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Setting the Record Straight on Popular Baby Sleep Books

Well, we started this blog so long ago that it’s almost obsolete now in this digital age of bite size info, blog posts, and smart phone articles. But, we decided to put it out there anyway in case there are a few of you left who are still reading books on infant sleep.

Dr. Marc Weissbluth (“Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child”):

Dr Weissbluth is a (retired) Chicago based pediatrician with decades of experience who is a huge promoter of well consolidated sleep for the whole family.

He has raised children of his own, has obsessively loyal fans who swear by his techniques, and is one of the few who comprehensively address sleep problems for families with twins or multiples.

He is most well -known for the “extinction” method where he recommends parents not respond to their older babies in the night unless it’s time for a feeding, and so he gets a bad rap in some circles. HOWEVER, if you read his book carefully you’ll note he IS open to families choosing alternative approaches such as check-in techniques, and even includes the family bed.

His book is full of very impressive looking research but you should know it’s not published in peer reviewed journals and he does not present at top tier conferences in the field of sleep medicine.

The most common trouble-spots we see from clients who are following Weissbluth (and this does not mean Weissbluth intended these misconceptions) are:

  • An ultra early bedtime is best for babies.

  • chronic worry/and obsessing about overtiredness.

  • believing there are nap windows during the day whereby a perfect, fuss-free nap can be obtained and obsessively seeking those nap opportunities. This is often at the expense of leaving the house, and can cause great feelings of inadequacy for parents having difficulty obtaining naps with ease. See our nap series here.

  • Parents expecting far more sleep than appropriate from their child and failing to allow their baby’s schedule to grow with age. We find this especially true for older babies/young toddlers whose parents are following Weissbluth principals only.

  • Parents putting their babies to bed earlier than appropriate in hopes this will solve any sleep problems and end up with stretches of wakefulness in the night (“split night”) or ultra early wake ups. Then, even worse, they do restrictive sleep training to try to “fix” those night wakings or early mornings when a schedule shift would have been more appropriate. See our Early vs Late bedtime blog here.

  • Parents stop feedings “cold turkey” without a gradual transfer of calories out of the night and into the day which can make crying more intense/causes more inconsistency by parents. See our link on reducing night feedings here.

All in all this is a good book to have on your shelf if you can read it objectively keep the above cautionary tales in mind.

Dr. Richard Ferber (“Solve Your Child’s Sleep Problems”):

Dr. Ferber, now retired, literally wrote the book on the “Ferber Method” (checking in and out on your child at increasing lengths of time) which most parents are familiar with and either love or hate. Interestingly, most other sleep books on the market today that offer more “gentle” solutions are simply cleverly repackaged variations of his original technique.

Like Weissbluth, Ferber often gets a bad rap as being an older generation male, who is out of touch with today’s current family and for promoting a one size fits all approach that involves late bedtimes and intervals of crying. Still, Dr. Ferber’s book is FILLED with really useful, research-based information. Packed chapters on a wide range of infant and toddler sleep, problems, and solutions can provide families with loads of useful material, even if his particular method isn’t appealing to them.

The most common misconceptions we see from clients who are following Ferber (and this does not mean Ferber intended these misconceptions) are:

  • his book is dense, and parents skip to the parts they think are most important and often end up missing critical relevant information about appropriate sleep environment and timing.

  • Parents are inconsistent in implementing his strategy and do not see results

  • Parents try to use his strategy at inappropriate times of development such as during new milestones without additional support in the new skill, or separation anxiety.

All in all this is a great reference for you to have on your shelf to give you all the basics you need to establish the biological needs for great sleep. If his particular method of sleep training isn’t agreeable to you, you can combine the science from his book with sleep training technique from another, for our example one of the more interactive strategies you can find in our book about the four month regression.

Elizabeth Pantley (“The No Cry Sleep Solution”):

Ms. Pantley provided parents with a feel good book designed to slowly ease their baby into consolidated sleep. She is appealing to families who prefer very interactive approaches that involve little crying. Pantley is a mom; an experienced mom, with four children and no relevant degrees in the field of sleep medicine or healthcare. Her book is based almost solely in her experience as a mother which we certainly don’t discount, but her methods and some of the principals she touts in her book should not be mistaken for fact and in fact are in direct opposition with current safer sleep recommendations. Pantley is most known for her philosophies on avoiding any crying, extended breastfeeding, and the family bed.

The most common misconceptions we see from clients who are following the Pantley Method (and this does not mean Pantley intended these misconceptions) are:

  • It takes too long. Parents find it very hard to be consistent for as long as it takes (many, many months of consistent work) to see progress and often run into trouble and setbacks with illness, travel, and teething.

  • Underlying schedule and sleep environment may not be appropriate for baby.

All in all, Pantley offers some really neat tips and tricks for slowly easing your baby out of parent lead sleep involving frequent night wakings and into more baby lead sleep with fewer wakings. We admire her commitment and passion for a baby centered lifestyle.

There are many, many others books and blogs we know you are reading too! Things have changed a lot in the last 5 years and parents are reading fewer books, and more blogs on smart phones and kindles. Unfortunately it’s so easy to confuse opinion with fact in the realm of baby sleep and sleep science.

We hope to review some of those blogs for you in the future. In the meantime, books we do not recommend based on restrictiveness at a young age: Babywise (by Bucknam and Ezzo) and 12 Hours of Sleep by 12 Weeks (Giordano)

So, which one is best?

People usually ask us which book or blog is best. We always suggest you read a variety of books, consider the author and source of information, and definitely read our blog too! If you are looking for a truly customized approach to improving your child’s sleep, using a technique (perhaps even one you’ve never heard of!) that is appropriate both to your baby and your family life please consider a phone based sleep consult with Meg, Erin, Kiri or Juliet.

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