5 Sleep Tips for Moms Heading Back To Work

Planning to head back to work when your maternity leave ends? You and your baby will have an easier transition with these 5 expert sleep tips for moms.

By Nicole Johnson

Being a new mama can be tough. You’re up all night, you’re trying to figure out feedings and naps. Often, it feels like just keeping your wee babe alive is a full-time job! But of course, for so many of us, the reality is that we have the dual jobs of being mom to a baby, AND working a part-time or full-time job outside our homes.

As lead sleep consultant at The Baby Sleep Site, I often get questions from moms whose maternity leave is ending, and who are wondering how on earth they’re going to manage this whole mothering thing while also being a successful, productive employee. Well, over the years, I’ve cultivated quite a lot of wisdom about how working mamas can manage work and motherhood. And I’m so pleased to have the opportunity to share my sleep tips for moms with you today.

My back-to-work story

First, though, I wanted to share with you a bit about my own back-to-work story. I birthed my own beautiful first-born baby back in October 2005. Like so many first-time moms, I figured my oldest son would just eat when he was hungry, sleep when he was tired, and fuss only when he needed something.

Oh, how wrong I was.

To put it simply, my oldest son was NOT a sleeper. Add to that the fact that he’s always been an intense and persistent little guy, and those early weeks after birth were NOT easy. Additionally, he was REALLY reluctant to take a bottle. When my little guy was 8 weeks old, he entered full-time daycare. It was much, much harder on me than I’d imagined, to make that transition. I remember I’d go over to the daycare most weekdays, during my lunch break, to breastfeed.

It became apparent to me very quickly that daycare wasn’t working too well for our family. My son (who’s not a sleeper, remember?) barely slept at all at daycare, which meant that the time I had with him at home wasn’t great, as he was really cranky and fussy. And all that missed sleep during the day made him too overly-tired to sleep well at night, which meant he and I were up most nights together. We made it work for about 6 months, although it was really challenging. But then, at around 8 months, he went on a total nap strike and wouldn’t nap AT ALL during daycare. At that point, I hired a nanny. That was a real turning point for us; I was able to carve out a much better daytime schedule for him, and that’s when we started working towards getting him to sleep through the night.

Okay, so now that you know a bit about my experience, I want to share with you 5 key tips that should help to ease the transition a bit, and make it easier on both you and your baby, whether you have a nanny or use daycare.

The founder of The Baby Sleep Site shares her sleep wisdom with moms whose maternity leave is ending and need help with the transition.

1. Talk about sleep with your childcare provider.

In my experience, sleep (specifically the daily nap schedule) is not something that many parents discuss with their childcare providers. But your baby’s sleep is key. So make sure to inquire about naps. What’s the schedule? Where do naps happen? What will your childcare provider do if your baby misses a nap? Even better, get your childcare provider to write out a sample daily schedule, so that you can plan your child’s time at home around their sleep schedule in childcare.

2. Start planning for feedings well in advance.

If you’re breastfeeding, and want to continue doing so after you go back to work, you’ll want to start introducing a bottle at least several weeks before you return to work. (In my case, the bottle intro was TOUGH; eventually, I learned my son would only take breast milk from a bottle if it was really, really warm.) Additionally, you’ll want to start pumping regularly a few weeks before you’re back at work, in order to build up a freezer supply. Finally, talk openly with your employer about your pumping needs at work. Don’t forget, federal law dictates that your employer has to provide you with pumping breaks, as well as a place to pump, until your baby’s first birthday. If you’re not breastfeeding, getting your baby on a feeding routine ahead of time will likely help the transition go smoother.

3. Practice your new weekday routine a week or two before your return-to-work date.

Heading back to work probably means earlier wake-up times, adjusted feeding and nap times, and possibly a different bedtime. So a week or two before you go back to work, start gradually transitioning to your workday schedule. This will help ease your baby (and you!) into the new weekday groove, and will help you spot and deal with any issues that may arise ahead of time, which in turn can help minimize the stress you feel during your first week back to work.

4. If naps aren’t great on weekdays, plan for early bedtimes, and create a separate weekend schedule.

As I mentioned, my son never slept well at daycare (although that’s not true for all babies; some tend to sleep better at daycare!). However, if your baby is consistently missing sleep at daycare, plan for an early bedtime on weekdays (in the hopes that you can help your little one catch up on some missed sleep), and then set up an alternate weekend schedule that will allow for more nap time. This isn’t ideal, of course, but it’s a good compromise; if you can help you baby nap well on the weekends, and get to bed early on weekdays, you can help counteract the sleep deficit that happens during the day, at daycare.

5. Be aware of reverse cycling.

If you’re breastfeeding, and you plan to continue breastfeeding exclusively once you’re back to work, then you’ll no doubt be very focused on pumping and maintaining your supply. One thing that working moms sometimes find is their baby begins reverse cycling. With reverse cycling, your baby feeds frequently at night, and not much during the day. Now, this is obviously a problem for lots of moms, as it majorly interferes with sleep; however, some full-time working moms end up loving this “problem” because it ensures they get plenty of breastfeeding time w/ their babies, which is incredibly bonding AND helps keep milk supply up. This is especially great for babies who aren’t bottle fans, and who may therefore not be getting much expressed breast milk during the day.

One last note: I’ve found that when moms are about to return to work, they usually get far more concerned about sleep. Specifically, they start becoming really, really interested in how they can help baby sleep through the night. And no wonder; it’s hard to be a productive employee if you regularly conk out at you desk. This is one reason I created a free e-book, 5 Ways To Help Your Child Sleep Through The Night. It’s free to download, and is full of sleep tips that both stay-at-home and working moms can use.

NicoleBlueSweater_webNicole Johnson is a married mother of two wonderful boys and owner of The Baby Sleep Site. When her eldest son was born, he had a lot of sleep problems – he would wake every one or two hours, all night long! She got busy and thoroughly researched literature and scientific reports until she became an expert in sleep methods, scheduling routines, baby developmental needs, and more. She overcame her son’s sleeping issues in a way that matched her own parenting style, and knew it was her mission to help other tired parents “find their child’s sleep”. If you have your own sleep issues, maybe she can help you, too.


One lucky commenter will win a copy of The 3 Step System to Help Your Child Sleep PLUS an Express Sleep Plan (value $77), courtesy of The Baby Sleep Site. bss_ebook_3stepsystem_right

The 3-Step System To Help Your Baby Sleep is a judgment-free approach to getting your baby sleeping through the night. In it, you learn the pros and cons of all the available baby sleep methods as well as how to incorporate each one into your own routine. You get quick and easy information not he science behind baby and toddler sleep. You learn what you need to do – in a step-by-step format – to tackle your baby’s sleep challenges. Whether you are interested in co-sleeping, crying it out, setting schedules, incorporating breastfeeding, weaning, or anything in between, The 3-Step System to Help Your Baby Sleep cuts through all the formalities to get right to the solutions you need to get the most out of your baby’s sleep.

The Express Sleep Plan™ is a sleep plan tailored to your family’s situation, your preference for how much crying may be allowed, and your unique goals and is available for immediate download. The Express Sleep Plan™ includes direction, a recommended sleep coaching method based on your philosophy, and a day-by-day action plan that is customized for you and your family – all in one, brief easy-to-read package.

To enter for your chance to win, simply leave a comment below with your best baby-sleep tip no later than April 11, 2015, at midnight EST. We’ll randomly select one comment as our winner and contact you with details on your prizes. One entry/comment per reader, please.

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41 thoughts on “5 Sleep Tips for Moms Heading Back To Work

  1. Noise machine is very important in our household. Other than that tip I have nothing- sleep is rough in this house with my almost 5 month old!

  2. The first three tips were big ones in our home. We advised our child care providers on exactly how their sleep routines went. Then, we made sure to introduce the bottle early enough (not just for work but so we can bottle feed in general), and we prepped a week or so in advance on how our new routine would go. Great sound advice!

  3. I currently am not the best person to leave tips as my 6 month old hates naps and nighttime sleeps!! However we have found that raising his head slightly by putting a wedge under his matters has turned 40 minutes throughout the night to a couple of hours not great but better than nothing!!!

  4. Fiona Counsell says:

    I nap with my baby so I’m on hand to quickly settle him if he stirs. While our nightimes are still so hit-and-miss it helps me catch up on missed sleep. I wish I hadn’t put pressure on myself to do work and housework during naps earlier.

  5. White noise was a huge help once our son became aware of the sounds that peaked his interest. Swaddling helped a ton in the beginning. Now he is 15 mos and has too many sleep associations that we need to fix, and so curious that he would rather explore than sleep.

  6. Attachment parenting, literally. My 6 week old sleeps on or next to me. When he rouses between sleep cycles a quick pat or suckle can help him stay down and not wake up completely.

  7. So far, getting more sleep / good naps sin the day helps my little one sleep more at night. Sadly any sleep requires rocking and cuddling which takes from 5 to 50 mins at a time…

  8. My four month old is a bit of a catnapped but typically sleeps very well at night. I think the best tip I have, other than don’t be afraid to try new things, is to try to let go of any guilt you might feel over how well your baby is (or isn’t) sleeping. I wish I could have done that sooner. Be as patient with yourself as you are with your baby!

  9. Putting the baby more towards the corner of the crib so he feels more enclosed has helped us.

  10. My 7 month old baby’s sleep association is me. If she doesn’t hold my hand she won’t nap, keep exploring her crib, rolling and almost crawling to every spot.

  11. Suzanne Andrews says:

    From when my baby was 8 months old, we took notice of the advice to try not to feed to sleep. Instead we moved giving a breastfeed to the beginning of our sleep routine when before it had been at the end of our sleep routine. This has seemed to increase the length of time our baby sleeps in one stretch.

  12. Learn how much sleep is needed at each age and make sure it happens. I was convinced that my baby didn’t need or want to nap when I would put her down and she would either fuss or try to play. Once I had the light bulb moment that she needed me to direct her to sleep, it changed her whole demeanor. She started takings naps without any help once we made sure she was fulfilling her sleep time for her age.

  13. Jacqueline says:

    My second daughter is 6 weeks old and I’m about to return to work at the end of the month. I’m finding the whole “routine” thing so much harder to stick to this go round having a preschooler in the house too. I did a ridiculous amount of reading about sleep with my first but I feel the same insatiable thirst for knowledge this time as well. Thanks for posting these tips, I feel I can always use more info.

  14. The miracle blanket. Only swaddle blanket my daughter couldn’t get out of. Helped her sleep much better.

  15. Definitely not the best person for this, but my 3 month old loves a boob to get her to sleep! I get into bed with her on my side, plug her in and awake she goes. Now detaching can be a problem, as can moving her into her cot, so you can see the flaws in my methods, but after the Great Nap Strike of 2015, as a result of trying some ineffective (probably for me!) and cruel (again, probably me) sleep training I figures some sleeps were better than no sleeps! Much happier both of us, but I’m worried about the future, particularly when I need to go back to work… Shudder

  16. Great blog, Putting the baby more towards the corner of the crib so he feels more enclosed has helped us.

  17. Thanks for sharing! I think it’s an incredibly hard transition and good sleep hygiene is a must to make it work!

  18. Hey, Nicole!

    Such a great tips! Thank you very much! I think it’s so difficult to combine the work and good care for your child at the same time. I think the best is to be a stay-at-home mom for sure. Although, it depends on how old the child is. Our son is 2 years old and he sleeps well at night with a few short breaks when he wants to drink water. But what I’ve noticed that if he goes to sleep later in the evening, he still comes up at the same time in the morning! We thought that every hour in the evening will give us one hour more in the morning, but it doesn’t work such way. So today we take him asleep at the same time in the evening so he will not miss any hours.

  19. Unlike your baby, my child has always slept well at daycare up until now. However, I really appreciate your advice about counteracting the sleep deficit with weekend naps now that he is starting to miss out on some of his weekday sleep. Yet, how long would you suggest for those naps to be for?

  20. hi, i love the way you write your article, it’s quite engaging, coming to your article I like all your tips but the new I learn here is reverse cycling, that is actually a good tip, thank you so much for the wonderful article

  21. I went through this article and find it informative for all the moms as it was something new I get to know. The content of the article also explains each and every point so clearly. Thank you for such an awesome article.

  22. Hi very nice article for working woman I almost can see my own schedule in your story .any way the second tip I like most I always try to practice that thanks

  23. I think I cried the tears of joy a little bit, once we discovered the noise machine. That worked like a charm for us.

  24. Currently doing a bit of research on this topic to help my wife, so thanks for sharing, all makes sense!

  25. To be honest , i have been following this site since 1 year and now my childs age is 1. hence i can say this article really helped me alot

  26. Thanks for sharing these really helpful tips! Please keep sharing more

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