Sometimes even the best sleepers can struggle when transitioning to childcare. When my first started at just 9 months I was shocked to realise that most places didn't have a ‘dedicated sleep area’.
At home he'd sleep in his cot in a pitch black room, and at his childcare he was going to have to sleep on a floor bed with lights on, and kids still playing in the same room. I was definitely worried that his great sleep habits would completely unravel.
..and guess what? He did struggle! But only for a few days, and then he was back on track sleeping his usual nap lengths - I even had to ask them to wake him if he was oversleeping!
If your little one is about to start childcare here are our top tips to help them sleep as well there, as they do at home.
1. Keep a similar routine for at home and at childcare.
Choose a childcare centre that will be flexible, and are happy to follow your baby's routine. Let your child's carers know what times your baby usually feeds, when their naps are and whether you’d like them to wake them from their naps. Let them know a back up plan for the early days, (if they skip the first nap - do this, or if they wake early - do this).
2. Try to keep some familiarity for sleep times.
Some places will have children napping on a floor mattress from quite an early age, if your child is still in a cot at home, you could ask if they could take their naps in one of the available cots at first to help them adjust.
A lot of childcares will only dim the lights in one area, as their may be some children that will need space to play while others nap. And many won’t have a dedicated sleep space that can be kept completely dark. You’ll find your child will probably adjust ok to sleeping in a different environment, but in the beginning you can ask if your child can take one of the positions in the corner of the room at least as far away from any awake activity going on.
Also talk to them about how they are settled to sleep and whether you’d like them to help them fall asleep or whether they usually happily self settle.
Bring their sleep associations to childcare every day, a portable white noise (if possible), sleeping bag, dummy and safe comforter (if over 7 months). And don’t wash their sleeping bag at first! That way it will still smell like home and help your child feel like they’re in a familiar place when trying to fall asleep.
Note: Childcare centres are typically really cold inside! In summer they'll often blast the air conditioner, and once everyone is napping and no longer racing around it will get cool quick - so you might need to pack their warmer sleeping bag even in the summer months.
3. Prepare them for the transition.
Arrange some short orientation days in the lead up to them starting so they can start to get comfortable with the environment and people working there.
Ask for all of the carers names at your centre, and whether they have staff photos that you can bring home. Create a visible poster with their names and photos set up at home so you can talk to your child about who they are and help them to feel more familiar and comfortable around them.
It is really important for your baby or toddler to develop a nice connection with some of their carers, if your child is older you’ll notice straight away how important this is - as your child may find it harder to adjust until they feel comfortable with the adults looking after them. Don’t be shy, try and get to know everyone who will be looking after your child.
4. Keep up regular communication with your childcare.
At pick up, make sure to check how well they ate/fed, how long they slept for. For the first few days or even weeks you may need to bring their bedtime a little earlier even if they slept well.
Don’t stress if they don’t sleep well at first, most kids do get accustomed to sleeping at childcare and some will even start sleeping better than at home! At most childcares there is usually so much activity to keep your little one engaged that they actually build up much more sleep pressure and will be able to sleep much easier even with everything going on.
And even if they do continue to have short naps on childcare days, it’s nothing to worry about. As long as they are generally happy and content there, then they’re doing just fine!
Your child’s mood and happiness at daycare is more important than how well they're sleeping. If after about 3-4 weeks your child still isn’t adjusting well it’s a good idea to chat with your childcare to see if there’s anything they can suggest that might help. If you feel like they’re not supportive or accommodating with your needs - then take it as a red flag and find another centre.