The Con of ‘Certified’ Infant Sleep Trainers

The Con of Certified Sleep Trainers - You'e inviting this person to 'fix' your baby - what training have they really had?

Last week, the Courier Mail wrote a gushing advertisement for a sleep training service. This seems to be one of those bread and butter topics for mainstream media, there’s a pretty steady stream of articles and segments touting one ‘baby whisperer’ or another, filled with language about ‘manipulative’ or ‘wrong’ babies that need to be ‘fixed’.

What particularly struck me about this fairly mundane article, was the mention of the ‘training’ the sleep trainer went through. She wasn’t involved in a paediatric health field, (or any health field) before becoming a sleep trainer. Instead she ‘retrained’ to become one.

There’s nothing wrong with retraining. I did a post graduate degree in teaching, so was surrounded by others ‘retraining’ to become teachers. We all had 3 or 4 year degrees in our past (one of my friends had a PhD in Chemistry) and then completed 2 more years university with around 400 hours of practical teaching (and most of us would have liked more). I was then allowed to teach in a classroom on my own, but had to complete more hours to become a ‘full’ teacher, both under the Queensland College of Teachers (a regulatory body, overseen by the government) and Education Queensland (my employer).

With that in my background, I was really interested to see what kind of training would be required to become an Infant Sleep Trainer – particularly since these people often offer advice on mental and medical issues babies might be having.

So far, I’ve found three different training courses. One from the Maternity Institute (which I think might be like the Ponds Institute) is called the IMI Maternity & Child Sleep Consultant Certification program. This is a 12 week online course which covers a range of sleep related topics, as well as “The Business Basics Of Sleep: What is involved and what you need to get started” and “an in-depth look at green and eco-friendly sleep practices” (Eco-friendly sleep practices? What is eco-unfriendly about sleeping?) This course is the cheapest at a sale price of $1550 (American), though there are additional add ons you can pay for.

The next course comes from the Family Sleep Institute and is the FSI Child Sleep Consultant Certification. This course, which involves a 4 week pre course and then a 12 week course, with 70+ hours of teaching material, “allows our certifying graduates to confidently run their own private and independent child sleep consulting practices as soon as they graduate.” (No probationary period here). This course, which entitles you to free promotion of your business, includes lessons in “Business Aspects: Website Design, Database Management, Marketing, Pricing” This course will cost you around $3000 (American)

Finally there was the Gentle Sleep Coach (though I could find no information on her ‘gentle’ sleep coaching practices) and the Gentle Sleep Coach Training and Certification Program. This course touts itself as being the most comprehensive training course around, so possibly closer to the kind of training you would expect from other professionals (teachers or doctors) working with children? Or 80+ hours of training. And what do you pay for the 80+ hours? $4995 for the additional program, plus $1000 a year to be certified. (By the way, my yearly teacher certification cost about $60. A professional engineer in Australia would pay around $600) Parting with that $1000 a year allows you benefits, including “use of the GSC logo and business resources”

Wait a minute. Doesn’t that sound awfully like a franchise? So are people actually paying for these programs to become trained health or counseling professionals? Or are they paying to be part of a franchise?

The focus on ‘business practices’, the talk of ‘a career you can have when you have kids’, the franchise nature of some of these programs – plus the minimal work you need to put in to be fully certified. More and more, this is sounding like Avon or Tupperware or other products you ‘sell’ to other people. Except we’re not talking about makeup or plastic goods here – we’re talking about babies, and possibly the mental health of parents and their children.

I’ve got no doubt that there are many well meaning sleep trainers out there. There are probably those with additional medical degrees, possibly even ones in mental health. But there is no regulatory body, no government oversight, no place to turn if the advice, routines or procedures turn wrong. And the training available is simply not rigorous enough to allow these people to work with our children. We wouldn’t allow teachers into the classroom after 70 hours of study, even with ‘on the job learning’ there’s simply no way they would be prepared to work with our children.

There’s also the fact that the majority of these courses are online – and then allow you to call yourself a ‘baby whisperer’ or to pose as a ‘sleep expert’. That would be like calling myself an expert on global history, because I’ve taken (an equivalent length) online course. (So if you want to spend $300 to get advise on Global History, drop me a line)

Parents in need of sleep help, of real help, are usually pretty desperate. They don’t have the time to look at the backgrounds, the qualifications, the training of ‘sleep experts’. They don’t have the time to sort the good from the bad. When they see the word ‘certified’ it needs to mean something. Instead, what they’re getting at the moment, if a bunch of certified people who might have taken a 12 week course and is looking to make a quick buck off your distress, or might have 30 years working as a sleep trainer, as well as degrees in nursing, or training as a lactation counsellor. There’s a place for the latter, especially as support for tired parents. There is no place for the former to be working with our children.

There needs to be more government oversight, there needs to be a proper regulatory body, there needs to be acknowledgement that no matter what you might think about sleep training, this is too important to be left to people who don’t have adequate training or who might just be in it to make some money.

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13 comments

  1. Love your post. I saw one of these baby whisperers pop up on my facebook feed. I was curious and went to investigate. I was amazed with what I found – and complained to my husband that while it’s great that women are finding family friendly work/career changes for themselves how do we know exactly what training they have received? Fortunately we haven’t had problems with sleep, or maybe I have read enough to know what “normal” sleep for babies/toddlers/young children looks like?

    1. I think there is a severe lack of understanding about “normal” sleep out there πŸ™‚ And I must admit, that we’ve been pretty lucky too – our son sleeps pretty well, and we’re able to bring him into our bed when required (an option not everyone has).

      I just hate to think of some poor family, desperate for someone to help them and reassure them, thinking that ‘certified’ means something, when at best it’s a 80 hour course 😦

  2. I could be a sleep trainer here are my words of wisdom for free- each baby is different and will sleep/not sleep when they are ready.

    1. Bugger – if you’d held on to that advice, you could have made $300!

      I can see why people turn to others for help, even if that help is just sometimes a person telling you that you’re doing fine. We’ve had a few difficulties with daytime naps (still are) and I read a bit of the No-Cry Sleep solution, which mostly told me what I know, but also gave me a few new ideas to try. Of course, with the No-Cry solutions, there’s nothing that will possibly cause any harm to the mental health of Squirm and it only cost me $10 to buy the ebook πŸ™‚

  3. As with any new profession over time it evolves. And this profession just like many others: life coaches, massage therapists etc etc is starting to grow. As you mentioned, it is not regulated because there is a process to which professions become regulated, usually starting with a governing body which we have started growing http://www.iacsc.com. Some of the certification programs, “some”, that are available are very comprehensive and the programs involve on-going support and guidance which is absolutely necessary given the complexity of the issues we help solve and all the different variables and factors we have to take into account. So, I understand your concern but we are really trying legitimize this profession by taking all the reasonable and appropriate steps to do so. So, yes it will be regulated one day and hopefully the programs will be accredited by an appropriate body like the AAP, but time will get us there.

    1. Trying to legitimise it, isn’t really good enough when anyone can take a dodgy course and head out into homes. And from the quality of comments I’m getting, people looking to become sleep trainers have difficulty with basic comprehension which makes me even less confident that they should be working with babies.

  4. I actually really disagree, and dislike this post. I stumbled upon it when searching for reviews of the Family Sleep Institute. To me, someone who has completed 80+ hours in learning about infant sleep, is a lot more qualified to solve someone’s sleep problems, than a mom that you randomly meet at the playground, or your mother in-law (just two examples of people who may offer help when asked). All well meaning, but with so many books and views on how infants should sleep, it is just daunting and overwhelming for a new mother. It is obvious to me reading this, that your child is/was a decent sleeper. If you had of experienced the struggles we did as a family, you simply would not write a post such as this one. We had many horrible nights with our daughter, and actually hired a certified sleep consultant after our paediatrician (a medical professional with 12+ years experience), recommended that our child needed to learn to sleep better as it was important to her development, and weight gain. She was underweight. The $350 I paid a sleep consultant was the best $350 I ever spent. She was so supportive and knowledgeable. The way she guided our family through the process was with care, and awareness of our morals and thoughts on childrearing. Within 3 weeks of sleeping through the night (11 – 12 hours at 7 months), our daughter gained 2.2 lbs, no longer required weight watch with an infant paediatric specialist, and mastered milestones she had been delayed in reaching.

    1. I’m glad you were happy with your sleep consultant and it didn’t cause any long lasting problems. I maintain my view that sleep consultants require proper medical training, not online courses. You’re free to have your own point of view

  5. Hi, I also have to disagree. My daughter was a very bad sleeper since she was born, she was not sleeping for hours during the day when she was 2 weeks old. I was only able to mange her after consulting child sleep consultant. I have to stres that there is no child handling involved and there is no way a child would be in any way harmed while sleep training. I also have to mention that all the methods used by consultants are very gentle and do not involve child crying out. I am looking into doing one of this courses myself as it takes one stressed and tired parent to understand one.

    1. Ok. I’m not sure you even read the post, or you’re here from one of these ‘training companies’. If you read the post properly, you will see that I fully understand the need some parents have for sleep trainers. Therefore, I want those sleep trainers and the people who teach them to be properly certified so you don’t get people in who would hurt the children.

      Secondly, it takes up to 6 weeks for babies to adjust to day and night. A 2 week old not sleeping well is perfectly natural and not something to be trained. Half an hour reading or a discussion with a medical professional would teach you that.

      I sincerely hope you do not become a sleep trainer as I am not convinced you have the reading skills to properly understand an online, text based course.

  6. Hello,
    Thanks for this. I’m a Mothercraft Nurse with 30+ years of experience in this field, and lately I’ve seen a number of people who have been misinformed by woefully underqualified people who charge an alarming amount of money to give bad advice. How I wish there was some regulation in this field.
    Cheers
    Leanne

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