Last updated on June 15th, 2024

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Kim West, MSW, Mom of 2, creator of The Sleep Lady Shuffle

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If you are working outside the home as a new mother you may feel like you have a Herculean task! Among numerous challenges you face is the need to balance your work schedule with your child’s sleep needs. It can be downright tricky to juggle their needs in the morning while you get ready for work. And it may feel next to impossible after work to keep them awake long enough to eat and spend some time together before they should be in bed for the night.

I want to encourage you to not get overwhelmed with the challenges ahead of you. Lots of moms have gone before you and, while this may feel like an insurmountable task, it can be done. Let’s take it one step at a time together!

As you get closer to returning to work after the birth of your child, here are 5 steps to make this transition to work easier on you and your child.Going Back to Work and Managing Your Child’s Sleep Schedule

Take Good Notes

You may feel like you know a lot about your baby by now. Or maybe not. Either way it is important to take good notes on what seems to make him tick: what makes him happy and what annoys him, what he acts like when he is getting tired and when he is overtired, what sounds he makes when he is hungry or just wants to be held, and what are his favorite toys or activities so far. Does he like baths or despise them? Does he eat slowly or quickly? What is he like when he wakes up in the morning?
Whether you will be leaving your child with a nanny, a spouse, a family member or at daycare, your child’s daytime caregiver will benefit greatly from a cheat sheet on their likes/dislikes, sleep patterns, and emotional cues throughout the day. You might learn a thing or two as well as you focus in on his behavior!

Develop A Flexible Sleep Schedule

Your baby’s daytime routine and your new work schedule will need to be coordinated by the time you go back to work. Of course, your baby’s sleep schedule will depend, in part, upon her age.

When you have a newborn you are just adjusting to this new, “up at all hours” life. Start here in order to understand what you can expect from a newborn (any child under 6 months) as well as how to help them sleep more at night.

This guide will give you an idea of what kind of sleep schedule you will work towards as your child grows past 6 months. While I would never encourage you to be rigid in your newborn’s schedule, developing a daily rhythm and routine are important for you, your family, and your newborn – especially as you plan to head back to work.

Start Early

It pays to get a jump start on a few things when going back to work.

  • A New Routine. Set a bedtime and wake up time that supports your work schedule. When will you need to leave the house each day to drop your baby off (possibly) and get to work on time? Subtract the time needed to go through a regular morning for you and your child and that is your child’s new wake-up time. Go ahead and begin following this routine a few weeks before you go back to work. But, be sure to read the next bullet point for the first week back!
  • Give Yourself Extra Time. Set your alarm 15 minutes early the first week back to work because everything will take more time than you think as you begin a new routine.
  • The Bottle. Whether you continue to breastfeed (and pump at work) or not, you will need to transition your baby to a bottle for daytime feedings. Go ahead and introduce the bottle while you are home on leave. You can do this a few times a day when your baby is still hungry but not famished. Be persistent and keep offering several times a day if he is resistant. This will give him the best chance at taking it. That being said, take care to not give your baby a bottle as she goes into the crib for sleep as this will create a sleep crutch that will be hard to break later.
  • Practice your new routine. Build in one or two days with your child’s daytime caregiver before you go back to work. This will give everyone some practice reps to get the kinks worked out. Be sure you actually leave your child with the caregiver so that your child begins to transition with you not there.

Communicate With Your Caregiver

You will want to be in open and ongoing dialogue with your child’s caregiver about everything he is going through – from eating to diaper rash to teething to sickness. It’s so important that you are informing them about your child’s needs and wants as well as your needs and wants!

As you adjust your child’s sleep schedule so that it coordinates with your work schedule, your communication with your daycare or caregiver is critical. Work with them so that they are utilizing the nap schedule your child needs so that you can enjoy him in the evening.

If your baby will be going to a center or family daycare, be sure to ask the caregiver about sleep—where will the baby sleep and is there a set schedule. Share with your caregiver the “schedule” your baby seems to be on now and what your pre-sleep routine for naps tends to be.

Especially look at the time he is napping in the afternoon. Make sure his wake window is the right amount so that he is not too sleepy when you arrive home from work. You will want some time to be together, feed them dinner and do your bedtime routine while he is drowsy but still awake. This may take some trial and error so keep communicating with your caregiver as you need to.

Make the Transition Easier For Your Child

If your child will be outside your home each day while you are at work, think through what you can bring along to make your baby feel more secure. He will definitely feel out of place at first but that sensation will soon fade. Nevertheless, having some familiar items around from home will always bring comfort for him in a new place and especially at naptime. Here are some starter ideas:

  • A favorite lovey (a washable blanket or toy).
  • An extra pacifier.
  • A white noise machine.
  • A lullaby CD from home (a copy of his favorite one is nice).
  • An ideal schedule for your child’s eating and sleeping at his current age.

One Step At A Time

As you head back to work I know you may feel overwhelmed at times. This is a huge transition to make. But I know that you can help your baby adjust to his new routine and yours as you take it one step at a time.

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Author: Kim West, MSW, Mom of 2, creator of The Sleep Lady Shuffle

My name is Kim West, and I’m the mother of two beautiful girls, a Licensed Clinical Social Worker who has been a practicing child and family therapist for more than 21 years, and the creator of the original gentle, proven method to get a good night’s sleep for you and your child. My sleep journey began when I started experimenting with gently shaping my daughter’s sleep by not following the conventional wisdom at the time. After having success (and then more success with my second daughter!), I began helping family and friends and my step-by-step method spread like wildfire, exactly like an excellent night of sleep for a tired parent should!