You just came home with a baby! No matter how the birthing experience was, your world has changed - and all the sudden, you wonder how anyone in your household can get any rest between your baby’s crying and your worrying about the crying.
The Wall Street Journal reported that one in five parents of six-month olds have issues getting their babies to sleep.1 Infant sleep issues exacerbate the new parents’ distress in the postpartum period, especially after a tough labor and delivery when the birthing individual is still recovering from birth trauma. So much support goes to the families up to the moment of delivery - yet so little is done to prepare them to care for the infant once they get home.
In this article, we provide an overview of baby’s sleep issues and guidelines for how to find the right professional to help you address these concerns.
How much sleep does your newborn need?
According to Stanford Children’s Health,2 the exact amount of sleep needed depends on the baby’s age: newborns need around 16 hours of sleep whereas one year olds require about 14 hours - and the ratio between daytime versus nighttime sleep fluctuates over time.
As part of normal development, your baby is likely to stop sleeping through the night around the age of 6 months due to their nascent perception of separation anxiety when they begin to sense their parents’ absence during bedtime. According to Columbia University Irving Medical Center,3 your baby may do the following:
Awakening and crying 1 or more times after previously sleeping through the night Crying when the parents leave the room Refusing to go to sleep without a parent nearby Clinging to the parent at separation
An infant’s sleep disruption can negatively influence the sleep cycle of an entire family, which makes it important to address these issues in the beginning. According to research by MGH Center for Women’s Mental Health,4 the disruptions to sleep experienced by the birthing individual and their partners can accelerate the onset of more serious mental health issues, such as postpartum depression.
What is a “sleep consultant” and why should new parents hire one?
A sleep consultant is a professional who assists families struggling to manage the sleep habits of their newborns and children. While there are no agreed on national or international certification programs on what constitutes a training, there are several recognized organizations, including the Family Sleep Institute, which has set programs and curricula required for certification.
Parents often hire sleep consultants when they are driving to the point of desperation by the sleep habits of their infants - and are overwhelmed by the number of books and other resources available on the internet. In a piece on sleep consultants by Vox,5 one consultant interviewed revealed, “I ask [parents], ‘Have you read the books? What have you tried?’ And they say, ‘I’ve bought the books, but I don’t have time to read them, I’m too tired.’” The search should start as soon as there are first indications of sleep irregularities.
What should parents look for when hiring a sleep consultant?
When selecting a sleep consultant, parents should interview multiple sleep consultants and inquire into the number of hours of their training, as well as the source of their certifications. Looking for consultants that align with values, responsiveness, and empathy can sometimes trump the years of practice and number of certifications. Probing the sleep consultant as to whether they have a realistic plan for behavioral change is also an important component. Yet another deterministic factor is the number of years of experience the consultant has.
Quality sleep, for both the newborn, the birthing individual, and their support network is important in determining your family’s mental and physical health. Do your due diligence on newborn sleep a priority before it becomes an overnight problem.
Shellenbarger, S. (2018). "Exhausted New Parents Turn to Sleep Coaches for Their Babies*. 29 Aug. Available at: https://www.wsj.com/articles/the-coaches-parents-call-when-the-baby-wont-sleep-1535463081↩
Standford Children's Health. Infant Sleep. Available at: https://www.stanfordchildrens.org/en/topic/default?id=infant-sleep-90-P02237https://www.stanfordchildrens.org/en/topic/default?id=infant-sleep-90-P02237↩
Columbia University Department of Neurology. (2015). Infant Sleep. Available at: https://www.columbianeurology.org/neurology/staywell/infant-sleep↩
MGH Center for Women's Mental Health. (2011). "Postpartum Depression and Poor Sleep Quality Occur Together". Harvard Business Review. 06 Jun. Available at: https://womensmentalhealth.org/posts/postpartum-depression-and-poor-sleep-quality-occur-together/↩
Ebert, E. (2020). "The exhausting, lucrative world of childhood sleep consulting". Vox. 26 Feb. Available at: https://www.vox.com/the-goods/2020/2/26/21152796/baby-infant-child-sleep-consulting↩