What Exactly IS Sleep Training?
Well, THAT is a very good question indeed.
The term ‘sleep training’ (as most families have become familiar with it, anyway) seems to mean to use a program or a plan where you follow steps with your child to get them sleeping through the night. Period.
It also now carries a rather negative connotation, and one that elicits numerous opinions, many of which seem based on reciting the ‘harmful effects’ of sleep training. Can it be harmful? You bet. Especially if parents are doing something that goes against their gut instincts or if the program/plan being used is not appropriate for that particular child, age group, or family.
For the above reasons, as well as many others, I rarely (if ever) use the phrase ‘sleep training’. Firstly, babies can easily learn to sleep independently without necessarily sleeping ‘through the night’ and secondly, they can also ALL learn healthy sleep habits from day one without parents implementing an archaic and harmful ‘sleep training’ regime.
What I strive to do, as a Sleep Coach, is provide education, resources, and support with regard to pediatric sleep. I am here and I devote every business day to helping parents learn the importance of healthy sleep habits, how they can help their little ones learn this crucial life skill, and how (if need be) they can change unhealthy sleep habits.
This can be done gently. This can be done wisely. This can be done in a supportive & nurturing environment. This can be done without trauma. Neither the baby, NOR the parents need to feel unsupported, or as though they’ll have to get counseling afterward!
When I left the hospital after giving birth, I was already well equipped with pediatric sleep knowledge, so I felt educated in that area. But, I did note that without my educational training, I would probably feel pretty lost, because not ONE Nurse, Doctor, medical professional or hospital staff talked to me or gave me any resources about what to expect with regard to sleep, once I got that baby home. Not in prenatal care or postnatal care. No one mentioned it. How could that be? How is it that over the course of nine months, I got hundreds of pamphlets and emails, and invitations to mommy groups, Lamaze classes, lactation education classes and even attachment parenting classes, yet not one person even approached sleep, other than to say I would get none. Which in itself is untrue – we do that to ourselves when we do not have to.
That was not the first time, but it was definitely the most AHA! moment, where I thought to myself:
“If we can educate parents about sleep, the way we do about prenatal yoga and postnatal baby-wearing, we could all but eradicate the need to ‘sleep train’ children later on, or stress over instilling healthy sleep habits in a child who already has unhealthy sleep habits. We can prevent the need to put ourselves through months of exhaustion now OR later.We can avoid trying to decide how we feel about ‘crying it out’ or guilt about doing so or not doing so. We can educate ourselves, so that healthy sleep habits are instilled from the very moment that newborn comes home. No one has to live like a zombie – not me, and not my baby.”
As a professional in this field, I feel compelled to dispel some of the myths surrounding ‘sleep training’ and Sleep Consultants and although I cannot speak for all of them, the best way to do this is to explain what I do as a Pediatric Sleep Coach, and what I will never do.
I will not:
- Recommend against nursing your baby, or suggest that you cease nursing.
- Expect a baby to sleep through the night without nursing/eating, until they have demonstrated readiness and are of a healthy developmental weight and age, to do so.
- Use a one-size-fits-all method when working with babies’ and children’s sleep habits.
- Suggest that parents do anything they are not comfortable with.
- Give you a plan and send you on your way, without guidance and support.
- Encourage you to stop bed sharing if this is working for all of you.
- Encourage you to start bed sharing if you have chosen not to.
- Advocate leaving a baby alone to cry themselves to sleep.
- Propose that a parent ignore the needs of their child.
- Carefully explain why sleep is not an innate skill, and why restful, adequate sleep is crucial to your child’s early development.
- Be honest with you about what you can expect and provide a way for you to measure success and celebrate even the smallest improvements.
- Warmly get to know our family and your child, so that the approach we work with is created specifically to suit the needs of your family.
- Create a personalized plan and action steps that we will put in place, to help your child learn healthy, independent sleep skills with as little upset as possible.
- Provide you with emotional support and reassurance.
- Share with you my knowledge about other baby/child related issues such as food introduction, nutrition, skill development, guidance and discipline (older children) and other areas of early childhood.
- Create age specific plans for infants, babies, toddlers and preschool/school-aged children.
- Take your child’s disposition into account when creating an action plan.
- Provide you with resources and tips on issues such as: travel, handling time change, dropping naps, and transitioning from crib to bed.
- Motivate you and help keep everyone on track!
- Be here for hiccups and trouble shooting, down the road.
If you or someone you know, has any questions at all, about Sleep Consulting or Coaches, please feel free to ask the big questions! It pains me to see how many families, bloggers, and so on…lump all sleep consultants in the same group, or assume that we all use traditional (and potentially harmful) ‘sleep training’ techniques when working with families. After advocating for the safety and healthy development of children for 18 years, I would never recommend anything to a family that was proven to (or even suspected to) put their loved ones in harm’s way.
Stay tuned for an upcoming blog that exposes some common myths and discusses the truth about ‘sleep training’!
Live and Sleep Well.