Some of the most common questions people ask parents of young children are, “Is your baby sleeping through the night yet?” and even more dreaded, “Are YOU getting much sleep?” Guiding our kids to get their best sleep is a challenge many face. Because of this, there are certified sleep coaches! No joke, a person whose job it is to help your baby sleep. So if there is a job for it, that means it is work to get the result you want.
Being the parent with three kids who have three very different baby sleep histories, I respect the struggle and appreciate the science behind the benefits of sleep and how to get it. So today, I talk with Roubina Centeno, the founder of Sweet Dreams Sleep School. Learn how she chose this specialty as a valuable addition to the professional services she offers as a licensed therapist.
Baby Sleep Training Basics
Can you clarify what sleep coaching IS and what it IS NOT?
A sleep coach is someone that will complete a thorough assessment of your child’s temperament and current sleep routine, and identify a routine for you to implement to teach your baby to fall asleep independently, or go back to sleep independently.
A baby sleep coach is not there to eliminate all-night feedings, and eliminate all “sleep associations” if family does not mind some of them (though, of course, if you have a list of them they may have you identify the top most important to you).
Is It Ever Too Late to Start Sleep Training?
Well, there are ideal sleep training windows, since the longer you wait the harder it is to change patterns. Think about it this way, the more deeply ingrained habits are, the longer it will take to break. With that said, it is never too late to start, you just might need to adapt expectations at some point. Furthermore, some babies never have sleep problems until they are toddlers and then they have major sleep regressions, so those children will start sleep training later.
Robina’s Path to Baby Sleep Training
Is it common for sleep trainers to also be licensed therapists? How do you see that as a benefit to your clients?
While it is common for sleep trainers to be certified lactation specialists, certified doulas, and nurses, it is less common that baby sleep trainers are also licensed therapists. I see that as a benefit since I am trained to assess for clinical concerns (such as child attachment disorders, anxiety, and hyperactivity issues in childhood) and can rule out any other concerns during sleep training.
What attracted you to this specialty?
Having a baby with Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD). Ha! It’s no joke. During that experience, I set sail to learn all that I could about sleep expectations and sleep training an infant with GERD. I was so intrigued that I decided to move towards helping other families.
Different Tools and Ways for Sleep Training
While sleep regressions happen at each age, are there consistent tools to remember no matter what age?
Yes, I think you nailed it with the word consistent. It is important to know that consistency is best and that it is normal for your child to experience sleep regression at any age. Also, remember, kids don’t know how to process emotions the way adults can and sometimes anxiety can play out by interruption in sleeping patterns. We have to be mindful of changes in a child’s life and how that might affect them and help them process.
If your child is particularly strong-willed or seems to refuse any sleep tools you offer, what would you say to those parents?
Well, I’d say, hopefully, your child remains strong-willed and crushes his/her goals. But that doesn’t help any right now. I think what stands out the most in this question is the word “offer”. I’d say switch gears. Don’t expect to offer your child options, consequences or solutions. If your child is old enough to exhaust you with his/her will, then they are old enough to be involved in planning bedtime routine, with scaffolding of course. Provide them with the option of creating their own bedtime routine absent of TV use. Get creative.
One idea is: with your child, make a basket of night time activities and have your child pick 2-3 out of the basket each night ONLY after brushing teeth. It’s kind of like a reward system. Bottom line is, if your child is strong-willed then directives will only lead to a power struggle and they will win.
Do you offer special considerations for children with Autism Spectrum Disorder or other special needs that may impact sleep?
Absolutely, in fact, sleep training children with special needs requires a specialty and you should only get services from a sleep coach that has experience or training. While I have worked with children 0–3 with special needs, it is not a specialty of mine. Since your child deserves the best, I refer parents of children with special needs to trusted colleagues that specialize in the area.
Working with a Coach for Child and Baby Sleep Training
Who is the ideal client for a sleep coach?
The ideal client for a sleep coach is someone who demonstrates readiness to change. Let’s face it, teaching a child to sleep independently is hard work for the parent. Also, sometimes parents believe they can sleep train a baby without much change to schedule and that is not the case. The ideal client will have three to four weeks of downtime where the child will have the same structure and routine. If it is a two-parent household and one is ambivalent, my suggestion is to wait.
What is important for parents to know before beginning their journey with a sleep coach?
It is REALLY important for parents to know that it is completely unrealistic for infants and newborns (even of sleep training age) or a toddler to self-soothe themselves to sleep and back to sleep during night wakings 100% of the time. Even adults have trouble falling asleep at times. It is also important to know that everyone’s perspective of what sleeping through the night is different. Sometimes we hear that so-and-so’s newborn is sleeping through the night and compare what our infant is doing. What that baby is doing and what your baby is doing might be different, but both may be just fine.
What sleep issues do you hear about the most?
Generally speaking, over tiredness that resembles hyper-activity is a very common sleep problem. Parents may think that their child is not tired because they are so active. However, most of the time it is overtiredness. It is also very common to see babies with acid reflux. If a baby has GERD or colic, a sleep coach works alongside the child’s pediatrician.
How long do you typically work with a family?
I typically work with a family for 2 weeks intensively. I offer maintenance/follow-up sessions ongoing.
Do you come at night if your client is trying to get the baby to sleep through the night?
I empower the parent to take the lead. For the first three nights, I provide text and email support. This helps parents implement the plan as those are the hardest days.
Getting Started with Baby Sleep Training
At what age do you recommend starting sleep training?
Sleep training can start as soon as you bring the baby home. Get them to adjust to days and nights within the months to come and prepare them with tons of soothing techniques, especially at bedtime. Formal sleep training to develop independence in sleep should start after six months when the baby is developmentally mature enough.
After six months of age, your baby has better sleep patterns and feedings will have significantly subsided. This is controversial as many people indicate you can sleep train a baby at four months. You can set a strong foundation at four months but I would not advise any aggressive sleep training.
Is there any way to sleep train without letting my baby cry?
I would love to say, there is a way to change the way they go to sleep without crying. However, since you are setting limits and changing behavior, there will be some protesting. Even in the gentlest of approaches, there will be some tears.
Parents of newborns, infants, and toddlers, take heart! Some day soon, you, too, can experience the joy of seeing your little one fast asleep in the crib. So even though it seems like you might all stay awake forever, this, too shall pass! If you need extra sleep-training advice, be sure to check out Roubina’s website or follow her on Instagram.