Lucy Wolfe, CGSC, MAPSC, is a paediatric sleep consultant, Author of The Baby Sleep Solution and mum of four young children. She runs a private sleep consulting practice with her 98%-effective approach for sleep, providing knowledge, expertise and valuable support. It’s super to share her know-how on the blog today.
Photo by Rob Lamb
If your young child struggles to sleep either at bedtime or throughout the night and doesn’t nap well, then a sleep establishment process may need to be considered from 6 months of age onwards so that your child gets the right amount and quality of sleep for healthy development and is in turn, able to sail through major transitions such as your return to work and their starting in day care, with ease.
Consider the following: If your child wakes overnight requiring high levels of parental input to go back to sleep, will you be able to function effectively at work? If you are required at bedtime to put your child to sleep for lengthy periods of time, will you still be able to do this after working all day? Does your child require you to hold, feed, drive or roll them for their naps? Will your child care provider be able to do this for you?
It is advisable for parents to plan in advance, once age appropriate, to be both fair to your child who isn’t sleeping well and to the rest of your family unit. I suggest that you begin preparations at least 1-2 months in advance of you starting back at work, bearing in mind that it can typically take 3-4 weeks for sleep issues to be resolved provided it is age appropriate.
Going back to work presents its own issues with your child having to get used to not seeing you as much during the day, as well as acclimatising to a new environment, regardless of how adjustable your little person may appear to be.
Parents are often emotionally torn with the return to work and the thought of ‘leaving’ your child during the day. Ensure that you spend some connecting time with your child either before or after work to help to seal your attachment with them as they process not being with you as much as they are currently used to.
The thought of going back to work is difficult, whether you are a first time parent or returning to work after a second or subsequent child. Those first few months of maternity leave tend to fly by, but when you know your return to work date you may need to make some informed choices about your childcare provisions and I would encourage you to include sleep within those decisions.
A young child will have a day time sleep need to at least to age 3. Where and at what time they will sleep, needs to be considered by you and by the people that are minding your child. Ensure that you know what kind of age relevant schedule would suit your child. That way you can be assertive over your child’s day care sleep from the start of the parent and childcare relationship.
That your child maintains a healthy daytime sleep schedule for as long as is age appropriate will have a positive implication for night-time sleep. Sadly, inadequate day time sleep can actually be the cause of frequent night time awakenings, which are hard to manage at the best of times, notwithstanding having to work the following day.
Before your child starts in a day care environment be it crèche, childminder, a relation, I suggest that they should already be a relatively independent sleeper and so then the only real adjustment that is required is getting used to sleeping in a different location.
In all cases, it is a time of transition and it may take time for your little person to get used to sleeping in a different environment, so try to have your childminder do the same sort of nap routine that you do at the same time and in the same way. It can be helpful for you to send a similar sleeping bag if you use one to the crèche/childminders and also if allowed, a transitional object such as a safe blanket or stuffed toy that he can have when it is sleep time. I also recommend that from the start you allow the childminder to address sleep time without you present. That way, very quickly, your child won’t associate you with sleep in this new environment and your minders can develop a sleep relationship with your child.
In some circumstances, your child will have to learn to sleep in the same room as other children and that in itself is a skill set and adequate time to adjust to sleeping, whilst others are potentially making noise or stirring can take time to fall into place. As this learning process begins, day sleep may be short and you may need to bring forward bed time to address this. If you are gently easing your child into a day care scenario, a couple of hours at a time over a number of weeks, then the easiest nap to attempt is the first nap of the day and then your child will be able to more easily master nap 2 in this space. I find that it can take up to 3 weeks for day care sleep to establish itself.
As well as putting emphasis on the sleep environment and conditions, positive sleep practices require other elements such as ensuring that your child is well fed at the right time and drinks enough milk for their age group together with adequate fresh air and outside activity. Starting anything new is challenging and starting with a new minder or day care provider can be daunting for all parties. If everyone involved concentrates on what is best for your child, then problems can be easily resolved.
Be understanding, assertive and collaborate with the staff so the arrangement becomes a good fit for all and you will have one less thing to be worried about.