We've talked about Ferberizing or gradual extinction methods, now let's go to the other side of the spectrum and discuss some of the techniques that attempt to avoid any distress or crying on the part of the baby. The following excerpt is from our book and summarizes some of these approaches and their general aims:
"There are a set of methods that are often referred to as “No-cry” solutions, from Pantley’s popular book by the same name, The No-Cry Sleep Solution: Gentle Ways to Help Your Baby Sleep Through the Night. The methods under the rubric of “attachment parenting” would also be classified as gentle methods, including manuals such as Sears’ Nighttime Parenting and McKenna’s Sleeping with your Baby: A Parent’s Guide to Co-Sleeping. What these approaches have in common is a commitment to minimizing or altogether eliminating any distress at all by the baby when she is falling asleep for naps or bedtime. The Sears and McKenna approaches are particularly focused on encouraging co-sleeping practices. The former author is well-recognized for encouraging parents to accept the natural, often difficult sleep patterns that many babies and toddlers fall into in the first 2 years of life. Sears stresses that parents can’t “force” their children to sleep longer stretches. Sears and other attachment parenting gurus suggest that sleep training itself is not a healthy, productive way to promote healthy sleep habits. Instead, parents should learn to structure their lives such that their own sleep is maximized; but to be realistic about this structure and understand that sleep deprivation in the first few years of parenting is simply a part of parenting.
Proponents of gentle or no-cry methods of putting your child to sleep argue that babies and toddlers have been kept as close as possible to their mother’s bodies for centuries and across many different cultures. Practices such as co-sleeping and “wearing” your baby are critical practices that promote a healthy bond between the mother and child, a bond necessary for the optimal development of the child. These authors go on to argue that mothers who systematically ignore their babies’ cries during the night are fostering deep anxieties and insecurities in their children that will leave emotional scars for life. Some of the most common sleep strategies that are often touted as “attachment” oriented include:
(1) Sleep with your child in the same bed (co-sleep).
(2) “Wear” your baby (in a sling or other type of baby carrier) for as long as possible throughout the day and at night if necessary.
(3) Nurse on demand and particularly before naptimes and bedtimes to help the baby fall asleep peacefully.
(4) Fathers can bounce, rock or cuddle the baby into a deep sleep.
(5) If you leave the baby alone in a crib or bassinet, leave behind an article of clothing or cloth with the baby that has the mother’s scent on it.
(6) Respond as quickly as possible to your child’s cries at bedtime and throughout the night (in other words, try to not let your child cry for any length of time before falling asleep or upon waking during the night).
Pantley’s “No-cry” solutions are also geared towards minimizing children’s distress. Her approach is meant as an alternative to the cry-it-out methods. In addition to her other common-sense suggestions, including creating a relaxing atmosphere (e.g., dim lighting), providing a bedtime ritual and so on, Pantley offers a number of additional tips. Hers is not a sleep-training method per se, but more like a set of helpful soothing strategies. Her suggestions are aimed at transitioning children’s bedtime and napping habits very gradually. For example, if a parent wants to stop nursing her baby to sleep, Pantley suggests substituting the nursing for gentle rocking, then the rocking for patting in the crib and then finally moving towards putting the child down on her own and seeing if she’ll self-soothe without the parent’s help. Other examples of such techniques include a form of “gradual extinction” but at a much slower pace than Ferber’s approach. To get a child to fall asleep on his own, in his crib, one gentle method might be to sit close to the child with a hand on her belly at first and stay that way until she falls asleep. The next night, the parent might move the chair back a meter or so and not touch the child. The next night, the parent may inch the chair back even further until eventually the parent is outside the child’s room and the child can fall asleep on her own."
For those of your who have tried one or a set of these methods, how did it go for you? What were some of the challenges you faced? At what age did is seem to work or not work for your family? Why would you recommend these types of methods or why would you advise others to steer clear of them? Remember, I firmly believe that different strategies will work for different children, depending on a whole host of factors. So it would be particularly useful for parents still considering the many options of sleep-training methods to hear from parents about their own philosophies, their child's temperament, their child's age and all the other issues that may need to be considered to make gentle or "no cry" methods work.