Whether your family-leave policy gives you 12 weeks off, 16 weeks off, or 30 weeks off, going back to work after having a baby is a difficult time. One of the best things you can do for yourself to easily return to work is to help your baby learn to sleep consistently and predictably.
No matter how much time you have, we have put together a sleep plan for your family so that your baby is meeting your sleep goals by the time you return to work.
Working Parent Baby Sleep Guide: 12 Weeks Parental Leave
Week 1) Create a comforting, safe sleep environment.
Your infant has difficulty adjusting to the new world outside of the womb. Please encourage them to sleep longer and calmer stretches by creating a sleep space similar to the womb. To do that, you want to use a sound machine, black-out curtains, and cooler temperatures to make the new world feel like their old home in the womb.
Week 3-12) Follow "wake windows" to keep them well-rested.
A "Wake Window" is the amount of time your baby has been awake. So if your baby woke up at noon, and it's now 12:45, your baby's current wake window is 45 minutes. The wake windows change rapidly during the first three months as the body clock forms:
- 0-4 weeks: 45-60 minute wake window
- 4-8 weeks: 45-70 minute wake window
- 8-12 weeks: 45-90 minute wake window
These ranges are broad because each baby progresses differently. The best thing you can do is track your baby's wake window. Use an app like Lovebug to guide you or calculate your wake windows on a piece of paper. Start your routine and move your baby into their sleep space at the end of your wake window.
Week 6-8) Start routines when you see your baby's first smiles.
Your baby's first smiles mean they notice the world around them, and you can now communicate with them with nap and bedtime routines. You'll want to set a vibe. Start by dimming the lights and playing meditation music to signal that it's time for sleep. Once you change their diaper and swaddle, rock them in darkness with your sound machine on and place them gently in their sleep space. Falling asleep will become habitual with consistency.
Assuming your goal is to have an independent sleeper by the time you return to work, you want to practice putting your baby down "drowsy, but awake." Follow your wake windows and at the end of your routine, give them the practice of falling asleep on their own. This can be a tricky skill to learn. If you are struggling, it's worth joining the Lovebug Essentials membership plan to access the video lessons on how to accomplish "drowsy but awake" in no time.
Weeks 9-12) Welcome a Blossoming Body Clock
Month three is when your baby's body clock is forming. Once your baby has a body clock, you can use light, temperature, and sound to encourage them to sleep more at night and less during the day. Since night sleep is essential for working parents, this is important for you!
Define morning for your infant.
When they are three months, you want to start waking your baby at the same time every day. Pick a time that replicates the time you will start your day for work and follow wake windows after that. If your baby is waking earlier than this time, check out this lesson in the Lovebug app.
Contrast Day vs. Night.
During the day, you should start to expose them to more natural light when it's not time for sleep. A common misconception is that a nap's environment should be lighter than a bedtime environment. You want to keep all sleep sessions dark, but around those sleep sessions, expose your baby to daylight. The contrast communicates to their body when they should be awake vs. asleep. (The only change is if you plan for a daycare scenario. Check out our blog on Daycare Prep here) Learn more about how environmental changes promote predictable sleeping in Baby Sleep 102: Baby Sleep Schedules
Optimize Feeding Times.
Especially with overnight feedings, you want to start to plan for feeds at times that will promote more night sleep. Check with your pediatrician about your feeding schedule, and then decide whether a twice-a-night or once-a-night feeding schedule fits your schedule better. Many families will do one last feed around 10 pm that can take them until morning. Learn more about night feeds and how to use them to optimize night sleep in this lesson, "All About Night Feeds" in the Lovebug app!
Week 12-16) Back at Work
Now that you are back at work, managing your baby's sleep will depend on your daycare situation. You have not "sleep trained" yet because it's not yet appropriate for your baby's body (see related post on when it's appropriate to sleep train). But if you have been practicing drowsy but awake, you most likely will not have to sleep train. The key now is not to have your daycare scenario create habits that conflict with what your family is practicing at night. Check out our blog on Daycare Prep here.
Adjustments to Baby Sleep Plan When you have four months Family Leave
When you have four months of family leave, your baby develops their body clock when you are ready to go back to work. In this case, you have a decision whether to sleep train the weekend before you go back to work or wait a couple of weeks until the new routine settles in.
Unfortunately, we don't want to sleep train too early. Sleep consultants generally agree that a family should not sleep train before four months (Link to FAQ). So, if you are going back to work after four months and want to rely on nights and naps before that time, you have a short period in which to sleep train. In this case, the extinction method (aka the cry-it-out method) is the best choice for your family. However, if you have more time to reach your goals than a weekend, choose any of the three main sleep training approaches or customize your own with our sleep coach. Check out our lesson on choosing the right sleep training approach for your family HERE or see our blog post HERE.
Adjustments for 6 months+ family leave
When you have six months+ family leave, you have a choice. You can move more slowly with the plan outlined above or follow the same plan above that adapts to each brain and body development. Follow your gut and what you think is best for your family. All approaches "work," but it's really what's going to work for you!