It’s difficult for us to process the thought of going back to work, 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 when your are returning to work you will need to make some informed choices about your childcare provisions and I would encourage you to include sleep within those decisions. It may also be easier to tolerate sleep deprivation whilst on maternity leave, but it will be increasingly more difficult when you are trying to work and function at an optimum level in a professional capacity and still be the best parent and partner that you can be.
There are plenty of choices from a day care perspective; from formal crèche environments, to people minding children in their own homes. If you are not opting for a child care option that keeps your child in their own home, then a major consideration should be given to where your child will sleep during the day whilst in someone else’s care.
A young child will have a day time sleep need to at least to age 3 and very possibly beyond. 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 a template of a day your child should be on for his/her age group and the amount of daytime sleep s/he requires and at what times. That way you can be assertive over your child’s day care sleep from the start of the parent/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; that is not good quality-cars, buggies, couches for example, 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. Be mindful that the best place for your child to sleep for both day and night-time sleep is a cot/bed in a sleep environment. However, some sleep is better than no sleep, so alternatives such as buggies can be a secondary option, but I would still encourage a dark environment and to stop motion as soon as the baby is asleep.
Before your child starts in a day care environment be it crèche, childminder, a relation, I suggest that s/he should already be an 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 where possible. 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 lean and you may need to bring forward bed time to address this deficit. 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 s/he will be able to easily master nap 2 in this space, if it is still age appropriate. If your child takes lengthy naps for you at home, but tends to sleep less at your childminders, then I would advise that you request that your minder invests some extra time to your child’s sleep, so that they don’t become conditioned to short sleeps with them. This in turn can have negative impact on not only night time sleep, but on mood, behaviour and appetite, so it is advisable to address these issues early on before they become ingrained. Be understanding, assertive and collaborate with the staff as everyone involved will want what is best for your child.
Lucy Wolfe, CGSC, MAPSC, is a paediatric sleep consultant and mum of four young children. She runs a private sleep consulting practice where she provides knowledge, expertise and valuable support to families across the country. See www.sleepmatters.ie <http://www.sleepmatters.ie>, t: 087 2683584 or e: firstname.lastname@example.org