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. It’s very helpful regarding the information on 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’ve likely already tried.

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. I can then pass along this knowledge without you having to read 10 full-length books, endless websites, etc. Today, I talk about one important piece that is missing from Pantley’s book. 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. 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. Then 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. For example, 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 you can 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 your habit. If something isn’t good for you and moderating yourself hasn’t worked, you may have to think again. Tell yourself it’s never good for you and do 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, what I am saying, is 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 comes 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 it with carrot sticks. (They are crunchy too!) The idea is not to deprive yourself or your baby of 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 may be just the first step and you can still keep moving forward. While Pantley believes in “No Cry”, I tend to lean towards “Limited Crying.” I believe that when you attempt NO tears whatsoever, you’ll likely have little success unless your baby is super adaptable.

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 all about doing just one or the other. Instead, 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. For those looking for a more customized solution for your unique situation, please consider one-on-one baby and toddler sleep consultations. With all of our consultation packages, you will receive a personalized sleep plan you can feel good about and support along the way!

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31 thoughts on “Why Pantley’s No Cry Sleep Solution Doesn’t Always Work”

  1. Hello
    We have been trying no-tears sleep training with co-sleeping with our 9 mo son for ten days now and we started really well. First day day it took him an hour to fall asleep as I was rubbing his back and softly singing lullabies. Next days it came down to ten minutes and he fell asleep on his own. He only woke twice at night (from 9 pm to 8 am) to nurse and then I put him awake but drowsy and he fell asleep right away. But a few days later it was harder for him to fall asleep (even though we had the same routine and almost the same time bed time everyday). It took him an 1-1,5 hours to fall asleep again. Also nighttime wakings didnt go as smoothly, after nursing it took him half an hour to go back to sleep. One or two nights he woke for nursing and didnt sleep again for another 3 hours, turning from one side to another, restless. Tonight, I put him at the same time but after an hour he started to fuss and cry. As I held him and tried to reassure him the crying went louder and almost unstoppable. After another hour (as his dad and I were almost about to quit and rock him to sleep as we were doing before) he fell asleep. Is it the course of the sleep training (or that we’re doing it wrong) or 8-9-10 months regression or maybe teething? Both my husband and I are desperate for the training to work, because before that we slept with our son on our lap and he constantly woke through the night. But sometimes it feels like we don’t know the first thing about what we’re doing and this is frustrating.
    Sorry for the long post, thank you.

    • Hi @Begum Guney, thank you for sharing what’s been happening with your son with us. I am so sorry to hear you’ve been struggling with his sleep. There could be several factors contributing to the issues you are having so it would be very difficult for us to say exactly what is going on. I can relate to feeling clueless about what you’re doing, as I have felt that with sleep (and many other aspects of parenting if I’m being honest) and Baby Sleep Site is here to help parents like you. First off, here is a link to download a free guide with tips to help your baby sleep through the night: https://www.babysleepsite.com//sleep-through-night-free-ebook/
      We also have tons of articles on our site that also lay out various sleep training techniques, and many of which are gentler methods. The other thing to keep in mind, is that no/low crying sleep training techniques often take much longer to see improvement in sleep so it takes perseverance for sure. If you’d like more help with this, our sleep consultants would love to help. They can absolutely work with you on a gentler method as well, they wouldn’t create a plan you are uncomfortable with. If you’re interested in learning more about our Personalized Services, you can visit here: https://www.babysleepsite.com/baby-toddler-sleep-consulting-services/
      Please feel free to contact us directly anytime at [email protected] if you have more questions. Hang in there!

  2. My daughter is 5 months old and I lay her down awake and she puts herself to sleep. But after about 45 minutes she wakes up and can’t transition into the next sleep cycle. The pacifier is hit or miss. The rest of the night gets worse. If she can initially put herself to sleep, why can’t she after that and how can I help her with her transitions?

    • Hi @Leah, I’m sorry your daughter is struggling with transitioning between sleep cycles. It can be frustrating to see them practice a skill such as going to sleep on her own but then not continuing it! You didn’t mention if you were offering any night feedings but at this age, most babies do still need a few feedings so you may want to check out our 5 month old schedule to make sure she’s not waking out of hunger: https://www.babysleepsite.com/schedules/5-month-old-baby-schedule/
      Additionally, here is a link to download our free guide with tips to help your baby sleep through the night: https://www.babysleepsite.com/sleep-through-night-free-ebook/
      Hopefully those two will do the trick but if you need more help, let us know! We have a ton of other resources that are sure to help. Hang in there!

  3. My daughter has always been a great sleeper. She usually sleeps through the night with 1-2 night wakings, however, we gave her paci back and she would go back to sleep. She is now 6 months and the past few days she has had frequent wakings between 4-6am. Just last night she woke up every 30 min from 4-6am. She would take her paci and go back to sleep but would wake 30 min later. Do you think this is an issue with the sleep association of the pacifier. Or because she sleeps pretty solid from 8pm-4am is it most likely something else. She does seem to be teething the past week.

    • @Kristen – Thank you for stopping by our sleepy little village and for sharing with us. These kind of night wakings can be very frustrating, I know. 4-6am is generally a period of super light sleep for babies and adults alike so there could be a number of issues causing her to wake at that time – hunger, teething, noise, lost paci, sleep association, temperature, etc – that wouldn’t otherwise wake her. We’d need more information from you to be able to be more helpful. Please consider reaching out to our Client Relations team directly for more help -https://www.babysleepsite.com/contact Hang in there, Kristen!

  4. I was going to buy the book no-cry-sleep-solution, but now it seems pointless. We are expecting baby #3 soon and our 14 month old is a very high needs baby. He likes to have his back pat to sleep, however some nights can take an hour (2 or 3 on extremely bad days). This is insane. We are very anti-cio but we need help ?

    • Hi Grace,
      Thank you for visiting The Baby Sleep Site! Replacement associations can really vary from baby to baby – it just depend what your little one will accept! Some common ones might be using a pacifier, encouraging her to suck on her fingers, or sometimes just rocking or bouncing with you. It can take a little trial and error. Hope this helps, and good luck!

      • I waited til he was 12 months and then stopped nursing at night wakes. He adapted right away and seems less dependent on nursing to fall asleep for nap and bedtimes now! I was concerned this change would be traumatic for him but it clearly was not. He was annoyed at first but that’s it.

  5. @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! 😛

  6. @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.

    • @Kristy I have almost the exact same situation w my son. Can I ask what ended up working for you? I’m dreading CIO but it’s the only thing I haven’t tried and I’m getting desperate as he is now 5.5 months old and my husband has only ever put him to sleep once! Every other time it’s been me and I’m desperately in need of a break!

  7. 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.

    • Some people do not have success when going from breast to crib, and others are unhappy bed-sharing. Count yourself lucky that you were able to place your baby in his crib after he fell asleep.

  8. 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!

  9. 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.

    • 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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