How to make the best of a tough naptime situation
One of the most stressful parts of being a working parent is daycare having to navigate your little one’s nap schedule. Some daycare are very flexible and will follow your wishes to a T. Other daycares don’t have that ability, or simply WON’T accommodate your baby’s individual schedule. There’s a balance between advocating for your baby’s sleep and feeding needs, and being understanding towards the plight of having to care for multiple infants and toddlers, each with different needs. How can you best navigate this season? Here’s four tips for making the best of a difficult situation that is your baby’s daycare sleep schedule:
Tip #1: Encourage your caregivers to follow an “Eat, Play, Sleep” routine, rather than feeding at a set time, or feeding right before sleep.
It’s easier for providers to remember that feedings are at a set 9:00 am, 12:00 pm, and 4:00 pm. But there’s a problem with trying to set an infant’s feeding schedule, especially a younger infant less than 7-8 months old. The main issue is that you cannot control your baby’s sleep 100%. If your baby falls asleep later than usual, or does not sleep an exact 1.5 hours, then these set feedings may fall at inappropriate times. Often what happens is that the baby takes a short nap, yet caregivers wait to feed the baby at the set time. However, this puts the feeding near the end of the baby’s wake window, right before your baby needs to take the next nap. Now your baby is exhausted and cranky. Inevitably the baby falls asleep while eating, which will result in a short nap and a sleep association being reinforced. It can also cause your baby not to take in a full feeding due to tiredness or falling asleep at the bottle. Instead, encourage caregivers to feed your baby within 30ish minutes of the baby waking from nap. This way your baby won’t get used to feeding to sleep, and she will get a nice full feed. About how many ounces that full feed is… if you are nursing it can be tricky to really know how much to send to daycare. Some moms just send whatever they pump and assume that’s what the baby is taking while nursing. Others send a certain amount, careful not to go over it so as not to “cause the baby’s tummy to stretch”, or “get used” to a bigger feed. But I am more worried about giving the amount of ounces that your infant will be satisfied with, that will last her 3-3.5 hours, and that will give her the amount of ounces needed during the daytime hours to sleep well at night. Though some pro-breastfeeding websites suggest ONLY 3 ounces at a time, or NO MORE THAN 5 ounces, this is assuming this breastfed baby eats every 2-3 hours around the clock, NOT a baby that takes full feedings because Mom knows the importance of this! :) Of course every baby is different, but based on my experience working with working moms, I suggest attempting at least 5 ounces by 8-12 weeks old, and 6-7 ounces after that, as the time between feeds increases to 3.5-4 hours. Send .5-1 ounce top offs as well in case daycare providers need to offer a little more to your baby. You’d rather a happy and full baby than a cranky, hungry one due to trying to stay within some arbitrary limit.
What to tell caregivers:
“At home we follow an Eat, Play, Sleep routine. James tends to eat so much better this way, rather than trying to stretch him to a set feeding time. Could you please try to feed him within 30 minutes of him waking up from his nap? I am also trying not to associate feeding with him sleeping so this helps us maintain the progress we’ve made in that area.”
Tip #2: Let caregivers know how much time awake your baby needs in order to take the best nap.
This of course will change, week by week, month by month. So make sure you communicate those changes with your providers. Some parents find it easiest to provide a set amount of minimum and maximum time awake in order to give the caregivers a little flexibility. For example, if your 4 month old naps best with 2 hours of wake time, tell your daycare provider to put your baby down 2-2.25 hours after waking from a nap. And if they must then 1 hr 45 min should be the minimum amount of time awake between naps. Daycare is an exciting environment for a baby and some truly have FOMO! I haven’t found too many issues in a baby staying awake 15-30 minutes past when they normally go down. However I have found so many issues with a baby being put down without the adequate awake time before the nap. From fighting tse built up in your baby’s brain can wreak havoc on sleep at daycare. I find slightly more wake time than normal works to your advantage. If your baby is on 2 naps, I find that telling caregivers a set nap time actually works great, as long as there is that minimum amount of wake time before that set nap. (For example, if your baby needs 3 hours between naps then tell daycare to put your baby down at 10 and 2:30 pm, with at least 3 hours between the first and second nap.) Of course as I will say so many times, every baby is different! And if your baby is naturally more sensitive to overtiredness or overstimulation at daycare then you might need to err on the side of less wake time. Just follow the data. Here’s a peek at the optimal wake windows that I have found to work best based on your baby’s age:
What to tell caregivers: “James sleeps so much better if he is awake a full 3 hours
after his naps, even if they are short. Even if he seems cranky, he just seems to need that amount!” OR “James is so sensitive to being overtired. He tends to cry so much more going down or takes a short nap if he’s up too long. Can you please put him down no later than 2 hours 45 minutes after his last nap? I think you’ll find nap goes a little better if he isn’t overtired when he goes down.”
Tip #3: Control what you CAN and let go of what you CAN’T!
Typically what you can control is what time you put your baby down for bed, what time you wake your baby up, and weekend naps. When a baby struggles to sleep during the week at daycare I remind clients to let go of perfection and focus on the weekend naps. If your baby can fall asleep independently, sleep through the night (or wake only when hungry, if appropriate), and take decent naps on the weekend, then let go of much of the stress that you put on yourself to “fix” daycare naps. Because it will be near impossible to fix! Instead put your efforts on positive communication and relationship with the providers, offering input into your baby’s schedule when needed, being firm when needed, but in the end knowing that your baby is still happy and healthy, even without stellar naps.
If your baby has crappy naps, try an early bedtime to offset the missed sleep. It’s not uncommon for a baby to sleep 12-13 hours overnight during the week while sleeping very little during the day. It’s also not uncommon for a daycare baby to drop naps a little earlier than typical. Again, make the best out of an imperfect situation and share a schedule with the caregivers that might work best for your baby within the limits that the daycare provider has outlined. You might also have to wake your baby up a little earlier than you’d prefer if your baby’s class has a set nap schedule that does not accommodate wake windows. For example, if your 6 month old’s class naps at 9 and 1:30 pm, but your baby normally wakes at 7 am and isn’t ready for nap at 9, then try waking your baby up at 6:30 am to give a bit more wake time before that set nap at daycare so that it increases the chance of him napping better. Focus on playing around with the parts of the schedule you can control during the week, as well as the schedule when your baby is home during the weekend in order to get a good schedule going on the days that your baby is home.
Tip #4: Give your caregivers a small token of appreciation after a week or two of them working with you on your schedule.
Even if they are totally failing, pick one thing they did well and that you appreciate and thank them. A $5 or $10 Starbucks gift card is a great small gift that’s always appreciated! Or, you can handwrite a note of acknowledgement of how hard they are working to try to follow their schedule. This will encourage your caregivers to continue to try the suggestions that you are making to help your baby’s naps. You might have to repeat this as routines slip, or schedules or caregivers change. Reinforcing efforts and what is working will help the brain continue to be open to flexibility, on both the caregiver and the parent’s part. It also helps reinforce that you want to work with your caregiver, and keeps the relationship and lines of communication open.
What to tell caregivers: “I just wanted to give this small gift as a thank you for working with me on James’s naps. He has come a long way and just the fact that you were willing to follow his wake windows even though it’s hard to keep up with really says a lot about your dedication to my baby’s care.”
You got this!
As overwhelming and frustrating daycare schedules can be, you are going to get through this season of life. Your baby is going to continue to grow and thrive, which is ultimately your goal. It’s hard to be in that position of having to both advocate for your baby, and not sweat the small stuff. I urge you not to be fully on one side (too strict and vocal about your baby’s schedule and the caregiver’s shortcomings in following it) or the other (feel resigned to the fact that “It is the way it is and I can’t change anything.”). But rather, determine what you need to focus on, how you can meet your goals within the limits of the daycare setting, and the way you can express these goals to your provider in a way that can both validate the provider’s challenges and efforts, and advocate for the needs of your baby.
If you need help with this process, reach out! My a la carte support might be helpful to hash out how we can work with the caregivers to best meet your baby’s sleep needs.
RIGHT CLICK AND SAVE THIS GRAPHIC TO HELP YOU WITH THE CONVERSATION BETWEEN YOU AND YOUR DAYCARE PROVIDER!