Dr. Sears vs. Dr. Weissbluth in an Online Chat About Your Baby’s Sleep

A while back, Dr. Sears and Dr. Weissbluth both participated in an online chat with Chicago Tribune’s health reporter, Julie Deardorff. I was thinking back to a few key points raised in the chat that still surprise me how disconnected doctors can be with parents. Perhaps doctors tend to give you a more scientific approach rather than a practical one. Either way, there are a few key points this article is raising to educate new parents on the topic of baby sleep.

How much is sleep really a problem for young babies?

“Dr. Bob Sears: I don’t think most parents even need to be taught. Like most aspect of parenting, the choices we make regarding sleep can be just as instinctual. Most parents and babies DON’T have sleep problems at all. The thing is, we don’t hear from those parents. We only hear from those who do have problems. In my opinion, that’s actually the minority. I think most parents just naturally learn how to help their baby sleep well and how to get a good night’s sleep despite having a baby.”

One of the first things Dr. Bob Sears (son of the renowned Dr. William Sears) is that he claims that those with sleep issues are really the minority and that those without sleep problems are those who don’t say anything. Quite the contrary! It’s those without sleep problems I feel have the louder voice making those of us who have sleep problems feel like we are doing something wrong. I also believe that some parents claim their baby sleeps fine to feel better about their sleep situation or they are simply tired of talking about it. I was so tired of telling people my son wouldn’t sleep, because no one had advice that helped! “Keep him up later.”, “Don’t let him nap.” That was the worst advice EVER!

Dr. Sears, I have over 100,000 visitors to this site a month that say otherwise that their baby’s sleep IS a problem. Perhaps it is technically the minority, but it’s a large number of people! And, we are only starting to scratch the surface.

Dr. Sears did go on to say later that some parents don’t necessarily have perfect sleep, but they see it as what they signed up for in being a parent. To a certain extent, I believe this to be true. Our expectations make a HUGE difference in how we approach solutions to our baby’s sleep problems. One nursing mom who expects to feed her baby twice a night past a year is very different than one who believes all babies can sleep through the night without feedings by 4 months old because some of the books or doctors told her how that’s how it should be. The point here is that if you have a certain set of expectations regarding your baby’s sleep, then those will most likely influence how you approach your baby’s sleep habits.

Will teething wake your baby every 2 hours to nurse?

Later on in the chat, a mom of a 5-month old said her baby was waking 10 times a night to comfort nurse back to sleep and Dr. Sears said that it sounded like teething pain. Sigh. If you’ve gotten my free baby sleep guide, you know this is due to sleep associations, not teething. I must get this question five times a day! I don’t understand how a doctor can not know this!

Can transitioning a baby from co-sleeping to crib be that easy?

A worried mom asks about transitioning her baby from co-sleeping to crib and Dr. Weissbluth tells her just to do it and “not to worry.” As new parents, we do nothing but worry! If only it was that easy, Doctor. Although Dr. Weissbluth’s advice I felt was informative and practical, some of his answers were brief. Of course, answers about sleep can quickly get too lengthy. This is why this is a whole website about the topic and I summarize the information in my books to keep it manageable.

I don’t agree with Weissbluth on all fronts, as I find a 5:30 p.m. bedtime is neither practical nor always necessary (especially since even if your baby sleeps 12 hours, this means he is waking up before dawn). The truth is that the transition from co-sleeping to a crib is often a major event for both the parent and the child. This is a topic I help parents with… All. The. Time.

Why do 8-month olds wake every hour all night long?

Even later in the chat, Dr. Sears advised a parent of an exhausted 8 month old with bags under his eyes that her baby may have Sensory Processing Disorder. I yelled at the screen at that one. Again, I get new clients EVERY DAY with babies who wake every 1-2 hours (roughly every sleep cycle) because they think they need “help” back to sleep. This is nothing out of the ordinary for those of us who have had sleep issues! It is quite extreme for a doctor to suggest that a child who isn’t sleeping may have a disorder without knowing the baby’s history, personality and other information. Waking every 1-2 hours is actually quite a normal claim, in my experience.

Will cry it out cause brain damage?

I was actually pretty shocked that Dr. Sears said mild cry it out was fine, but he was more concerned about “INTENSE WEEKS” of cry it out leading to increased levels of cortisol. I wonder what his definition of cry it out would be or whether 3-4 nights of 20 minutes is okay versus crying for an hour, for example. So many gray areas and I did agree with him on the slower transition from co-sleeping to crib. Good advice. I always wonder what he would tell a family where co-sleeping did not work for them and Pantley’s method didn’t work, either. Remember, you can still practice attachment parenting and sleep train.

Is 9 months too old to sleep train?

A mom was asking whether 9 months is too old for sleep training. Dr. Weissbluth in the chat compares junk sleep with junk food. He goes on to say that a little junk food is okay, but a lot is not. Similarly, your baby waking frequently at night is considered “junk sleep” and not as restorative. I will finish Dr. Weissbluth’s thought and say that it’s never too late to sleep train, just like it’s never too late to eat healthy. After all, Raymond Francis healed himself from a terminal illness by transforming his diet.

Although I’m not about to switch to 100% raw foods, I have been dipping my toes into green smoothies. A bonus has been that my sons have been requesting them! This has increased their green vegetable intake tremendously! :). Whether you have a 6 month old or a 4 year old, it’s never too late to teach healthy (sleep) habits!

Who’s right and who’s wrong?

Dr. Sears said this very well:

“Dr. Bob Sears: It’s NOT about who’s right and who’s wrong – it’s all about YOUR parenting choice.”

The Baby Sleep Site is here to help educate you on all the various methods so that you can make an informed decision. Not only that – it’s about what is RIGHT for YOUR baby and YOUR family. Your baby’s temperament is a huge factor in all of this. You can’t take your baby out of the decision process. Sometimes it’s not just a parenting choice, but adapting your parenting and philosophies to fit your baby’s needs. On a daily basis we will do things we never planned on doing prior to becoming parents. To quote Will Smith in Hitch, “That went differently in my head.” This is something I say often!

For your 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. You will receive a personalized sleep plan for YOUR family that you can feel good about!

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12 thoughts on “Dr. Sears vs. Dr. Weissbluth in an Online Chat About Your Baby’s Sleep”

  1. Weissbluth’s book is a brick and too garbled and lengthy for a sleep-deprived parent to get any useful information from. I fell for attachment parenting hook, line, and sinker after reading Dr. Sears book and was miserable for the first year of my baby’s life. He was waking every 45 minutes until he was 18 months old and other AP parents were telling me that it was “just teething” or he would grow out of it, which he never did. Second baby is sleep trained and sleeping through. If people are looking to either of these guys for advice, I feel there are much better experts out there, such as this site. It’s too bad they are considered the de facto experts.

  2. Wether or not I’m in the Weissbluth camps appears to be irrelevant. My baby has been doing almost every single thing Weissbluth says babies will do. Although I sometimes did a very lame version of cry it out off and on, I really did more of a gentle “Dr. Searsy-like” sleep training. Still she naturally fell into a 9 and 1 nap sleep pattern on her own. Night time wake patterns were also exactly as Weissbluth predicted at the ages predicted. Since six weeks, she sleeps best when asleep before 7 and wakes at 6 or 6:30 regardless of when she goes to bed (even on late night special occasions).

  3. Hi Nicole, yes would be glad to. Esp since one pediatrician told me that I could ‘eat whatever I wanted’ and that food “did not pass through my milk”…ha!

  4. What a great topic! I fall in line with Dr Sears’ parenting style for most things, but unfortunately my daughter had a terrible time learning to sleep on her own. I started out not even willing to consider CIO, but as I tried everything else and “failed” over a span of three months I eventually read Dr Weissbluth’s book–and loved it!

    Ideally I would not have had to resort to CIO, but it worked fast and permanently for my daughter. That’s what I love about Nicole, is that she takes the child’s temperament as the foundation, rather than a rigid parenting style.

    My daughter ended up needing something that I was initially uncomfortable with, but we’re all better for it. My big problem with the Sears’ is that they can be so intolerant of CIO–just look at how that question is framed, “Will CIO cause brain damage”–what a scary thing for a stressed/exhausted parent to read!! That sort of fear-mongering does not help the parents or a reasoned discussion. There are all sorts of scary stories in their books about babies changing personalities and being astranged from their parents after just one episode of crying…I find it hard to believe that is the norm and it shouldn’t be presented that way.

    There’s also a big difference between someone leaving a 2-4 month old to CIO and a 10-12 month or older.

  5. Hi, after benefiting from so many articles and comments on this site (along with some email consults from Nicole) I just cant help but comment.

    I have had sleep issues from 8 weeks to 14 months. We experienced all the stereo typical issues that Nicole’s articles cover (except I didnt find this site until my baby was maybe 10 months old).

    One thing I wish I knew earlier, was that the milk, egg and nuts going through my breast milk wreaked havoc on my son’s system, and therefore sleep. Pediatric chiropractic treatment and going off dairy, fixed his extreme reflux in 2 days.

    I was totally against CIO, but at 14 months, after reading about Protest crying (vs emotional distress crying) I listened to my son’s whingy cries during the day to make sure I recognised them.

    Then out of desperation I tried CIO at night for 4 nights (then naps). They were the same protest cries at night – just louder, longer and stronger. I was much more confident as a mother and knowing my son’s personality, so only willing to try this at 14 months. I also left the door slightly ajar, so he felt secure knowing that we were still ‘around’. No more tip toeing around the house!

    It took 4 days (50 mins, 60 mins, 20 mins then 5 mins of crying) before he self settled in a matter of seconds.
    I also dressed him warmer (referring to Tizzy Hall’s bedding guide and modifying it slightly) and I stopped trying to tuck him in with blankets. “Listening” to my baby, I realised he didnt want to be tucked down (ironic given he liked being swaddled till about 9 months!!)

    I went in after 10 mins of him falling asleep each night to check his sleep position, the first 3 nights he fell asleep sitting up, hand on the rails and head slumped on the rails…broke my heart 🙁
    I put him on his back. Now he just loves sleeping on his tummy and I stop trying to turn him over.

    since we started 3 weeks ago, for the last 4 nights he has slept through 11-12 hours. (prior to this he was still waking from teething, being cold, uncomfortable etc)
    And he does not need night feeds! The fact that I weaned to soy milk, offer more protein and carbs during the day also helps. I think his more frequent night wakings after 9 months was due to too low calorie intake!

    As a low sleep requirement baby (vs average or high) the 10am and 2pm naps NEVER worked. (I have been on Sheyne Rowley’s PRM routines since 6 months). So he is now on 1 sleep…and most days sleeps at least 12-2, in fact I have to wake him so his total 24 hour sleep is not more than 13.5-14 hours. He is down at 7 and up by 7.

    I know CIO is not for everyone, but both parties (ie parents and baby) have to be ‘ready’ I think. It was definitely hard for us and I screamed at my husband for suggesting we ‘go in the room’ on the 2nd night. But I knew our baby was protesting, there were no tears when he was screaming out (on the first night I gave in and went into the room after 30 mins….and there were no tears) so i was confident over the next few nights that he was just protesting.

    I have lived through guilt, fear, frustration, confusion, anxiety, depression and sleep obsession, so I can empathise with so many parents who have sleep problems.
    In summary, the 3 biggest things I have learnt outside of all the great material I have read on this site:
    1. diet both mothers and babies can play a huge part – so check for allergies and also ensure baby is eating enough during day (when on solids)
    2. appropriate temperature and sufficient bedding / dressing is critical to minimise night waking ie ideal is 20 degrees celsius and equivalent of 6 cotton or bamboo blankets (1 tog = 1 blanket if using sleeping bag)..Unless baby is a ‘hot baby’..as mine is as he has eczema etc so I use 3.5 tog sleeping bag and a little ‘cardigan’ to keep his arms warm. no blankets
    3. whether your baby is low medium or high sleep requirement requires very different routines

    anyway, just some food for thought…
    all the best

    PS Buddism for Mothers book (puts mothering all into perspective, particularly helpful when we’ve lost it!)

  6. I think the most important message is enjoy your baby and try not to fret too much as long as everyone is ok and healthy. Some babies ‘get’ the sleep thing earlier than others so look after yourself and do whatever you need to be a loving, happy parent. Plus there is a massive difference from a baby who is gradually leaning to sleep on her own (in her own time) and a six month old who is waking up crying every 1-2 hours, making family life really difficult for everyone.

    My baby took a long time to sleep through (9-10 mnths) but from the start he knew the difference between night and day (he never wanted to talk or play at night – he just fussed a bit if hungry/unsettled then went back down again after nursing) I thought ‘this baby knows it’s time to sleep and wants to sleep, he just needs a bit of help’. A lot of people said let him cry, they should sleep through from 3 months &c but as the time went by I could see he was gradually sleeping longer and longer so I was fine with it.

    However I live in the Uk and have good maternity benefits so I didn’t have to go back to work when my baby was 3 months (not wanting to get political but I think this is a huge elephant in the room when it comes to sleep training/attachment parenting choices). Plus my husband is freelance and was home a lot to give me a break during the day. So really I feel privileged to have been able to help my son learn to sleep on a gradual time frame and totally understand why people can’t always do that. If we have a second child I may not have the energy either!

    • @Ems Thank you for your comment. You bring up a very interesting topic about working moms versus those who have extended leave or who are stay-at-home-moms. I’m going to make an article about that, so thank you for the idea! 🙂 I’m so glad you found what worked for your family!

      @Carol Thank you so much for sharing your story! It sounds like you’ve been through a lot. Would you be interested in sharing your story of food sensitivities in your breast milk in an article? I’m sure you’ve learned a lot that you can share with others. I think that would make a very interesting article!

      @Mia You’re very welcome and thank you!! 🙂

      @Audrey Thank you so much for sharing your story and commenting! I know it was a tough thing to come to terms with to try something you initially thought you’d never do. Being a parent is so much harder once you are one! 🙂

  7. well it is apparent to me that nicole seems to favor dr. weissbluth given that dr. sears was picked apart multiple times within the post. i practice “attachment parenting” a term coined i guess by dr. sears. yet, it deeply annoys me that i should have to label my style of parenting when it is nothing more than following my innate instincts and being responsive to my baby. that being said, i loathed dr. weissbluth”s book. even if it does contain some practical albeit useful advice it in no way negates that fact that he recommends leaving babies and children to cry indefinitley even if they vomit from distress. that alone shatters any credibility that he may have had. i do however disagree with some of dr. sears responses but prefer his overall philosophy.

  8. I’m going to guess that by “intense” CIO Sears meant not the length or frequency of the crying, but the intensity. There’s a huge difference between a baby fussing or even crying, and a baby who is clearly in distress (screaming bloody murder and/or vomiting on himself).

  9. I “listened” to this chat as well – searching for insight to the sleep problems for my little ones. I was really disappointed. Neither one really said anything new they haven’t said before. Weissbluth, in particular, seemed like he was cutting and pasting sections from his book.

    • @Renee Sorry you are still searching for answers for your little one. I hope you find a solution, soon! Thank you for commenting!

      @Jeannette Good point. I always thought Dr. Sears (and son in this case) would be against any cry it out, even if it was “just” crying and not intense crying, so that’s what surprised me. Thanks for commenting!

      @Jessica I tried to be as fair as possible. I had criticisms for both doctors and also said that Dr. Sears had good advice at least twice. I think both doctors are good at what they do, but just had some key issues I wanted to address in this specific chat. Dr. Sears happened to say a couple of things that were “extreme” that seemed very basic to me based on talking to parents every day. I only lean towards Weissbluth because I feel Dr. Sears (and son) tend to be a little more judgmental about other philosophies that don’t match theirs, but I actually felt Dr. Sears was very good to say that this is about a parenting choice. I believe that both “no cry” and “cry it out” and everything in between have the right place and the wrong place, and it depends on the family and situation in question. I help clients every day with attachment parenting and sleep training as you can read from the article I mentioned in the article. I tried very hard not to “pick apart” anyone and tried to educate readers on these key issues. Thank you for commenting!

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