Starting Nursery: Expert Tips for Settling and Sleep Success

babies in a nursery settling in session

Starting nursery is a significant milestone for both you and your little one. As you prepare for this exciting journey, it’s essential to consider various aspects to ensure a smooth transition. Here are my top tips to help your child settle and sleep well at nursery:

1. Settling in Sessions before starting nursery:

Many nurseries and childminders offer settling-in sessions, allowing your child to familiarize themselves with the new environment gradually. These short periods spent at the nursery can ease the transition when attending longer sessions. Try to schedule these sessions to cover different parts of your child’s day, including playtime, naptime, and mealtime.

2. Get to know your little one’s key worker:

Building a strong relationship with your child’s key worker is important. Make sure they understand your child’s unique needs, whether it’s a favourite comforter for nap time or specific sleep associations. Understanding your child’s usual nap times and how they sleep at home can help them support your child’s nap routine and ease the transition.

3. Send in familiar items from home:

Having something familiar can help your child feel safe and secure to sleep in a completely new environment. Send in any familiar sleep items from home such as their sleeping bag, teddy, or comforter. Consider having spare comforters handy, just in case one gets left behind accidentally.

4. Adjusting to sleeping away from home:

One common concern among parents is how well their child will nap without you. Rest assured, nursery staff are experienced in helping babies and toddlers nap. My experience of working with many families is that children usually adapt and even form new sleep associations, especially when surrounded by other children. Although naps may be harder and shorter initially, most parents find that after some settling-in time, their children nap well at nursery.

5. What to do if naps don’t go to plan?

Depending on your child’s age, a cat nap on the car ride home can help bridge the gap to bedtime. To avoid a long really stretch awake time before bed, an early bedtime might be necessary to prevent overtiredness, which can lead to more nighttime waking. Some children may catch up on missed sleep on the days when they’re not at nursery with extra naps or longer naps.

6. Focus on connection before bed:

Separation anxiety is common during big changes like starting nursery. Try not to rush through bedtime as spending quality time to re-connect with your child before bed can help them feel secure and loved and reduce night wakings. Make lots of time for cuddles and parent-baby bonding time without any other distractions.

7. Look after yourself:

Remember, this transition is a significant adjustment for both you and your child. Be sure to take care of yourself amidst the changes as well. Balancing work, social life, and family responsibilities can be challenging, so ask for support when needed. Consider keeping weekends free during the initial adjustment period to focus on spending quality time together as a family.

Starting nursery is often not as bad as you anticipate it to be. Little ones may need some extra reassurance when going through the settling in process but it will get better once they realise that you always come back. Any challenges with upset at drop-off or short naps are usually just a short phase and will pass. You will soon settle into your new routine together.

I know from personal experience and from supporting many Mums returning to work, sleep (or lack of it) becomes a more major concern when you are juggling work and motherhood. You worry that you child will never sleep well and will try anything to have long stretches at night. Please don’t continue to struggle. I have created this free guide to help you – Gentle Sleep Solutions for Exhausted Mums Returning to work. It’s free to download and contains 7 proven strategies to go from hourly wakes to sleeping for long stretches at night without leaving your baby to cry.

If you need any further help please get in touch with me or head over to my Facebook Group or Instagram pages for regular sleep tips and advice.