This article appears in Fall Healthy Living 2018.
While getting babies to sleep through the night has always been an issue, modern parents are turning to sleep coaches to help the whole family snooze soundly.
“Sleep is a learned skill, just like a child needs to learn how to walk or ride a bike,” said Joanna Clark, certified Gentle Sleep Coach and founder of Blissful Baby Sleep Coaching. “We should view it as creating the right circumstances and environment to teach the skill of sleep to a child. A sleep coach can help manage the process in a way that will make it easier on baby and parents and help parents and child to feel empowered to learn this lifelong skill.”
Many people who turn to baby-sleep coaches are working parents but “just as many are stay-at-home parents who are struggling, confused, overwhelmed or who have had sick babies who haven’t managed to form good sleep habits naturally,” said Emma Purdue, certified sleep consultant and founder of Baby Sleep Consultant, based in New Zealand.
“I think more parents are finding that we no longer have a ‘village’ we once did as a culture, and tapping into others’ knowledge and experience can help you become a better parent just like it did many years ago with extended family,” said Nicole Johnson, president and owner of The Baby Sleep Site, which has been in business for more than 10 years.
Science and values
Families are hitting challenges at 6 months and forward, said Clark, who stressed that newborns need to be held, rocked or nursed to sleep or after waking during the night. That interaction helps develop a parent-child bond and nursing relationship, she said.
Some older babies — 7, 8 or 9 months — who were sleeping successfully in the newborn phase change sleep habits.
“Pediatricians look at sleep from a medical perspective,” Clark said. Suggesting a baby “cry itself out” may not fit personal parenting style or values, she said.
Turning to the internet and reading books on sleep can confuse and frustrate parents, Johnson said.
“Parents are bombarded with information, especially in the parenting space,” Purdue said. A certified sleep coach can explain the difference between myths and facts and help parents work through options while finding the best way to get a child to sleep and without compromising parenting style, Purdue said.
What they do
For children older than 6 months, sleep coaches use behavioral-based techniques, Purdue said.
“Some strategies you might hear are things like pick up/put down, gradual withdrawal, controlled crying, graduated extinction, camping out, breastfeeding to calm, pop-outs and extinction,” she said. “There is a big spectrum from very, very gentle to extinction, which is the technical term for ‘cry it out.’”
A good sleep coach will help parents distinguish their child’s sleep temperament and pair this with a sleep training technique that doesn’t make the parents feel like their parenting style is being compromised, Purdue said.
“Hiring a sleep coach should be as normal as hiring any other service professional. Sure, you can change your own oil, but why?” Johnson said.
“A sleep coach can help tired parents understand their new baby and their sleep needs, we can give them a range of strategies to try in order to figure out the best way to get their baby to sleep,” Purdue said. “Having someone to bounce ideas off and learn from gives parents education and empowerment over their own situation and parenting journey.”
While you can’t put a price on a good night’s sleep, fees for sleep coaches vary widely depending on training, experience, success rate, geographic region and how services are delivered (in person, by phone, online), Clark said.