One of the biggest sources of worry for many parents is how their child will sleep at daycare. You may have a fantastic napper at home but worry about how they’ll do when there’s no white noise, limited (or zero) darkness, and a room full of other kids.
One thing I can say with confidence is that having a great sleeper – a child who is on an appropriate nap schedule and can fall asleep independently – will give you a leg up. So if you’re reading this and panicking because you know that your child’s daycare teacher is truly incapable of nursing your baby to sleep, I want you to stop reading and take a peek at our coaching packages which will help your child become a stronger sleeper before starting daycare.
Here are some things you can consider as you think through and plan for your child to sleep at daycare.
How to Choose a Daycare
If you have not enrolled your baby into daycare yet, here are a few sleep-centered things to keep in mind. While none of these may be deal-breakers for your family, they are certainly things to consider when choosing where your little one will be spending the majority of their days.
Ask them what their approach is for naps
Do they follow a set schedule or are they open to following wake window guidelines? Do they determine nap timing and duration individually or as a collective group?
Ask to see the sleep environment
Is it a fully-lit room where the other kids will be playing? Do they have a semi-private space where naps happen? Do they follow the AAP’s safe sleep guidelines?
Ask whether you can bring your own sleep aids
Can you bring your baby’s white noise machine from home or a travel version like the Rohm? Can you send along a sleep sack or lovey? If you will be sending your newborn to daycare (0-10 weeks), can your baby be swaddled?
Ask whether they can accommodate specific requests
If your baby cries for a few minutes as they are falling asleep, is that allowed? Can they hold off offering assistance if you ask them to? Will they wake your baby at a certain time to preserve bedtime?
How to Handle Naps at Daycare
Once you’ve decided on a daycare provider or if you already have your child in a place that you’re happy with, it’s important to be on the same page when it comes to approaching sleep. Even though many babies are pretty good at separating “what happens at daycare” vs. “what happens at home,” consistency – as much as possible – is still important.
Communicate how you’d like naps to be handled
It’s super important to communicate with your daycare providers about what you expect when it comes to your baby’s naps. For example, let them know about any sleep environment accommodations you’re hoping to see in the nap area. Share your favorite blackout shades with them; bring a portable sound machine and ask if they can use it near your baby’s crib as an extra layer of comfort and familiarity; bring an extra sleep sack if they allow it. Don’t be afraid to speak up and advocate for your baby’s sleep needs.
Let them know how much fussing/crying you’re okay with
Make sure to share your philosophy on a little bit of fussing or crying while your baby is falling asleep. Most daycare providers will default to a “zero crying” approach unless instructed otherwise. But if your baby has good sleep skills and can fall asleep independently at home, you know that any fussing & crying is oftentimes just a wind-down technique and doesn’t actually require any intervention. For many babies, additional soothing can actually be too stimulating and prolong the falling asleep process. You know your baby the best so communicate with their teachers how you’d ideally like naps to be handled.
Ask them to avoid unhelpful sleep props
Be specific about the types of things that you don’t want them doing to help your baby fall asleep. If you’ve just broken a serious pacifier habit, tell them about it and ask that they avoid offering pacifiers. If your baby previously had a strong dependency on being rocked to sleep, ask that they first try to soothe your child without picking them up. Most daycare providers are happy to make some arrangements with parents if it means a happy, sleeping baby and a happy, satisfied parent.
Understand their limitations
In an ideal world, daycare providers would be able to accommodate all your nap requests, but they are in charge of many kids at once and most childcare centers have overarching safety rules that cannot be bent.
Maintain open communication
Let your daycare provider know that you’ve been working hard on sleep at home and where you’re at with the process. Remember that they want your little one sleeping well as much as you do – it makes their job a lot easier! A well-rested baby who goes down for naps without much fuss is a daycare provider’s dream come true!
What to Do When Daycare Naps Suck
Despite all your best efforts, sleep at daycare may still suck some or a lot of the time.
One thing to remember is that there is a learning curve when your child starts daycare for the first time. Not only is it an entirely new sleep environment that is probably incredibly different from the one at home, but daycare itself is often a big adjustment, and we know that anything new and noteworthy can create some sleep disruptions.
If your baby takes crap naps at daycare, here’s what you can do:
Try for a car nap
If daycare pickup is early or you are okay with/would prefer a shifted schedule (ex: 8:00-8:00) to an early bedtime you can try for a short cat nap in the car on the way home. Aim for at least 20 minutes to make it restorative enough to get them to their normal bedtime.
The timing of an afternoon cat nap will vary based on your pick-up time and your child’s age/current nap schedule. For daytime schedule support, get the comprehensive Nap Guide with schedules and nap guidelines for ages 0-4.
Put them to be early
After a day of less-than-ideal naps, the best cure-all is an early bedtime. Nighttime sleep is incredibly rejuvenating and restorative, so even though your child might be missing out on some nap time, it’s not as bad as if they weren’t getting those hours at night. If your child has had a day of crap naps, go ahead and get them into bed a bit earlier that evening. Though it may be a bummer to miss out on some time with them after work, remember that it’s quality over quantity, and no one likes hanging with an overly tired, cranky baby!
Daycare naps can be a doozy, but your child can still have great sleep even when you’re not in control of it 100% of the time (I repeat to myself.)
A lot of families also ask if they can sleep train if their child goes to daycare, and the answer is absolutely yes! Just remember 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.
If you’re getting ready to start daycare and don’t already have a great sleeper, it’s a wonderful time to make some lifelong changes. Get started with a complimentary sleep evaluation and learn more about how your little one can become a sleep superstar in no time!