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Books on Baby Sleep - Weissbluth, Ferber, and Pantley Compared

Sleep is crucial to a baby's developing temperament. Come to think of it, sleep is crucial to anyone's temperament.

Every evening around 6, my three-month old would stare at me with sleepy yet alert eyes, willing me to do something. I had no idea what. But I knew that the fussiness would start in 15 minutes and go on for two hours until she wore herself out after an evening of crying and making me cry.

One evening, the proverbial straw had broken my literal (upper) back. Supine, I googled infant sleep and got pages and pages of self-proclaimed experts unable to reach a consensus about how often infants need to be asleep. Some comments on these websites led me to bunch of books, all of which I bought. Of them, I found the following three books to the most helpful.
  1. Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child, by Dr. Marc Weissbluth (₹454.50).
  2. Solve Your Child's Sleep Problems, by Dr. Richard Ferber (₹773); and
  3. The No-Cry Nap Solution, by Elizabeth Pantley (₹475).
(Edit: Kindle Price as on June 30, 2015)

Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child 

Dr. Marc Weissbluth's book is your Bible if you're looking for scientifically presented information on:
  • research-backed sleep schedules for infants, toddlers, and young children (the book covers ages 0 to 12),
  • how children sleep; 
  • the importance of sleep for children; and
  • how to teach your child how to fall asleep; 

Dr. Weissbluth is a professor of clinical paediatrics at Northwestern University School of Medicine. He is also the founder of the Sleep Disorders Center at the Children's Memorial Hospital, Chicago. As such, he has studied the natural circadian rhythms of thousands of babies. He has also researched the importance of sleep to the developing infant brain.

You probably know him as the cry-it-out guy. Based on the tone of most infant sleep websites, I knew he was a heartless monster egging on lazy mothers to abandon their babies in the darkest hours of the night. That's why I bought the book - so I could really and truly hate on him.

After having carefully read the book multiple times, the only thing I hate about the book is the way it's written. Reading this book was like learning a new language. The author uses a lot of vague terminology much before he actually defines them. As a result, there was a lot of going back and forth within the book just to get a grip on what his recommendations are.

Surprisingly, I discovered that, in addition to cry-it-out or "Let Cry," Weissbluth also provides two other solutions - "Maybe Cry," and "No Cry" - making it clear that regardless of which method you choose, the important thing is to teach a baby self-regulation - understanding that feeling tired can only be fixed with sleep not distraction. You hear that? Now put away your phone and go to sleep.

The most significant suggestion he makes, however, is on an infant's natural bedtime. Based on his study of over 300 infants, he has learned that bedtime is between 6 and 8 PM from 5-months of age till 3-years. What!? You mean I don't have to entertain a hyper fussy baby at 6 PM!?

Solve Your Child's Sleep Problems

Had it not been for this book by Dr. Richard Ferber another paediatrician and sleep researcher, I would never have known that if baby falls asleep at the breast or while being rocked, then she associates sleep with those specifics - much like how adults need a particular pillow or side of the bed for good sleep.

In Solve Your Child's Sleep Problems, Dr. Ferber suggests one method Internet mommies call it Ferberization, to help a child learn how to fall asleep; a parent visits their sleepy but crying child at pre-scheduled intervals until the child falls asleep. This is to reduce the perceived cruelty of leaving a crying baby unattended.

Dr. Weissbluth terms this method "graduated extinction" in his book, and cautions parents against using it. He feels that it is a technique that only works if implemented consistently, which is a difficult thing to do at 2 AM and you've got a big work meeting 6 hours later.

However, the book only contains a small chapter on helping a child develop good sleep habits. Dr. Ferber stresses multiple times in his book that his area of research has been in solving sleep problems like night-terrors, bed-wetting, head-banging, sleep-talking, snoring etc. Read this book if you want to be even more paranoid about your baby.

The No-Cry Nap Solution

Whether you choose Ferber or Weissbluth, The No Cry Nap Solution is a good secondary book to read when you're looking for solutions to specific napping problems like catnapping, in-arms napping, and nap rejection. It breaks down such napping woes and provides solutions to tackle each sub-problem.

Pantley's experience in raising four children shines through in her non-judgmental style of writing; it will guide any parent in teaching their baby good sleep habits in a kind and compassionate manner. This book, along with Dr. Sears' Nighttime Parenting, is what practitioners of attachment parenting use mostly because it involves minimal crying.

Unfortunately, Pantley's sample schedule of "2-3-4" putting baby down for her first nap 2 hours after she wakes up in the morning; 3 hours after she wakes up from her first nap; and then bedtime 4 hours after she wakes up from her second nap is neither scientific nor does it take into account a baby's circadian rhythm.

The other drawback of this book is that it recommends the use of various sleeping aids like rockers, bouncers, heartbeat teddies, white noise, swaddling, etc. Not only does this add to the baby-related junk in your home, but you will eventually need to wean your baby off each of these aids; not to mention having to lug it around when you travel. 

However, I'd be the last person to sniff at attachment parenting (AP) because those 7-B's helped me bond with and understand my newborn. The Sears' The Baby Book is my Bible of Baby Care and while I'm not a slavish practitioner of AP, I do believe in being as attached to my daughter as she needs me to be.

The Verdict

Of the three books, and despite the lazy writing, I found Healthy Sleep Habits to be the most informative and, to a certain extent, practical. When at 3 AM, your baby is ready to play while all you can think of is sleep, it's okay to let her cry for a bit despite your best intentions you will not have the energy to time your visits. If she's not ill or in any distress, she needs to learn that 3 AM is sleepy time and not play time, and the earlier she learns this the better.

Sleep is a parent's first attempt to pass their good habits along to their child. It is also the beginning of moral judgments - for baby is she a good sleeper? does she let you sleep at night? and more searchingly, about one's own ability as a parent. A baby's sleep, or lack thereof, is a comment on our capacity to provide serenity and early but gentle limits on acceptable behaviour. Keeping a baby up past her natural bedtime of 6 to 8 PM is going to result in an sleep-deprived and therefore, cranky baby.

Much like a badly-written-but-crucial-reading-for-course-at-college academic paper, it also contains some insightful comments on infant sleep. Weissbluth notes, "Families are not democracies. Parents must ... make decisions in the best interest of the child even though it might cause distress." He illustrates this point by using the example of a car seat or seatbelt - this is something families stay firm on even if the child protests because it's what is safest for the whole family.

By combining my learnings from the three books, I was able to discover E's natural routine. The result is an extremely calm child who welcomes and anticipates sleep; goes to sleep by herself; and using the author's recommendation of an early bedtime, I am free every evening from 7 PM. The fact that we follow a routine during the week helps her settle herself at the same time even when we're out on weekends.

Weissbluth wasn't joking when he named his book Heatlhy Sleep Habits, Happy Child. It really was that simple. Once I fixed my screaming three-month old's evening fussiness with an early bedtime, her naps quickly fell into place, she began to anticipate sleep and today, I have a calm for a toddler child who goes to sleep by herself in her own room with a toothy smile for me every night at bedtime.