Is your baby or toddler about to transition to a new daycare or school? Will your child soon be cared for by a nanny or relative after having been cared for exclusively by you? It can be daunting to face the prospect of handing your little one to a new caregiver, especially if you've worked hard to build positive associations with sleep.
The good news is that babies and toddlers are very adaptable and incorporating new caregivers into your child's sleep routine often isn't as difficult as you might expect. In order to make the transition as easy as possible for your child, take a proactive stance by working with your caregivers to teach them how you normally do things. That said, you shouldn't fret if your caregiver isn't able to do things exactly the way that you do. The goal of this blog is to provide you with the tools that you need to help your child get the best quality sleep with new caregivers.
Arrange the environment for success.
Be sure your caregiver knows how to set the stage for success. Keep it cool, dark, quiet, and safe. Be sure your caregiver is aware of sleep basics and make sure you know where your caregiver plans to have your child nap. This may be intuitive to you but not at all to a new caregiver or one who has not kept up-to-date with recent research. Sadly, many tragic accidents have occurred when babies have been placed in unapproved sleep locations and left unsupervised by distracted caregivers (e.g., car seats, swings, etc.). Consider sharing our blog on sleep basics with your caregiver, and checking the CPSC website for recalled sleep devices, especially if your child will be cared for by a nanny, relative, or home daycare.
Maintain positive sleep associations.
Provide your caregiver with everything that your child needs for sleep (e.g., sleep sack, white noise machine, favorite blanket or lovey for older children). The less your caregiver has to think about, the smoother the transition will be.
TIP: If your child goes to a daycare center, it's unlikely that the sleep environment will be perfect. However, you can request that your child be placed in a crib away from active spaces and you can often bring a white noise machine to place between your child's crib and noisy environments.
Tell your caregiver when to offer naps.
More often than not, caregivers are going to be responsible for putting your child down for naps. Your caregiver will likely have some sort of idea about when a baby should sleep based on the sleepy cues s/he’s showing. However, sometimes a baby's sleepy cues don't reflect his/her optimal sleep timing. The best way to keep your child sleeping well at night is to ensure that your child's daytime schedule is consistent with what you know works best. If your child is under six months old, then s/he doesn't need to be on a strict schedule but recommending that your caregiver offer naps every 1-2 hours is a good idea. If your child is older than six months old, then you should be able to offer your caregiver a loose schedule to follow. If you aren't sure where to start, then check out our blogs on schedules and normal nap expectations.
If your baby can fall asleep independently:
Set your caregiver up for sleep success.
Tell your caregiver how your baby normally transitions to sleep. Does your baby always lightly fuss upon transitioning to sleep? It will be important for your caregiver to know if that is normal behavior for your child. Similarly, tell your caregiver what sleep cues you usually offer before sleep. For example, do you rock your child while singing a lullaby? Do you give your baby a pacifier, stroke her cheek, and then step out of the room? Do you rub the bridge of her nose? It will be helpful for your caregiver to know what comforts you have established to cue your baby for sleep. However, babies and toddlers can learn that different caregivers do different things, so don't worry if your caregiver would like to put your child down in a slightly different manner. That said, it is very helpful if your caregiver can continue to put your child down awake in order to minimize the potential for regression.
Note: Not every nap has to be perfect and in the crib. Your caregiver can let your child fall asleep on the go in a stroller or car seat (supervised, of course) for a few naps a week.
If your baby is normally nursed, bottle fed, or rocked to sleep:
Consider teaching your baby to fall asleep independently before making the transition to a new caregiving situation. This is hard! If your baby is nursed or rocked to sleep for all sleep times, then consider starting a sleep training or baby-led plan to teach your baby how to fall asleep independently at bedtime and through the night first, then work on naps. If you need help with this, then check out our sleep training class for night sleep or our e-book for nap sleep.
If you don't have time to teach your child new skills before s/he starts with a new caregiver, then you can work on the skill-building when your baby is with you. It may be a little more challenging for your caregiver to get your baby to fall asleep for naps in the first week or so, but it should get easier with time. If your caregiver is unable to transfer your child to a crib without waking him/her up, then it may be a good idea to ask your caregiver to hold you