After her 3-month-old daughter, Banks, struggled with sleep, Hilary Duff called in a professional: newborn care specialist Kimberly Von Slomski, founder of Sweet Dreams LA.
Baby Banks was "running on adrenaline," Duff wrote on Instagram, "literally not sleeping unless she had a warm human to sleep on, and even then 30-40 minutes max! Not realistic for our lives with going back to work and another child!"
After a weekend working with Von Slomski, Duff says Banks is sleeping like a proverbial baby. "Babies NEED sleep, and our little girl is the happiest I have ever seen her!" Duff wrote. "She slayed 11 hours last night and woke up with the biggest gummy smile I have ever seen! She has the tools to fall asleep on her own and it was so amazing (and a little emotional) to watch."
So what special magic does someone like Von Slomski practice, and is a sleep trainer just something Hollywood celebrities can afford?
Hold on before you dismiss the idea for your family — and, most importantly, don't assume that hiring a sleep coach will mean letting your baby "cry it out," said Jennifer Waldburger, MSW, co-founder of Sleepy Planet Parenting and an author of the book The Sleepeasy Solution.
Waldburger has been working with partner Jill Spivack to help families and children with sleep issues for 20 years. They have worked with families both in person and across the United States and the globe, including countries as far away as India and Japan, by phone and Skype as well.
Because both she and her partner are licensed family therapists and approach sleep "learning," as they call it, from a whole-family perspective with attention to child development, Waldburger says that they have never used the same plan twice when working with hundreds of families over the years. Instead, they tailor individual plans and strategies to each family's needs and goals, with preserving the attachment between the parents and child their primary goal.
In a full sleep consultation, Waldburger has an initial meeting with the family in which she asks parents to walk her through a day and night in the life of their family hour by hour. Then, Waldburger collaborates with them to formulate a plan that will result in sleep success, usually in under a week for children under the age of 5. She follows up with phone calls and check-ins before and after each sleep session as needed to tweak the plan or answer questions.
When they started their company in Los Angeles, Waldburger and Spivack only knew of one other sleep coach who lived in Annapolis, Maryland. They decided on a pricing structure based on the amount of time they spend with families for the time-intensive service. There are sleep coaches or consultants all over the country now, but the field is not regulated and has no governing board, so the services and the backgrounds of those providing sleep coach services can vary widely along with prices.
For example, parents interested in The Sleepy Planet's services can pay minimal costs for their book or DVD. A mini-consultation costs in the range of $125-$250 depending on time and need; a full consultation and program can run between $600-800 depending on the details of the situation and the experience of the professionals involved. Other companies provide full consultations at prices as low as $400.
With a global clientele, Waldburger says they make adjustments for cultural differences, such as the preference for bed-sharing in some countries, or cases where a high cost of living forces families to share one bedroom, such as in New York City or Tokyo.
"We meet a family where they are and we find a way to work within what feels comfortable for them while making change and making sure kids are getting good sleep," said Waldburger.
The emotional side of the process is important, Waldburger said. She finds that a lot of parents misunderstand the process and think that sleep coaches advocate plunking babies in their cribs and walking away from them to let them cry for hours.
"It definitely does not have to be like that," she said. "There is absolutely a way to go about this learning process while parents are staying very emotionally connected to their child while their child learns new skills." There may be some minimal tears involved, but using their techniques, the tears result from children who are angry they are not getting what they are used to having, not afraid because they feel abandoned — a distinction Waldburger says is critically important.
Waldburger said their practice prefers to work with babies from the age of about 4 months old and 14 pounds and up, though they adjust for prematurity or pregnancy and delivery complications. The oldest children she has worked with are 13 and 14-year-old teenagers.
Waldburger said they hear feedback like Duff's a lot. "We hear it all the time. Parents say, 'We feel like we have a different child,'" she said. "That's something I think that a lot of parents don't even consider. You think you just have a fussy child or a particularly willful toddler, only to find that when that child is better rested, it's a whole different presentation."
Duff made it clear in her post that hiring a sleep consultant was the right choice for her family. "I’m so proud of her and us!" she wrote. "I honestly didn’t remember what good sleep felt like!"