close-up portrait of a beautiful sleeping baby on white

What is a sleep coach?

More than 4 million babies are born each year in the United States. Many of these children are sleep deprived. While each baby and family situation is different, we all need good sleep. A sleep coach, can provide comprehensive sleep solutions and techniques to families, while stressing safe sleep practices and healthy sleep guidelines, so that good sleep habits can be developed.

What does it mean to sleep train?

No matter how you say it, sleep training comes down to one thing: helping your child learn to fall asleep wholly unassisted. That means going down with their eyes wide open, and falling completely asleep without the help of a parent, caretaker, or other prop such as swaddle, pacifier or moving car. Sleep training may take dedication and persistence, but the benefits of having a baby or toddler who knowns how to fall asleep on his own at bedtime and nap times, and fall back asleep when awoken, is the secret ingredient, and the correct definition of sleep training.

How do I know if my baby needs a sleep coach?

If one parent is totally frustrated, exhausted and feels beat down, the baby is chronically sleep deprived, you’ve tried various methods to teach baby to fall asleep and all has failed, or you just need help getting baby on a routine, setting up good sleep habits.

At what age can I start sleep training my baby?

Right from day one, you can start with Sleep Shaping, getting baby on the right road to good sleep by setting up a good routine, and learning your baby’s own natural rhythms. While it is inappropriate to impose a “by the clock” routine on a newborn, you can build predictable routines into your baby’s daily activates.

So, what’s the right age? This answer can vary. As a sleep coach, my goal is to empower the parents — You know your baby best! At some point you will know that your baby is very capable of putting herself to sleep, but prefers you to rock, bounce, nurse, etc. her to sleep. There’s not going to be a magic age, but one day you will realize what baby once NEEDED to fall asleep, now she simply just WANTS. This is the key to identifying the “right” time. The ideal age for formal sleep training is usually before your baby can sit up and stand, since that tends to complicate things. But remember, it’s never too late to establish healthy sleep habits.

What if my baby still needs to eat at night?

By all means, if your baby is hungry then feed him! Sleep training has nothing to do with night weaning. You want your baby to sleep through the feedings that he is capable of…not cry through them.  Your child should start to sleep longer as he has the ability to put himself to sleep and connect sleep cycles.

Why can’t my baby stay asleep?

In the early weeks, a newborn’s sleep cycles are often irregular as they continue to develop their sleep-wake cycles. However, this does not mean that the baby is sleeping through the night or has mastered the ability to fall asleep on his own. Unfortunately, babies by this time have developed sleep associations, like rocking or feeding to sleep. These sleep props are fine as long as they make for peaceful sleep, but become problems when the baby wakes every 45 minutes to 2 hours to make sure sleep props are in place. The 3-4 month sleep regression is a difficult time, when a baby has you jumping in and out of bed like a jack-in-the-box.

In order for your child, to move through these sleep cycles and stay asleep, takes some practice. He must master this skill…like riding a bike.  A sleep coach can help give you the tools you need to help your child learn this.

How long will it take to sleep train my child?

Every child has a different personality, different age, and different temperament. The truth is, certain temperaments respond better to one method than another. Some are slow to adapt and can be very persistent and intense children. Others can be very adaptable, easy going and others are high-energy, taking more time. This is not to say that these babies can’t be sleep trained. It simply means that you will need to proceed, having appropriate expectations. How long it takes can depend on which method you choose for your child. Sometimes it can take a few days and sometimes longer. The important thing is consistency. You must be willing to follow through with your plan.

Must my baby cry?

I would love to say, there is a magic trick that could be used to keep a baby from crying. Unfortunately, there’s not. Since you are setting limits and changing their way of going to sleep. There will be some protesting. Even if you choose a method where you say in the room to give comfort, the child will cry. This is normal, and a new study, conducted recently shows no long-term emotional or behavior harm to a child that does a bit of crying. It’s important to have reasonable expectations according to age, a plan, and to be consistent. 

How can I prepare for sleep training?

Create a relaxing bedtime routine. All children, from newborns on up to school age, need a set of comforting and predictable rituals to help them prepare physically and psychologically for sleep. These activities should be calm, quiet ones, like reading, story-telling, or lullabies: bedtime is not a time for tickling, wrestling, scary stories, TV shows, or anything else that’s stimulating.  For babies about 6 months old, I encourage attachment to a “lovey,” a favorite stuffed animal or small blanket that he can use to comfort himself when he wakes at night. And with the exception of baths and tooth-brushing, the bedtime should take place in the child’s nursey or bedroom.

If you have trouble picking up on your child’s drowsy signals, you can pinpoint a reasonable bedtime for her simply by looking at when she normally wakes up and factoring in how much sleep she should be getting based on her age. Let’s say you have a 2 year old who tends to wake up by 7:00 a.m. every morning. The average 2-year old needs 11 hours of sleep at night, so that would mean that your child needs to go through her entire bedtime routine and be sound asleep by 8:00 p.m.

Install room-darkening shades if your child’s room gets too much light, he wakes up very early, or has trouble napping; but leave a dim light on so that you can see him when you check on him. He’ll probably sleep better with a little bit of light too, although some children sleep better in total darkness.

Consider playing white noise or nature music if your child’s room isn’t very soundproof and you have a barking dog, loud neighbors, and older siblings, or live on a busy street, etc. Some babies are more sensitive to noise. White noise is a constant sound that helps block out noise. You can also use a fan. I discourage using music to mask noise, as It can become addictive.

Get your child used to waking up between 6:00 a.m. and 7:30 a.m. This definitely applies to babies over 5 months of age who are waking up at all different times, sometimes as late as 8:30 or 9:30 a.m., which then throws off the whole entire day and confuses their internal clocks. Start waking your baby by 7:30 a.m. about 5 days before you plan to start sleep coaching.

Tip: Make sure your child gets a good nap or naps that day! You don’t want to start sleep training with an overtired baby.

Pick a realistic start date. Choose a block of time, ideally about three weeks, during which you don’t expect any major disruptions or changes in your household, including trips, moving, or the arrival of a new baby. Be careful to keep your child’s schedule consistent even if yours is not. For instance, don’t introduce a nice  sensible 7:00/ 7:30 p.m. bedtime the very week you plan to let her stay up until 10:00 with quest, or going to have a party!

Having a good routine, sensible bedtime, and a set wake up time, lays the foundation for successful sleep training. Also, make sure you have support to cheer you on!

kathy-profileBy Kathy Monroe

Labor and Postpartum Doula,
Sleep Coach, and Newborn Care Educator
aka The Baby Whisperer