How to Get Your Baby to Nap in Daycare

For many mothers, who practice gentle or attachment parenting, their return to work  can be fraught with worry. Concerns about how the baby will settle and sleep for the new caregivers usually top the list. In this blog post my aim is to hopefully reduce these fears a little and help you to prepare your baby for naps without you as much as possible.

Before I talk about how to encourage more independent naps I think it’s really important to start at a point that many parenting ‘experts’ would skip. That is choosing childcare. I’m not going to go into great depth here (for those who are interested I have however done so in my new Gentle Parenting Book), but it’s impossible to cover this topic without even a brief mention.

Choosing Childcare Providers

Choosing the correct childcare for your baby is the most important step you can take to ease their transition and to aid sleep without you. There is no one universally correct choice, because all care differs between providers (whatever pedagogy they may subscribe to), however for those with a more gentle disposition I would always recommend ‘home based childcare’ as usually being the top choice. What do I mean by ‘home based’? Simply care provided in the child’s own home (the ultimate childcare choice – think nanny) or in somebody else’s (think grandparents or childminder). Home based childcare usually allows for a little more flexibility around individual routines and for babies reduces over-stimulation. That doesn’t however mean that I would advise parents to always steer clear of nursery settings. There are some truly wonderful nurseries out there (and some dire nannies and childminders). A great nursery is much better than a poor, or average nanny.

The most important point to consider concerning childcare selection is how willing the provider is to meet the needs of your individual child. I have worked with so many parents who ask me “my baby naps at 9am and 3pm, but at nursery they have to nap at 11am and 2pm, how do I change my baby’s routine to fit this?”, or “my baby only sleeps when she’s held and rocked, but at daycare they have to fall asleep in a cot, help?”. My answer is always the same:

“you are paying for this service, they should be providing the service that you and your baby require. If that means following individual nap times or carrying your baby in a sling for the duration of their nap, then that’s what you should demand. If they are unwilling to meet your needs then this is not the right setting for you or your child.”

When selecting childcare some important questions to ask are:

  1. Do you expect my baby to sleep at a certain time? Or are you happy for him/her to sleep according to her own needs?
  2. If my baby cannot fall asleep in the cot/crib will you carry her/him in a sling?
  3. My baby needs movement to sleep – will you take him/her for a walk in the buggy/stroller if necessary every day?
  4. What will you do if my baby doesn’t want to nap when others in your care are napping?
  5. My baby needs music/scent/certain objects/certain lighting sleep, are you happy with this?
  6. Are you prepared to have a lot of settling in sessions, both with and without me present, before my baby starts with you? Or do you have a restriction on how many we can have?

Remember, you are paying a lot of money and trusting the love of your life to somebody else’s care, there should be NOTHING you are unhappy about. If there is, and the provider is not happy to change their views, then I cannot highlight enough – this is not the right care provider for you!

Are your Fears Unfounded?

I know it may seem completely impossible to comprehend, but once you have found the right care provider you will be amazed at how differently your baby will sleep for them. Many parents tells me “she’ll only fall asleep at the breast for me and I have to stay with her for the duration of the nap” or “he’ll only sleep with constant rocking”…..”but, at daycare it’s amazing that it’s so different”. Babies who won’t fall asleep for mum or dad without a boob, or those who take 30 minutes of rocking will often be happy to be placed in a crib/cot and be patted to sleep by your childcare provider. For some parents it’s so unbelievably different that they are not convinced until they see it happen for themselves. The chances of the parents replicating this at home are precisely nil. Why? Babies seem to know that they will need to settle in a different way for their caregiver than for their parents. The comforting they get from their parents is ‘the ultimate’, but they seem willing to sacrifice it a little in the daytime for other carers (until they’re back with their parents that is).

I cannot highlight how common this is. Almost all babies will sleep in a different and very unexpected way for their carer than their parents. The carer will also likely find their own way to get your baby to sleep, again most likely in a way you’ll never be able to replicate. It may take a week or so for the two of them to find their own groove, but they almost certainly will!

Smoothing the Transition

It’s quite common that parents feel the need to get their baby napping ‘out of arms’, or settling without a breastfeed in preparation for starting daycare. I don’t actually think either of these are necessary (see above for why!). It absolutely won’t confuse your baby if you always feed them to sleep, but their carer pushes them in a buggy or stroller.

What I would suggest you focus on however are steps that the carer can follow that are the same that you use at home. Things like:

  • Always changing your baby into a certain sleeping bag before naptimes and sending a duplicate with them to daycare.
  • Sending a special sling or carrier that you use for naptimes with your baby to daycare
  • Playing a special piece of music for naptimes at home (like my ‘Gentle Sleep Music for Babies’) for the duration of your baby’s nap, and then asking daycare to use it for naps there.
  • Wearing a scent (I recommend lavender essential oil) as perfume during the day yourself and then asking your carer to wear the same, or at least to carry a muslin scented with it.
  • Reading a special story book at the start of nap times, and sending another copy of that book with your child to daycare.
  • Keeping the lighting levels the same for naps at home and at daycare (I recommend NOT closing blinds or curtains in order to not inhibit the circadian rhythm/body clock and potentially negatively impacting night time sleep- more on this in my ‘Gentle Sleep Book’).
  • Snuggling your baby with a special comforter (I like this one) or blanket (like this) at home during every nap or feed and then sending a duplicate to their daycare with them.

All of these will help your baby to feel that they have a little piece of you with them and the continuity should aid easier naps in your absence.

Similarly if you have a slightly older baby, it’s a great idea to take photos of their caregiver and to make a little photo album of them to discuss at home. Look at the album often together and comment positively on what a lovely time they have together.

When Your Baby Cries

A lot of gentle and attachment parents get very worried about their baby crying, particularly when they are not with them. There is a difference however between the type of crying that happens when a baby is being sleep trained (when they are alone and likely scared and very stressed) and the type that occurs when a baby is being held and attended to fully by somebody who cares for them. In the latter case, although it’s always best if crying is avoided completely, in reality it’s often not possible and it’s likely your baby will cry in your absence. Here THIS article may help you a little.

Reconnecting at the End of the Day

It’s really important that you understand your baby is going to need you more at the end of the day and often overnight once you return to work. A baby who previously was ‘sleeping through’ or waking only once will commonly wake more often once they start daycare. Similarly it’s common that they will feed more in the evening and at night if they are breastfed. This is known as ‘reverse cycling’. Your baby is simply trying to reconnect with you after your time apart through the best means they know how. Now is not the time for nightweaning, as exhausting as it may be wait at least a month or two, if not longer. You can find some tips in my ‘Gentle Sleep Book‘, when the time comes.

Imagine your baby has a ‘connection bucket’. This bucket needs to reach full capacity by the end of each day. If it doesn’t, the baby may feel a little insecure and need to connect with you more at night. Now if you are away from your baby for 8 hours or more each day it’s reasonable to expect that your baby’s bucket needs a lot of filling in the evening. For this reason don’t rush their bath and bedtime as soon as you get in. The best way to reconnect is to play, cuddle and breastfeed. Each evening try to spend at least an hour doing these things before beginning dinner or a bedtime routine and slot in a 30 minute play time between dinner and bath. Ideally your baby needs a minimum of two hours awake and reconnecting time with you at home, before starting their bedtime routine each evening.


In many ways this section should come at the start of this article, not the end. Too often parents are so worried about their baby when they return to work that they forget to think of their own needs. Going back to work when you’re a new mother is bloody hard. Not just from a physical exhaustion level, but an emotional one too.  You must, must, must, must, must look after yourself – in body and in mind. Rest up as much as possible, don’t try to ‘do it all’, get some ‘me time’ in when you can at weekends, eat well, try to catch up on sleep whenever you can (going to bed at the same time as your baby may seem depressing but can really help in the first few weeks back to work). I’d also really recommend learning and practising mindfulness. It may sound a bit ‘hippy trippy’, but it’s really a game-changer. Check out THIS WEBSITE for a free trial.

Good luck!

The NEWLY UPDATED Gentle Sleep Book – out now! If you would like to understand and learn how to improve your baby, toddler, or pre-schooler’s sleep WITHOUT cry-based conventional sleep training, this is the book for you!


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Published by SarahOckwell-Smith

Sarah Ockwell-Smith, Parenting author and mother to four.

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