My 11 month old has troubles self soothing and napping in daycare

by Kate - Answer by Heidi Holvoet, PhD
(Minneapolis, MN)

Question: My son is 11 months old and we have just started a daycare (it has been a week). My daycare provider wants my son to nap for 3 hours. He was usually napping for about 1 to 2 hours.

Could you suggest anything that I can do to prolong his nap time?

Also she has troubles to put him to sleep. He would not fall asleep by himself. When he stayed home with me I usually nursed him and he was falling asleep (probably wrong) and that's what I am doing now when I am putting him to bed for the night.

Could you help me with transitioning him to self soothing and how I can teach him to fall asleep by himself without a pacifier. He is almost a 1 year old and does not use a pacifier and I do not want to start.

Thank you so much.

Heidi’s Answer:

Hi Kate,

Going to daycare for the first time is an exciting moment, and it usually takes a few weeks for a baby to get used to it. I hope that, aside the naps, he is doing well and enjoys playing with his new friends!

The fact that the daycare provider wants him to nap for 3 hours is quite surprising. Of course I can understand that she wants that, but it is not realistic to expect every baby to take 3 hour naps. 1 to 2 hour naps are the average, consistently taking 3 hour naps is much less common.

What does happen sometimes is that a baby who usually naps 1-2 hours, naps for longer at daycare simply because of the strict schedule, being in a quiet room with other sleeping babies, … But to "demand" that of a baby is not realistic.

Self soothing is a different story of course. It is very difficult and usually not practically possible for a carer to put babies to sleep. I’m sure she will be prepared to indulge for a few weeks but it will be important to work on it, also at home.

But first of all: do not feel bad about nursing him to sleep. You write that it is "probably wrong". It’s true that it may have been easier if he were self soothing already, but what you did is not "wrong". On the contrary, you have helped him find sleep in a comfortable way and that gives him a positive association with sleep. And that is a valuable thing.

Now is a good age to move towards self soothing from there. It will not happen overnight, but with the following ideas you can gently teach him:

1. A very regular sleep schedule and a bedtime routine are unmissable. A well chosen bedtime (when a bit sleepy but not overtired) will make it easier for your son to fall asleep. The routine brings the all important associations that prepare his body for sleep.

You probably have a schedule and a routine in place, but double-check and make sure that it is well in place. Re-schedule nap or night bedtimes to earlier if he is usually overtired by the time he goes to sleep.

The routine, or bedtime ritual, things you do right before bed should be simple and always the same, like changing diaper and clothes, closing the curtains, saying goodnight to his toys, singing a lullaby and then (for now) nursing and sleep.

Read the sleep schedule and bedtime routine pages for full details and extra tips.

2. His room and crib should be comfy and pleasant. A musical mobile attached to his bed or a transitional object will be very helpful. Maybe he has a favourite teddy bear or blanket? You may also consider the "scarf trick": wear a scarf on yourself when he is not sleeping. Then give it to him at bedtime: it will carry your smell and that will help him too.

Any of these objects you use, take them also to daycare. Having the same musical mobile and or objects near him all help.

3. The gentlest way to self soothing is step by step. Meaning you will put him down asleep after nursing at first (like you are doing now) and then move towards putting him down when just about asleep, then drowsy, and move towards fully awake. No use in hurrying this up, it may take days or a few weeks before you are at fully awake, but it is worth it. You may want to add a few days of my Gentle Unlatch Technique in the first phase.

More on these gentle progressive techniques on the self-soothing pages.

This advice to finish: don't hesitate to discuss this plan with your daycarer so she knows you are working on it and to allow her to do the same where possible.

Good luck!

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