Good Night, Sleep Tight by Kim West What to do with a baby who just will not respond to Elizabeth Pantley’s gentle methods, whose sleeping patterns are resulting in significant sleep loss for both the baby and the caretaker? These were the questions that led me to look for an approach somewhere in between Ferber and other cry-it-out methods, which are very hard on both parents and children, and Pantley’s very gentle suggestions. This was the book that I came up with. I was expecting to have some problems with her approach, and boy, did I. But overall, if one ignores especially her breastfeeding advice except as it bears directly on sleep, the kernel of her method for teaching babies to fall asleep on their own seems straightforward and less traumatic than other popular methods.
West says that she breastfed her own two children, though she doesn’t say for how long. She has definitely not had lactation training, and her theories on breastfeeding are outdated at best. She lists as a core of her sleep method introducing a bottle no later than three weeks, even for the exclusively breastfeeding mother, with no explanation of how that relates to sleep. She doesn’t believe in feeding on demand past the first couple of weeks – where most current experts recommend feeding on demand for the first year at least. For each couple of months, she gives a time period – first two hours, then increasing to three or four hours by the end of the first year – between which times she says that babies can’t be fussing from hunger. Really? Has she never heard of growth spurts? She also does a soft-sell on the night-time artificial baby milk bottle to help babies sleep through the night – further spreading a disproven and harmful myth. (See http://www.kellymom.com/nutrition/solids/solids-sleep.html)
She also thinks that sleep skills are something that must be taught, that the only reason young babies don’t sleep through the night is that they haven’t been taught these skills, and that children will never learn them on their own. Some babies may naturally sleep through the night at a young age; it may not be harmful to gently encourage longer sleep. But sleeping through the night is not natural for young infants, probably as a protective factor against SIDS, and sleep patterns do naturally change on their own – see http://www.kellymom.com/parenting/sleep/sleepstudies.html
West is a social worker with years of experience working in private practice as an infant sleep counselor. She does have experience with this and her own children. However, her cited references are exclusively consumer-level books such as those by Ferber and Weissbluth – she does not look at any of the significant amount of scholarly data out there regarding infant sleep patterns and sleep training.
She is very opposed to nursing to sleep, considering it a sleep crutch that will just take longer and longer to work and eventually stop working, at which point she says that it will be harder to train a child to sleep without nursing to sleep than it would have been never to allow it in the first place. Both of my children, I have to say, have nursed to sleep despite my best efforts to the contrary early on. Mr. FP learned with difficulty but relatively quickly another method when nursing failed to work for him as a toddler; my little Baby Godzilla is of necessity learning other methods at a younger age. But still, the methods for gettng babies to sleep without nursing to sleep early on that West describes – I’ve known of them working for other babies, but it never worked for mine. On the other hand, she is equal-opportunity in her opposition to sleep crutches – she is equally opposed to pacifiers, bottles and even to playing music at bedtime or singing a baby to sleep. The only thing that she encourages is attachment to a lovey – and I’m not sure how this escapes being labelled as a sleep crutch.
The book is intimidatingly long for a sleep-deprived parent, mostly because she repeats the same advice with slightly different recommended schedules and different anecdotes five or six times, one for each three month age range up to a year, and then for older toddlers.
However, the core of her method is this: One should know how much sleep one’s child needs – typically much more than most parents think. One should follow a predictable schedule and routines to help one’s child settle down at appropriate times. So far, so good. She has a method, which she calls the “Sleep Lady Shuffle” of gradually moving farther and farther away from the crib every couple of nights while intermittently vocally soothing the baby. If you are feeling desperate enough that you are looking for sleep training as opposed to gentle sleep learning – this is the gentlest sleep training method I’ve seen, and does not ever require leaving your baby alone to cry. Skip her theories on breastfeeding and her unresearched dissing of attachment parenting. Get your schedule and bedtime routines in place and just read the Shuffle.
I still haven’t tried these methods. We’ve decided that Baby Godzilla’s problems are medical. Many of them have been helped by her new medication, and the pediatrician does not think this is a time for any kind of sleep training. But if she’s older and healthier and still having significant sleep problems, this is probably the method I’d try second, after Pantley. How’s that for a ringing endorsement?