Sleep Training: What You Need to Know Before Hiring a Coach

Sleep training a newborn can be incredibly hard—but hiring an expert to help smooth the process might be worthwhile. Here's what you need to know before taking the plunge.

Baby Sleep Coaching Yagi Studio/Getty Images
Sleepless nights come along with the territory of being a new mom. And if your baby hasn't quite mastered the whole "falling asleep at night" thing, you might be desperate for a solution that'll make sleep easier to come by for your baby (and, well, for you).

Does that solution involve hiring a sleep coach? It just might: Working with an expert may be what you need to help your baby get on a healthy, consistent sleep schedule. Here's what you should consider before hiring a sleep coach.

Speak with your doctor first

According to Jodi Mindell, Ph.D, parents of children who don't sleep well should consider speaking with their primary care providers to rule out any underlying issues. Reflux or breathing problems could be to blame, and it's important that these issues be treated medically. Sleep coaches focus on the behavioral aspect of sleep patterns, so if medical concerns are dismissed and your child is still struggling to sleep well, it might be time to enlist a sleep coach's help.

You should wait until the time is right to start

"I've heard of some people trying to sleep train a newborn, and that is problematic because the child is just not ready for a schedule in the newborn stage," Diana Flutie, a certified child sleep consultant, told Fit Pregnancy. "My favorite age is between eight and 10 months—the child is phasing out of any night feedings at all. Once we establish self-soothing skills, the child will hopefully wake out of hunger instead of out of habit." Flutie also added that parents need to be committed to the idea of sleep coaching before they hire someone. "Make sure you have a solid plan in place," she said. "You don't want to dabble in sleep training. A child who has never been sleep trained before is the one that shows us results very quickly. Make sure you are ready."

Bad habits are hard to break

While you don't need to hire a sleep coach right away, you should do some research on sleep training as soon as possible—maybe even before your baby arrives. "Once [bad habits] start, they're hard to break," Flutie said. "Educating parents from the get-go is a lot easier than having to go through a rigorous sleep training process to correct behaviors." 

Your rapport with the coach matters

It's important for you to act as a team with your coach. When you are screening coaches, look for someone who makes you feel comfortable, and is a great match personality-wise. "There has to be that bonding between the two people so they can actually get the consistency," says Jane Scott, a neonatologist and pediatrician who believes it "really helps" if a sleep coach is compatible with the parents.

Not all sleep coaches have the same qualifications

According to Dr. Mindell, not all sleep coaches are licensed health care providers, so It's important for parents to think about the kind of support they need and vet a few sleep coaches. Check on each candidate's certifications, licenses and area of specialty: Sleep consultants may have backgrounds as lactation consultants, doulas, social workers, doctors or nurses, and while there's no gold standard where a sleep coach's background is concerned, it's important to take work history and record of success into account. Dr. Mindell's research indicates that there's no regulatory body to oversee sleep coaches in the U.S., so qualifications and training backgrounds can really vary from one coach to another. 

When used correctly, sleep coaches yield really fast results

According to Flutie, most sleep coaches will work with a child for about two weeks, but you can expect to see changes almost instantly. "You're going to see significant results in just the first two or three days," she said. With that being said...

You need to be willing to work with the sleep coach

It's important to remember that sleep coaches can recommend behaviors and schedules, but can't enforce them—that's up to the people who live with the baby. Sleep coaches will assess your child's sleeping patterns and suggest adjustments for you to make, and as a parent it's important for you to keep those findings in mind. "I don't have a magic wand, I can't just make it all better. [The parents] are going to have to put in the work," Flutie said. Dr. Scott agreed: "The parent needs to understand it has to be consistent. The baby will not do well if Mom doesn't know what needs to be done and can't replicate it." While not all sleep coaches use the same approach or tactics, there's one common thread: You'll need to maintain the changes the coach has put in place and not slip into the habits your sleep coach worked to reverse.