Express Sleep Plan

Why Pantley’s No Cry Sleep Solution
Doesn’t Always Work

Pantley-No-Cry-Sleep-SolutionSometimes I hear from parents who have tried Pantley’s No Cry Sleep Solution and have not been able to get it to work. This article will discuss possible reasons why sometimes it doesn’t work for a variety of families.

First, let me say that Pantley’s book The No Cry Sleep Solution has a lot of good information in it in terms of how babies sleep and the most common sleep problems. As with most books about sleep, it is over 200 pages and has a lot of common sense information in it that you likely have already tried. As I strive to save you as much time as possible (new parents rarely have time to read multiple 200+ page books), I tend to try to extract the most useful information from a variety of sources in order for you to create your own personal sleep plan without reading 10 full-length books, millions of pages on the internet, etc. Today, I talk about one important piece that is missing from Pantley’s book and that is about your baby’s temperament and personality and why that leads to her methods not necessarily working for your baby.

Pantley does talk about one of the most common sleep associations which is “sucking to sleep” by either breastfeeding, pacifier, or bottle. I would say the majority of parents I work with on a daily basis have one of these issues. The remaining parents need to rock, pat, sway, bounce, or walk their baby to sleep. Some people have to do a combination: bounce on a ball while feeding with one leg up, for example. :) Pantley mostly focuses on the sucking to sleep association and, specifically, breastfeeding for the most part, as she is a big proponent of Attachment Parenting and co-sleeping.

In a nutshell, Pantley’s “Gentle Removal Plan” is to give your baby the pacifier, bottle or breast, but continually remove it until your baby finally falls asleep without it in his mouth. On the surface, this is good advice and for some babies, it will work…eventually. Let’s consider why it won’t work for some babies or take so long that you wonder whether your baby simply outgrew it.

Have you ever tried to break a long-term habit? Let’s face it, your baby may only be 6 months old, but if she’s been breastfeeding to sleep her whole life, this is a long-term habit. My mom has repeatedly tried to quit smoking. She just hasn’t been able to quit, unfortunately. Similarly, I’ve had friends who try to lose weight and they might lose some and then gain it back. I’m sure many of us can relate to breaking habits in one way or another.

One big thing about habits is that you can try to moderate yourself. You can try to smoke just one cigarette a day, for example, or allow yourself to eat one piece of cake a week, but what tends to spin us back into bad habits is that one leads to many. It isn’t that you are weak. It isn’t that you don’t want to change. Habits are hard to break and if you allow yourself one, you are giving yourself permission to say that it’s okay to “do” it. Therefore, it’s hard not to continue to do it. If something is not good for you and moderating yourself hasn’t worked, you have to tell yourself it’s never good for you and not allow yourself to have it even once. It’s in our nature to want more. That’s why some diet plans tell you to throw away all of your sweets, for example.

Wait, does this mean you should never give your baby a pacifier or breastfeed him?

No! I am not saying that at all. In fact, it makes me sad when moms wean from breastfeeding only to find their baby still won’t sleep well. :( But, I am saying, that when it comes to your baby’s sleep, you can’t “tease” your baby and give him the very thing you want him to stop waking ten times a night for. You can’t give it to him ten times at bedtime and expect him to “get” it that he doesn’t need it to sleep anymore. Granted, adaptable babies will often make quick changes that way, but this is where your baby’s temperament or personality come into play.

Some babies simply do not respond to Pantley’s method, because the only thing you are truly teaching him is that he does need to suck to relax and fall asleep. You are only delaying your baby’s sleep. Instead, you want to teach him how to relax AND sleep without the pacifier, breastfeeding, bottle, rocking, etc. You want to replace his sleep association with something else, not reinforce he still needs it. Going back to quitting smoking. My father, on the other hand, did quit smoking many years ago, but he replaced one habit for another. He now chews sugar free gum almost EVERY time he gets in the car, when he used to smoke. This has been over 10 years or more! (Side note: I am honored that what finally sparked my father to quit smoking is a paper I wrote when I was in High School. Who knew? :)). When someone is trying to change their chips-before-bed habit, they might try replacing carrot sticks (since they are crunchy, too). The idea is not to deprive yourself or your baby from a habit, the idea is to replace it with something more in line with your long-term goal.

Does this mean not to try Pantley’s No-Cry method?

No, it means it’s just the first step and you still need to keep moving forward. While Pantley believes in “No Cry”, I tend to lean towards “Limited Crying” and believe that when you attempt to stick to no tears whatsoever, you will generally have little success unless your baby is so adaptable that she only needed you to stop helping her so much in the first place. Sometimes, crying during sleep training is inevitable, but it doesn’t mean you have to do cry it out, either. I really hope people stop making it so one or the other. If you view sleep coaching as a continuum with no-cry on one end and full blown cry-it-out at the other end, your goal is to find the method that fits with your baby’s temperament on that continuum, not force your baby to be something he’s not. Embrace his uniqueness and you will have more success than you’ve dreamed of.

For those persistent nighttime struggles, check out The 3-Step System to Help Your Baby Sleep. Using the same unique approach and practical tools for success, this e-book helps you and your baby sleep through the night. For those looking for a more customized solution for your unique situation with support along the way, please consider one-on-one baby and toddler sleep consultations, where you will receive a personalized sleep plan you can feel good about!

What is Your Pantley No Cry Sleep Solution Story?


  1. Haidi says

    I follow attachment parenting and co-sleep with my 7mo baby. I haven’t read Pantley except for a few excerpts, but I basically “trained” my son to suck his thumb — after I unlatch — to sooth himself the rest of the way to sleep. I put “trained” in quotations because I don’t think I did anything. Like you say, I think he’s just adaptable.

    Or I should say, WAS adaptable. Now he’s older, he has separation anxiety, and he’s more mobile and nimble. When he was younger, he didn’t have much choice — he would whimper for a few seconds and then find his thumb. Now he restrains me by pulling on my shirt and holding on to me.

    Another thing I’m not sure works is PUPD. Isn’t that very stimulating?

  2. Tonya says

    I have tried Pantley’s gentle removal and it has not worked for my 9 month old son. He wakes up to nurse about 8 times a night. I would stay awake and fight with him over it all night until I finally gave and went back to laying down nursing so we could both get some sleep. I have read so many books and websites about different methods, I am more confused than ever. I would LOVE to sleep more than 2 consecutive hours but not enough to hear my son cry(scream) all night.

  3. Adele says

    Yes!! I started the Pantley pull off method and my already horrible sleep issues got a million times worse. I abandoned the book after I realized how ineffective and time consuming her methods are. There is a lot of good information, but I would only recommend that book to someone who is pregnant…or maybe had a 1 month old. Once the sleep associations are in place her method would not work. At least not for my baby. For what its worth, Ferber didn’t work either. Well I used Sleep Easy Solution which is similar. That eliminated the sleep association but he still woke up and cried for exactly 4 minutes. I didn’t have to do the check in, but it was still waking me up & I think 2 weeks of 4 minutes of crying multiple times a week was unacceptable. After 2 weeks of it not working I gave up on that too. If it takes longer than that, I just think that is ridiculous and I am not willing to do it. I think 2 weeks is a good try. And he occasionally sleeps through the night now. He is teething & going through a growth spurt now so I guess when that passes I’ll try something again.

  4. Becky says

    I also tried numerous books/websites/you-name-it, including the No-Cry Sleep Solution. My son was 10 months old, attachment parented, co-sleeping, and nursing to sleep with almost NO napping and 5-6 wake-ups per night. I found this site, emailed Nicole, and told her I would have nothing to do with my son crying to sleep. AT ALL. She was willing to work with me despite my willful attitude. By his 1-year birthday we were getting ready to move him into a crib in his own room! That’s 2 months. And, trust me, I saw notable improvements (such as finally taking 2 solid naps a day) within 2 weeks .. without my help! :) Did I need to accept a little bit of crying in the end? Yes, I did. But please believe me: I was so very much against it and the first day when he cried for 30 minutes before going to sleep I thought I was going to quit. But, even though we had a couple of very shaky days, I worked through it with my son at the constant encouragement and comforting words from Nicole. I was always by his side through the tears. By the time I finally left him in his crib and walked out of the room (I’d say the whole “weaning” process (of not nursing him to sleep) took about 3 weeks) he would protest (cry hard) for about 30-45 seconds and then plop down and go to sleep. He is now 18-months old. We have successfully transitioned to one nap a day and made it through the time change – the first couple of major hurdles since our initial “training.” This website, and Nicole in particular, have been a blessing .. a REAL blessing .. to our family. If you are struggling with sleep and nothing else seems to be working, you sound like I did about 8-9 months ago. Try out the services The Baby Sleep Site has to offer. I am certain you will not walk away disappointed.

  5. Beth says

    I can’t tell you how many “Pantley Pull-Offs” I tried with our 2nd child – we did it for well over 2 months at every nap and bedtime, not only without any sleep success, but without getting him ANY closer to falling asleep without nursing until he was completely out. After several months of 7-8 wakings every night (and this was a baby who slept well the first few months after birth), I finally gave Ferber’s ideas a try and had some success. (He was around 8 months old by then.) I contacted Nicole for napping advice, because he was a poor napper as well – finally we established a schedule that worked and some techniques that actually had him napping enough during the day. He nursed until he was 16 months old, so it definitely didn’t affect our breastfeeding relationship.

    I liked Pantley’s ideas, and I do recommend the book to friends (with some caveats) – but this article is so true. It just doesn’t work for all babies, no matter how patient you are.

  6. Leila says

    Pantley’s method worked beautifully for us. We methodically weaned our son through the night by letting him nurse 4 min on each side, then 3, then 2, then he slept right through.

    When I read your article that many babies slept longer with a 4am feeding, I tried it so he’d sleep past 5:30. It worked for a while, but I was exhausted. I tried to eliminated that feeding and he was miserable – and then I realized – he was getting 6 teeth all at once. We brought back the 4am feeding to help him settle down.

    The teeth are in now, so this morning we timed the feeding and will be doing 1 minute less per morning – Pantley’s method – until he sleeps right through. Hopefully it’ll work.

  7. Irene says

    I had a very hard time with my baby the first 10 weeks of her life and tried to get my hands on every sleep baby book I could find. Babywise, Happiest Baby on the Block, Dr. Wisenbluth (?) , Pantley included. While some of the methods and suggestions in the book helped enlighten me as a new parent, none really worked for us. My daughter is now 4 months old and we have a pretty basic bedtime routine for her that we implented when she was around 9 weeks old. We feed, and rock her to sleep every night. She sleeps at least 6-10 hours on average every night. It’s rare she wakes up in the middle of the night now and if she does we know it’s because she has a dirty diaper or is truly hungry. I strongly believe that not everything works for every parent and EVERY SINGLE BABY is different. I now wish I could turn back and just do what worked for us, without worrying about “what the books say”. Just listen to your baby and trust that as a mom you’re doing the best you can.

  8. Dana says

    I tried Pantley`s system, and it didn`t work. i think the book didn`t present a plan easy to follow, so it was hard to know exactly what to do at each stage. Then, I tried Dana Oblemans’ Sleep Solution system, and it helped me to stop nursing overnight and to teach him to go to sleep ohis own. However my baby is 14 months now, and I`m still trying to sleep train him. Now I have been trying Nicole`s system for over a month, and he is still waiking up 3or 4 times a night, and waking up really early in the morning (3 or 4 am!!!). I really hope something works…. or he just outgrows it :)

  9. says

    @Haidi That sounds like a good first step! PUPD can be stimulating, but the idea is that it’s temporary and you are calming your baby down, so he can relax and go to sleep. It is not meant to be your long-term goal.

    @Tonya Try to work on just bedtime to have your son learn to fall asleep without nursing (once the feeding is done, I mean) and see if you can make progress just at that time of the night before you move on to the rest of the night. Then, do the same thing the rest of the night.

    @Adele Some night-waking is normal if it’s under 5 minutes between some sleep cycles (not every sleep cycle). Sometimes over-tiredness increases these brief wakings, but not always. They do outgrow those, eventually, but it could be as long as two years old. You might want to turn down your monitor, if you have one, so maybe you will not hear EVERY wake-up. I know how hard it is to sleep when you are jolted awake. Good luck! I don’t think you will be able to get rid of those brief wake-ups, so I don’t know that I would keep “sleep training” in your case. Sometimes, sleep is just not perfect.

    @Becky You are one of my best success stories (you can find her complete story in the attachment parenting article)! Thank you so much for sharing your story with others and commenting again today. I’m so happy you and your family continue to sleep well!

    @Beth Thank you for taking the time to share your story!

    @Leila I’m so glad it worked for you and thank you for sharing your story!

    @Irene Thank you for sharing your story. That’s so great your daughter is sleeping so well, now! I couldn’t agree more that all babies are truly unique and so is our sleep solution for them.

    @Dana Oh no! Still waking overnight? What is he waking up for? In the big picture, we need to make it “not worth” waking in the middle of the night and it’s very easy to replace one association such as nursing with something else like patting or even our presence. Start the night how you want it to finish and 100% commit to that for a solid week and then move on to the rest of the night, if necessary. For some, however, bedtime can go just fine and you have to only work on the rest of the night. Try to be aware of how you might be accidentally reinforcing him waking up and try to stop that action, even if you just sit/lay there without much engagement. It’s hard to advise without all the details, but good luck!

  10. Adele says

    Yea I kind of stopped. But then the 4 minutes turned into an hour, so I started picking him up again. Thanks for your input!! :)

  11. Kirsty says

    I’m not using Pantley’s pull off method as we weaned to bottle at 4 months for other reasons. My boy is now 8.5 months old and I was rocking him (in the cot) to sleep every time. For the last few weeks I’ve been gradually backing off what I do, which I started as it seemed a logical way to do it to me. I then read the No Cry Sleep Solution and it turns out I’m following her advice!! It seems to be working – Eamonn will now go to sleep with just ssshhing from me by his bed. Over the next few weeks I’ll be moving out of the room, and I hope it continues to work. She has some good advice – but like all advice, you need to take on board what works for you and say thanks but no thanks to the rest!

  12. Lainie says

    How does thumb sucking play into all that? I’d like to break the habit in my 12 month old, but don’t know how other than putting something disgusting on her thumb and making her cry a ton before she gives up and goes to sleep.

  13. Anne says

    Pantleys No Cry helped lay the foundation as well as Dr. Weissbluth’s Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child. From both you learn about sleep habits, sleep cycles, healthy sleep associations, setting schedules and watching for sleepy signals. Also about developing routines and timing for sleep. Pantley’s gradual elimination of rocking our baby to sleep really helped us as well. At 6 mos our little girl was waking 3-4x a night and needed to be rocked back to sleep. Following Pantley’s Phases… we can know go to her in the middle of the night and Shhhh… her w/out pickups. and she goes back to sleep on her own. This was a less painful method then CIO or Cold Turkey Extinction as some books recommend. But it has taken almost 2 mos. So patience is key. However, funny thing is our little one is now 8.5 mos old and doesnt want to be rocked to sleep anymore.. She would rather be put down in her bed.. Granted she cries and fusses but only for 10 min and then she is out..and sleeps about 10-11 hours. So each baby is unique as should be the approach and plans that parents develop for them They key is healthy sleep habits and no trauma to eihter parent or child! If you would have asked me 3 mos ago, I would never have thought our LO would fall asleep on her own, much less me be able to let her cry AT ALL. But I have learned to decipher REAL distress from ” I am tired and need to work this our myself” cries… OH the JOYS OF PARENTING!

  14. mirbane says

    can someone explain why it’s bad for babies to use sucking/eating as a way to get to sleep? hold your baby, feed him, as he’s drifting off put him in the crib. i guess i don’t understand why that’s bad.

  15. Kirsty says

    @Mirbane I found it incredibly emotionally difficult to be the only one who could put my baby to sleep when we were still BF. I cried my way through the night many many times, wishing my husband could do it. Plus, he started falling asleep during feeds, not finishing whatever I tried, and waking up an hour or two later for more. The lack of sleep this caused compounded my depression about the whole thing. Add in the times when he couldn’t go to sleep because he was full and throwing up but still needed to suckle to sleep and we had to make a change.

    Of course, for many other mums I know it works well and they have no problems with it, even at 8 or 9 months old. Again, every baby and every family is different. However, I think it’s important that if it doesn’t work for you that there is a way out of the hole it can create.

  16. Adele says

    @Mirbane Because of sleep associations. Babies naturally wake up every 45 min to an hour for sleep cycles (as adults do 1.5ish hours & you just don’t remember it because you turn over and go back to sleep). Each time they wake up they have to fall back asleep. So if they need sucking or eating to fall asleep then they are going to cry for you & then you have to get up every time they do & nurse or bottle feed or insert the pacifier. I guess for some babies it depends on how much they are roused from their sleep if they require the sucking/eating, but my son used to get up at every sleep cycle & cry for me and if I tried to put him down from nursing when he wasn’t quite asleep enough he would cry and the process would start all over again. It took like 20 min to get him down & if I had to start over another 20. We are by no means perfect sleepers now @ 8 months at least we aren’t waking up every 45 min. You can have the same issue w/ rocking or any falling asleep method. Thats why they say to try to put your baby down “drowsy but awake”. So they learn to fall asleep w/ out anything that requires your intervention so that you don’t have to wake up as frequently at night. However, some babies just won’t go down w/ out rocking or nursing to sleep. So someone like Pantley will suggest weaning slowly from it to avoid crying while others like Ferber say you have to let them cry while they learn to do it on their own. Ok I’ve read waaaay too much about sleep. gnite! 😛

  17. Debbye says

    Hi Lainie- Thumb sucking is often regarded as a good thing by tired parents, when their baby can soothe him/herself and get to sleep and back to sleep with a sleep prop that always readily accessible. Many children suck their fingers or thumb and give it up by themselves when they are ready. It is a rare few that carry the habit past toddler-hood. But, if you are concerned about her oral development, please talk to your pediatrician or dentist.
    Good luck!


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