Whether you’re returning to work after maternity leave or wanting your child to have socialization with other kids, enrolling your little one in daycare can bring many fears and emotions to the surface.
Especially if you’ve worked hard to help your child sleep well at home.
You may wonder, “Will my child sleep well in a new location?” or “What if my child just doesn’t take a nap?”
As many parents will discover as they evaluate daycare options, not all daycares are built the same.
For instance, when my oldest was younger, he attended an in-home daycare and the provider worked with me to duplicate his nap schedule, allowed him to bring a sleep sack and special blanket, played white noise during nap time, and ensured the room was dark.
On the other hand, I recently had a client whose 11-month old was attending a daycare that had a pretty rigid schedule and only offered one nap a day, even though an 11-month old truly needs more than one nap.
When there are such variations in guidelines and nap schedules, it can make an already challenging situation even more stressful.
I’ve compiled four tips to help you navigate the world of daycares and sleep, so that you can feel confident and prepared, no matter where your child ends up spending their days.
Help your child become an independent sleeper.
The foundational piece of ensuring your child isn’t phased by changes in their sleep at daycare is to work on independent sleep skills at home.
If your child can be placed in their crib awake and fall asleep on their own at home, that same skill can translate to daycare.
Some daycares won’t rock or hold children to sleep, so we want to ensure your baby is able to fall asleep without needing someone’s support, in case the daycare provider can’t give that to them.
Regardless of how old your child is, they can learn new sleep skills. To make changes in your child’s sleep habits, consider the following tips.
Identify where you’re starting. How is your child currently falling to sleep? What is it that they seem to rely on when falling asleep?
Identify where you want to go in relation to what their routine will be at daycare. If the daycare won’t hold or rock your child to sleep, but that’s the only way your little one will fall asleep, then you might decide you want to help your child fall asleep on their own in their crib.
Decide how quickly you’d like to help your child become an independent sleeper. Is your child starting daycare this month, or next year? Depending on your timeline, you’ll be able to decide how quickly you’d like to see progress, which will ultimately determine which sleep training method you use.
Talk to the daycare provider.
Every daycare has different guidelines and regulations they must follow. As you shop around, talk to the daycare providers and ask them what naptime looks like in their center. Do all the kids go to sleep at the same time, or do they follow individual schedules? Do the lights stay on during naptime, or is it blackout dark? Is there any white noise playing while the kids sleep?
Don’t be ashamed to advocate for your child and ask if there’s any leeway in the center’s policies if something doesn’t work for your little one.
For example, is there any possibility they can follow your child’s current nap schedule? If not, can they put your child down to sleep first to allow for a little longer sleep?
If they don’t play white noise during nap time, can you bring a portable white noise machine to play near your child’s sleeping space?
Some daycare centers will absolutely accommodate, and some simply won’t be able to. If you find that your child’s daycare is unable to accommodate your requests, keep reading for tips that are more in your control!
Introduce a comfort item to your child.
If your child is over 12 months old, introduce a comfort item to them to help ease the transition to daycare.
This could be a special blanket that your child holds onto during story time and while they fall asleep, or it could be a stuffed animal that they cuddle with at night.
Having a comfort item can also be a great sleep association that your child takes with them to daycare.
When your child has something familiar in a new environment, it can offer consistency to their new routine and help them feel more comfortable as they nap or play at daycare.
Of course, ask your child’s daycare if you can send that item with your little one, and be sure to mark your child’s name on that item in case it gets mixed up with other toys.
Focus on the time you’re with your child.
At the end of the day, there may not be a lot the daycare is willing to negotiate on. And ultimately, that’s okay.
This can be a stressful situation already, and I don’t want you to add stress onto yourself.
If your child’s nap schedule is off at daycare, you can expect the first week or so to be an adjustment period. This may mean your child falls asleep in the car when you pick them up from daycare.
Or maybe they need an earlier bedtime because they weren’t able to nap as long.
Or maybe they sleep in a little on the weekends when they don’t go to daycare.
Focus on the time you do have with your child to prioritize that missed sleep.
In a few weeks, your child’s body will adjust to the new sleep schedule, and before you know it, they’ll be looking forward to their time at daycare.
I know that putting your child in a daycare can feel nerve-wracking, especially when it comes to their sleep. But when you have an independent sleeper, they really can adapt quickly to new environments.
If the thought of putting your child in daycare stresses you out because your child isn’t an independent sleeper, and you’re not sure where to begin, let’s work together to get your baby sleeping well before they start daycare.
You can book a call with one our our team members here!