Dr. Sarah Mitchell
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Baby Sleep at Daycare: What you need to Know

There can be many challenges when it comes to trying to coordinate naps with your childcare. Don’t fret, we are here to help you navigate through the up and down of daycare sleep. Age can make a big difference, but there are also other things to consider. So keep reading!

There are three main challenges when it comes to sleeping at daycare.  Different nap schedules, environment challenges and how they get kids to sleep. 

Nap Schedule Challenges

  1. Fixed Schedules for Babies less than 9 Months 

Here at Helping Babies Sleep we don’t love fixed nap times in the first year since nap length can vary, especially until 6 months when the circadian rhythm finally matures.  When on fixed schedules your baby could possibly stay awake too long between naps if the nap was short.  This can lead to overtiredness and taking another short nap.  This can be a vicious cycle. 

  1. One Nap Too Early 

The most common challenge is daycares who transition to 1 nap per day, too early.  Most kids aren’t ready for 1 nap until 14-15 months, but often a 1 nap schedule in daycares is common at 12 months of age. 

What are the implications of moving to 1 nap too soon?   

  • Your child is exhausted by nap time 
  • This can sometimes lead to nap being short because they are overtired before put down 
  • Your child falls asleep on the ride home 
  • This late in the day  cat nap for a toddler can sometimes kill your sleep pressure and then push bedtime later
  • Not napping enough in the daytime leading to night waking or 5 am wake ups 

Environmental Considerations

How sensitive your baby is to light and noise is largely dependent on your child's temperament and personality. For the most part is something that they are born with. White noise and blackout curtains can be great tools to help block out extra distractions when trying to help little ones fall asleep. 

How They Get Kids to Sleep 

If you’ve worked on helping your little one develop independent sleep skills and go down completely awake and not drowsy, you want to ask your daycare how they do nap putdowns.  If your baby goes to sleep on their own at home, but then at daycare they use the bottle or rocking to put them to sleep, this could change what your little one’s expectations are around sleep.  This could undo some of your sleep skill work that you did at home.    It’s a possibility.  However, some kids are more flexible than others and they recognize the difference in approaches between daycare vs home. I've seen both scenarios.

Questions to ask when looking at daycares:

  • Can they swaddle your baby (depending on age)
  • How dark can they make the room? 
  • How often do they nap?
  • Does everyone have the same napping schedule?
  • How do they know when it’s naptime?
  • Do they use a flexible schedule?
  • Can they use white noise?
  • When do they transition to one nap?
  • Do they use a bottle to put baby to sleep? 

As a parent you know your child best. Don’t be afraid to ask questions and try to do some detective work to try and find out what is going on with your child, and how you can best support them.   Always be sure to ask very specific questions about what’s happening at daycare.  Don’t make assumptions about anything when it comes to feeding and sleeping. 

The good news… most babies sleep well at daycare. 

They are stimulated more than at home and often parents report their babies nap better at daycare than they do at home!  This is often about preferences and routines.  At daycare, the day tends to be very structured and kids know what to expect.  On the weekends with parents there might be more variability.  In addition, daycare is predictable and usually responds the same way every time, whereas parents might deviate and change what their child’s expectations are of them.  Also, at home a child’s favorite person is present, you!  This can often lead to nap resistance in order to spend more time with a parent. 

Some signs that your daycare may not be working for your child are:

  • Night waking when child was sleeping through the night
  • Child is beyond exhausted when they get home 
  • Challenge at 12 months when many daycares transition to one nap a day

In this scenario you’ll need to work with your daycare by asking more questions and figuring out ways to solve the problem.

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