Waking up to the benefits of baby sleep coaches for tired parents

November 9, 2015

Four years ago, I was one of the many frantic new moms emailing Janeen Hayward, a professional baby sleep consultant, in the middle of the night.

"Hello. I attended a workshop with Janeen … two weeks ago and am following her advice on sleep training to get my daughter out of the practice of nursing/bottle to sleep. … The sleep training has been working AMAZINGLY: After two days, she passes out on her own mostly in under 8 minutes. But now she’s developed a terrible cold. She’s super congested and uncomfortable. So my question is do I keep sleep training or go back to our old ways and start again when she’s healed? I’d be grateful for a response. Thank you so much."

I do not remember writing this email. I barely remember having this dilemma with Gracie, our now 4-year-old daughter who sleeps so well that I have to peel her out from under the covers on preschool mornings and carry her to the breakfast table.

But this nervous, naive former version of myself has lived on in my inbox for years, rediscovered as I searched for Hayward’s email address for a column I intended to write on the business of coaching sleep.

Since 2006, Hayward’s Chicago-based company, Swellbeing, has offered individual consultations, webinars and workshops to parents with children younger than 5 on topics ranging from sleep training, positive discipline and new siblings. And this month, I received an e-blast from a new Naperville business called Rockabye Sleep Solutions, which promises to help "families to address a variety of sleep-related concerns, including fighting bedtime, multiple night-wakings or transitioning to a toddler bed (to name a few!)."

The company’s founders say that while most parents — like me — eventually get through infant sleeping issues and don’t look back, baby sleep challenges remain among the most difficult periods of time that new parents have to get through. So business is steady for entrepreneurs who offer encouragement, advice and research-based strategies.

"They’re tired, and what they’re looking for is usually a step-by-step plan," said Sarah LaPorte, owner of Rockabye Sleep Solutions. "Some emails say, ‘I’m really just too tired to pick up the phone. Can you help?’"

Approaches to solving infant sleep problems have been around for decades and tend to fall on a spectrum.

On one side, experts including Richard Ferber, known for his 1985 book, "Solve Your Child’s Sleep Problems," suggest it’s OK to let your child cry for a specified amount of time as he or she learns to fall asleep. These experts subscribe to the so-called cry-it-out theory.

On the other side of the spectrum, some parents are uncomfortable with allowing their children to cry and subscribe to "no tears" methods, which incorporate a variety of strategies — rocking, nursing, co-sleeping — to give a child positive associations with bedtime.

Hayward said she works with parents to determine where their parenting style falls on the spectrum, then develop a plan accordingly.

"My approach to the topic of sleep is really on the whole child and the whole family," Hayward said. "It’s not slapping on a sleep solution that a parent could hear from a book; it’s more about looking at all the factors going on around the child and how some of those things may be things we need to think more about."

LaPorte, who worked as a patient liaison for Northwestern Medical Group before sleep issues with her own infant daughter inspired her to become a sleep coach, received training and certification from author Kim West, dubbed The Sleep Lady for her collection of books on the topic. Based on her training, LaPorte, 31, directs clients first to a method that encourages being with a child until he or she falls asleep and progressively leaving the room.

Both of the local sleep experts say parents are grateful for the advice. Hayward says in recent years, she has heard from not only moms, but also fathers and employers seeking to offer workshops as part of corporate-wellness programs.

LaPorte, who launched her business in late July, already has a client list that includes suburban Chicago parents as well as parents across the U.S. — whom she connects with on FaceTime and Skype.

Thankfully, by the time I had my second child last year, I felt far more knowledgeable as a mom during those trying first few months. In some ways Maddie was more challenging than Gracie when it came to sleeping, because of new roadblocks including acid reflux and a cold at 2 weeks old, courtesy of her older sister.

Yet somehow, the second time around, I managed to get through without professional coaching.

Maybe it was because Hayward’s encouraging response was still in my inbox:

"I am delighted to hear that you had such great success with sleep training! Unfortunately, because of the cold, you’ll need to help her as much as possible. Of course, you can always try to put her down before she’s asleep, but if she’s really miserable, you’ll need to suspend the training until she’s less congested."



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