Are you searching for help with your baby’s sleep but feel like you’ve stumbled into a minefield? There are so many certified sleep consultants out there, all claiming to be experts, so how are you supposed to narrow it down to the one person that will suit you and your family? Especially when you are trying to decide through your sleep deprived brain fog. It can be overwhelming to say the least.
And most importantly, does being certified mean that it’s safe to trust the person who is going to help you with your precious baby and does it always mean what you think it does?
1.Training and Competence
A baby sleep consultant may call themselves an infant sleep consultant, a paediatric sleep consultant, a sleep coach, a baby sleep expert, a baby whisperer or guru, a sleep nanny or fairy and so on. They basically all mean the same thing.
There is no regulatory body to ensure competency for sleep consultants. So you can be ‘certified’ and call yourself a sleep expert or any of the above names with very limited training or experience (and sadly many do). They may have done a 12 week online course with next to no experience before being certified and allowed to start working with mums and babies. Alternatively, at the opposite end of the spectrum, they may have a degree in a paediatric health field with years of practical experience behind them.
A training course for sleep consultants may well be being run by a business person, teaching would be consultants how to grow a business as well as how to become a sleep consultant. The course leader may not be an expert in paediatric sleep themselves but it may be part of their business model or franchise goals.
If you want to, have a look at the course the consultant you are thinking of working with has done. Does it seem rigorous and was there some supervision if they don’t have a paediatric health background or experience?
You may also want to look into how they keep themselves up to date and safe to practice as there is currently no requirement for sleep consultants to do this. Think of any other field in which we allow people to work with our children and it just wouldn’t be allowed!
2. Professional background and experience
It’s not a requirement for sleep consultants to have a background in paediatrics or know anything about infant behaviour or development other than the experience they have with their own children (important though that is!). If you consult a paediatric physio/dietician/speech therapist etc you can be assured they have a professional background in paediatrics with extensive training, supervision and continuing professional development in their area of expertise. You wouldn’t be able to practice just because you’d got your own child walking/eating/talking!
Fortunately there are many sleep consultants who do have a professional background and experience in a related field which they can use to help you reach your sleep goals. Their confidence and expertise will reassure you and help you to trust them.
If that’s important to you then look for someone who has trained as a nanny, paediatric nurse or health visitor, child psychologist or similar profession. If your little one has any additional health or development needs that may be impacting on sleep such as eczema, milk and food intolerance or allergies then you may consider this essential.
Equally you may be happy with someone who doesn’t have a paediatric background but is a mum or dad with similar experiences to you and has heaps of amazing client reviews. It’s completely your choice at the end of the day.
So do your own research; if they are vague about how they came to be a sleep consultant and perhaps don’t even mention their background on their website, then this might be a red flag. You will be able to tell if someone is passionate about helping you get more sleep or is just interested in a job that pays well and fits in round the school run…
Price can be a key factor although probably not your main concern. A sleep consultant who is just starting out may charge less for their service than for someone who has heaps of experience and the client feedback to support their claims.
Usually, but not always, the price also reflects the amount of follow up support you will receive. Is it phone calls, messages or just email? Personally I feel that follow up support is essential and in the hardest few days at the beginning, knowing that you can chat to your sleep consultant on the phone can be such a lifeline. It can also help keep you focused on the end goal and make sure that you get the sleep transformation that you’ve paid for.
And some sleep consultants work solo but others may have a team of sleep consultants or be part of a franchise so make sure you know if your money is paying for the experienced member of the team or newbie. Obviously we all have to start somewhere but the price should be appropriate.
There are many entry level courses you can buy without the expensive follow up support so if price is an issue it can be a good place to start. Not to mention all the free advice about baby sleep you can access from a quick google search in the middle of the night! Most sleep consultants will have a social media presence too for some useful tips and how to’s.
This is probably one of the most important factors for you. It almost goes without saying that you’re looking for someone who will care about you and your baby and genuinely want to see you succeed.
This is such an emotive area and not one parent that I have ever worked with has found the process of improving their baby’s sleep easy. Talk to them on the phone before making your mind up. They’ll need to be able to keep you positive and on track when things get tough. Are they easy to talk to and a good listener?
And beware of the term ‘gentle sleep coach’ or ‘gentle sleep consultant’. Gentle can mean something very different to different people. Graduated retreat, for example, is a method where you leave your baby for varying lengths of time to get them used to settling on their own. At a time of separation anxiety this technique can be anything but gentle and yet it is often one of the methods employed by so called gentle sleep coaches. Sadly it is also recommended by many health professionals….
This is where you will need to chat to them before making a decision, what do they believe in and recommend. Ask how they work and what their approach is. Do you respond to your baby if they are crying or have to leave them? Check that your parenting beliefs and approach match with what they are telling you.
You will also see the term ‘holistic sleep coach’ used. To my mind it’s a prerequisite for a successful sleep consultation to be holistic, taking all relevant factors into account. This would include parental mental health, baby’s health and development, breast feeding, weaning, siblings, environment and so on. It’s much harder, if not impossible, to get the changes you want if you aren’t in the right mindset, feel unsupported by your partner or are worried your older child might be disturbed in the middle of the night and be too tired for school. A good sleep consultant will be honest with you and help you work through these challenges.
And is now the right time for you and your family to be embarking on this journey? Any sleep consultant worth their salt will help you decide if it’s the best thing to do. Be wary if they’re trying to rush you into making a decision. If you’re just about to move house or start your little one at nursery it might be worth waiting a few more weeks…
5. Testimonials and word of mouth
Look for social proof that whoever you are thinking of working with has some authentic sounding online reviews as evidence they can get you results. What are other people saying about them? Just having reviews on their website isn’t really enough, do they have some external proof of their work such as google or facebook reviews?
Check their social media accounts on Facebook, Instagram and LinkedIn. This is a great way for you to see their philosophy, background and training before you even pick up the phone.
And chances are, if you ask around your other mum friends or work colleagues with little ones, someone will have a recommendation for you. Sleep issues are pretty common.
But the good news is, if you find the right sleep consultant to work with, you and your baby could be getting more sleep in a matter of weeks. Good luck!