Conceivably the biggest challenge that you’ll face when you’re teaching your baby those precious independent sleep skills starts the minute you put them in someone else’s hands for the day. Combining sleep training and daycare can be tough, I won’t lie to you.
You’ve powered through some hard nights, refused to give in when your baby tested your willpower, and 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 Michelangelo, having just finished the Sistine Chapel, and suddenly I was being told to hand over my paintbrush to a stranger who was going to 'take it from here'. My masterpiece? All of this hard work and determination? 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 childcare is not going to sabotage their sleep so long as you take the time to work with your daycare provider, and 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 childcare provider? If not, then keep reading. If so, you can skip down to the next section.
CHOOSING A DAYCARE PROVIDER
When you’re deciding on a daycare provider, here are a couple of sleep-related things to keep in mind. 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 kids 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 semiprivate 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. Are they capable of accommodating specific requests in regards to 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. 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 are looking 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.
Above all, maintain open communication. Let your daycare provider know that 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 sleeping well almost as much as you do. A well-rested baby who goes down for naps without a lot of 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.
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. Don’t send them for a day the first week, two days the next, and so on. They’ll adjust quicker and easier this way. 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.
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. It’s a definite bonus if you can make it work, but it’s not essential.
If baby starts falling asleep on the ride home, try to keep them awake. It’s better to put them to bed early than offer 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 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.