I am a mom of 2 and a postpartum doula and I still didn't know the ins and outs of a sleep coach. In fear of hiring someone who was going to make my baby cry endlessly, I just kept chugging my coffee and half-surviving daily life. Obviously, babies wake up for a reason but my youngest is 2... Come on! So when friends told me they had amazing success with a baby-sleep-coach my sleepy brain was, admittingly, intrigued. But does it go against how I parent? So, I reached out to one of the area's best sleep coaches to ask the hard questions everyone wants to know! Meet Batya the Baby Coach who has 10+ years of experience with sleep training. I sent her the top 7 questions I could think of to get the low-down on sleep coaching.
1) What is sleep training? Is sleep training the same as Cry-It-Out?
Unfortunately, sleep training has a very negative connotation these days. It is often wrongly associated with leaving Baby to cry for endless hours alone, leaving him emotionally and physically traumatized. Although there are many methods out there, amongst them are also gentle, holistic ideas. Sleep training doesn’t always mean teaching your baby how to sleep. It also means teaching your baby when to sleep or how to become less irritable. There are so many factors included in the blanket of helping improve sleep habits that I could write a 20 page article alone just discussing that!
But as a sleep coach, parents sometimes contact me feeling guilty. Am I doing something wrong by wanting my baby to sleep? How do I know what’s right? Is there something wrong with wanting private time with my spouse in the bedroom (i.e. without my baby there)? My answer to these questions is always the same. You have to do what works for you and your family, and it’s as simple as that. So whatever your parenting sleep philosophy is: Attachment Parenting, gung-ho sleep training, or anywhere in between, just remember that the only one who can determine what is right for you and your baby is you – there’s a reason that God chose you to be this baby’s parent.
2) What are some habits I can start with my infant to help them be a good sleeper?
Before you even start teaching a baby HOW to sleep, you have to make sure you’re working with his natural rhythms.That is the only way to ensure his body will ready itself for sleep, and that the nap or bedtime will become a natural process. You don’t want a band-aid solution, because trying to force a baby to sleep at the hours you’ve allotted (which to him, it turns out, are random), will likely create a vicious cycle and actually encourage him to fight sleep more. It is the short-long road.
So what can you do when you need your baby to start sleeping? First work with what you have. Take a look at your baby and his tendencies, since the first step in building a solid routine. Log his habits for a few days and notice when irritability and crankiness set in. You might find that you’re offering bedtime almost an hour after he’s been asking for it. Or you may see that your baby is sleeping long spells during the day, so that when night approaches, she’s well-rested and ready to play.
I definitely don’t want to turn mommies into sleep drill sergeants. A parent who is in tune, but not obsessed with the baby’s cues, can best encourage sleep. What we want is a general outline of each day, so you gain confidence by knowing what to expect, with the flexibility that takes into account real-life situations, plus your growing baby’s gradually changing needs. Being too specific about when your child will fall asleep will not only make you neurotic, but it will also create unrealistic goals. (Do you go to bed at exactly 10:45 and 47 seconds every night?) The most well-rested moms I’ve known have learned to watch their baby, while keeping one eye on the clock.
The predictability of a gentle routine not only gifts you with the confidence that you can provide for your child’s sleep needs, but it builds a solid foundation for future sleep hygiene. This foundation is absolutely CRITICAL to set in place before beginning to teach your child better sleep habits, whether it’s falling asleep independently, sleeping through the night, or any other issue that doesn’t right itself when you set up your new baby-conscious routine. Otherwise, parents fall into the trap of trying to solve a problem NOW, using a quick-fix training method that can’t really teach your child a worthwhile skill.
Your child’s wakefulness is really just a symptom of a routine that’s a little off-kilter. Fighting the issue directly - through sleep training - is expending a lot of energy in battling a mere symptom. Tuning in to figure out your baby’s natural routine and rhythms may take time, especially if the issue is not new, but it is a gentler way and effective, as it takes a look at what your child’s body is asking for, and solves the problem at its core.
3) How is a sleep coach any different than the millions of books out there about sleep?
Well, you definitely can't ask a book your questions, that's for sure! And although there are many amazing books available today, the problem arises when your baby doesn't necessarily fit the mold to being a textbook baby, or if you encounter more detailed complications that a book doesn't arise. When I work with my clients, I create a tailor-made plan to fit their baby and their life. It encompasses all aspects of the parents' day, parenting philosophy, and all details with the baby's sleep needs. But even more important than all that, the families I help love the support they get. Having been a sleep expert for over 10 years now, I've dealt with many issues from newborns to 8 year olds! Parents really need the guidance and support they get (whether through email or phone), to ensure thing stay on track, and that they can get sleeping asap within the time-frame of our program together.
A new mother recently contacted me regarding her 3 month-old twins. She was very well-read, and had practically memorized a handful of books on baby sleep advice for twin babies. Still, however, she couldn't fit all that she had read with her babies. One was very irritable and sensitive, the other easy-going and happy - but they both still didn't sleep. She couldn't understand what information she had left to implement and was at a loss. I asked her if she had contacted other sleep consultants before me, and she said she had...but now she just felt overwhelmed by everyone's conflicting advice. I suggested that before even beginning her search for the 'perfect method' (which by the way, DOES NOT exist) she had to first make realistic goals based on what she already knew from babies and sleep. What did she feel she can incorporate into her lifestyle? What fits her parenting philosophy? What seems too extreme? Once she figured out her own philosophy, she'd then be able to tackle how she wanted to incorporate various ideas.
The most important piece of advice I offer parents is to be in tune with WHO THEY ARE...that's the first step always :)
4) Do you work with children who are 3 and 4 years old too?
Yes! I work with newborn babies, all the way to 5-6 year olds. Tackling all issues under the son. From early rising, to night wake-ups, to room sharing, to nap fighting, and everything in between!
5) What do you think the biggest sleep myths are?
Let's just say that whoever coined the term "Sleeping like a baby" clearly never HAD a baby! Most new parents seem shocked that their babies aren't naturally amazing sleepers, and often think that they are to blame for their child's poor sleep habits. It's so important to know that 70%-80% of most new babies aren't magically sleeping through the night by 5 months of age, and it's just something most people don't talk about! So take the blame off yourself, and understand that sleep is a learned skill, that doesn't come as naturally to some babies as it does to others.
6) Do I have to stop breastfeeding to sleep train?
Nope - not at all! Most babies who are Exclusively Breast Fed in the first six months can still go long stretches of sleep at night! Assuming a baby is gaining weight, developmentally on-par, and otherwise healthy. most babies between 2-4 months can go a solid 5-7 hour chunk at night, and babies 4-6 months can usually go even longer. It's all about using preventative measure to start sleep off on the right foot, so your baby's sleep needs can shift for the positive as Baby grows older.
7) If my baby was born a bad sleeper, can that be changed or is it biological?
It is very rare to come across a child who has a true inability to sleep due to physical and chemical imbalances. Parents who think that their baby never sleeps are quite amazed when I help their baby’s sleep improve drastically. Most babies that fight sleep simply never learned the skills to properly wind down and relax for sleep. The ironic result is that they end up fighting sleep even more, causing severe frustration and exhaustion for both the baby and the mother. So the real truth? Your baby is not a lost cause!