Every parent of a baby wishes to be able to sleep through the night without interruptions. According to renowned “baby whisperer” Tizzie Hall, the author of the popular Save Our Sleep, you can.
I received this book as a gift from my darling sis, who had been recommended by a friend who swears by it. They had used Hall’s “self-settling” methods on their three kids and they apparently all sleep like logs throughout the night. From what I hear, when the clock strikes 7pm, they go off in a single file to their bedrooms, and are not seen again until 7am the next morning.
Sounds brilliant, right? So what is the secret? And does the book really work?
First of all, I should say that I think every parent has the right to teach their child the best way they know how and I don’t believe there is a definitive “right” way to do things (even though there are probably definitive “wrong” ways). It’s hard enough being a parent without everyone telling you what to do, so I think we should be forgiven for doing whatever we feel is best under the circumstances (in most cases).
Secondly, every child is different and will respond differently to the same parenting techniques. What works for one child might not work for another. That’s not an opinion.
Now, as I understand it, there are two broad schools of thought when it comes to parenting. At one end of the spectrum is the “attachment parenting” method which is essentially doing whatever it takes to please your baby. They are considered too young to develop manipulative behaviour (up to a certain point, which I believe is somewhere between 3-6 months) and you should do whatever you can to make them feel loved, safe and comfortable at all times, even if it means getting no sleep or rest yourself.
At the other end is the “cry to sleep” method, which is directed at making the lives of parents easier. As I understand it, parents who follow this philosophy believe children should adapt to the parents’ schedules, not the other way around. This means if it should be their bed time then you just put them down in bed and close the door, no matter how much they may be screeching their heads off. Soon enough, they will learn to sleep at the allotted time and you’ll be able to get your rest too.
There are parents who swear by one method and believe the other is complete rubbish. There are supposedly studies that support both sides. I don’t intend to get into a debate over.
Hall’s method of teaching your kids to “self settle” lies somewhere in between. It is based on the generally accepted notion that children are generally easier to look after if they are trained to have set routines. She doesn’t advocate allowing children to cry themselves to sleep, which she believes is harmful but at the same time she allows an infinite amount of what she calls “protest crying” — that is, crying which is unrelated to the baby’s needs, such as hunger or a wet nappy. By distinguishing your baby’s cries, you should be able to ignore the protest cries, which will eventually cease if you let them do it for long enough. Eventually, the baby will learn how to self settle, which means falling asleep (or at least not cry) when they are left in their beds during the allotted times in the schedule. Soon enough, your baby will learn how to “re-settle”, which means not crying and learning how to fall asleep again when they wake up in the middle of their allotted sleep slot, and most importantly, in the middle of the night (which is bound to happen). Baby happy, parents happy.
The principle of separating the wants and needs of a baby seems to be sound. If you keep giving them whatever they want, chances are they’ll come to expect it and get used to it. By servicing only their fundamental needs, you are teaching them that they won’t always get what they want just by crying.
However, as always, it’s easier said than done. For starters, not all parents can listen to their babies cry, sometimes for potentially an hour or more, especially when it sounds like they are being tortured. Some babies might settle into it after a few days, but others might take weeks, or more. Hall stresses the importance of toughing it out in the beginning — then longer you wait before you go back into the room the quicker they will supposedly learn. It’s important to realise that the book is a guide, not a miracle cure, and it will take a lot of hard work before you see results, and might take some more effort maintaining it in the long run.
The other key part of the book is the routines. Hall provides detailed daily routines from newborns until they start taking solids, which she believes is 4.5 months as opposed to the generally recommended 6. The great thing about these routines is that they let you know exactly what you must do at every hour of the day — ie, when you should be feeding and when the baby should be sleeping. She provides two sets of routines, one for breastfed babies and one for bottle fed babies. Bottle feeding by formula and expressed milk are presumably the same.
The downside of the schedules is the inflexibility. They all start at 7 in the morning and roughly end at 7 at night, though for younger babies you still have to give them a “dream feed” (ie, feeding them while they are half asleep) around 10pm and then subsequent night feeds as they require throughout the night. It is only when the baby can go without feeds for longer periods of time that the routine will really make your life a lot easier.
So that presents a big problem for a lot of parents. If one parent leaves early for work and doesn’t get home until around 7, then he or she basically won’t have any time to spend with the baby. If parents like to sleep late and wake up late, that’s also a problem, especially since it is a daily routine, including weekends. But I guess you need to make sacrifices somewhere.
My biggest problem with the book is learning the difference between a distressed cry, which Hall says you should attend to immediately, and a protest cry, which you can leave alone. She provides some broad guidelines on how to tell the difference between the two, but to be honest neither my wife nor I could figure it out on most occasions. It creates a dilemma — should I go to the baby or not? What if he is just protesting and I end up screwing the plan up? Or what if he is genuinely distressed and I allow him to cry for ages unnecessarily?
To Hall’s credit, she does provide a lot of valuable information and has a FAQ at the end of each chapter, but as expected, it’s impossible to cover every question a parent might come up with. She tries her best to cover all areas, such as parents with twins (or more) and babies with disabilities. There is also a lengthy section on solving common sleep problems, which includes teaching parents how to make slight modifications to the routines. There is also a chapter on special situations, such as times when you want to go out for dinner (god forbid) or have guests over. But we still had a lot of unanswered questions. The solution is to find someone whom has used the book before or go on her online forum (but I believe you need to pay for it). I’m sure there are other free forums where parents discuss their experiences with the book but you’ll have to look for them yourself.
One issue I had was with this whole deal of resettling the baby once they wake up after the first sleep cycle, something which I did not feel was dealt with very clearly. The book says that the first thing is to teach the baby to self settle, and once that happens they will soon learn how to resettle. But I felt like there was a gap there that wasn’t really explained properly. Hall recommends picking the baby up as soon as they start crying upon waking up, but doesn’t that rob them of the chance to learn how to resettle? And then she recommends trying to put them back to sleep until the next part of the routine (which is likely a feed and some awake time), but if the baby doesn’t fall asleep before then then doesn’t that mean they’ve hardly slept at all? We kept having this problem where it would be virtually impossible to wake the baby up during their supposed awake time and virtually impossible to put them to sleep during their supposed sleep time, to the extent where parts of the routine started eating into one another. It could be unique to us, but I am willing to bet it’s quite common.
Accordingly, I am not going to review the book on the basis of it’s efficacy, because clearly different families will have different results. I have heard some parents swear by it while others say they wish they tore it up right from the beginning. My score is hence based on how well the book operates as a guide, in particular in terms of its completeness of information and flexibility. In that regard, I have to say the book did quite well, although I wished it had more flexibility and spent more time on some of the more complex issues.
3.5 out of 5!
PS: for those wondering, we are no longer using the routines in the book for various reasons, but this does not mean I don’t think it doesn’t work. As a friend of mine told me, a lot of parenting is instinctive, and some aspects of it just didn’t feel right to us. That said, we have not ruled out returning to it at some point in the future, depending on how things develop and whether we feel the baby is up for it.