The biggest challenge you’ll face when you’re teaching your baby those precious independent sleep skills is the minute you put them in someone else’s hands for the day.
Combining sleep training and daycare can be challenging, I won’t lie to you. You’ve powered through some hard nights and refused to give in when your baby tested your willpower. But, now that everything’s finally running smoothly, you need to put your trust in someone else to keep things in order.
Personally, when I faced this situation for the first time, I felt like my head and my heart was going to explode. I had spent so many sleepless nights, hours reading sleep stuff that didn’t work, and cried so many tears of frustration, and I was terrified they were going to screw it up. I was going to have to start all over again.
All this hard work and determination to get my little one to sleep independently? Entrusted to someone, I don’t even know? Not on your life.
But here’s the good news. This is absolutely achievable. Sending your little one to daycare will not sabotage their sleep so long as you take the time to work with your daycare provider.
I’ve got some great tips to help you do that in a way that will make this as easy and conflict-free as possible.
So... first of all, have you already decided on your daycare provider? If not, then keep reading. If so, you can skip down to the next section.
Choosing a Daycare Provider
Here are a few sleep-centred things to keep in mind when deciding on a daycare provider. None of these are deal-breakers; they’re just a few things to consider.
Ask them what their approach is to naps.
Do they put kids down at a specific time?
Do they allow individual nap times, or is it all kids together for a specified duration?
Ask to see where they’ll be sleeping.
Is it a fully-lit room with several other kids or a semi-private space where they can keep things dark?
Can you bring your own white noise machine? It can be super helpful to provide the same white noise machine that baby’s accustomed to at home.
My favourite white noise machines are made by YogaSleep. They are made using sleep science and have been around for a long time. They have a smaller travel version that may be perfect to send to daycare with your baby.
Can you bring one of your child's sleep sacks from home? Having that familiar smell of her sleeping environment and that cozy feeling from her own bed can bring a lot of comfort your baby when it comes to nap time at daycare.
My favourite Sleep Sacks are made by Woolino. They are made from a special wool that allows your baby or toddler to use the same sleep sack all-year-round. They come in various patterns and sizes that will grow with your baby. Use the LINK and the code TOTHEMOONANDBACK10 to get a discount off your purchase.
Is your daycare team capable of accommodating specific requests regarding baby’s naps?
i.e. Will they allow your baby to cry for a few minutes, will they hold off on offering sleep props if you ask them to?
Communicating with baby’s caregiver
So, once you’ve decided on a daycare provider, or if you already have your little one in a place you’re happy with, what can we do to ensure everybody’s pulling in the same direction on this sleep issue?
Let them know how long you’re comfortable with baby fussing. Most care providers will default to a no-crying approach unless instructed otherwise.
Ask them to avoid sleep props.
Be specific about what you consider a sleep prop. For example, ask that they refrain from using pacifiers, rocking to sleep, feeding to sleep, or whatever you’ve established as methods to get baby sleeping that you think they might become dependent on.
Be respectful of their limitations.
Daycare providers look after a lot of kids at once and are often required to follow some overarching safety rules, so don’t be surprised if they can’t accommodate every request you throw their way. Keeping an eye on several little ones at the same time usually means no white noise machines and no dark rooms. However, it doesn't hurt to ask for these things to be implemented as there are benefits for all the children involved.
Above all, maintain open communication. Let your daycare provider know you’ve been working on your baby’s sleep issues and where you’re at with the process. Remember that they want your little one to sleep well almost as much as you do. A well-rested baby who goes down for naps without much fuss is a daycare provider’s dream come true.
A few random tips
Regardless of the particulars of your baby’s situation with their sleep in their home away from home, here are a few tips that are likely to come in handy...
If you haven’t started sleep training yet, start on a Friday night or whatever day is farthest away from their next day of daycare. The first couple of nights are usually a bit of a roller coaster, and baby’s likely to be a little out of sorts for the first 48 hours.
It’s best to get at least three or four nights in before going to daycare. However, if there’s a care provider who can help you out for a day or two, consider asking them to sit in for the Monday and Tuesday, so baby’s had a good amount of time to get accustomed to their new sleeping arrangement.
Don’t “ease baby in” to their new situation.
Once you’re ready to start sending baby to daycare, start off with the same schedule you want to end up at. If they’ll be going every weekday, send them every weekday right off the jump. Please don’t send them for a day the first week, two days the next, and so on. They’ll adjust quicker and easier if you get them used to their new schedule right away.
Babies are usually capable of distinguishing between different environments.
Habits they learn at daycare won’t necessarily transfer over to sleep in the home, so if your daycare provider allows them a pacifier or rocks to sleep, don’t worry too much about it. Baby should still be able to understand that it’s not the same when they’re at home.
However, it can make the whole process a whole lot easier on everyone if things are as consistent as possible between all of your baby's sleep situations. There is less likely to be any confusion if the expectations are the same both at home and at daycare.
Different schedules at home and daycare are OK.
In the same vein as the last point, it’s not the end of the world if their nap schedule at daycare doesn’t sync up with the one they have at home. But, again, it’s a definite bonus if you can make it work, but it’s not essential.
You will want to follow your baby's awake windows as closely as possible as much as possible while they are at home. Nap times may vary a little between home and daycare but you should aim to maintain your bedtime schedule as close to the same awake windows every night as you can. Keeping that last awake window before bedtime the same each night is going to help to make sure baby isn't overtired for bedtime.
If baby starts falling asleep on the ride home, try to keep them awake. Putting them to bed early is better than offering a catnap after 4:00 PM. If baby does fall asleep, wake them up when you get home and let them get some more awake time before bed.
All in all, there’s no reason why daycare and sleep training can’t work together.
Just keep in mind that your daycare providers are your allies in this mission. They have a vested interest in your little one being as happy and well-rested as possible, and they obviously want to keep baby’s parents happy too.
Maintain open lines of dialog, be respectful and patient, and accept that they can’t always tailor things to each child as much as they would like.
Keep up your bedtime routine, stick to your schedule as closely as possible, keep baby away from those sleep props, and things will fall into place, I assure you.
Happy Sleeping, Erin
Erin Neri - Certified Pediatric Sleep Consultant and Owner of To The Moon and Back Sleep Consulting since 2016.
To The Moon and Back Sleep Consulting
Providing families the tools & support they need to get their little ones sleeping through the night and napping like champs! Everyone has more fun when they are well rested!
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