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Sleep Coaching What's and Why's

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If you prefer to read instead of listen, I completely understand! Here is a transcript of this episode:
Hey! I'm Lauren Garmon, your friendly pediatric sleep consultant. Welcome to the Growing Great Sleepers Podcast. I am so glad that you are here. My joy is helping you solve your child's sleep struggles. Because sleep is not just a want, it is a need. I strongly believe that every family deserves good sleep.

On this episode, we are going to talk about sleep coaching. Specifically, we're going to talk about "what is sleep coaching?" , why families choose to sleep coach, and some common questions about it. The reason I wanted to talk about this topic is because it can be a very hot button issue in mom groups, or even among families.

I see it all the time in mom groups on Facebook. One mom will post a post about her sleep struggles with their baby and she will say "we are considering sleep training" or "has anybody sleep trained before?"; something along those lines. And, inevitably, there will be several very helpful comments sharing their experiences with sleep training or sleep coaching and there will also be, I can guarantee you on every single post there will be, comments saying "no, you should never sleep train, that is the worst thing that you could do for your child" essentially. So, that's why I want to talk about it! Because it is such a hot button issue.

It's something there are very strong opinions about on both sides. And so, let's just talk about it. What is sleep coaching?, Sleep coaching, at its core, is helping your baby learn how to fall asleep, unassisted. It's helping them learn how to fall asleep independently. That means they are not needing mom or dad to rock them to sleep, to walk them, bounce them, nursed them, feed them or anything like that. It is when you are able to take your baby, put them in their bed, and they fall asleep. So that part is not controversial: putting your baby in bed awake, letting them fall asleep. That is not the controversial part. The part that is controversial and why it's such a hot button topic and parenting groups is because sleep coaching sleep training automatically, in many people's mind, has a very strong association with cry it out.

Meaning when people think sleep training, they think cry it out. They think put your baby in bed, shut the door, come back 12 hours later. A lot of times I'll see comments saying something like, "Oh, well, parents who choose to do sleep training, they don't want to be a parent at night". Well, that is absolutely not true! That is completely false. Out of all the families I have worked with through the sleep coaching process, not a single one has ever had on their list of goals: we want to stop parenting at 7pm, we don't want to respond to our child overnight, we just want to parent during the daytime. Yeah, no, that would be zero families have had those goals. Because guess what? Families who sleep train, who sleep coach, they still want to parent at night. They still want to respond when their child needs them and they don't want to parent only during the daytime. They want to parent 24/7; just like parents who don't choose to sleep train. So that is a completely false but very common assumption that people have about sleep training.

Like I said, that is because a lot of people think sleep training equals cry out equals shut the door come back 12 hours later, which is typically not the case. I know very few sleep consultants who as their first line, "hey, I do this every single family I work with" use the shut the door come back and 12 hours later approach. It's just not all that common and it's definitely not the first thing that they do if they do use it as a method. It is after they have made the child's room sleep friendly after they have gotten the child on an age appropriate sleep schedule (a huge cause of sleep problems is a sleep schedule not being correct), after they have gotten the child on a consistent bedtime routine, and a lot of times after they have used another method as well. So, I don't know anybody who tells parents, "Hey, you don't need to do anything else. The only thing you need to do to help your child learn how to fall asleep unassisted: shut the door come back in the morning". Yeah, it's just not really a thing to do it that way. So when people say that, "Oh, if you want to sleep, train your child, that means you don't want to parent at night". Those are the people you need to tune out. Say "Bye bye. Thanks for the opinion. I'm doing what works for my family".

So sorry, I got on my little mini soapbox there. So what is sleep coaching? Like I said, sleep coaching is helping your baby learn to fall asleep, unassisted. It's helping them learn to sleep and it's helping them learn how to fall asleep independently. And you notice I have said sleep coaching and sleep training. What is the difference? Essentially, they're the same thing. I choose to use the term sleep coaching because sleep training has that unfortunate association with cry out and so a lot of families are turned off by just the word sleep training. They go "Oh, no, no, no, that's something we could never ever do" versus when you sit down and talk to them and tell them all the options out there, how it really works; they go, "Oh, well, that's not so bad, we could do that". So in order to avoid that immediate turn off by just the the term sleep training, I personally have chosen to use sleep coaching.

Technically speaking, there is a difference between training and coaching. Training is generally teaching somebody how to do a completely new thing that they have no experience doing. Coaching is, generally, when somebody already has some sort of underlying foundation and you're taking that and expanding on it. Like think about a baseball coach. They're not teaching the player how to play baseball; they're helping them play better baseball. So, you know, technically at the most fundamental level, I suppose we are sleep training because we're taking babies who don't know how to fall asleep unassisted and teaching them how to fall asleep unassisted. But, you could also argue that we are doing sleep coaching because they already know how to fall asleep. We're just helping them fall asleep in a "better" way because we're teaching them how to fall asleep unassisted. So really tomato, tomahto, sleep coaching, sleep training, same thing. I prefer to use the term sleep coaching because it does not have that automatic turnoff factor for a lot of people.

So, what about crying? This is the million dollar question if you are considering sleep coaching, or if you ever have done sleep coaching in the past with your child. It is also the question, like I said, if you post that you are considering sleep training and coaching in a mom group on Facebook, people automatically bring up your child is going to scream and cry. So what about crying? A lot of people who do not like sleep coaching or sleep training, they say they don't like it because crying is dangerous. The people who are big advocates for sleep coaching say that the type of crying during sleep coaching is not harmful. So, where is the truth? The truth of the matter is that there are very highly regarded, well studied experts on both sides who say completely opposite things. There are experts whom, I really respect their opinion, who say that any amount of crying during the coaching is harmful. And there are experts whom, I also really respect their opinion, and they say that the "cry it out, close the door and come back in 12 hours" method is not harmful. So really, we have people on both sides of the spectrum. The tricky thing is that we do not have a lot of great studies, because it's just really hard to do truly great studies on this sort of thing. So, we just don't have a lot of good studies. The tricky thing is that the experts on both sides of the divide here, they all have studies that they quote quite frequently to back up their opinion. They're all looking at studies. They're all saying, "hey, this backs up my position". So when we're taking it out of the realm of academia, bringing it down to real life, what is a tired parent to do? So here's my two cents: you can find research to back up whatever your position is on crying. If you are anti crying, you will find the research to back you up. If you are "crying is not harmful", you will also find research to back you up.

Crying is a baby's way of communicating and is not inherently bad or harmful. Think about a baby who is learning how to roll, they get halfway over and they get stuck. What do they do? They cry right? Is that crying harming them? No. You wouldn't find anybody who would say that sort of crying is harmful. It is simply their way of expressing frustration at getting stuck. Or, when you have a toddler and you tell your toddler "I'm sorry, you cannot have another cookie right now". What happens? Your toddler cries? Is that crying harmful? Of course not! Your toddler is simply expressing his frustration at not being allowed to have another cookie. He doesn't have the words to have a discussion with you about it. He just he cries. That is exactly how crying works with sleep coaching. You have been doing this thing, whatever it may be, you may have been nursing to sleep rocking, to sleep, whatever and you are transitioning away from that and your baby is frustrated that you have changed the script for how sleep works at your house. They're telling you their frustration the only way they know how and that is by crying. Your baby doesn't feel unloved because you're not rocking them to sleep. Your baby is just frustrated that you're not rocking them to sleep. That sort of crying is completely different from "I'm not meeting your physical needs. I'm not meeting your emotional needs. I'm just letting a cry doing nothing about it". That sort of crying would be harmful. That's not what we do is sleep coaching.

So yes with the methods that I use one-on-one of my clients and that I teach there is crying involved as your baby works through their frustration and learns a new way of falling asleep. You will be there encouraging and supporting your baby. That leads us to the question, "can you do sleep coaching with no tears?" The honest answer is yes and no. There are "no tears" methods of sleep coaching, but they're not the right fit for every family. Honestly, most of the families that I work with, when I describe these methods, they say, "Yeah, there's no way we could be consistent with that; it just would not work for us". These methods work for a very specific set of families. So there are "no tear" ways of sleep coaching, but they are not for everybody. They take weeks, sometimes months to see an improvement. If you're a family who are like, "Hey, I feel dangerous, getting in my car and going to work because I'm so sleep deprived"; you don't have weeks to months, to start to see an improvement in your baby's sleep. You need improvement in days. Consultants who use the no tear approaches; they work with families from anywhere from two to six months, depending on the situation. That is great for those families! That is a perfect fit for them. But it is also a very long time to go from sleep disaster to independent sleep. Some families have that time, and that is wonderful, but a lot of families don't have that kind of time. That's fine and that's why sleep coaching can meet you where you are with a way that works for your family and for your situation.

But before you do any sort of sleep coaching, it's very important to look at the big picture of your baby's sleep. You can't just pick a method for sleep training or sleep coaching and say, "Hey, we're doing this method starting tonight. I hope it works!" Because it honestly is probably not going to work very well if you don't set your baby up for success. Setting your baby up for success with sleep coaching looks like making their sleep environment very sleep friendly, giving them an age appropriate sleep schedule, having a consistent sleep routine. The method for teaching independent sleep is actually the last piece of the sleep puzzle.

So if you're sleep coaching on your own, definitely spend at least a few days looking at your baby's sleep environment or schedule, making sure you have a consistent sleep routine; focus just on those three things before you even start to bring in your chosen sleep coaching method. For more details on those three things, the sleep environment, sleep schedule, and sleep routine, head to the shownotes. I'll have links to blog posts where I talk about each of those three things and greater detail because those are a huge part of sleep coaching success. A lot of times when families say that they tried sleepncoaching one time, two times, or even some families will say that they've tried it three, four or five times and it didn't work; many, many times it goes back to one of those three things was out of whack. If those three things aren't there, it is going to be really hard to have success with sleep coaching. That's also a way of minimizing tears. Like I said, you're going to have tears because baby is frustrated that things are not working the way that they used to work. But, a big part of minimizing the tears is setting baby up for success with those three things: with the sleep friendly room, age-appropriate sleep schedule and a consistent sleep routine.

It's also important to talk about "why sleep coaching". A big part of my philosophy is if it's not broken, don't fix it. That means if what you're doing with your child right now, in terms of sleep is working for your family; there's no need to change it up. If you are nursing your baby to sleep, you're happy with how they're sleeping at night, you're happy with how naps are going, there's no reason to stop nursing them to sleep and change it up. If you're rocking baby to sleep, and you're happy with how things are going. There's no reason to stop rocking your baby asleep. Sleep coaching and working on independent sleep is what you do when things are broken. When what you were doing is no longer working for your family and you need a change. Sometimes it's that what you were doing is still working for baby but it's no longer working for mom and dad. Maybe, maybe it's that you have a toddler and there's another baby on the way and so mom no longer has the physical time to spend hours each night getting your toddler to sleep and then helping them back to sleep during the night because soon you're going to be up with a new baby all night. Or, maybe like I said, you feel exhausted and unsafe driving into work. There's any number of reasons that what you have been doing for the past weeks or months or even years is no longer working for the parents. Sometimes what you have been doing for the past weeks or months or years no longer works for your baby. I've worked with plenty of families where they say, "Hey, it takes us 30 minutes, 60 minutes, two hours to even get our baby to sleep at night. If we could rock baby to sleep and she'd be asleep in 20 minutes we'd do a happy dance and do it every night. But, we just cannot get her to fall asleep." That's another situation of "Hey, what was working has stopped working. We need to fix it and find a solution" and that's where sleep coaching comes in. So, sleep coaching isn't something that you just do because "hey, sounds like a party let's, let's do it!" No. Sleep coaching is when what was working for your family in terms of sleep has stopped working so we need a solution. We bring in sleep coaching and your baby or toddler learns how to fall asleep independently.

Alright, another common objection that I see in the mom groups and hear from grandparents is that babies are meant to wake up all night they need their parents at night. But guess what, if you have a baby who is sleep coached, they will still wake up when they need you. It is a completely false assumption that sleep coaching means your baby won't wake up ever again, at night, especially when they need you. That's just not true. Both of my children, we did sleep coaching with them. They both wake up when they need me. My three year old actually woke up, maybe it was two nights ago because she had a bad dream. So it's a completely false myth that as a result of sleep training of sleep coaching, babies will stop waking and calling out for a caregiver when they need something at night. It's just not true. It's not true of my children. It's not true of any of the families that I have worked with, because I keep up with many of them afterwards. Babies who have been sleep coached, they still wake up if they're uncomfortable from teething, they still wake up if they have an ear infection and their ears hurting them at night, they still wake up if they have a bad dream. Sometimes they still wake up because they're human and that's just what we do sometimes. So, your baby will absolutely still wake up and call for you if they need you. That is fine! The goal of sleep coaching is not a little robot baby who goes to sleep at seven o'clock, never makes a peep until 7am. If anybody tells you that is the goal of sleep training, they are mistaken. The goal of sleep training is a baby who falls asleep independently at bedtime and the baby who sleeps as well at night as they are able. We all wake up at night; we have these little tiny micro wakings. You and I are typically so good at falling back asleep, that we go straight into our next sleep cycle and don't even remember the wakings during the day. After babies have gone through sleep coaching and learn how to fall asleep on their own, they typically will do the same; they'll typically get themselves back to sleep most of the night. But sometimes they can't just like you and I sometimes wake up randomly, and that's fine. We'll help them if they need it. If they don't need it, they'll sit there and talk to themselves for a little bit and fall back to sleep when they're ready. It is not a risk of sleep training that your baby will not call out if they need you during the night.

What about eating at night? That is another thing I see all over the mom groups is "babies are meant to eat at night". They say "Babies need to eat at night. Sleep training, sleep coaching is harmful because you're not feeding baby as much as baby needs to be fed". Again, that is another one that's completely false. If a baby is doing sleep coaching or has already gone through sleep coaching and they're hungry, guess what? That baby's gonna wake up and let you know. We don't drop night feedings unless baby is showing us that baby is ready to drop the night feedings and baby wants to drop the night feedings. Because, guess what? Every baby will drop all their night feedings at some point; some earlier than others. And that's fine! Some are completely ready to sleep through the night very early on. Some are not ready until a good bit later. That is fine. Sleep coaching does not mean we're going "Hey, we're forcing you to sleep 12 hours a night whether you like it or not". No. Sleep coaching means that if baby is hungry, we're going to feed baby. I don't know a single sleep coach who says "don't feed a hungry baby".

Some some coaches do think that the vast majority of babies should be able to sleep through the night at an early age. There's a very, very popular book that encourages sleeping 12 hours at night, by 12 weeks of age. I personally don't believe that most babies are ready for that but can some do it? Sure. My own son did it. Not because I was trying to encourage him to go 12 hours without eating by 12 weeks, he just did it on his own. He has like 'Bye, mom. I'm good. I'll be hungry in the morning". And that's fine. My older daughter was not like that; she was, I think, 10 months before she dropped her last night feeding. So, when babies are ready to drop their last night feeding varies from baby to baby. But any responsible sleep coach will tell you if your baby's hungry, feed your baby.

All right, and then one more thing that I see in mom groups all the time. I tell you these posts, the comments are so predictable. I can tell you what sorts of comments will be in almost any post where mom asks about sleep training. Another comment is usually "Oh, I can never let my baby cry it out" or "we don't do any sort of crying out" which is fine. If your philosophy is "hey, we are never going to let our kids cry at night", that is fine. You do you. If that's working for your family, that's awesome! But if you are considering sleep coaching it's because what you are doing is not working and you need to make a change for the good of your family. But, a lot of people will say "I could never do cry it out". But guess what? Cry it out is far from your only choice. In actuality there are only a few sorts of sleep coaching methods; there are dozens of names for them but they sort out into a few basic categories. So, it's not like there are 30 different options. There are 30 different names for the options, but there are not 30 actual different options; it's probably more like four, maybe five sorts of options. You have the true cried out, shut the door, come back in 12 hours. You have the, what's called controlled crying, which is basically you you leave and then you come back at either consistent intervals or increasing intervals until your baby falls asleep. There are the more, they're called gentle, unresponsive methods. These are what I use. I don't love that term, "gentle, and responsive" because I feel like it implies that anybody who does anything else is not gentle or responsive, which I don't think is a fair label at all to put on parents who choose another method. But, because that's what they're called and that's what they're known as, I do use these gentle and responsive methods. Those methods typically have parent is in the room and you wean the baby off of the parents presence and how much the parent is involved in the falling asleep process. Then, you have the superduper, slow and gentle the "no cry" and "low cry" methods, and those are even slower weaning off of the parent's assistance at bedtime. So really, there are about four main types of sleep coaching methods, if you will.

Now, like I said, I personally am in the "gentle and responsive" camp. And like I said, I do not love that name that I do like that name as a description for the methods. I don't like the name because it implies parents who choose something else are not gentle and not responsive, which I don't think is true. They're doing what they think is the best fit for their baby. But it is what it is, the names are what they are and so I do use the term "gental and responsive" because that is what people in the sleep world, they know what I mean when I say say that; they know what kind of methods that I use. But, back to my point; when the mom who says "I can never cry it out. That's why I think sleep training is terrible". Well, crying out is not the only option. Even if it is the option that you choose to use, if you say "Hey, I think this really is the best fit for my baby", like I said, if you were doing cried out the way it should be done (you have the sleep friendly room, you have the sleep friendly schedule, you have the consistent sleep routine). You are not just randomly one night "Hey, we're closing the door tonight. Good luck kids. See you in the morning". No, it's not what people are doing.

I also want to use this episode ,you know, if you have a grandparent or somebody in your life who has like he heard you talk about sleep coaching and they say "sleep coaching, I really don't know; its not what I want you to do". Have them listen to this episode. I very strongly believe that all families deserve good sleep. Now, being tired is part and parcel with being a parent. Waking up sometimes at night is part and parcel of being a parent; it comes with the territory. But, there's a difference between waking up on occasion because your child needs something and waking up too often. I work with families who, they're waking up hourly, with their one year old, their 18 month old, or even their six or seven months old. They're waking up hourly and having to spend 20-30 minutes helping their baby back to sleep and that is not healthy for anybody. Your situation may not be that drastic. But, if what you are experiencing with sleep is not working for you, then there are answers out there and you don't have to keep on keeping on with what's not working.

Now, I do have to say because another common objection to sleep training is babies aren't meant to sleep 12 hours. Well, some won't sleep 12 hours, some may sleep 12 hours. It's all about getting your baby the right amount of sleep per 24 hours. And by and large for most children, they do need that 11 to 12 hours of sleep at night and then a few more hours of sleep during the day. So yes, not all babies are meant to sleep 12 hours every single night. Maybe it's 11 hours and a very few babies need 10 hours. They are the the definite minority. But, it is not normal for babies to sleep for seven hours or eight hours or nine hours. So, if your baby is routinely getting that level of sleep at night, and somebody is telling you that it's normal, I would question where they're getting their information from. Talk to your pediatrician talk to another reliable source and say, "Hey, is my baby really getting enough sleep if they're getting significantly less than 11 hours of sleep?"

And one last objection that I see is "sleep training will damage your nursing relationship if you're a nursing mom". And again, this is absolutely not true and does not have to be the case. Now, can it? Of course it could. Anything could! But does it have to? No! My oldest, I nursed her until she was 15 months. I nursed my youngest until he was, let's see, he is 21 months and we just recently stopped. So, you can absolutely have a great nursing relationship and a child who sleeps through the majority of the night. Sometimes when they first start sleeping through the night or start sleeping significantly longer stretches at night, sometimes that will impact your milk supply. But there are things you can do to keep your supply keep your baby fed, get all the milk that they need. And if you're struggling, talking to an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant, an IBCLC can be great. They've got all sorts of resources to help keep your supply up. And as well as keeping you and baby rested. So no, sleep training, or sleep coaching does not automatically mean bad news for your milk supply. Not at all, it's quite possible to do sleep coaching, have a baby who sleeps 12 hours at night and have a great milk supply. I will actually in a few weeks be having an IBCLC on the podcast for a guest interview. And we were going to talk about supply and night feedings and all those wonderful things. So keep your eyes tuned out for that! Wow, keep your eyes tuned up, ha! So, keep your ears tuned for that episode. It is going to be coming out in hopefully not too terribly much longer. All right. I think that wraps it up for today. So to wrap up: What is slepe coaching? Sleep coaching is teaching your baby to fall asleep unassisted. Why sleep coach? You sleep coach when what you were doing for sleep is essentially broken and it's not working; you need to change or your baby needs to change or you both need to change. And there will be tears; with most methods that work for most families, there will be tears of frustration as your baby learns a new way to fall asleep. But you will be responding to your baby in a way that works for them letting them know "Hey, I know it's hard. You can do this. You've got this". And, guess what? Your baby will still love you in the morning. Your baby will still smile at you in the morning. Your baby will start to get the sleep they need and be, generally, most babies become happier babies when they start getting the sleep they need. And you will start feeling better yourself when your baby's sleeping better and so you're sleeping better as well.

If you found this episode helpful, I'd appreciate it if you would head to iTunes or wherever you listen to your podcast, and rate and review. Let me know your favorite thing. This episode how it was helpful to you can also feel free to share with your friends share on your social media to more families can get their sleep coaching questions answered. All right, talk to you guys next week. Bye!

Are you ready to make sleep a thing at your house, but feel stuck or unsure how? Working with parents 1-1 to take the stress out of baby and toddler sleep is my joy.

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