One of the biggest challenges parents face when teaching their baby those precious independent sleep skills starts the minute they put them in someone else’s hands for the day.
Combining sleep training and daycare can be tough. You’ve made it through some hard nights, refused to give in when your baby tested your willpower, and now things are running smoothly. It can be difficult to trust someone else to maintain a foundation that you’ve worked so hard to establish.
You may feel like Michelangelo, almost finished with the Sistine Chapel, handing over his paintbrush to someone else who will “take it from there.”
It’s not easy.
But here’s the good news. This is absolutely achievable! Sending your little one to daycare is not going to sabotage their sleep as long as you take the time to work with your daycare provider.
I’ve got some tips for you to make this process as smooth as possible!
First question is… have you already decided on your daycare provider? If not, then keep reading. If you have, skip to the next section.
Choosing a Daycare Provider
When you’re deciding on a daycare provider, here are a couple of sleep-centered things to keep in mind. None of them are deal-breakers. I would just take them into consideration when making your decision.
Ask what their approach is to naps. Do they put kids down at a specific time? Do they have a nap schedule they use? Do they allow kids individual nap times if needed?
Ask to see where they’ll be sleeping. Is it a fully-lit room with several other kids or a semi-private 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 that baby is accustomed to at home.
Are they capable of accommodating specific requests in regards to baby’s naps? (For example, will they allow your baby to cry for a few minutes if requested, will they hold off on offering sleep props if you ask them to?)
Communicating with Baby’s Caregiver
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 you do to maintain the progress you've made on your child's sleep?
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. Ask that they refrain from using pacifiers, rocking to sleep, feeding to sleep, or whatever you’ve worked so hard to remove from your child’s sleep journey.
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.
Maintain open communication. Let your daycare provider know that you’ve been working on your baby’s sleep issues and where you’re at in 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
Start sleep training 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 ideal to get three or four nights in before going to daycare. If there’s another care provider who can help you out for a day or two (or maybe you have an extra vacation day laying around), consider keeping baby home Monday and even Tuesday so he/she has a good amount of time to get accustomed to their new sleeping arrangement.
Don’t “ease baby in”. Once you’re ready to start sending baby to daycare, jump into their regular schedule. If they will be going 5 days a week, start there. No need to ease into the schedule.
Babies are capable of distinguishing between different environments. Habits they learn at daycare won’t necessarily transfer over to sleep at 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. Obviously a similar schedule is ideal, but 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.
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 and activity 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 communication, 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 at home, stick to your schedule as closely as possible, keep baby away from those sleep props, and things will fall into place!