts crying. If they don’t cry or fuss – there is no need to re-enter the room. If they do cry, you wait a certain amount of time until you re-enter the room.
- When you put your baby to bed, make sure they are already sleepy or drowsy but still awake and leave their room.
- Wait until your baby cries. When your baby does start to cry, wait for a scheduled amount of time before checking on your baby. For many parents this can be 5 minutes for night 1 of sleep training.
- On each passing night, wait longer and longer periods of time before entering your baby’s room after they start to cry. This time can be pre-determined for you based on what you feel comfortable with. When we tried this method I waited 5 minutes on night 1, 10 minutes on night 2, and 15 minutes on night 3.
- This method did not work for us as I found Madi got more and more upset every time I entered the room and did not pick her up.
A Second Method of Modified Extinction
Some parents use a different type of modified extinction. I also attempted this method in my journey to sleep train Madi.
- When you put your baby to sleep, make sure they are already sleepy or drowsy but still awake.
- Unlike the other method of modified extinction, in this method you DO NOT leave the room.
- On night 1: Stay in the room, lay on the floor beside the crib, or sit in a chair until your child falls asleep.
- Over the subsequent nights, you will gradually sit farther and farther away from your child’s crib.
- If your child cries or fusses, gently speak to them encouraging them to go to sleep, but refrain from picking them up.
- On night 3: you can try sitting by the door, inside the room.
- On night 5: you can try sitting outside of the door of your baby’s room.
- How long it takes for you to move away from your babies crib is all based on your preference and comfort level.
- The goal of this method is to allow the child to fall asleep independently, as you move farther and farther out of the room.
In my opinion this is a more gradual approach to sleep training. I did try this technique with Madi but quit after night 2, because I found that her seeing me lying on the floor next to her made her even more upset and she would continually cry for me until I picked her up.
The Ferber Method of Sleep Training
The Ferber Method is another sleep training technique of how to sleep train a baby. It is similar to modified extinction, but instead you re-enter your child’s room at increasing intervals throughout the night. Like modified extinction, you start with your regular bedtime routine and lay your baby down to sleep. If they don’t fuss then there is no need to re-enter the room. Once the baby starts to cry, you wait for defined intervals then enter the room to check on them.
Here is an example of a Ferber Method sleep training check schedule
- Night one:
- Baby starts crying right when you put them down.
- Exit the room and wait 3 minutes (1st interval). When you re-enter the room, tell your baby how much you love them, refrain from picking them up, and encourage them to go back to sleep and exit the room.
- If they are still crying when you leave, do not re-enter the room for 5 minutes (2nd interval). Re-enter the room, tell your baby how much you love them, refrain from picking them up, and encourage them to go back to sleep and exit the room.
- If they are still crying when you leave, do not re-enter the room for 10 minutes (3rd interval). Re-enter the room, tell your baby how much you love them, refrain from picking them up, and encourage them to go back to sleep and exit the room.
- Use 10 minutes for all remaining intervals.
- Night 2:
- Same as night one, but with longer intervals. For example: 5 minutes (1st interval), 10 minutes (second interval), 12 minutes (3rd and all subsequent intervals).
- Night 3
- Same as night two, but with longer intervals. For example: 10 minutes (1st interval), 15 minutes (second interval), 17 minutes (3rd and all subsequent intervals).
- Night 4 and onward is the same idea, with longer intervals.
I do not have personal experience with the Ferber Method because unmodified extinction was successful for us.
Sleep training is a personal choice and does not work for every family, if you have concerns about your child’s sleep, please see your primary care provider.
This post was co-authored by Suzanne Black, MD, BSc and Stephanie Liu, MD, MSc, CCFP, BHSc.