Rivaling Philosophies: Do Infants EVER Sleep, Anyway?

Sleep Solutions: Which to Choose? via Feed Me MamaPerhaps one of the most aggressive arguments between passionate parents is that surrounding the sleep schedules of an infant.  Is it best to allow the baby to nurse on demand, or co-sleep, each night? Or is it best to have the child cry themselves to sleep, teaching them to self-soothe?  As a soon-to-be mama, it didn’t take me long to figure out that people who align themselves with one side usually think that those on the other side are psycho or, at the very least, not making the best decision for their child.  Not wanting to end up on anyone’s wrong side from the get-go, I decided to read both books associated with this dilemma: On Becoming Baby Wise by Gary Ezzo, and The No-Cry Sleep Solution by Elizabeth Pantley.

First, we will start with Babywise, as it is known in parenting circles. This book details the first weeks and months of a baby’s life, and teaches the parents how to “sleep train” their babe, with an end goal of sleeping through the night. “Crying it out”, as the other side would affectionately call it, is the main method of training here: teaching the infant to self soothe, learning their place in the family and becoming a routined individual.

Next, we have The No Cry Sleep Solution (we’ll call it NCSS). While NCSS does allow for some crying (given that the infant may just be colicky or trying to express a need), for the most part this is a much more gentle, time-consuming way of teaching the infant to sleep soundly. Most of the techniques are “baby specific”, meaning, you analyze how your baby is naturally soothed (be it touch, sound, nursing, co-sleeping, etc) and cater to those needs, while teaching baby that being alone and falling asleep without those cues is ok. This philosophy aligns itself with what is known as “attachment parenting”.

So, what’s the difference?

First of all, sleeping through the night is defined differently. While Babywise never gives an actual hour amount, it’s assumed that 8-12 hours is what most people are aiming for, and Babywise all but guarantees this result within the first 4-ish months of baby’s life. NCSS, on the other hand, defines sleeping through the night as 5 hours of uninterrupted sleep, which is also how the AAP defines it. This is a much shorter time frame, shorter than many parents are aiming for. However, NCSS shows that many babies will sleep longer using their techniques.

Secondly, the focus of each philosophy is different. While NCSS puts the baby and their comfort in the center, Babywise instead seeks to teach the baby their role in the family structure and their place in the routine. Especially in Christian circles, I have seen Babywise favored, because it inherently teaches submission and that the world does not revolve around the child. While I am not sure that such an idea is really grasped by the infant, I do understand that ‘the child always getting what they want’ can lead to a slippery slope in parenting.

Thirdly, and perhaps most obviously, the techniques for getting baby to sleep are really quite different. While Babywise focuses almost exclusively on allowing the child to self-soothe in whatever manner they choose, NCSS allows the parent to actively identify what works best with their baby and individualize their plan according to those cues.

Okay, then what’s the same about these guys?

Maybe more than you realize. Both philosophies stress having grace with both yourself and the baby, knowing that they plan doesn’t work every night and sometimes you have to abandon it for your own sanity and rest. Both books also emphasize making sure that all of the baby’s needs are met– crying, after all, is the baby’s only method of communication, so it’s important to make sure that the baby is full, dry, etc before putting to bed, as well as make sure that the baby’s sleeping area is completely safe.

Both books also give a lot of practical advice that isn’t necessarily exclusive to their philosophy. For example, Babywise teaches that, the best you can manage, you should try to nurse your baby as soon as they wake (rather than to sleep) so that they don’t form a sucking habit to get themselves to sleep. Similarly, NCSS includes many safety measures to look for in the baby’s area, including a great section on safe co-sleeping.

So, what do I think?

Truth be told, I really can’t align myself with “a side” until I meet my baby. I don’t really want to align myself with a side anyway! I think it’s a little petty, but if something works for your family, then hey, go for it! While I do tend to align myself more with many attachment parenting philosophies, I have known wonderful families that abide by each of these schools of thought, and nobody has damaged their children or ruined bonding or made selfish individuals because of it. I think there are both drawbacks and benefits to each book, as well as ways that each school of thought could be abused. So, I’m waiting it out. We’ll see how our little girl is and we’ll take it from there.

Did you follow either of these methods with your baby? Are you now? Would you keep it the same or do things differently?