New parents will try just about anything to get a fussy baby to sleep, from rocking, nursing and singing, to popping them into an infant seat for a nighttime car ride.
Now, groggy moms and dads are trying a new tool: A sleep coach.
Parents say the coaches help cut through confusion about what sleep-training methods are best. After many sleep-deprived nights spent trying to soothe or sing her 5-month-old daughter Thira to sleep, Ashley Langer says, “I felt like a zombie.” She and her husband, Adam, had read several books on infant sleep, but “they all preached something different,” she says. Whatever soothing technique Ms. Langer tried, Thira kept waking up several times a night.
Ashley Langer of New Rochelle, N.Y., employed a sleep coach several months ago to help get her baby daughter Thira, shown in this recent photo at 9 months old, on a regular sleeping schedule.PHOTO: BETTE LANGER
In desperation one night, Ms. Langer googled baby coaches, found a New York company called Mommywise and hired sleep coach Devon Clement to come to her New Rochelle, N.Y., home. After two days’ coaching, Ms. Clement helped Ms. Langer reschedule feedings and begin leaving Thira alone in her crib long enough to fall asleep on her own. Five months later, Thira is still sleeping through the night. Ms. Langer says some of her friends are jealous. “They think I’m lying,” she says.
New parents have slogged through sleepless nights for generations. But the landscape has gotten trickier.
Research on the benefits of breast-feeding has more mothers nursing their babies longer, on demand and through the night, to maintain their milk supply. The American Academy of Pediatrics’ 2016 advice that babies should sleep in the same room as their parents, in a separate bed, for 6 to 12 months, to guard against crib death, can make sleeping harder for all. Also, in an era when most parents need two incomes, the return to work often overlaps with babies’ sleep training.
All these factors combined to help make Danielle DiCerbo feel like a crazy person after 5½ months with her new baby, Luca. Since Luca’s birth, she and her husband, Mike Daddio, had rarely slept more than 2½ hours at a time in their two-bedroom Brooklyn, N.Y., apartment. But both had to return to work, Mr. Daddio as a builder and Ms. DiCerbo running her own consulting firm. “It was a complete nightmare,” Ms. DiCerbo says.
She acknowledges that sleep coaches can be expensive, and they aren’t for everyone. Even some family members were skeptical. “People were like, ‘That’s crazy, come on. Is there really a professional that can sleep-train a baby?’ ” But after she hired a coach who helped them get Luca sleeping through the night while continuing to breast-feed, she decided the outcome was worth the cost. “People pay for therapy,” she says. “What would you pay for your sanity?”
Katie and Brandon Hansen of Abilene, Texas, hired a sleep consultant several years ago when their twins Kenzie and Cash, center, shown at age 3 in this 2017 photo, were keeping them awake at night. Also shown are their siblings Maizie, left, and Henry, right. PHOTO: COPPER AND PEARL
Elizabeth Murray, a spokeswoman for the American Academy of Pediatrics, says the sleep-coaching trend makes her a little sad. “It seems to me a sign of parents’ feeling that they can’t do this on their own, that somehow they’re failing and they need an expert for every little thing,” rather than working with their child’s doctor, says Dr. Murray, an assistant professor of clinical pediatrics at the University of Rochester in New York.
Some parents say crossfire on social media over the right way to do sleep training has undermined their confidence. Numerous books in recent years have promoted varied approaches, from cuddling the baby nonstop so he never cries, to putting him in his crib and ignoring his cries until morning.
Among the most popular is graduated extinction, or the check-and-console method. It involves putting the child to bed drowsy but awake and checking on him at progressively longer intervals until he falls asleep. Another method, bedtime fading, calls for temporarily delaying bedtime by about 15 minutes more each night, to help the baby fall asleep, then gradually moving it earlier.
A third method—dubbed the shuffle by author and sleep coach Kim West—is called camping out, or the shuffle. It entails sitting close to pat and comfort the baby until she falls asleep, then moving a little farther away every few days until she no longer needs your presence.
SLEEP-TRAINING TIPS FOR INFANTS
- Start sleep-training when your baby is 4 to 6 months old.
- Learn your child’s cues that she’s getting sleepy.
- Try not to let your baby fall asleep in a stroller or car seat.
- Set a soothing bedtime routine and stick to it.
- Put your child in the crib awake but drowsy.
- Be consistent in your behavior during bedtime and awakenings.
- Keep the room dark and quiet (or provide white noise).
- See your pediatrician to rule out medical causes of sleep problems.
New mother Katie Hansen turned to Facebookfor sleep-training advice. “I’d see people sharing articles about how you’re damaging your kids if you let them cry,” she says. After several months of rushing to comfort her baby twins every time one of them cried, she and her husband were desperate for sleep.
She turned to sleep consultant Lori Strong of Austin, Texas, who helped her set a bedtime routine and teach the twins to fall asleep on their own. “It’s really helpful to have somebody who’s an expert, but who also isn’t going to make you feel silly” for doubting yourself, says Ms. Hansen, of Abilene, Texas.
The most common mistake parents make is failing to pick one approach and stick to it. “The best method for any family is the one they can follow consistently,” says Becky Roosevelt, a Pleasanton, Calif., sleep consultant.
Sleep consultant Becky Roosevelt of Pleasanton, Calif., says the most common mistake parents make when sleep-training their babies is failing to pick a single approach and stick to it. PHOTO: LAURA PEDRICK
Long nights spent doing the pacifier dance—jumping up repeatedly to give their baby daughter Lily her pacifier—had Stephanie Diamond and her husband exhausted. “We were running ragged,” says Dr. Diamond, of Miami Shores, Fla. With help from sleep consultant Sasha Carr, a Norwalk, Conn., psychologist, they learned to use the check-and-console method, to help Lily fall asleep without rocking or using a pacifier.
Most parents rely on referrals to find a sleep coach. It’s important to weigh a consultant’s training. Mommywise coaches have experience as postpartum doulas and training in newborn care, says founder Natalie Nevares. Two organizations, the Family Sleep Institute and Ms. West’s Gentle Sleep Coach program, certify students who complete several months’ training plus supervised practice.
WORK & FAMILY MAILBOX
Q: Regarding your Aug. 22 story on more employers’ handing out promotions without a pay raise, what impact does that have on the likelihood that employees will quit to take another job?—S.W.
A: It depends on whether the employee interprets the offer as an appreciative gesture by a respectful boss whose hands are tied on compensation, or as a disrespectful ploy by a manipulative boss trying to get more work done for nothing.
A boss whose motives are suspect is likely to hit two hot buttons that drive employees to quit—dissatisfaction with one’s boss, and a lack of pay raises, according to a 2012 study of 560 employees by Deloitte. This is especially true of employees who have only been with the company for one to three years, a stage when workers are most liable to jump ship. In general, employees are far more likely to bail if they see their employer’s pay practices as political or arbitrary, according to another Deloitte survey from 2018.
If the employee sees the offer as recognition of her hard work and an opportunity to grow, it’s likely to have the opposite effect. Promotions are among the top five reasons employees stay with their current employers, the 2012 Deloitte study says. And employers that deliberately create growth opportunities and stretch assignments for employees have far better retention rates than those who don’t.
Q: Regarding your Aug. 14 column on long-distance marriages, most of the couples you mentioned have grown-up children, or no children at home. What happens when little children are involved?—N.K.
A: There’s little research on the impact of commuter marriages on children, but the challenges can be complicated. The spouse living full-time with the children often feels like a single parent, and may have to cut back his or her own time at work to meet increased family-care demands. Children may feel shortchanged, too. Such risks make corporate human-resource managers reluctant to pressure employees into transfers that split their families.
However, commuter setups can be better for children than relocating the whole family, which forces children to change schools and make new friends. Teens who have had to move often with their families tend to have more behavioral and emotional problems.
Commuter parents with children often adapt their routines to support them, traveling home more often than others. Many FaceTime with toddlers and use cellphones and texting to stay in touch with teenagers. Also, digital tools enable parents to monitor their children’s grades, coordinate schedules and pay for extracurricular activities from afar. Some commuter wives say delegating responsibility to teenage children helps them learn new skills, according to a 2007 study led by Karla Mason Bergen, an associate professor of communication at the College of Saint Mary in Omaha, Neb.
Parents’ attitudes can shape children’s response. Children whose parents communicate well with them and embrace commuter setups as a route to a better, more prosperous life for the family tend to get better grades and have fewer behavior problems in school, according to a 2015 study of 217 commuter families with teenagers.
Write to Sue Shellenbarger at email@example.com