Monday 25 September 2017

The A to Zzzs of daycare

When grilling a creche about their practices before enrolling your child, don't neglect to bring up the topic of sleep, writes Lucy Wolfe

Sleeping baby girl
Sleeping baby girl

A CRECHE is a suitable choice of day care for many working parents, but where to place them is a huge decision. It often means numerous questions for the childcare provider such as the ratio of carers to children, what activities the children will be doing, feeding arrangements and so on. But one important question often overlooked by parents is "how is the environment going to affect my child's sleep?"

Parents need to be mindful that the creche can have an enormous impact on our children's sleep, for the better or, sometimes, for the worse.

Some sleep better in creche

Typically, day care providers operate on a highly structured schedule, with certain times allocated for sleep, feeds and activities depending on the age group. A high percentage of young children function very well on the consistency of this approach. Many parents may find that whilst in creche their child sleeps exceptionally well, at home on non-work days it is another story.

Most young children become conditioned quite quickly to the consistent response of the caregiver and learn to know what is expected of them at sleep times in this environment. The result is that a potentially inefficient sleeper at home is perhaps the best sleeper at creche. Guidelines prevent creche providers rocking, rolling or holding your children at sleep time and, typically, children develop self-settling skills. As long as there is a suitable sleep environment, your child is well rested and meeting his day time sleep needs appropriately.

If you find this is the case, it may be worth trying to emulate the creche day schedule for sleep on weekends and days off, and help your child learn to sleep well for you in the home environment too.

Some sleep better at home

This can be particularly true for children who have a highly structured day time sleep schedule on non-creche days, so almost the reverse of the above problem. A young child may be so used to sleeping in a certain way with familiar sleep aids at home, that day-care sleep is a difficult adjustment. This can be compounded by the stimulating nature of the environment, and your child may find it hard to a) sleep at a different time to at home, b) wind down well and pass over to sleep or c) sleep well with others in the room.

Learning to sleep in a communal environment is a skill in itself. Parents and providers of childcare in this instance need to trouble shoot and try to find solutions to this problem.

Consider requesting that your child rests according to your typical day time schedule, despite the fact that this may mean he or she misses out on some of the activities. Try to replicate the home sleep environment by providing a sleeping bag, familiar items from home and familiar music or white noise, for example. Your day care may have to initially invest five-10 minutes of a wind-down with your child in a quiet space, away from the stimulating activity of the others, to help bridge the gap from alert to sleepy.

Your baby's personality

Temperament plays a significant part in this transition and especially if you are struggling with day care related sleep issues. Your child's ability to quickly adapt to new settings, people and schedules can dictate whether or not problems arise. Highly adaptable babies typically have no problem adjusting. However, slow-to-warm-up personality types can have a much more difficult time and will require more time and a high level of consistency for things to improve. If your baby is like this and you plan to use a creche, it may be wise to ensure before they have to attend day care that your child is on a consistent and predictable day time schedule. Ensure that naps at home are unassisted, in a suitable sleep environment and at the right time for your child. Then you can confidently request that your creche do the same, and this can certainly help.

If you find that your child is getting less sleep than you would like or if your child's health and well-being are being affected, despite the benefits of the social element of the creche, you may need to look at other childcare options. These include child minders who look after children in their own home, or nannies or au pairs who will look after your child in your child's environment. Whatever your decision, make sleep a priority.

Questions for your childcare provider

Where will your child sleep? In a sleeping room, cot or mat, for example?

Will they help wind down the child before sleep?

When will your child sleep? Only on the creche schedule, or can it be on your child's sleep cues or the schedule that works at home?

Is it a suitable sleep environment? I always recommend adequate darkness and quiet; if using music or white noise it should stay on for the entire sleep period.

If your child is unsettled, will they remove him to stop waking others, or give him a chance as he makes the transition?

Can he have his lovey, sleeping bag, soother?

Will they provide a record of his sleep daily so you can monitor his progress and levels of sleep?

Will they make sleep a priority?

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, t: 087 2683584 or e: lucy@sleepmatters.ie

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