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Tips for Starting Daycare

Updated: Apr 27

You may be reading this in haste as your maternity leave is coming to a fast close, and you just aren't ready to leave your baby. Getting a plan in place and expectations around how hard it can be when going back to work will help you transition into this new reality and routine with your baby in daycare. One that can be the best of both worlds! Honoring yourself and your new self as a mother.

Starting Daycare Post Covid

The covid pandemic changed things a bit. Health guidelines are stricter than they used to be, and with masks no longer in place, everyone's immunities have taken a hit.

I imagine most schools and daycare centers are back to a contact drop-off and pick-up, meaning we can walk our kids inside and check them in. Praise! Guidelines for daycares and schools around illness require the child to be fever free for 24 hours without medication and no vomiting or diarrhea. Having sick littles is the worst. Every single time my children are sick, I wish to trade places with them every single time. Having sick children puts strain on our mental health, our anxieties and our abilities to show up at work or caregiver roles. This is not meant to scare you, but just to know to keep your realities at the forefront. There is nothing harder than seeing your children sick during cold and flu season because of school and daycare, but each sickness is their immune system creating its coat of armor.

Returning from maternity leave and starting daycare

Get acquainted with your pump if you are nursing! Plus, be sure you have gotten your little one used to drinking from a bottle. This will help eliminate any added anxiety on top of what you are already feeling. 1-2 weeks before your return, start keeping a daily log of what goes on with your baby; feeding times, sleep periods and duration, diaper changes, bowel movement habits and more. This way, you won’t be rushed or put on the spot when your new caregiver asks about your baby’s schedule. Be advise that public daycares typically have parents fill out a log of sorts for their infant at each morning drop-off. It will ask questions like, when did they last wakeup?, when did they last eat?, and when was their last diaper change?

It’s important to know that most state licensed daycares are required to follow parents’ instructions for infants 0-12 months. So, in essence, what you say goes!

It’ll be no surprise that you are feeling anxious and sad about leaving your baby all day, but knowing the caregiver is following your instructions can be comforting. The transition can be tough! Ask them to send you snapshots throughout the day or drop in on your lunch break for a quick snuggle.

Daycares will always have babies sleeping in bare cribs to reduce the occurrence of SIDS. If you are anxious about your baby not yet sleeping in a crib, practice introducing it one nap at a time. Even a 30-minute nap will help your baby get comfortable sleeping in that space.

How to manage baby's sleep schedule when you have to leave early for work.

Commutes are common and long ones are even more common. Or, maybe you work a flex-schedule and need to leave early. If you have to wake your baby at 6 or before, then early, early bedtime is key. Make this known to your caregiver and ask that they work with your child to get down for their nap first. Depending on age, the class could have 10-14 children, and that’s a lot of bodies to get settled and laid down! This is also helpful when your child ‘moves up’. At that point, they will be the youngest in their class and their sleep needs are different. Your child would benefit from getting settled for their rest time first. Keep in mind that an 11-hour in crib time is key even if that means they go directly to bed after dinner. Your child needs and craves that restorative sleep.. Don’t worry it won’t be this way forever!

How to manage short naps at daycare or no naps at all at daycare.

Yep. I said it. It happens, but the good thing is it usually doesn’t last long. But before you worry yourself, know that so many older kids( only taking 1 nap) fall asleep on their first day. It’s something about the peer pressure! I remember sending my 15-month old twins to daycare for their first day and thought, “There is no way in hell they will lay down on a cot and sleep with the lights on”. But, what do you know? They both slept an hour. Now, that wasn’t nearly as long as they needed, but I was ecstatic that they fell asleep at all. Now, over a year later, one of my twins continues to take 1.5-2hr naps (Monday & Friday) and my other twin is hit or miss. Some days she can sleep an hour and other days its 30-45 minutes. I take into consideration that I know she will be tired and give her grace when she acts out. Even if I can get her to bed 15-minutes early that night, its helpful.

Tips for your Baby's Sleep at Daycare

Now, younger babies need a more intentional approach. They can’t miss multiple naps a day or things could get ugly. Even if your child is out of the infant room, take note of how naps are and ask all the questions. You are their parent and who is going to ask if you don’t? Be an advocate for your child. Setup a meeting with the direction and ask for what you need. Often times at daycare centers, the teachers are rotating and have days off. If the daycare is in the loop, you will have more success.

If your baby was taking really good independent naps at home, expect that they can attain that at daycare, as well. Talk to the room leader about the nap routine and what happens when your baby wakes prematurely. Did they introduce a new prop like rocking or feeding to sleep? Ensure them that your baby does not need those things at home to take a good nap!

Following Eat-Play-Sleep can happen at daycare too. Older kids may skip the nap entirely. BUT, it’s typically not the case because ‘everyone else is doing it 

They see all the other kids laying down to rest and will in turn fall asleep. Some find that their older kids actually nap better at school.

Your baby is just learning to self-settle or is just one of those babies who needs to let out a few cries before falling asleep

This is all normal! Let the room leader know about this and that you are comfortable with 5-minutes, for example, of crying. Suggest your little one be put down first if they say this is disrupting the other children. Again, totally normal and is developmental.

Your baby falls asleep on the short car ride home from daycare.

This actually could be a good thing, because then your baby will be alert enough to eat dinner and maybe even some quiet playtime. For babies, 4-7 months old, falling asleep in the car will be very common. When it happens, let them sleep for at least 15-20 minutes. Then proceed with your schedule as normal following an age appropriate wake time. If your baby is older than 7-months, a 3rd nap isn’t advisable.


Click here for suggestions on the 3-2 transition.

Mirror the new schedule of daycare.

Sometimes this can be important. If you know your child will be taking 1 nap at school but is still taking two at home. Start the steps at home to reduce down to 1 nap a day. If you’ve been hanging onto the third nap at home, but you know it’s time to drop it, adopt the new schedule 1-2 weeks before your child starts. This will be one less change for them to adapt to.

In recap, here’s what you can do to set your child up for success at daycare/nursery!

1. Do your research- Ask ALL the questions. Are sleep periods flexible? Will they allow items from home? Can you bring a sleep sack and sound machine? Will they follow your schedule and routine? These questions are ideal for babies younger than 1-year old!

2. Set reasonable expectations- Take a deep breath and try to accept the fact that there will be an adjustment period. Sleep won’t be as good as it was at home, but the disruptions can be temporary. There are things you can do to help make up for the missed sleep like, super early bedtimes and longer nap periods on the weekend.

3. How is your child falling asleep? If things haven’t settled or gotten better in a couple weeks, be sure to ask about the routines and process around nap times. Did they introduce a new prop? If sleep periods are only lasting 30-minutes, it’s likely that their routine has been altered in some way. If not corrected, the disruptions can have long term effects on your child’s sleep. If you are prop-free at home, expect the same from. Your caregiver!

If you have returned to daycare but sleep and routine has been disrupted, schedule your 15-minute evaluation call with me today!

Lindsay Loring is a certified pediatric sleep consultant with Tweet Dreamzz Sleep Consulting.

She is a wife and mother of twin girls. She lives with her family in the St. Louis, MO metro area.

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