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Is a Sleep Consultant Worth it?

This is one of the most common questions asked when people are talking and thinking about getting a sleep consultant to help them with their baby or child's sleep. Most Sleep Consultants or Sleep Therapists have had some level of training and will have varying levels and types of relevant experience.

Sleep Consultants will usually fall into two main categories, and these will give you some idea of what level of training and experience they are likely to have.

  1. Sleep Consultants with a career in childcare / maternity nursing / paediatric nursing / child psychology

  2. Certified Sleep Consultant (no previous experience required)

Sleep Consultants with a Career Working with Children

Sleep consultants who have spent most or all of their careers working with babies and children are likely to have many years of experience and a vast knowledge-base relevant to helping you with your baby's sleep. This is one of the most important things to consider when you are thinking of using one because although you may think that you only need help with your baby's sleep, their sleep is actually connected to many other areas of their physical and emotional development and well-being. Just like it is an adults.

A good sleep consultant will have an understanding of the both psychological and physiological sides of sleep. They will be experienced in picking up on signs of reflux, allergies and intolerances, tongue tie, feeding issues as well as issues relating to birth or conception complications. They will have an understanding of post natal depression or post partum depression, they will understand how anxiety and depression in a mother or father can affect how a baby or toddler sleeps. They will also be able to talk you through different types of sleep-training techniques (not just a one size fits all approach), and how they may benefit your situation or why they may not be suitable for you and your baby.

Some of this can be learnt through doing courses such as the Sleep Practitioner Programme OCN Level 5 which has a pre-requisite of having relevant previous experience: "This programme draws on prior understanding and experience of baby and child sleep so learners should have significant experience of working with both babies and children." Alternatively there is a level 6 course taught through that again only takes professionals who are already working with children.

Infant and child sleep is covered in the NNEB, Norland or Chiltern Nanny Training Courses, as well as on degree courses in Early Childhood Studies or psychology, but not in depth. A lot more will be learnt "on the job", when working with families and being immersed in their lives, looking after babies and children. In these positions, nannies, nurses and therapist are drawing on their learning and experience, and therefor growing it. There is always the option of studying additional courses, reading research papers and books relevant to the work that they feel passionately about.

Maternity nurses will have potentially spent many years working with babies in their first few months, sometimes a little older, and will be particularly experienced in sleep for babies under 12 months. They will be used to working with exhausted mothers and often take pride in helping young babies to sleep through the night from early on. Others will focus on bond and attachment as an important part of developing positive sleep habits.

Nannies are likely to have a broader range of experience, and could have worked with babies from birth going right up to teenagers. Their experience could be beneficial for dealing with babies, toddlers and even children of school age, depending on their additional study and research. They will be used to being in the family environment and have an understanding of the difficulties of having a baby with older or younger siblings, and factoring this into their sleep habits and schedules, and general behaviour.

Paediatric nurses will often have experience in working with children with short and long-term medical issues as well as supporting parents at these times, which is a highly beneficial skill when working with frazzles and anxious parents who's children aren't sleeping, but will need additional study to transition to becoming a sleep consultant, such as the courses listed above.

Psychologists will have a degree or masters in child development and psychology or psychotherapy. They may only work with children over 5, but some will apply their knowledge to younger age-groups. They often use CBT-i - Cognitive Behaviour Therapy for insomnia. This isn't something that can be used with babies and young children as it requires the sleepless person making intentional changes, but it can be highly effective for older children.

Certified Sleep Consultants

On the surface, being "certified" may look like a clearer indication of a sleep consultant's training and ability, however it's actually a bit scary. A good explanation of the what a certified course is can be found on Mont Rose College's website: "A certificate course is a short-time study programme. It is considered the least expensive kind of an academic qualification, providing you with a fundamental understanding of the particular subject matter and enabling you to develop competency in your line of career. In other words, by doing a certificate course, candidates will be able to get a relatively simple idea about the subject in as short time as possible."

Over the last 5 or so years there has been phenomenal growth in the "coaching industry", and several Sleep Training Academies have popped up, offering training to (mostly) mums looking for a change in career. These courses can be as short as 1 week! And come with promises of "choose your own hours and earn £5000 per month working from home", and can cost anything up to £6000. The scary part is that these courses are open to anyone and require no experience working with babies or children and are usually online with no physical interaction or practice of any of the teachings or techniques. All study is done at home and is theoretical, and most of these courses include "how to set up and run your own business and marketing" as part of the week/3 week's training.

They are an attractive option to mums who have required the services of a sleep consultant, and aren't keen to return to their pre-baby job, as becoming a sleep consultant sounds lovely and will allow them to work from home and choose their own hours, meaning they won't have the hefty childcare cost and arrangements to deal with.

These courses are often aggressively marketed once you have signed up to their emails, and can be taught by a business coach, or similar. There is no doubt that what is taught on the courses is valuable, and will certainly educate someone with little or no knowledge about baby sleep, enough to offer some helpful advice. However, it is unlikely that a certificate course will be sufficient to deal with anything more complicated than simple sleep issues. Unfortunately you won't always know if your baby's sleep issues are complicated until you've started delving into them and dealing with them.

Some certified sleep consultants will be lovely and very good at their job, and will help families where the babies adapt quickly to the process taught on certification course. However, they will run into trouble when they come up against things that are more difficult to spot, and where deeper understanding and experience are necessary.

So back to the original question of "Is a Sleep Consultant Worth It?".

If you are struggling with your baby's sleep and you do your research, and find that consultant who is right for you and your baby, it certainly is worth it. If they have a high level of training and relevant experience, they should have an excellent understanding of your baby's sleep issues and how to improve them. They will spend several hours or even days with you, ensuring they get to the route cause of the sleep issues, and will offer some level of ongoing support to ensure that the problem is fully resolved. It will be money well invested.

A good place to start is recommendation and then head to the About Me page of their website. This is where they will probably talk about how they became a sleep consultant, and their previous experience. If they are affiliated with a sleep academy or training centre, you will probably find their "certified sleep consultant" logo towards the bottom of the website. If they come from a psychology background, they should have some letters after their name. Nurses, maternity nurses and nannies will probably talk about the length of time they have been in their chosen career, and how it is relevant to how they can help you.

And remember, it is unlikely that a good sleep consultant with a high level of relevant education will market themselves as a Certified Sleep Consultant, because this is the lowest level of training offered. So possibly not worth it.

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