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Consultants to help your baby sleep

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Julia Howland and her husband couldn't be more excited about raising their first child, 1-year-old Eva. But from the beginning, they knew she would be a handful.

"It was immediately clear that she was a very alert child," said Howland, a first-time mom.

Like most babies, Eva didn't sleep through the night at first. Even after a few months, she had no interest in sleeping. Eva's lack of sleep was taking a toll on the entire family.

"We had a hard time balancing our marriage and our careers with parenthood," said Howland.

After ruling out any medical conditions, Howland and her husband decided to give a sleep coach a try.    

"Children need sleep for many reasons: It helps them improve memory, it helps them learn, it helps them take in their environment," explained sleep coach Linda Szmulewitz.

So how does a sleeping coach work? After going over the sleep history and pattern of a client, the sleep coach typically visits the home to meet the family and see the sleep environment.  After that, the coach develops a sleep plan custom-tailored to the family's needs.

"There are only a specific number of ways to change sleep behavior, due to the fact that it's based on behavior modification, and its based on being very consistent and being consistent over a certain period of time," said Szmulewitz.

The key, according to Howland, is developing a plan and sticking to it. 

"It was really helpful to have an expert tell you do this, do this, do this, do it at this time in this way and then call me and we'll see how it went and we'll adapt as necessary," she added.

Kim west is a nationally recognized sleep consultant who has been helping families for 17 years.  She's known as "The Sleep Lady" and she  notes there is no standardized certification for sleep coaches, and suggests doing your research before hiring a coach. 

West suggests you ask, "Have they taken a sleep coach training program? If so, when did they graduate? How long have they been in practice?"

Dr. Shalini Paruthi specializes in sleep medicine and says she can appreciate the client-focused approach with a sleep coach, but still recommends people see a physician who specializes in sleep.

"I think my biggest concern has always been if we're not sure of exactly how they've been trained, accredited or licensed, they may not have the same experience or expertise, as someone who has gone through medical school and residency," she said.

Howland is thankful for her experience with a sleep coach.  She says it took Eva just a few nights of training to start sleeping through the night.

"From my perspective, doing this gentle sleep training and this gentle sleep coaching was a really important way to balance the needs of every member of our family," she said.

Sleep coaches focus on behavioral techniques, so they are typically used for babies and small children, not adults. 

Meantime, West says a committee has been formed to create standard training criteria for all sleep coaches.  She thinks there will eventually be regulation of the field, similar to the International Board of Lactation Consultants.