Editor's note: One of the authors of this piece, Em Somera-Chua, previously shared her experience about hiring a sleep coach, which you can read here. After the story had come out, she received many inquiries that encouraged her to write this piece, this time with her sleep coach, Gabrielle Weil.
Just before my baby turned 7 months old, I sleep trained my daughter with the help of a sleep coach. I set aside two weeks to be home for the training, and I listened and followed the instructions. Nothing prepared me for the things I gained through the experience.
In the thick of training, I began to understand why it has to be led by the mom -- not the coach (no, she doesn’t go to your house!) -- and certainly not the child’s caregiver or yaya. I realized that I might have been a new mom, but the truth is no one else knows my daughter better than I do. I had to OWN that. Our coach was there to guide, but I had to honor and nurture my mom instinct.
I found myself talking to my baby more, and I walked her through what we were doing. Day by day, I saw the improvement in her sleep. I realized that my tiny baby had a tremendous capacity to learn, which meant I had the ability to teach -- she was teaching me as I was learning from her. That was when I understood -- my baby and I were a solid team! Whatever insecurities I had as a first-time mom vanished. I felt affirmed and more confident that “we got this!”
My style of parenting then became defined to me. I no longer saw myself as my child's “food source.” I finally saw myself as a mother, committed to helping my baby get the best start in life, and teaching her how to put herself to sleep was our first big step.
Of course, it’s not just about the baby. “Sleep training is also about preserving your life as a married couple,” says our coach, Gabrielle Weil. Her favorite kind of “thank you’s” are from moms and dads who regained time for each other and precious sleep, aside from quality time with their little ones.
I always say to moms who ask me about sleep training: You have to know your reasons, and you can’t come in half-hearted.
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Our sleep coach, Gabrielle Weil, writes in detail how she conducts sleep training below.
You may need sleep coaching if sleep has become a battle for you and your baby.
When we interfere with an infant’s naturally occurring circadian rhythm (or sleep pattern), you get a "tired" baby or toddler because he could not sleep without waking up many times at night, did not get a decent nap or maybe he could not sleep at all without you. Sleep becomes a battle, not a place of love and calm.
The lack of quality sleep has a knock-on effect on your baby's feeding, which can affect their growth, mental development and ability to deal with daily challenges. Science confirms that sleepy children can show less positivity and decreased cognitive engagement, not to mention your sense of humor and patience disappear along with the way.
Your only “workable” solution is to become your baby’s human pillow -- just so that they sleep, or so that YOU can sleep. It becomes a cycle, and you hope it will work itself out in time, your baby will outgrow it. But I urge you to take a moment and ask yourself: How many years are you okay with keeping this up? Don’t forget to ask your husband his thoughts: How many years is he all right with you keeping this up? It is a cycle that can easily continue into toddlerhood and childhood because it was already set into motion from the very start.
Sleep training done right is all about accompanying your little human on their journey, learning to respect that their journey is different from yours, and their sleep needs are also very different from yours.
Babies KNOW how to sleep, and they are superb at it. It is parents who don’t know how babies sleep.
Working with a sleep coach is a project of love, dedication and learning what it means to be a mom. But I can hear you asking: how do you teach my baby to sleep? I don’t teach your baby how to sleep. I teach YOU how your child needs to sleep. Babies KNOW how to sleep, and they are superb at it. It is parents who don’t know how babies sleep. It's a perspective that takes getting used to, and it's why you need to prepare yourself emotionally and physically when you go through sleep training.
1. You need to detach, just enough to allow your child to transform their dependence on you into independence. Part of this process includes creating a space for your child if you haven’t already (it is not, however, a magic solution alone).
2. In-law pressure comes up frequently with clients. If a family member has not witnessed the difficulties you and your baby have with sleep on a daily basis, don't expect them to fully understand your need for help, let alone your decision to move your child into another room and not simply rock them to sleep.
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You need to remember this is your marriage, your baby, your life -- avoid conflict by owning your decision to seek help with your baby’s sleep. “Life with baby” doesn’t mean “life with no sleep.”
3. I do not practice the “cry it out" method. But learning new lessons doesn’t come without protests and some form of communication. I have yet to hear a child do either of these in silence. We as grown-ups often resist change, (perhaps quietly to ourselves, at first). Babies don’t have that kind of restraint and may welcome change just as stubbornly as we do! I combine different techniques to make the transition as smooth as possible for your child, not as smooth as possible for you.
4. You need to be brave. Parents who approach often have been co-sleeping with their babies who have already celebrated their four months in this world. At this stage, the need to co-sleep comes from the parents. They need to feel close, prefer not to get up or walk into another room to feed, to be able to stay laying down during a feed and to go back to sleep quickly at each wake-up. Co-sleeping makes things convenient for the parents but may be detrimental, even unsafe for the baby.
5. Prepare for a lot of physical activity. You will pop in and out of your child’s room and lean over a crib for extended periods of time. Get those legs, back, and bottom muscles ready if reaching your baby's room requires stair-climbing!
6. You will not have much time to nap. On the brighter side, you will get a good night’s sleep very quickly!
Working with a sleep coach is all about being guided to trust your baby to show you what they can do. You will succeed if you are emotionally strong enough to listen when your baby protests (cries) and to learn his language before he can learn yours. The best way to prepare is to take a step back and allow yourself to learn from your baby and let them be your life’s greatest teacher from the start.|
Sleep coach Gabrielle Weil trained with two UK-based baby sleep trainers using various sleep training methods. You may reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.