As part of the training for my new business, I am in the process of reading, analyzing and reviewing a number of sleep and parenting books. From time to time, I will share some of my opinions if I think they might be useful to other parents. Most recently, I read The No-Cry Sleep Solution: Gentle Ways to Help Your Baby Sleep Through the Night, Elizabeth Pantley. This is one of the more popular sleep books, as it is generally considered compatible with attachment parenting principles, and because (of course) most parents who wish to teach their children to sleep through the night would like to do so with as little crying as possible.
About the author: Elizabeth Pantley is a mother of four children and has no medical or professional background in child health or development. The half-page disclaimer at the beginning of this book makes it clear to readers that the material presented is only the author’s opinion and does not in any way constitute professional advice. The book is based on her personal experience of trying to teach her then one-year-old son to sleep through the night. Over the course of a six month period, she was able to reduce her son’s night wakings so that he was only waking once per night by the age of 18 months. Unfortunately, it is impossible to ascertain whether her gentle sleep training methods caused the reduction in night wakings, or whether these changes occurred organically, over this extended period of time, as a result of her child’s age-related development and maturation.
About the book: Pantley is passionate about never allowing a baby to cry – “not even for a minute” (p.2). Any approach that involves any amount of crying whatsoever is broadly labelled as “cry-it-out,” even though that term very specifically refers to Dr. Emmett Holt’s nineteenth century technique of putting a baby into bed and leaving him to cry until he falls asleep on his own (from the 1895 book, The Care and Feeding of Children).
Pantley begins the book with a manipulative, emotionally-charged, guilt-inducing diatribe about why it is cruel to let your baby cry. Numerous opinions and parental anecdotes about the pitfalls of “crying-it-out” are presented, but with no clinical research whatsoever to support her bold claim that even a small amount of nighttime crying is detrimental to a child’s development and well-being. Here is an example of one of several opinions presented as data:
If you believe what this [sleep] “expert” says then you are going down the wrong road with your child… If he wants you to hold him during the day, and you’re too busy with other things, you can convince yourself that he won’t be permanently harmed by your inattention. As he gets older, when he wants to play ball with you but you’re otherwise occupied, you can rationalize that he’s better off playing with friends. If he wants you to attend a school function and you are too tired, you can argue that your presence really isn’t necessary. You are setting up a pattern in babyhood that will follow for the rest of your life in your relationship with your child.
There you have it folks: letting your baby cry for a few nights is setting your child up for a lifetime of parental neglect.
Sleep-deprived new parents are particularly vulnerable to this sort of manipulation, and as a result, may be hesitant to follow a proven pediatrician-endorsed sleep training program, for fear of causing irreparable psychological harm to their children. Yet, the very idea of “no-cry” is completely misleading, as all babies will cry at times – even while being held and soothed. Some fussy or colicky babies cry for hours each day, in spite of their parents’ best efforts.
I was especially galled by the fact that Pantley continually refers to esteemed medical professionals as sleep “experts” (yes, with the quotations). She never mentions names, but in the context of the information presented, it is quite clear that she is referring to Doctors Richard Ferber and Marc Weissbluth, pediatricians who between them have decades of experience working specifically with children’s sleep disorders. They are not so-called sleep experts; they are experts in the truest sense of the word.
Although the book’s title suggests that its methods will help babies learn to sleep, Pantley’s overarching message is that parents must change their expectations; that “the problem lies in our perceptions of how a baby should sleep and in our own needs for an uninterrupted night’s sleep” (p. 47). Essentially, she believes that parents are expected to deal with and attend to night wakings for at least the first year of baby’s life, if not longer. This message is backed up by the statistic that “more than 50 percent of babies younger than two years of age” still experience night wakings (p.91). It is important to note that just because night wakings may be a current societal norm, it does not mean they are healthy for babies or their parents. Certainly nobody in their right mind would state that obesity is “good” or “normal,” just because a large portion of society is now obese.
An entire chapter is devoted to the important topic of sleep associations (or sleep props), such as nursing, bottles, pacifiers, rocking, holding and co-sleeping. Rather than endeavouring to eliminate sleep associations altogether, Pantley suggests using different sleep associations each day, in order to break the habit of a child requiring a specific prop to get to sleep. Unfortunately, this is more likely to confuse a child, as he becomes unable to associate a specific action or circumstance as his cue to become sleepy.
No method or structure is provided. Parents are expected to sift through dozens of lukewarm suggestions and then create their own plan, from scratch. The book is a collection of gentle “solutions” that in many cases, contradict earlier claims made by the author, and are liable to be inconsistent and confusing to a baby. For example, Pantley will outline a strategy to reduce reliance on a sleep prop (e.g. sucking, being picked up, being rocked), but then suggest that after multiple attempts, a parent may abandon the strategy at the first sign of the child – or even the parent! — becoming upset. This does not help the baby to learn new habits, and will in fact reinforce the very crying we are trying to avoid, since the child learns that crying helps return things to the way they were. She suggests implementing a consistent schedule and bedtime routine, but then later advises parents to put baby straight to bed as soon as he exhibits any signs of tiredness. Early in the book, she uses an extended analogy to explain why it is not advised to move a baby into his crib or into another room after he has fallen asleep, but then later suggests doing exactly that as “the sneaky way” (p. 140) to transition baby to sleeping in his own bed.
There is a lot of weak language in this book: if you can, when you can, try, sometimes… A parent cannot “try” to make changes; if the changes are to be successful, parents must commit to them wholeheartedly and with confidence.
Recommendation: The No-Cry Sleep Solution could be helpful to parents of newborns, who would like to use gentle methods to begin encouraging healthy sleep habits from an early age. For parents of older babies with problematic sleep patterns, there are a few useful tips to be found in this book, but nothing new or groundbreaking. In all likelihood, an inexperienced and exhausted parent will be unable to sort through the clutter to find what they need. Don’t expect a step-by-step sleep training plan from this book; there is none to be found. The book seems primarily directed at parents who wish to follow an attachment parenting philosophy, and could potentially be useful to those who are seeking to reduce — but not completely eliminate — nighttime disturbances, while continuing to co-sleep and night nurse. It is one of very few sleep books that will not insist that a child be moved to his own bed and room. Pantley provides reassurance to parents that they are not alone if their children do not sleep through the night at the age of one, or even two years old — small consolation to a desperately sleep-deprived parent in need of a sleep solution.
As Pantley so aptly puts it, only two things will solve a child’s sleep problems: time or crying. Your child will eventually sleep through the night, but it could take months — or even years! If you are at your wit’s end; you are becoming frustrated and resentful of your baby; your relationship is suffering; and you need to regain uninterrupted nights of sleep as quickly as possible, you do not have time on your side, and this is not the book for you. If you are willing to put aside your own sleep needs indefinitely in order to avoid a few nights of discomfort, then by all means, give this book a “try.”
Note: I just want to clarify, before anyone gets offended ;), that this review is a criticism of the book itself, and not a criticism of anybody’s parenting style. If you choose to nurse your baby through the night, to co-sleep, and to respond to any and all nighttime crying and this works for you, then you do not have a sleep problem. It is only a problem when it causes negative feelings and consequences. But if a parent is reading a book that has the words “Sleep Solution” in the title, one can safely assume this is because the current sleep situation is problematic and the parent is looking for change. To that end, I think this book is misleading and fails to provide what it promises.
Have you read “The No-Cry Sleep Solution” and implemented any of the strategies? Did you find the book helpful in working towards your sleep goals for your baby?