It’s 3 am and your baby is crying. Should you pick her up from her cot and rock her? Let her cry but check on her? Feed her?
An infant sleep coach would know what to do. These 21st-century experts make their living by helping parents get their babies into a healthy sleep routine with custom plans, phone calls and overnight stays.
Although many of these professionals do go through training, their level of expertise varies widely. We asked four of the more seasoned coaches to pull back the sheets on their snooze-inducing wisdom.
Create a united front
“I’ve had parents call and say, ‘I need to do this without my partner knowing.’”
“Often it’s the dad who wants the mum to stop feeding the baby to sleep, while the mum feels in her gut that the baby still needs nighttime feeds,” says Kim West, author of Good Night, Sleep Tight. “I’ve also had scenarios where Mum wants to get on a better schedule but Dad really can’t take the crying,” says Kim (aka The Sleep Lady).
“Whatever the reason, sleep coaching tends to be much less successful when one parent is saying, ‘You created this problem, now fix it.’” Don’t try to hash it out during a midnight wake-up call.
Instead, put some time aside when it’s just the two of you to come up with a plan you can both support.
Don’t respond to bub too quickly
“Not every peep she makes at night means she needs to be rocked or fed.”
Your baby’s sounds might just mean she’s mildly frustrated or settling in her sleep – and checking on her can make the problem worse, especially if she wasn’t awake to begin with.
“After the baby turns four months old, we teach parents to take a breath before deciding whether to go in,” says Jennifer Waldburger, co-founder of Sleepy Planet, a sleep-coaching service, and co-author
of The Sleepeasy Solution. Check the video monitor, if you have one, to reassure yourself that your baby is okay, and you may even see that her eyes are still closed.
If your baby is crying out because of pain or true discomfort, you’ll know by her loud wail, which will ramp up instead of quieting down.
Resist making comparisons
“What worked for another baby might not help yours.”
“For every child I work with, I take into account her temperament, the parents’ personalities, and their lifestyle,” says Brooke Nalle, founder of Sleepy on Hudson, a sleep-coaching service.
“I may coach the parents to stay in the room while soothing their child back down, because some babies need to have a parent there. We work on gradually spacing out the soothing until the baby learns to do it on her own.”
With other bubs, Brooke might have the parent leave the room after saying goodnight. “Sometimes having a parent there is the worst thing you can do, because it overstimulates the child,” she says. “These babies need their own space instead.”
Start a bedtime routine
“It might seem like a silly thing to do with a newborn, but it does pay off.”
Hold off on sleep training (if that’s something you want to do) until baby is three months or older, sleep experts advise, but you can create a healthy bedtime routine and naptime rituals from day one. “Dim the lights 30 minutes to an hour before bedtime to help bring your baby’s cortisol levels down,” advises Ingrid Prueher, a sleep coach known as ‘The Baby Sleep Whisperer’.
Then give your baby a bath and her last feed of the day, followed by a bedtime story and a song. Do this consistently every night, and it will be easier for you to sleep train your baby if the time comes, Ingrid says.