How do you choose a baby sleep consultant/specialist that is right for you?
For many parents, they have periods of unsettledness with their babies, nothing too unexpected and as quickly as it began, it is over and their baby returns to a relatively peaceful sleep period. This leave parents a little tired but it is manageable.
For other parents, the lack of sleep caused by their wakeful infant is off the charts. Either 10-12 wakes per night, or consecutive hours of wakefulness through the night. The baby may only snatch a few twenty minute blocks of sleep during the day and then repeat an all night wake-a-thon the following night. This endless cycle cripples parents to the point they can barely function with the most simple of daily tasks. With prolonged relentlessness, parental physical and mental health often deteriorates and the ripple effect of poor sleep seeps into all aspects of daily life. Reading these two paragraphs, you will quickly know which group to relate to.
Some parents are already aware that they don’t manage well without sleep for their own mental health reasons or they may be planning to return to work and wish to know that their baby’s sleep will be in a manageable state for when they do return to work. They may be parents of multiples and need to be able to manage the increased load of two or three babies at once. They seek out professional help before the problems arise and are proactive in managing their baby’s sleep.
What ever the reason parents wish to engage a Baby Sleep Specialist or Consultant, it is good to know what you need to consider when choosing one. With this recent and relatively unregulated industry on the rise, tired, exhausted and frustrated parents are then looking to make a choice of the most suitable option of support to meet their needs. Here are 5 things to consider when making this choice.
1 Health Professional Background/ Qualifications
With certified sleep courses available, it means that anyone can do these courses and call themselves a ‘Sleep Consultant’. That is good to know that they have had some basic training in assisting you and your child. However, sleep is a very layered topic and many factors can contribute to the alteration in a baby’s sleep. Having a registered health practitioner background will give you that depth, with them looking for many things that can be affecting your child’s sleep. A Midwife or Maternal Child Health Nurse, has a deep knowledge of lactation/feeding as well as both maternal and infant wellness. There have been many occasions where we have recognised that there is more to a sleep issue that just sleep strategies and techniques.
Jessica called me on the phone to get assistance with her 4 month old baby Ava. During our phone conversation, I could detect that Jessica was anxious and distressed about her baby’s wakefulness. Her husband works long shifts and without any family or support close by, Jessica has to manage her baby by herself. I asked her a question that stopped her in her tracks. Jessica had spent most of the day on the phone trying to find assistance and no one had thought to ask her this question. With that I asked Jessica to contact her psychological medicine unit of the hospital that she birthed her baby in and ask for an emergency appointment. Jessica did this with my support and reported back that she was to be admitted to a mother and baby unit with acute post natal anxiety two days later. Once Jessica’s mental health was addressed we could then focus on improving her baby’s sleep for ongoing management of healthy rest for the whole family. Jessica was very grateful that someone with experience in monitoring maternal mental health picked up the phone to talk with her, and was able to quickly direct her to the most beneficial support when she needed it most.
Rebecca had been working with a sleep consultant with limited success. She rang me as her previous consultant had run out of answers to support her. Within a few minutes of discussing the issues that Rebecca and her baby Luke were experiencing, it was apparent that there was a feeding issue affecting Luke’s day sleep. At 5 months old he was now sleeping longer over night with only one or two night feeds but could no longer sleep more than 20-30 minutes in the day. He was self settling and it was reasonable to expect that he could sleep for longer periods in the day. Once we altered his feeding patterns and discussed Rebecca’s lactation plan, Luke started sleeping for 3 decent length day sleeps and then started sleeping through the night without needing an overnight feed. It only took a few tweaks and looking at things from a different perspective, and Luke’s improvement was immediate. The depth of feeding knowledge from having a Midwifery background, ensured that Rebecca could continue to move forward with Luke’s sleep.
The above vignettes are just a few examples of how having a health professional background can assist families. With each and every family, we are applying this depth of knowledge. That we understand a medical diagnosis of disease or problems with a parent or child. That we can be understanding of limitations that may need to be applied due to surgical or medical procedures affecting the family.
2 Which Model Are They Basing Their Practice On?
Asking a sleep consultant how they are going to assist you in terms of what model they base their practice on is important. For some consultants, they will wish to use a style of abrupt extinction method such as controlled crying or cry it out style. For others that will take an approach that supports both parental and infant mental health. Electing to take a more phasic approach of small and gentle changes, but are consistent. At Caroline’s Angels we trademarked our own infant sleep model – ‘Dynamic Sleep Connection™’ as we couldn’t find anything existing that best expressed the way in which we wanted to support parents with their babies. It helped to give the families we work with clarity on how we wish to work with them, and acknowledging that each and every family and baby are unique. That we don’t have a cookie- cutter / one style fits all approach, but there is still some structure in what we wish to achieve with your family. It also demonstrates that we going to be able to accommodate family dynamics that are not always straight forward, as well as special requests.
Melissa had attended a parent help centre on two occasions with her 12 month old son, George. She first attended when he was around 6 months of age with little improvement and thought it may have been as he was too young. So she went again coming up to his first birthday, and still came home without much improvement, if anything she thought he had regressed. With her struggle Melissa found it hard to get consistent support and had a different person to speak to each time she rang needing further support. We then started working with Melissa and George. We spent time addressing the important areas around George’s timing of sleep, pre bed routine and settling techniques. We didn’t want to put George in a cot and walk away as our first line of support, as Melissa reported to us that both she and George found this upsetting. With getting some simple areas suiting George as well as no pressure on Melissa or George for him to go into the cot to fall asleep initially, things started to gradually improve and George’s confidence around going to sleep was growing stronger each day. This in turn filled Melissa with new found confidence and she continued to support George’s sleep to the point that he happily went into the cot knowing that Melissa would stay to assist him. In time she was able to move away and George enjoyed settling himself off to sleep and as a result of this, his overall sleep both day and night improved. Melissa felt that she was in control of the situation at all times and knew her son needed a more gentle way of learning to sleep that just putting him a cot and walking away. Giving Melissa a clear plan on what areas to work on, but scope to manage this within what she felt was reasonable, helped her family sleep well.
A parent will know their child the best, and you will know the style of support that sits well with you. Your friend may swear by a certain method that has worked fantastically well for them, but keep in mind that no two babies are the same and that same style may not suit your child. There is no right or wrong, only what suits you best and what you feel most comfortable with.
Location may be quite pivotal to your choice of sleep consultant/ service. We offer a fantastic remote service ( phone, skype, email) and for many this will work very well, for others it might just be that you would be better having a face to face visit in your home. We hear that families do well when they take their child to a parent help centre, but when they return home, parents are not able to recreate that setting at home, use different equipment or simply that the child has returned to the context of sleep that they previously associated with disrupted sleep. Decide on what your goal is for the best outcome. For example, you have may have heard of an amazing consultant in another state that while is happy to travel to you, makes for a very expensive exercise. Do you settle for remote support or find someone locally that can assist you with a more hands on approach? If you live in a rural area you may work really well with remote support as this is a usual way of problem solving for you. Alternatively you may be planning a trip to your city for other reasons and be able to coordinate a stay in a parent help centre during your time in the city.
While many parents are happy to go to a parent help centre, this becomes difficult if you have other children that need caring for while you are admitted to the facility with your wakeful baby. Having an in home visit will more than likely be an easier option to accommodate your family’s needs.
4 Word of Mouth Referral
As we briefly touched on above, someone you know may have given a great referral for a method that worked well for them. Still take a moment to follow up and ask your own questions, see if your own unique needs will be met in the same way. Is your chosen source happy to answer your questions before you commit to using them? Is the person you are speaking to willing to help understand your circumstances and offer suggestions about how they plan to assist you before you commit to using their service? At Caroline’s Angels, we are a private company with no government or private health fund support. We rely on full payment for our service from the families wishing to engage us. But with that engagement comes trust. Parents wish to research their options and simply wish to know more about us before they commit. I spend much of my day speaking to prospective families, to see that we are a good fit for each other. Whereas I know of other consultants that don’t speak at all to prospective clients until their first meeting.
Don’t be afraid to ask what qualifications your prospective consultant has, and this also includes a working with children check. Caroline’s Angels consultants carry their WCC at all times just in case you ask us to produce this. You may wish to ask if your consultant is up to date with their vaccinations to be safe around babies. I have had clients ask me to produce references from other parents that have used our services. While we have testimonials on our website, some parents wish to see references or a have a phone number from previous clients that they can talk to. I know that parents are often embarrassed to ask such things, but I am happy to help prove who I am, as I am going to be working close to your baby and in your family home. I find this is especially so of parents that are wanting to use our respite service. Where we will be expected to work unsupervised in the family home, mostly overnight and caring for your precious babies.
Sarah was had twins and was looking for a night nanny to assist her overnight. She had a goal to breast feed her babies and needed some rest overnight so she could both manage her babies and produce enough milk to feed them too. While she found it difficult to find this type of support, she found it more difficult to find the right person to fill this role. She was surprised at the type of people companies were sending her to interview for this role. The night nannies that were sent didn’t fit the expectations that Sarah had for who was going to be caring for her babies. As the role of night nanny, 2-3 nights per week for 6-8 weeks was an ongoing contract, Sarah interviewed each prospective person herself. Sarah eventually found that she was indeed searching for a Midwife that not only presented well but had the background to manage to care for her babies, but educate her about healthy sleep habits that would set up her babies for long term great sleep. Carolines Angels was able to provide this service to Sarah and it was her initial phone interview questions that lead to a face to face interview and ultimately being able to assist her for the coming few months. Sarah had told us of previous interviews of nannies smelling strongly of smoke, that wore unclean clothes and couldn’t produce any qualifcations or working with children checks.
5 Bang For Your Buck
While as sleep consultants we often draw criticism for the prices that we charge. Without government subsidy or private health rebates, it means that we are providing a service that is solely funded as a user pays system. We need to pay the ATO, GST and tax, as well as mandatory superannuation. There is no sick or holiday pay. Our wages are far from what we charge We are still health professionals offering a service that is not offered anywhere else. Being a health professional we have professional body fees and insurance that covers us to work in the private forum. When searching for your support agency, you will be looking at what they charge for their services and how they compare. If you are going to engage a non health professional, you may find but not always, that this is reflective in the price being charged. Your budget may mean that you can only engage a non health professional but still be very happy with the service that was offered to you. As health professionals we are working with the government as well as private health funds to offer support to parents engaging in these much needed services. While it is not currently available, we hope to see this become an option in the not too distant future. This will certainly provide some much needed financial relief for parent seeking support.
Not all babies find sleep easy. And when this becomes a prolonged factor within a household, it doesn’t take long for home life to start to deteriorate. There are so many options out there for parents who need that assistance and life becomes so much easier with some regular sleep and happy faces to smile at you. With sleep, it is also much easier to be the parent that dreamed you would be.