Sleep coaching was never in my things-to-do as a first time mom, but I’m glad I did it!

No doubt, having a child is such a blessing. My son’s kisses always warm my heart. His laughter makes my worries go away, and his mere existence has taught me how to truly love someone unconditionally. 

But like any first-time mom, no amount of research prepares you for when you have to be a mom. The constant crying, the waking up in the middle of the night, the not knowing what to do, it all adds up and somehow drives you nuts.

My partner and I tried to train him to sleep and wake up on his own (and on decent hours) but he would still wake up crying in the middle of the night. During nap time, he would only sleep for more than an hour if someone cradles him.

And while I constantly tried to remind myself it was natural for babies to be that dependent, I was exhausted and felt like I lost my sense of self.

I felt like a total failure as a mom. Turns out, it was a symptom of postpartum depression, which I was eventually diagnosed with.

I needed to do something about it, so I decided to research more about training your baby to sleep. Lo and behold, I stumbled upon a local sleep coach – Gabrielle Weil.

Gabrielle is a holistic sleep coach who has been working with Filipina moms since 2015. She’s been coaching moms to instigate independence for their children at a young age through sleep training. Admittedly, it’s not a very traditional method. My mom and sisters, who are very loving Filipina mothers, were clueless and didn’t agree with this experiment of mine. But I was desperate, frustrated, curious, and mostly exhausted – so I reached out to Gabrielle.

When parents get the chance to remember they’re human who deserve sleep too, they regain a sense of self. And the more “themselves” they feel, the more they can show up fully for their family.

What is sleep coaching?

Sleep coaching is a method used to help babies unlearn certain sleep lessons that may have inadvertently been taught early on. This method reintroduces sleep with minimal adult interventions, which means more (and better) sleep for the baby and the adults, too – which means a more harmonious family.

When parents get the chance to remember they’re human who deserve sleep too, they regain a sense of self. And the more “themselves” they feel, the more they can show up fully for their family. People often confuse sleep coaching and sleep training. But according to Gabrielle, they couldn’t be more different. She tells us “Sleep coaching is different from sleep training.” 

Famous origins of sleep training focuses on training unwanted sleep behaviors out of babies. On the other hand, sleep coaching is meant to understand and support change through respect and empowerment. Sleep coaches specialize in using these empowerment techniques to focus on the family as a whole rather than behaviors in the child that need to be silenced. In essence, it is child-led which allows the child to want to sleep rather than be forced to sleep using adult-led methods.”

And that’s probably why Justin started sleeping better because we were finally listening to him. If we don’t like being coerced into doing something, apparently, neither do babies.

Justin’s sleep patterns helped with his well-being tremendously. At a young age, he already knows how his day will go. He anticipates it and works around it. He knows when it’s time to eat or play, which gives him a sense of empowerment and control over his day. He’s able to better communicate his needs to us which helps us understand how to be there for him, too.

When a child starts learning the difference between independence and codependence, they can learn their basic boundaries. What can I do on my own? What do I need help doing? These boundaries give parents a little more wiggle room to understand the hours they can block off for “me-time.”

Believe it or not, Gabrielle did all this from our screen! With her help, Justin was coached virtually. Over-communication was our greatest asset. We would constantly communicate about Justin’s sleeping patterns.

We started by analyzing Justin’s sleep patterns. With her help, we would observe the moments he would cry during sleep time. I would send a video from his baby cam and she would analyze it. It was tough at first because as a mom, my initial instinct was to come and soothe him every time he cried. But, Gabrielle taught me that his crying was a signal for me to give him affection. As weeks went on, I learned that there are different cries for different things he needed from me.

There was a certain cry which meant “I’m hungry,” another cry for “my diaper is full, “and another one for “I’m uncomfortable.” I was enlightened. The whole time I thought Justin wasn’t understanding me. Turns out, it was us who needed to listen more.

When I figured this part out, he started to learn to self-soothe. It’s like waking up from a bad dream, realizing it wasn’t true, and going back to sleep again. Every day we would discuss key points of the sessions with Gabrielle, which she would explain to us. After this, we made sure to apply it the next day. It was amazing how much progress we made with Justin over the sleep coaching period.

“The whole time I thought Justin wasn’t understanding me. Turns out, it was us who needed to listen more.”

Who are the children that need sleep coaching?

I bet you didn’t know that when you keep cradling your baby, you make yourself a human-pillow for them. And as cute as that sounds, looks, (and even smells!) All this is doing is creating a culture of codependence. The more you present yourself as a human-pillow the more you indirectly tell your baby that they are not capable of independence; a habit that lasts for years. Yikes!

In Gabrielle’s experience, when parents approach her to make their babies sleep, it turns out to be a battle between their babies and them. Much like marriage counseling, when you go to your therapist for the very first time, you expect them to tell your partner all the ways they can be a better partner to you. But anyone who’s ever been to counseling knows, that’s not really what happens. Instead, your therapist becomes a mediator for a safe and open dialogue between you and your partner. This way both your needs and your partners can be safely addressed.

Her sleep coaching methods focus on accompanying parents to respect their babies’ sleep needs and identify that those are different from adults. Before we started the sleep coaching program, Gabrielle analyzed Justin’s room if it’s an ideal room for him to sleep in. 

One of the factors that were affecting Justin’s nap time was how bright his room was. So we adjusted this, as per Gabrielle’s advice. She also proposed for us to follow a routine (not a schedule to give some room for changes and flexibility). She also helped us discover that an alternative to being your child’s human-pillow could be giving them a lovey (a transitional object to ease with separation anxiety).

As challenging as it was at first, I knew that later down the road, Justin and I needed to learn how to be independent of each other so we could function better and more harmoniously. It was tough but Gabrielle helped me trust the process. She helped me see the bigger picture which was how essential sleep was for everyone! Parents needed enough sleep to be able to show up at their best for their kids. And babies needed enough sleep to help their brain and overall development. 

Aside from being a better-rested family, this method taught us to communicate more effectively with each other.

When is the most ideal age for sleep coaching your child?

The first thing Gabrielle asked was my son’s age, to better understand my current sleep challenges & expectations. According to Gabrielle, 4-7 months old is the ideal time for a baby to get sleep coaching. Babies at this age are usually the easiest to introduce positive changes to. Babies younger than 4 months are still developing their circadian rhythms and babies older than 7months usually have established a level of dependency in some way.

Being a certified Baby Listening™ Instructor, Gabrielle knows that their babies express their needs to you the day they are born. Hearing it is one thing, however, knowing how to parent through it is another – and that’s where she comes in. 

Gabrielle does not sleep coach babies under 4 months old, instead, she teaches the parents how to identify the different cries of their baby during the early months. From her experience, once a culture of communication is set in place, parents who graduated from her Baby Listening™ never really need further assistance from her.

On the other hand, babies above 7 months have more embedded beliefs which they have yet to learn how to express. There are about 25 different needs babies have and the longer you figure out what they’re trying to say the harder it may get to unlearn these cues later on.

Fortunately for us, the human body (and sleep coaches) are here to help us parent, if we know how to use these gifts effectively.

Why is sleep coaching essential to child development?

While sleep coaching is more of a parental choice and lifestyle change, it benefits the entire family. For starters, it taught my child to communicate beyond crying. It became easier to manage his expectations since he’s used to a routine. It also instilled discipline at a young age by plotting his activities throughout the day.

Learning how to support your baby sleep coaching strengthens parent-child bonding. It fosters trust and secure attachment in ways you never knew could birth out of the subject of your baby’s sleep practices. After his program, Justin learned that I will meet him in his room even if he wakes up before his usual time. He would sing while he’s still lying before I enter his room—a sign of independence even in a stage of high dependence.

As parents, of course, we think we’d want our babies to be as attached to us as possible because they’re our treasure. But training them to be codependent doesn’t help anyone. Sleep-coached babies tend to be less clingy and less affected by separation anxiety. And when your baby is less clingy, they start to find their freedom and sense of self. You remind them that they are capable of.

“Your child is given wings to fly but will only use these to fly if they feel safe enough to use them. Supportive and respectful sleep coaching gives your child the confidence in self, needed to use them to fly in life.” – Gabrielle.

While sleep coaching is a more familiar parenting method in the western part of the world, many Filipino parents are still unfamiliar with this. I don’t frown upon parents who still cradle their children to sleep, as this is a lifestyle choice. But if you’re exasperated trying to make your child sleep, can’t function through the day, and clueless on how to manage separation anxiety – it’s worth the shot.

Finding myself again

It’s been more than 2 years since our sleep coaching sessions with Gabrielle and I must say it was one of the best decisions I made as a mom. Sleep coaching taught me how initiating habits for your child at a young age can eventually lead to independence. If Justin wasn’t sleep-coached, our dynamic wouldn’t be established; he would probably still cling on to me to soothe his every cry.

Having a more independent child also helped me find myself again. It allowed me to have a life outside of being a mother and taught me how to show up as a parent to my child the best way I know how.

Gabrielle Weil is the Philippines’ pioneer sleep coach and is currently based in Makati. Her baby sleep coaching services are done one a one-on-one basis. Aside from sleep coaching, she’s the only certified by BabyLanguage™ instructor in the Philippines and holds regular workshops for it. For more information on her programs and workshops, visit her website or her Facebook page.

Patty De Belen
Patty De Belen
Patty started running in order to keep up with her super hyperactive little boy. Few months after, he’s the one who needs to keep up with her. She likes to share about her training and how it helped her garner strength inside out.