Mom Squad with Stephanie Kishimoto (Gentle Sleep Educator)
Stephanie Kishimoto, a Gentle Sleep Educator, is the owner of Sleeping Beauties. She has completed Infant Mental Health training through the Hospital for SickKids, and previously worked as a pediatric and manual physiotherapist for 13 years! I met Stephanie over coffee a few weeks ago to learn more about how a Gentle Sleep Educator helps families, I had her assess my collection of sleep books (true story!), and she shared exciting news that she was expanding to Toronto’s East End! Learn more about Stephanie and the awesome work she does in the interview below.
What problem are you solving?
I support families through difficult periods when they are struggling with sleep related concerns. This could mean that their child is waking frequently throughout the night and no one is sleeping well, that the family would like to end bedsharing but don’t know how to go about making that change, that they would like to wean night feeds, etc.
I provide an alternative service to traditional “Sleep training” in that I focus on realistic sleep expectations, and provide families with gentle solutions to address their goals. My mission is to empower parents to trust their instincts and to do what works best for their family’s unique dynamics without feeling the heavy pressures that our western society imposes on new parents to create these “great sleepers” from the get go, while ignoring what is biologically normal (and healthy!) in infants.
When should a woman access your services
Depending on their goals, my clients will call me at any point in their child’s life, from when they are newborns, up to when they are 6 years old. I say this daily, but “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it!” When something sleep related becomes a problem, that is when you can reach out to me for help. Otherwise, if you are nursing your child to sleep, bedsharing, feeding 3 times a night, holding your baby for all their naps, whatever the case may be, and it is working for you…amazing! But when it stops working, that is when I can help.
What does gentle sleep mean? How is it different than cry it out?
The approach I take while working with families whose goal is to have their child fall asleep on their is called a fading approach. What it means is that we initially give lots of support as they learn to self-regulate and find alternate sleep associations, and gradually reduce this amount of support over time. What this entails can be different for every family. For example, a nursing/bed-sharing dyad could first want to break the association with nursing to sleep, so we may continue to bedshare while encouraging the baby to fall asleep without nursing. If they wish to continue bedsharing we might stop there, but if their goal is to have baby on a separate sleeping surface we might then move baby to the crib while a parent sits right beside the crib and sings / pats / shushes / picks up to calm / etc, gradually reducing the amount of support the parent is giving and gradually moving away from the crib.
I believe strongly in responding to our children’s cries. While crying itself is not harmful, it is how we respond to our children during this crying that is important in maintaining a strong attachment. In complete contract, the Cry-It-Out approach does the exact opposite and requires parents leave the room once their baby is placed in their crib, and avoid responding at all until they are sleeping. Some sleep training may even suggest taking this further and continuing with this approach throughout the night, ignoring your child’s cries of hunger, discomfort, or simply needing their mom/dad.
My goal with Sleeping Beauties is not to judge or shame parents for using this technique (Hell, I used it myself with my eldest!) but to inform parents that the CIO method is not their only option. That they can follow their intuition and create a sleep plan that encourages attachment while still being just as effective at reaching sleep goals.
What’s your go-to resource for parents when it comes to sleep?
To be honest, I try not to recommend many books to parents with infants as I find each author promotes one sleep training technique or another that may or may not be appropriate for the specific needs and goals of that family. I find it can actually increase parental anxiety instead of helping decrease it.
I do however enjoy Dr. Harvey Karp’s Happiest Baby on the Block for his advice on soothing a newborn and appreciate The Wonder Weeks for their research based approach to looking ahead for developmental progressions (gross motor, language acquisition, etc) that can affect an infant’s sleep (commonly referred to as “sleep regressions”).
There is a wonderful app called “Infant Sleep” (Infant Sleep Information Source) that has some wonderful resources for sleep.
I am currently working on creating some resources on my own website for parents to refer to for age appropriate sleep schedules for babies over the age of 6 months as well as many other educational tools to help explain the normal biology of infant sleep. (so stay tuned!)
One of the biggest concerns I hear from parents who contact me but have some reservations with working with a sleep coach, is that they will somehow damage their child by allowing them to cry. When this question arises, I refer them to the Center on the Developing Child at Harvard University to read up on “Tolerable Stress” versus “Toxic Stress”.
What’s the most frequent advice you give when it comes to sleep/what’s the one thing that every family should know?
If I could only tell every expecting and new parent that there is no such thing as a “bad habit”, especially in the first year of life. That it is biologically normal for babies to need our help to get to sleep. That it is normal for them to feed through the night WELL beyond 4 months (this seems to be the sleep training industry standard for the ideal time to wean night feeds). And that they should in no way feel ashamed of nursing a baby to sleep or co-sleeping. It kills me to see the amount of anxiety that is created in new parents from our westernized views of sleep propagating such unrealistic sleep ideals.
What’s your ideal bedtime routine?
My ideal bedtime routine is making myself a tea and coming up to my bedroom, getting into my PJs and curling up in bed. I’d like to say that as a sleep educator I promote turning off all electronics before bedtime, but I am addicted like most people and will either watch TV, check Facebook or read a book until my eyes start burning. Then it’s lights out. For my daughters (2 and 3.5 years old), our bedtime routine consists of a bath, brushing teeth and potty, PJs, then a book or two with lots of cuddles. With my eldest, we always name two things we are going to dream about. It’s usually “bunnies” or “butterflies”. I find this a wonderful thing to leave in her head as she drifts off. HOWEVER, as my girls now share a room, they have adopted their own post bedtime ritual of singing a few songs (wheels on the bus and rolly polly are favourites) before finally caving sleepy land.
How can moms connect with you?