Night after night, Marie Shau struggled to get her son, Milo, to sleep.
She nursed him. She rocked him. She read countless books on sleep methods for babies and tried them all. Still, Milo would not sleep.
“I was on the verge of a physical and mental breakdown,” Shau recalled.
Exhausted and frustrated, the Minneapolis mom joined the ranks of parents turning to a new ally in the eternal bedtime battle: She hired a sleep coach.
For a price that ranges from hundreds to thousands of dollars, these private consultants offer one-to-one support for parents desperate for rest for their children — and themselves.
Services include evaluating a child’s bedtime routines and environment, devising a sleep plan for nighttime and naps, and support by phone or in person. Some sleep consultants even offer overnight visits to offer hands-on help.
“I equate it to the same role that a nutritionist plays for someone who is trying to lose weight or a personal trainer for someone who’s trying to work out more,” said Leann Latus, a pediatric sleep consultant in Maple Grove who was hired by Shau.
Latus started her business, Tender Transitions, to help parents better navigate the infant and toddler-rearing terrain.
A trained doula and lactation consultant, she said her business has been taken over by the exploding demand for sleep consulting. “The phone just kept ringing for sleep consulting — and not doula work or lactation,” she said, “so I very quickly shifted my focus because the need is so great.”
Sign of the times
Demand for sleep training is driving the nascent child sleep consulting industry. Organizations that train and certify child sleep consultants abound. One, known as the Family Sleep Institute, lists more than two dozen sleep coach-for-hire businesses on its website.
Losing sleep while raising small children is nothing new, of course. What’s changed, experts say, is the intensive style of parenting now in fashion and the energy it requires. Add to that the number of households in which both parents work, and a good night’s sleep is now no longer a luxury — it’s a necessity.
“When I think back to my parents’ generation, they were very comfortable with kids crying it out,” Latus said. “There wasn’t this attachment parenting where we’re just so on top of our kids these days. And people are just really busy in life, and they know they can’t sustain what’s currently in place without sleep.”
Sleep is the No. 1 topic that parents want to talk about at their child’s wellness visit, said Hannah L. Kull, a nurse practitioner who works for Children’s Hospitals and Clinics of Minnesota.
Some parents have asked her about child sleep consultants, and Kull said she doesn’t see any harm in using them. Still, she questions the necessity. “A lot of things that they’re recommending are things that we tend to discuss with a pediatrician or pediatric provider,” she said. “I think there are things parents can try at home before hiring a sleep expert.”
Mother’s little helper
At first, Shau was reluctant to go the sleep coach route.
“My first feeling was I’m a failure as a mother. Why do I need a consultant for this?” she said. But when Milo woke up 11 times in one night, Shau decided that it was time to call Latus, whom her birth doula had recommended.
Certified through the Sleep Sense Program, Latus does not work with children who have medical-related sleep issues such as sleep apnea or blocked airways. Her focus is on behavioral or habitual sleep issues. After an initial phone call to learn about the child’s sleep issues, Latus performs an in-depth assessment of routines, bedtimes, what things the child requires in order to sleep and what parents do when things aren’t going smoothly.
She devises a sleep plan tailored to the child and walks the parents through the plan to make sure they’re on board. After that, it’s up to the parents to implement the plan while Latus provides coaching and troubleshooting support. This lasts for several weeks, depending on the child’s age.
Toddlers and preschoolers tend to require more time than infants.
“They’re a little more complicated and they’ve learned how to test their boundaries,” she said. “There are a lot of stall tactics that happen at bedtime with toddlers.”
Shau said she saw results with Milo on just the second night of implementing the plan Latus created. “He slept for nine hours,” said Shau, who was breast-feeding her son at the time. “It was the first night I had to pump. That was my turning point.”
Recently, she hired Latus for help again with Milo, who is now 2 years and 9 months old and is starting to wake up in the middle of the night, and also relies on drinking from his bottle to go to sleep.
“It’s too many issues,” she said during a home visit with Latus last week. “I need her again.”
Mary and Pat Boldischar turned to Latus for help with their son, Teddy, when he was a newborn.
“We went through the first weeks, and he was a decent sleeper. Then all heck broke loose and we thought, OK, we have a tough sleeper,” Pat Boldischar said.
“We were so tired. The go-to-bed process was two to three hours,” he said. “That was us trying to get him to sleep. Then he’d wake up an hour later. We were constantly exhausted.”
Added Mary Boldischar: “We joked that we would have paid whatever it took at that point. We really were at a point where it didn’t matter.”
Through the sleep coaching process, they discovered that Teddy was overly tired and that was making it harder for him to go to sleep. They stopped taking him with them wherever they went, enforcing times for sleep, and soon Teddy was falling asleep at 6 p.m. and sleeping through the night.
Latus said as the idea of sleep coaches for children becomes more mainstream, her trainer has plans to offer sleep consulting for a whole new cohort: insomniac adults.