Gentle or “no-cry” sleep training methods Part II: Some more popular methods

As some of the commenters mentioned on the first part of this series on "no cry" sleeping-training techniques, there are lots of other approaches that I haven't yet described. I'll finish off these descriptions in this post and throw out a few pros and cons in the last part.

Elizabeth Pantley’s “No-cry” solutions are perhaps some of the best-known approaches 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. 

Another very popular “gentle” sleep-training method comes from Hogg’s The Baby Whisperer Solves All Your Problems. This technique, often referred to as the “shush/pat” method is meant to be a soothing, gradual way to help your child learn to fall asleep on his own. The basic steps are as follows:
(1)    Make the room in which the baby will be sleeping as dark as possible.
(2)    Swaddle the baby and lay him on his side in his crib so that you have access to his back (if the baby is old enough to sleep on his stomach, then you can lay him that way instead).
(3)    Pat the baby on the back slowly and rhythmically while making a shushing sound just over his ear (not directly into it). A loud shushing sound is meant to emulate the sounds that the baby was exposed to in the womb.
(4)    If the baby starts crying and is inconsolable with the shushing and patting, pick him up and continue the shushing and patting.
(5)    When he calms down completely, lay him back down in the crib and continue the shushing and patting for a few minutes until he starts becoming very sleepy, then slow down the process.
(6)    Don’t stop touching him and shushing him until he’s deeply asleep.
(7)    Once you’ve done this for several days or weeks, the idea is that your baby will get used to falling asleep faster and faster without being picked up and will eventually not need your support at all.

I've heard some magical, miraculous stories of how well these methods have worked and pure all-out horror tales. Again, it must have a lot to do with individual babies' needs and temperaments and the personalities and philosophies of the parents. Has anyone tried either of these approaches specifically? For better or worst?

5 thoughts on “Gentle or “no-cry” sleep training methods Part II: Some more popular methods

  1. We definitely did more of Pantley’s approach. My daughter really needs the gradual changes, especially when related to sleep. The approach you talked about above worked really well for night weaning. However, we have never been able to get to the point where she will fall asleep on her own. Even sitting up while she lies down doesn’t work. And in her 2.5, we’ve tried most things.
    But Pantley’s approach was definitely best overall for her. I’m going to try the Baby Whisperer’s method with my baby, because I think he’ll respond pretty well to it. We’ll see.
    Now, I’m going to search through your archives for posts about getting a 2.5 year old to go to sleep on her own. ;-) I think I remember seeing something about that age group on your blog…

  2. We tried Pantley at the 4-month regression when I just could not take it waking up 10 times in an 8 hour period. We started the bedtime routine and tried to use paci as a soother instead of the boob and it just didn’t work. I don’t think it was pantley who was wrong but just our babe who needed extra love. As he’s grown up his personality has shown that he is an extremely independent child during the day but at night he needs some extra TLC to help fill him up. Plus he was a tension increaser.
    With #2 we have used a combination of crying and soothing since he’s a tension releaser but mostly yep it was some variation of the baby whisperer i guess.

  3. @caramama: you’re not going to be particularly pleased on my take of the 2.5 year old stage. I mean it’s a FANTASTIC stage for cool new stuff going on socially and emotionally, but it doesn’t bode so well for sleep training… GOOD LUCK! Let us know how it goes for your guys.
    @z: 4 months is a REALLY hard age to make any drastic changes to the bedtime routine. REALLY hard. I honestly believe any method, Pantley, Hogg, Ferber, Weissbluth, whatever, would have a very hard time taking at this age for most kids because MOST kids are extra sensitive during this period.

  4. We tried Pantley for quite a while between 5 and 8 months with my son- to the extent that my husband slept in the nursery in an effort to get to our son before he actually woke up to ease him through the transitions of sleep. We also tried everything Ms Hogg suggested we throw at sleep issues for at least a few weeks. Both methods crashed and burned despite my fervent hopes. He is now 3, a Ferber “graduate” and usually has at least 3 night wakings a week which may or may not require intervention. I’m starting to seriously wonder if he has some sort of insomnia.
    The best strategy for Megan varies on where she is in teething, milestone development, mood, and level of tiredness. If she’s on a fairly even keel and I catch her before she’s overtired, a Pantley rock followed by the Hogg pat is golden. If she’s a bit of a mess there is a bit of “tension release” needed for a minute before sweet nap time. If she’s a real basket case, the rock, pat, tension release will buy a 30 minute nap followed by an afternoon visit from the crank-a-potomus, a possible battle royale for bedtime and then sweet sleep through the night. Interestingly, this was totally the case until she was about 4 months old- 5:30-9:30 were fuss fests no matter what I tried but then I got a nice stretch from 10-2 of sleep.

  5. I tried Hogg and Pantley at various times, no luck. Shh/pat never worked, nor did wake-to-sleep. Our son hated being messed with when he was trying to sleep – even if he was screaming at the top of his lungs. He was not a tension-releaser, however. There have been lots of instances when I would have to let him scream for 10 mins, and then go in and pick him up, and he would instantaneously fall asleep on me, and I’d lay him back down.
    We night weaned and sleep trained him at 7 months – it took 2 nights and was easier than we thought. We did the Weissbluth full-blown cry-it-out. After that, night wakings were due to teething and milestones, and most required minimal intervention.
    Unfortunately we just got back from a 2.5 week vacation where we had to share a room with him, which meant every single bad habit he has ever had was picked up again – night wakings, night nursing, cosleeping – in addition to a growth spurt and a wonder week and associated cognitive development. Which means now he is more stubborn _and_ more smart about what’s going on. Plus he starts day care next week when I go back to school, _and_ is fighting his afternoon nap so is probably on the verge of starting the 2-to-1 nap transition. Oh the joy :)

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