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The No-Cry Sleep Solution

Elizabeth Pantley is a veritable parenting powerhouse. Her No-Cry Sleep Solution book has been published in twenty-three languages and is reprinted every year. She’s written her “No Cry” solution books on potty-training and discipline, and now she’s just come out with her ninth book, The No-Cry Nap Solution.

Pantley gives tips on solving common problems like how to make cat-naps last longer and how to get your baby to sleep solo instead of in your arms, in the swing or in the car.

For the most part, Pantley’s approach is winning. (Okay, I’m a bit creeped out by the jacket photo with her whole family in matching pajamas, but that’s just me.) She’s got a great voice: reassuring but not condescending, confident but not bossy. Some of her littlest tips are the best: Put a heating pad on low for a few minutes inside your baby’s bed to warm up the spot so she’s not going from your cozy arms to a chilly crib. If your baby likes motion, put a vibrating massager in his crib to mimic movement.

But she’s caught some flack for being, well, a little overwrought. The “Pantley Dance” involves about seven million steps to get baby to go from sleeping in your arms to in her bed. (It goes something like this: Rock baby in your arms while singing, then hold baby still and be silent, alternate singing and rocking with silence and being still, move baby into bed – make sure white noise is on!, put his feet in bed, wait, then lay the rest of him down, hold one hand on him, keep singing, lift one hand, then lift the other, wait, then sing softer, etc.) Then again, Pantley is happy to take on her skeptics. The mother of four talked to Babble about new parents’ biggest napping mistakes, what the no-cry mom thinks about cry-it-out and which of her kids were (yes, it’s true!) bad sleepers. – Jennifer V Hughes

Why are naps so important?

The big thing is that no matter how a child sleeps at night, naps are important because they break up a day and give a child an opportunity to freshen and rejuvenate. As the day goes on they are building up this pressure and if you don’t let them take a nap it explodes. I call that the volcano effect.

In some ways I find it amusing the amount of books written about sleep. I think our parents are laughing at us. Baby’s sleepy – put the baby to bed, right? Why is it so complicated that we need books and charts and sleep plans and whatnot?

The whole world is more complicated, and there is a lot more pressure on parents today. In many homes both Mom and Dad work. In addition, society is not really as supportive in child-rearing as it used to be. Communities are not small and tight-knit. We don’t have the people we can reach out for advice and help, the big families with six sisters to ask, “What do I do?” The books are our support systems, where we go ask, “Hey, what do I do?”

What do you think is the biggest nap misconception that new parents have?

One is that children can get all their sleep at night. That’s absolutely wrong because of that volcano effect. The other one is that if they don’t nap they’ll get really super-tired and sleep well at night. The exact opposite happens, because the child builds up so much sleep pressure it’s like they have a double cappuccino – they can’t sleep because they’re overtired.

Also, people don’t understand how napping can affect so many aspects of a child’s life – if they sleep more, they get sick less often, they cry and fuss less, they grow taller and are less likely to be obese. It increases their attention development and brain development. Naps are a perfect opportunity for a child’s brain and body to refresh and regenerate.

What are the biggest nap mistakes that new parents make?

I think missing that window for nap time. If you put a child to sleep when he’s perfectly tired he’ll fall asleep and stay asleep. If you put him down too soon he’s wide awake and anxious. If you wait too long he’s wired and can’t sleep.

The second is all those short little mini naps in the car or the swing or watching TV. That first five to fifteen minutes of sleep reduces that feeling of tiredness, but that dissipates very quickly, so the child is fussy and whiny for the rest of the day because they didn’t get a full nap.

Given the title of your book, what do you think about the “cry it out” method?

I’m absolutely against it, because there are so many ways to help your child sleep better without crying – why not try those first? No parent wants to hear their child cry. If you don’t understand sleep and how it works, you don’t have any other option than to put him in his crib and let him cry. Once you understand how sleep works you have many more options.

But isn’t the Pantley Dance a little bit elaborate? It seems like a lot of work and almost impossible to do with more than one kid?

It’s a lot of work for a few weeks and then you have a child who sleeps forever. For some it’s a matter of biting the bullet and taking two weeks and solving the issue and then you’re home free. It takes a little time but pretty much everything in parenting takes time.

I do think some of your candor is really refreshing – I love the part about how you say that if your kid is past naps but really needs a siesta it’s okay to put the TV on. (Quote: “As a parenting professional I couldn’t possibly give you this next suggestion, but as a mother of four I would be remiss if I didn’t.”) How do you balance ideal parenting with real parenting when it comes to sleep?

Part of it is that I do have four kids and two were horrible sleepers . . . what is good on paper is not always effective with real children. When you’re a tired mother or father something has to give – you’re dealing with real human beings, not computers.

Wait – you admit that your kids were bad sleepers? Isn’t that bad for a sleep expert?

That’s how I became a sleep expert! The second time around when I had a terrible sleeper I said, “Oh no, I’m not doing this again.” This was my fourth child, who came along eight years after the first three and was up every hour-and-a-half all night. I said, Okay, I’m an older and wiser mom. I’m still not going to let my baby cry but I know there have to be ways I can help him. I went into mass self-preservation mode and now he’s an amazing sleeper.

What were some of the things that happened with your bad sleepers?

I was a breastfeeding, co-sleeping mom and I’d put the baby to breast at the slightest sound or movement. I learned that babies are active sleepers, and if you respond to every sound you’re reinforcing night wakings. I learned to stop and listen and see if he was putting himself back to sleep or if he needed my help. I was actually tending to a sleeping baby and when you do that you create more problems.

Another thing was we didn’t really have a good bedtime routine. I had three older children who were up later so I was missing his window of tiredness. Once I learned some of the basics, I could solve his problems and get both of us some sleep. So you see, they say that necessity is the mother of invention, and it was very much so in my case.

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