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  • Ursula Quinn

How to choose a sleep consultant




I have to hold my hands up in the name of full disclosure - I am a sleep consultant myself so I cannot be a fully objective observer. I am entrenched in the industry, for better or for worse and it is a job that can be immensely rewarding but also incredibly frustrating at times. I understand that it can be difficult for parents to make decisions and choices, particularly if they are tired and sleep deprived so I'm hoping to give you some clarity and inside information on whether to get help from a sleep professional and how to choose the right fit for you and your family.


A good sleep consultant will help you out of the trenches of sleep deprivation. They will understand the reasons that you have run into sleep issues and will give you the right advice and support to make sustained improvements. Parents are often so tired and overwhelmed that they struggle to do anything other than fire fight broken sleep night after night. It can be a gamechanger to have an expert explain why their child is waking and how to make the necessary changes to improve sleep for everyone.


With a greater number of sleep consultants entering the industry there is now more choice available for families. This is a good thing for families who really need professional help to get more sleep. But, how can you be sure that you choose the right sleep consultant for your family?


Hiring a sleep consultant can be expensive and the process can be quite intense so making the right choice is important. Here are some of the key things to consider:

Training, Background and Qualifications


In truth, anyone can set up as a sleep consultant. The industry is currently unregulated so there is no minimum standard of education, qualification or competency.


Comprehensive sleep coaching courses are offered by The Family Sleep Institute, Gentle Sleep Coach, Holistic Sleep Coaching amongst others. These courses are quite intensive with a detailed exam and practical case study requirements. These courses cost several thousand euro.


Other courses are available which are really only a few hours long and which can be completed in a day or two. Some sleep consultants have no sleep-based qualification.


Most sleep consultants will have a background in something else. This could range from childcare to finance to nursing.


A certification can be provided by anyone really and it isn't even necessary to be certified in order to practice. So it is worth asking some questions.


Experience


It may not be immediately obvious how long a sleep consultant has been in practice. Some sleep consultants will have worked with hundreds or even thousands of families. Others will be new to the business. My personal feeling is that experience is really important. Similar to my nursing career, I learned an awful lot more while actually on the job than I did from any courses. Families are all different, experience develops your sensitivity to the dynamics which may be causing issues.


Some sleep consultants will be more experienced in a particular area eg. toddlers or breastfed babies.


Some sleep consultants are parents or parents of multiples. Others are not parents but have a wealth of experience working with children. This will all be part of their overall experience with babies and children and is worth considering.


Approach


Sleep consultants will have different approaches to how they work. This will usually depend on their training and experience.


Some will vary approaches depending on a families needs and values. Some will stick to one set approach to routine and settling. Do ask about a sleep consultant's approach to make sure that you are comfortable with the way that they work. You don't really want to sign up to a package and then find that you are not comfortable with a method that your sleep consultant uses as standard eg. controlled crying. Some sleep consultants will not adapt your sleep plan if you can't follow it. Others will adapt and work with you to help you to reach your sleep goals.


If you have signed up to a sleep package which includes support from your sleep consultant, then do be aware that this varies too. Some sleep consultants offer support via messaging and email. Others will offer phone support. Some will be very strict with their time and the number of calls/messages and others will be more flexible. Support periods may range from 24 hours to 3 weeks or more.


A number of sleep consultants will offer a very gentle, holistic or no-tears approach. It is worth being aware that usually the focus is not on achieving a sleeping-through-the-night scenario. The slower and more gentle the approach, the lower the expectations in terms of sleep improvements (in general). Part of the approach will be helping a family to look at the sleep situation more holistically and to handle waking in a way that is more sustainable, rather than drastically reducing or eliminating night waking. The approach is generally favoured by families who are keen to practice attachment parenting and sustained breastfeeding.


Cost


Hiring a sleep consultant is expensive. This is usually because they are giving you a lot of their time and many are very experienced. Prices vary so be clear about what service that you are getting. You may assume that the more expensive the package - the higher the quality of service or that you will be getting more time. This is not necessarily the case.


Some sleep consultants take bookings online without any introductory call. Make sure that it is clear to you what you are getting for your money.


Rapport and Connection


Working with a sleep consultant can be an intense experience. You are trusting a person that you don't know to give you advice and guidance on your child. You may be feeling very sleep deprived and fragile. You may feel that you have failed in some way.


Your sleep consultant should be sensitive to your needs and values and offer support in a flexible and kind way. You need to trust and like this person. An introductory call is the best way to judge whether a sleep consultant is the right fit for you and your family.


Social media accounts can also give you an idea of a sleep consultants approach and values.


Sleep consultants or coaches are sometimes demonised by social media accounts or parenting groups. They can be painted as unqualified and unscrupulous opportunists who are out to make money from sleep-deprived parents by telling them to leave their babies to cry.


As with any unregulated industry, there will be practitioners with different motives and values. Many sleep consultants are genuinely helping families to come out of the depths of sleep deprivation by offering a quality service based on a wealth of experience and knowledge. They will review factors such as feeding, diet, routine, sleep environment, family values and stressors, temperament, sleep associations and behaviour and hey will offer a very individualised plan and flexible support if you struggle along the way. Others hand out fairly generic plans which you will be advised to stick to no matter what or risk falling by the wayside.


I hope that I have managed to make it a little clearer what to look out for if you are thinking about getting help with your child's sleep. A good experience can be life changing. I do believe that the vast majority of babies and young children can sleep very well once families get the right advice for their individual situation.


Ursula Quinn

RGN, GSC, HSC

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