The first six months to a year of your child’s life is vital due to a number of factors. One of the primary factors is sleep training, both for the child and for you, the parent. Children need sufficient time to discover a comfortable sleep pattern, while parents need to be patient and understand that a pattern of their choice and convenience can’t be forced upon the child. The process of discovering a sleep pattern has be natural and one that suits the child the best.
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There’s nothing wrong in first time parents and even those who have had a similar experience with the previous child feeling a bit out of depth in this situation. You probably have spoken to the elders in the family, asked your mother about what she had done with you and have received numerous suggestions. Some of the suggestions might work on a few occasions but not later, while some suggestions might not work at all. This is so because an infant’s sleep pattern is not a computer program. It won’t be the same every single night.
In the twenty-first century, nuclear families have emerged as the most common family unit. Our parents or other elder members of the family aren’t available as frequently as in the past to share the responsibilities of bringing up a child. This has increased the quantum of responsibilities on parents. At the same time, in most households, both parents work. This further increases the pressure on them as far nighttime duties are concerned, which can lead to frustrations, irritation and a sense of losing control.
This is where a sleep consultant can be of help. An infant sleep consultant to be precise, because sleep consultants also helps adults suffering from insomnia, provide suggestions about sleep habits and more. It’s possible to speak to an infant sleep consultant over Skype for advice and learn about the best practices, or you could invite them over for a home visit. Sleep consultants can also stay overnight or provide 24-hour support, depending on your need and the amount of money you want to spend.
Before we get further into the role of a sleep consultant, it needs to be mentioned that a large number of child sleep experts are self-proclaimed experts. They do not require a license or certification to call themselves an expert, so thoroughly research about an infant sleep training expert or a clinic that provides the service before hiring someone. Ask your circle of friends, colleagues and acquaintances if they know a good baby sleep consultant or have used the services of such a consultant. Also, try to connect with other parents on online forums and find out about their experiences of working with a sleep trainer.
1) What Kind of Support Does a Sleep Consultant Provide?
Firstly, you need to be aware that a baby sleep consultant is not a magician and neither can they accomplish the goal of helping your child sleep in an increasingly consistent pattern on their own. You will have to play an active role as well.
Most sleep consultants begin with a free consultation to learn about your situation and provide a few initial pointers. The nature of their role beyond this point completely depends on you.
- You can continue with similar (but paid) brief consultations over the phone, on Skype or in-person to update them about possible progress and receive suggestions about the next course of action.
- You can engage them in home visits, where they visit your child periodically to spend time with them and educate you about how to deal with erratic sleep patterns, the do and don’ts of taking care of the child’s sleep through the night and more.
- It’s possible to hire a child sleep expert to stay over every night till your child falls asleep.
- And you can also hire sleep consultants to provide round-the-clock support.
- Then there are consultants who specialize in ensuring the environment in the house and the child’s bedroom in particular is optimal for sleep, including room temperature, the type and amount of light (or the lack thereof) in the room and much more.
2) How to Select the Right Infant Sleep Consultant?
Do you think that seeking the guidance of a sleep consultant is the right move for your child and you? If yes, then the next thing you need to do is read up on the role of a sleep consultant. You also need to understand how you can separate the genuine consultants from those who try to exploit and profit from the desperation of parents.
First and foremost, as of this moment, there isn’t a formal institution that accredits sleep consultants. For example, you can verify if a lactation consultant is genuine or not by checking if the person is an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC) certified by the International Board of Lactation Consultant Examiners (IBLCE). So, in case of sleep consultants that’s definitely a stumbling block.
There are a few institutes that provide training programs for sleep consultants. The Family Sleep Institute and the International Maternity & Parenting Institute (IMPI) are the two most well-known among them. The Family Sleep Institute’s 16-week course is called the Child Sleep Consultant Certification Program, while the IMPI’s 16-week online course is called the Maternity and Child Sleep Consultant Training Program. If the infant sleep consultant you’re speaking has undergone training such as this, then you can at least be confident that they follow an evidence-based methodology. This is necessary because there are active consultants who simply have read up stuff online and started a consultancy based on just that.
This is more critical than certification. In fact, if the consultant has the right level of formal education in a related field, then the lack of certification can be ignored. While it’s unlikely that a pediatrician will turn into a baby sleep consultant later in his/her career, what’s more likely is that professionals in areas such as nursing, child development, public health, family health education, etc., might transition into sleep consultancy. It’s possible to trust consultants with such backgrounds a little more than a consultant that only has a 16-week online course to fall back on.
Additional Expertise or Training
There is always a possibility that multiple factors contribute to your child’s erratic sleep pattern or behavior.
- The child might be suffering from an undetected sensory disorder related to touch, sound, textures, etc.
- The child could be suffering from neurological disorders such as autism or attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
- The child’s sleep pattern can be affected by certain disturbances at home such as issues between the parents.
- The nutrition of the child could be the source of the problem.
As mentioned earlier, sleep consultants aren’t accredited. So, they aren’t allowed to either diagnose or treat a medical condition in a professional capacity. However, if the sleep consultant has additional expertise that helps them detect such disorders or conflicts in the household, because of previous professional experience, then they can prove to be of immense help to a family.
Sleep Philosophy and Methodology
There are no hard and fast rules as far as sleep training is concerned. Sleep consultants use a variety of approaches and methods. It’s likely that you have a philosophy of your own — one that has been part of your family. It could be generally be related to how you want to bring up your child or specifically about your child’s sleep behavior. You might have certain strict instructions regarding dos and don’ts for the consultant. Hence, before hiring someone, you need to understand the consultant’s philosophy and approach to their job. Does the consultant follow a set method and is unwilling to deviate from that? Do they have an opposing philosophy, but are consummate professionals? These are some of the things you need to assess beforehand to ensure that your child doesn’t suffer.
3) Misnomers about Sleep Training
The sleep consultant may resort to sleep training techniques that are questionable. You as a parent need to be aware of certain debatable or outright incorrect methods of sleep training, in order to protect your child from unnecessary inconvenience.
Newborns/Toddlers Don’t Sleep through the Night
You simply can’t expect your child to sleep through the night and if a sleep consultant promises to help your child achieve that in a week or two with the help of ‘innovative’ techniques, then that should raise a red flag in your head. Most adults don’t sleep through the night either, but what they have learnt to do is go back to sleep. For a children that’s near impossible, because they haven’t yet learnt to put themselves to sleep on their own. So, you’ve to be prepared to wake up a couple of times per night. In fact, it’s you who has to think of ways to put yourself back to sleep without feeling irritated or frustrated. Ideally, during the initial months the child should be sleeping in the same room as you. And you could possibly inculcate a habit of reading (if you don’t already) to lull yourself to sleep fairly quickly. Remember that you have to bear with this for only a short period — six months to a year — at most.
Let Them ‘Cry It out’ Isn’t an Option Either
The ‘cry it out’ method is bogus. Yes, that sounds a bit blunt, but it is a fact. Keeping everything else aside, pure common sense says that this method can’t be healthy for the child. In addition to that, there’s more than enough research on this matter that suggests it has serious harmful effects on the child. You don’t have to run over to your child every time she starts crying, but at the same time that doesn’t mean you don’t comfort her if she’s been crying for a period of time. Allow your child to learn how to fall asleep on their own, but be their every once in a while to provide some care and comfort to facilitate that learning. Unlike what some experts suggest, this balance between providing comfort and letting them learn on their own will give faster results.
Nighttime Feeding May Be Necessary
In regards to nighttime feeding, you need to listen to the pediatrician alone. If the pediatrician believes that the child still requires nighttime feeding, then irrespective of whether that conflicts what the sleep consultant has suggested you need to abide by it. This particular issue is in a way a continuation of the previous point. Once you put your child to sleep and retire for the night, it doesn’t mean that you won’t have put in some effort again that night. Please try to understand that the inconvenience or irritation that you might experience (and it’s completely natural to feel that way) will last for a relatively short period. After the first twelve to eighteen months, if you have maintained that comforting the child when needed versus strictly following the sleep training methods balance, then you will no longer have to worry about waking up in the middle of the night, except for unforeseen emergencies.
The Sleep Consult Doesn’t Have to Be Present All Night
If you’re apprehensive about hiring an infant sleep consultant because you think the consultant will need to be regularly present through the night, then worry not. In most cases, after the initial meeting the sleep consultant will provide you with a plan of action. You simply need to understand the ins and outs of the plan and follow it. Periodically you follow-up with the consultant to give a feedback/progress report and they will tweak the plan if required.
If your child is younger than four months, don’t hire a sleep consultant. Give your child the proverbial ‘breathing space’. The primary reason why children below the age of four months do not respond to sleep training is because they aren’t cognitively capable of falling asleep without assistance till at least that point. As a parent, you also need to be aware that strictly following a suggested method isn’t necessarily a good thing. Regularly evaluate your child’s response to the sleep training methods and your own comfort levels to decide if a particular plan of action is working or not.
The sleep consultant’s role is to supplement and assist you, not replace you. So, you need to be present all through your child’s sleep training. As a parent you will know a lot more about your child’s behavior than the consultant, so you need to continue having dialogue with the sleep consultant through the entire duration of the engagement. This will help the consultant customize their sleep training methods to suit your child and help your child learn to fall asleep on their own.