One of the biggest sources of worry for many of my clients is how sleep will be impacted when they send their little ones to daycare. Whether they’ve already gotten their baby on a carefully planned nap schedule or they’re beginning to work 1:1 with me to get their baby sleeping better overall, parents are frequently concerned about whether their daycare provider will be able (or willing) to follow that same schedule.
Choosing 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 the 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? Do they adhere to 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 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?
Handling Naps at Daycare
Once you’ve decided on a daycare provider or if you already have your little one in a place that you’re happy with, it’s helpful 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
Additionally, share with your daycare providers your philosophy on a little bit of fussing or crying while your babe is falling asleep. Most daycare providers will default to a “zero crying” approach unless instructed otherwise. But if your baby has good sleep skills, you know that any fussing & crying is oftentimes just a wind-down technique and doesn’t actually require any intervention.
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 soothe your little one 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!
Keep Sleep on Track
Despite all your best efforts, sleep at daycare may still suck some or much of the time. If your baby takes crap naps at daycare, here’s what you can do:
Offer an early bedtime
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 little one 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 little one 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 in the evenings, remember that it’s quality over quantity, and no one likes hanging with an overly tired, cranky baby!
Consider a car-snooze
If daycare pickup is early or you are okay with/would prefer a shifted schedule (ex: 8:00-8:00) you can also allow a short cat nap in the car on the way home. Just make sure your little one is awake with enough time to have a solid wake window before bed, otherwise their sleep pressure will not be high enough, and you may have a bedtime battle on your hands.
All in all, there’s no reason why going to daycare and sleep training can’t exist together in harmony. 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!