How to Identify a Genuinely Gentle Sleep Consultant in a Sea of *Gentle* Promises

We are often asked if a sleep consultant or sleep program is indeed gentle. Sadly, right now, the most common answer is, no, they are not gentle. 

The sleep training industry is unregulated and big business. It preys on vulnerable, desperate and sleep deprived families. 

Whilst there are some genuinely gentle providers available, they’re difficult to find amongst cleverly worded posts, websites, socials and targeted marketing that shout about ‘gentle’ programs that are nothing of the sort . 

sleep training pyramid.png

To help our families out, we’ve decided to share with you our approach to investigating these programs and providers to help you identify the tell-tale signs and red-flags for any dishonest marketing.

Let’s begin by defining truly gentle sleep support.

Gentle sleep support recognises and honours the value of biological norms of sleep, feeding and settling in our small humans. It will never require a change that causes crying and distress. It is about working with your child, right where they are at this point in time and looking into elements such as sleep pressure, environment, shifting bedtime and sensory stimulation.

Gentle sleep support won’t expect the youngest and most vulnerable person to be the one to make the big changes. The adults will be assisted to improve their sleep hygiene and lifestyle to improve their well-being while still meeting the needs of their child.

Now we have a better idea of what is gentle, let’s get our investigation skills on:

Clue 1: Does the business promise a quick fix? 

There are almost no quick fixes for sleep and any that are promised are usually not achieved gently.

  • Programs promising or even guaranteeing significant change in a number of days or a few weeks will not be gentle. You can also usually see this in their reviews/ testimonials- ‘3 nights in and sleeping 7-7’ is one example that should raise your red flag.

  • Gentle change takes time and may take many weeks or even months and are usually more like a dance of moving forwards and backwards as you work with your child.

Clue 2: Check their Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) 

Do they identify any techniques or methods used? 

  • Many businesses look to offer a variety of sleep training methods, yes, some of these may seem less extreme than others, however  it can be a slippery slope into more extreme if the gentler options don’t *work*.

  • It also gives you an insight into the provider/ programs beliefs and values around baby and toddler sleep. If they are comfortable supporting a family through ‘Controlled Crying’ or similar extinction techniques, then this is a strong indication that they do not stand by the inherent value of truly gentle sleep support.

  • This article of ours can help you identify what we call sleep training-here  

Do they state that they don’t use CIO / Cry It Out/ Full-extinction sleep training? 

  • While not using CIO is one step in the right direction, this is NOT a solid indication that the services/ program will be gentle.

  • As indicated in our article on what constitutes sleep training, changing the name to soften it does not change what the approach is going to entail. 

  • Controlled crying is a prime example- it is now often referred to as ‘controlled comforting’, ‘spaced settling’, ‘passive settling’, ‘spaced soothing’, ‘checking method’ and more. 

    • Terms like ‘comforting, settling, soothing, checking’ are all there to SOFTEN the impact for the parents to satisfy the part of your brain, heart, soul and instinct that desperately wants to see this process as a nurturing and loving act for your child.

    • It works like good advertising and marketing should- it sucks you in.

    How do they talk about Crying?

  • “Will my baby cry?” Many businesses look to normalise crying by describing it as something else. 

    • The reality is the language used is really just another word for crying and it’s an attempt to groom parents and caregivers not to respond to the signalling of their baby. 

    • Examples include:  grizzle, whine, whinge, protest, expressing their emotions, stress-release, wind down

  • “No Cry” - Do they say they offer ‘No-cry’ solutions but then use the above alternative terms for crying? That’s not ‘no-cry’, that’s advertising.

  • Do they suggest that there’s no way to make any changes to your child’s sleep without crying, but it’s okay as long as the child is ‘supported’? This is simply not true and you’re being sold a sleep training program.

Clue 3: What are their blog topics about? 

Read/skim through the blog topics and descriptions, do any of them raise concerns or discomfort? 

  • If something feels ‘off’, try to figure why and don’t ignore that feeling. Often times, if it doesn’t feel quite right, it’s because it isn’t.

Clue 4: How do they talk about babies and sleep on their website, Facebook page, Instagram, blog, their reviews? 

Take a deeper dive into their work to get a true sense of their approach to helping your child find sleep. Here are some terms that come straight from sleep training culture to look for:

  • Sleep problems

  • Bad habits

  • Sleep associations (negative sleep associations)

  • Broad sweeping claims about age or weight and the baby’s ability to sleep through the night or not require feeds

  • Mention of a good/ safe age to sleep train

  • “Feed, play, sleep” or other variations of this that suggest a baby shouldn’t be fed to sleep. 

  • Schedules / strict routines

  • Dictating how much sleep a child needs by age

  • Dictating how many times a child should / shouldn’t be waking at night by age

  • Self settling - read more about it here 

Clue 5: Do they offer newborn programs?

This is a growing trend in the industry to effectively suck families in with a gentle fourth trimester approach for the newborn days that then plants the seed/ need to commence sleep training once a baby is 4-6 months. Some things to watch for include:

  • Suggestions to follow a “feed, play, sleep”, 

  • Encouraging placing a baby down- ‘drowsy but awake’ and encouraging you to create ‘independent sleep associations’ (ie: not needing your help)

  • Waiting 1-2 minutes to listen to your child’s response before responding (the beginnings of the ‘understand your baby’s cry’ grooming as mentioned above. 

  • Tell you strict wake times and amount of sleep needed

  • Encourage a feeding schedule or telling you how long your child should go between feeds. 

  • Reassuring you that you can’t hold or soothe your baby too much at this age (which is code for: it’s okay now, but we’ll need to fix that for you later)

  • And the clincher- do they give you an accurate understanding that your child will need your night time nurturing for much longer than this newborn period or do they start to paint your child’s waking as problematic soon after this ‘magical’ time ends and you need to do XYZ to ensure they have ‘healthy sleep habits’?

  • Any of the above should raise your gentle alarm.

Clue 6: Are they interested in the whole picture or is sleep training the silver bullet for all?

Will they take the time to understand the details and circumstances of the whole family? 

  • Including a full history of the pregnancy, birth, what’s happening day and night with sleep and feeding for the child but also for the parents/ caregivers, are existing/ potential underlying conditions taken into account, routines and more. 

  • Are common times for sleep to become more intense treated with kindness and compassion or simply as a sign of a ‘sleep problem’? Examples include: major mobility milestones, moving house/ room, new sibling, separation/ deployment/ FIFO, starting daycare, change in caregiver, parental stressors like job loss/ change, mental health, death or illness in the family, financial or relationship sresses.

Clue 7: What are their qualifications? 

At times, the businesses can look like they’re ticking the boxes of a genuinely gentle business for sleep support, however a quick review of their accreditation/qualification source suggests otherwise. 

  • If you can find the accreditation they’ve received, ensure that you check the marketing materials of the accreditation provider.  

  • Also, really think about whether this person is the right person to be giving you advice for the problems you are facing. Many of these consultants claim to be specialists but they often act out of scope and their advice can have a flow on of unintended consequences PARTICULARLY their feeding advice that can compromise your breastfeeding relationship.

Clue 8: What are their terms and conditions?

These are often clicked over far too quickly or completely ignored.  It is so important that you understand what you’re being asked to waive. 

Read these very carefully and ask yourself if you’re truly comfortable with trusting this business or individual with your family’s well-being.

If these aren’t available before making any kind of payment or commitment to the service, send an email requesting these. 

  • Questions to ask yourself about the T & Cs-

    • Do they suggest that your baby should have their health checked before commencing one of their programs/consults? (Hint: If this isn’t something suitable for a child who isn’t well, then it isn’t suitable for a well child either).

    • Do they suggest that they’re not offering medical advice?

    • Have they asked you to waive any rights for any loss, damage, injury or even death?

    • Do they ask you to follow SIDS guidelines yet have programs that suggest solitary sleep in a separate room for your child under  6-12 months? (This goes against current safe sleep advice)

    • Are there any restrictions/ non-disclosure agreements that may prevent you from writing a review or speaking publicly if your experience is negative?

    • What is the company’s refund policy? Is it reasonable and in-line with your country’s consumer laws /rights? Do you have to jump through many hoops to be eligible?

Did you get this far and the business still seems to have a gentle offer? 

If you are comfortable moving forward, then continue to trust yourself and your baby throughout the time you work with this service and know that you do not have to do anything that doesn’t sit well for you. 

We’d also love to hear how your experience goes so send our team a message so we can check this business out for you and also consider adding them to our Provider Directory.

If you aren’t comfortable and you are not sure why, also shoot us a message and we can help you work out what is not sitting well and options moving forward.

We hope you find this resource helpful in wading your way through increasingly murky waters.

Above all else, trust your gut, trust your baby, trust that you don’t need to compromise your values no matter how good their promised fix sounds.