BOOK REVIEW: THE NO-CRY SLEEP SOLUTION

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.”

The No-Cry Sleep Solution

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?

19 responses to “BOOK REVIEW: THE NO-CRY SLEEP SOLUTION

  1. A parent cannot “try” to make changes; if the changes are to be successful, parents must commit to them wholeheartedly and with confidence.”

    Please put this on any and all future business cards. Gold advice.

  2. Everyone I know (myself included) who started with this book, usually in the younger than six month old range progressed on to some form of cry it out later. This book was mostly useless for me other than guilting me into delaying cry it out. Excellent review.

  3. I agree, this is a fantastic review. When reading this book, I didn’t get any tips to help improve our sleep. I have yet to find or hear that crying isn’t part of getting your baby to sleep better. I look forward to your reviews of the other books!

    • What people often fail to understand is that there is a huge difference between a child crying or fussing because they are resisting a change and a child being left alone to cry for hours with no parental support or comfort. Unfortunately, all sleep-related crying seems to get painted with the same broad brush of “cry-it-out,” which is completely inaccurate.

  4. Love, love, loved seeing this well-considered critique. I remember reading parts of it when we were just desperate to solve our son’s sleep problems, and knowing without even implementing any of the suggestions that they would never work anyway. If I had a penny, though, for every time I’ve seen this book recommended somewhere, I’d be rich. I’m guessing it has left a lot of families even more stressed out and tired, and worse, feeling like failures when it doesn’t deliver.

    I’ve only been following your blog a short time but am thrilled to hear about your new job as a sleep consultant. My husband and I are always stunned at how many of our parenting peers know nothing about the amount and quality of sleep that infants and toddlers NEED (and we know behind our backs, folks are calling us sleep nazis!). We were at our wits’ end with our 4.5 month old colicky son when someone recommended Weissbluth’s book to me. I’m not exaggerating when I say it changed our lives overnight. 2 years later we have managed many normal sleep challenges with relative ease and confidence since we know that good nighttime sleep and naps are not optional and 100% worth the effort. I am so glad to see you give Ferber and Weissbluth their due as legitimate experts – they are often cast as obsolete monsters by people who I don’t imagine have even read their books.

    Although we practice many things that would fall under the “attachment parenting” style, the sleep issue (the idea that letting your child cry is tantamount to abuse and neglect) is the main reason why I would never describe my parenting style that way.

    Anyway, sorry for the novel here – I am just really passionate about this subject, and am so glad to see someone do some critical analysis of the popular books out there. Keep it up!

    • Thank you for the great feedback! 🙂

      I recently read Ferber’s book (review forthcoming) and was absolutely blown away by how humane and gentle his methods are, especially the techniques he recommends for dealing with anxious and fearful children. I truly believe that most of the criticism levied towards Ferber has been done so by people who have either not read his book, or have only read non-contextual snippets of his writing. I still haven’t figured out how the “Ferber = CIO” myth came to be, since he outright states in his preface that it is not an approach he has ever condoned.

      Weissbluth’s book is next on my reading list. I read about a third of it when I was pregnant, but I found it somewhat dry, so I abandoned it. I expect I’ll find it much more interesting this time around.

      It sounds like we share a lot of similarities in our parenting styles! I, too, try to practice gentle and natural parenting as much as possible, but I also know that a certain amount of temporary discomfort/unhappiness on my child’s part is not going to cause him (or our relationship) any long-term harm, especially when it relates to setting guidelines that will give him the best chance at a healthy and happy life. As for sleep, I am a believer. Oliver became an entirely different baby when he started to sleep through the night and have proper naps. I shudder to think of how much more challenging he would be if he were still chronically overtired.

      Thanks again 🙂

  5. Well, your review is critical and well written.
    Yet… isn’t it possible this style of book is what some parents are looking for?
    Not every parent has a a goal of a baby that is sleeping 12 hrs in the first year. Some parents for a variety of reasons do not want to implement a method to attain that and/or don’t believe it is natural or necessary for a baby to sleep for a 12 hour stretch.
    I’ve read the book and think it has some great advice for parents that do not want to implement a CIO method.

    • For sure! I do think this book has a place for parents who are looking to gently encourage good sleeping habits, while not necessarily working towards an uninterrupted night’s sleep. It’s also great for families who want to co-sleep, since most other sleep training books require (or at least very strongly suggest) that a child be in his or her own room. But I think the title and premise of the book are misleading. Every loving parent who wants their child to sleep through the night would of course like to achieve this milestone without any crying, but with the exception of a very small minority of children who have extremely easygoing personalities, it’s simply not going to happen that way — unless you are willing to proceed very, very slowly. The trouble is, by the time most parents are buying a sleep training book, they are no longer at a point where they can afford to wait months for their child to sleep through the night.

      Also remember, CIO actually refers to a specific technique of putting a baby in his bed and leaving him to cry until he falls asleep (Pantley is mistaken in referring to anything other than “no-cry” as CIO). There are *a lot* of intermediate stages between the CIO approach and responding immediately to a child’s every whimper.

      Thanks for sharing a different point of view 🙂

  6. Weissbluth’s book is a little dry and weirdly organized, but it was the one book I went back to again and again for information and reassurance as we were going through our sleep saga. One note about Ferber you might be interested in: I don’t remember where I came across this, but there was some sort of research or theory that pointed to the fact that timed interventions actually caused *more* stress for the baby since his cortisol levels rose every time the parent left the room again.

  7. Carli, I just want to thank you for all of the great information on your site. I am due with my first baby this coming February, and your experiences are so helpful. Because we appear to have similar values, I trust your judgement and experiences, and that saves me so much time in choosing products, methods, and books. Thank you!

  8. No Cry Sleep Solution worked well for us. I expect my infant to need help with soothing and with sleep, though; I’m OK with the two weeks or so it takes to implement a gentle, no-cry solution rather than seeking immediate gratification.

  9. leaving a baby to cry for proloned periods of time i.e “cry it out, can have long term damaging effective. when a baby is experience stree its body is flooded with cortisol,, the stress hormone. this can stoped synapes formation, which stopes neurons developing. in serious cases and extreamly neglect this can then effect then into childhood and adulthood as a minor incident will be met with fear and anxity.

  10. “t 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.”

    It is not a “norm” it is a fact (night wakings). The norm in our society is actually that babies should sleep through the night. Night wakings ARE healthy because they reduce the risk of SIDS and babies small stomachs require them to eat more often. They eat often because they are doing the mosr extreme growing in their lives. You are ignorant. you confuse “norm” with “statistic numbers”. Norm is a “desirable state”. Obesity is spreaded statistically it is not the norm, not wanted. All women have pain during labour, is a biological fact, it is statistically 100% population who experience it. Does not mean it is a norm. Your rethoric is stupid.

  11. What do you suggest we do when we have let our 5 month daughter cry-it-out multiple nights in a row, each lasting sometimes 5 plus hours (we would repeatedly check on her and let her know we were there – and sometimes she would be in her pack and play right next to us).. crying only seems to agitate her. I fully agree with the CIO method but find that we have made very little progress.

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