Sleep Training and Daycare
Inserting a daycare situation into your little ones sleep routine seems like a huge challenge right?! Especially if you are just starting the sleep training process; or have just accomplished the first couple of weeks to get to this point
Think about it! All the hard work you have been doing, having your willpower tested, powering through the rough patches, and being able to achieve the successes. And now you need to put your trust in someone else to make sure that things continue to run smoothly. No wonder there is some nervousness and anxiety around this step.
But, I’m all about realistic expectations and the good news is that sending your little one to daycare is NOT going to sabotage their sleep. At least it won’t if you take some time to prepare and work with your daycare provider. And the tips that I have for you here are going to make this as easy as possible. (I don’t promise perfection of course, just the best you can do!)
The first thing to consider though is if you have already found, decided on, or are using. If not, then keep reading (if you have then you can skip to the next section).
Choosing a Daycare Provider
Overall, I encourage you all to find a daycare situation that you are most comfortable with. It could be a large center, a home daycare, an individual nanny, or a family member’s home. No matter what you use, I have a couple of sleep-centered things to keep in mind. These are not “deal-breakers” for your kiddo’s sleep at all, but instead just some things to consider.
First, find out their approach for naps. Is there a schedule for all the kids to follow or does each child have individual nap times? Do they sleep in the same room as the kids playing (with lights on and noise distractions) or is there a separate space? What kind of things can they bring from home (any bedding, lovey items, or even their own sound machine)? Knowing their general approach, and what areas are a little flexible, will help you prepare your expectations and their sleep success.
Make sure you find out about that flexibility around naps and how capable they are of accommodating specific requests. This includes things like allowing a bit of fussing or protesting, or avoiding offering sleep props, or working of baby’s wake times and schedule. This communication is a big tip (read on to find out more).
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 that everyone is working toward the same goals for sleep? First, let them know that you are comfortable with little bit of fussing (and how long a “little bit” actually is) in order to get to sleep. I have found that most daycare providers will default to a no-crying approach unless they are told otherwise. And this is also a good time to communicate what the difference between fussing, protesting, and full out crying looks like for your little one. (Remember, you know your little one best and can help their caregiver get to know them better with this information).
Tell them to try and avoid relying on sleep associations; and be specific about what you consider a sleep prop. Ideally, you would have baby sleeping without any sleep props, but I suggest that you highlight which ones have been their previous props that you need to avoid most. If your little one has historically been rocked to sleep then it may be ok to offer a pacifier in a time of need. Or if they are used to bottle feeding to sleep then a little bit of holding or rocking would be preferable to the bottle.
In a daycare situation thought, there will be some limitations. And we will have to expect and respect them. There are often some overall safety rules in place so don’t be surprised if they cannot accommodate every request or suggestion you have about naps. While they may do their best to provide a semi-separate space for kids to nap there is often not a fully separate and dark room (for example).
Ultimately, it’s about maintaining open communication with your child’s caregiver. Be up front about the work you have been doing with them for independent sleep and what the process has been. If they know the ins-and-outs of your strategies and sleep plans, then they can do their best to implement as much of it as possible. And they want your little one sleeping well as much as you do! (a well rested baby with good sleep skills is going to pose a lot less of a challenge with it comes to care throughout the day).
A few random tips
Here are a few extra points that might help you with the daycare journey.
A really good day to start a sleep plan would be on Friday night – or whatever day is farthest away from their next time in daycare (Friday night being typical for a Monday through Friday day care). This gives your little one an opportunity to work hard on their skills in a consistent environment, with your support of course, before adding in another variable. And, the first few nights are a bit of a roller coaster and could leave your little one feeling a bit “off” for the first 48 hours.
You might also consider getting some help from a friend or family member at home for a day or two before going back to daycare. If this is an option, then you can add a couple more days to the start of the sleep plan which will help baby get accustomed to their new sleeping arrangement. The extra solid practice/foundation will always be useful if it’s available. (Some parents have even been able to arrange a day or two off work for this purpose; though it is certainly not required).
There is no need to try and transition into the daycare setting slowly; in fact, this approach could be more problematic than helpful. Once you are ready to send them to daycare then you should just go for their full schedule (however many days they will be going on a regular basis). Just start them on the schedule you will want to end up at. The consistency you can achieve this way is better than staggering their days every other week. And, if you are able, try and get home schedules and daycare schedules to match as best as possible. I understand that each and every day will not always be exactly in sync. But any consistency you can achieve will be a bonus and make it easier on everyone. Remember, this may mean either daycare adapting their schedule or you doing so at home, but most likely there will be a little bit of flexibility on both ends.
I have found that babies and toddlers are often very good at separating the rules of sleep between different environments and caregivers. I often work with families where the little has no issue with one caregiver and multiple issues with another. This will actually in your favor during daycare. Habits they learn at daycare won’t necessarily transfer over to sleep at home, so if you daycare provider allows a pacifier (or another prop), don’t stress too much about it. Many babies understand that it’s not going to be same at home.
The trip home from daycare might pose its own challenge. Your baby could be a little sleepy depending on how the ay went, but if baby starts to fall asleep then you should try to keep them awake. A catnap in the car or stroller late in the afternoon could derail bedtime timing and success. And if they fall asleep despite your best efforts, then just wake them up when you get home and let them get some more wake 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 individual child as much as they would like to. 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.