Helping Parents Return to Work After Baby: Baby Sleep Expert Tips

In today’s blog post, we’ll explore how sleep coaches can provide invaluable support to parents who are returning to work after having a baby. As a sleep consultant, mastering the art of guiding families through this critical period not only boosts your confidence but also ensures a smoother transition for both parents and children.

For those who prefer a visual presentation, you can watch the original video below:

Where Sleep Consultants Often Misstep in Assisting Parents Returning to Work After Having a Baby

A common misstep I’ve observed among sleep consultants is the tendency to focus solely on “fixing” sleep issues before the return to work. However, this approach overlooks the fact that this transition period is often the most stressful for both parents and little ones, with sleep disruptions occurring for various reasons. By adopting a holistic approach that emphasizes connection, sustainability, and regulation, we can alleviate stress and achieve better outcomes for all involved.

Now, let’s delve into the seven key areas to consider.

Reason # 1: Acknowledging and Validating Parents’ Complex Feelings

The first reason to support parents returning to work after maternity leave is recognizing the complex emotions involved. Many parents, upon returning to work, feel overwhelmed with concerns about their baby’s sleep patterns. They often consult a sleep coach, worried that their child won’t maintain their usual sleep routines—such as falling asleep with parental support—once they resume work. Common requests include help with transitioning the child from being fed, rocked, or held to sleep, preparing for a caregiver to take over.

However, it’s crucial not to overlook the parents’ emotional needs during this transition. The return to work can stir a mix of intense feelings: guilt, divided loyalty, anxiety, and perhaps sadness. While it might seem logical to focus solely on practical solutions, many parents also seek validation of their deeper, often unspoken emotional struggles. Therefore, our first tip is to normalize and validate these feelings, acknowledging the need for additional support as parents navigate this challenging phase.

Reason # 2: Addressing the Multifaceted Nature of Parental Fatigue

It’s crucial to understand that addressing sleep challenges is just one aspect of helping parents cope with the return to work. Beyond the obvious sleep issues, several other factors contribute to fatigue. The mental load, the constant juggling, emotional stress, and ongoing worries about our children—whether present or apart—can all lead to exhaustion. Many parents fear they won’t manage their work responsibilities due to their current sleep deprivation.

However, it’s important to remind parents that replenishing energy goes beyond improving sleep. As a sleep coach, the goal isn’t just to help with sleep routines but also to adopt a realistic, compassionate approach that acknowledges fatigue is often caused by multiple factors. Addressing other important areas like effective co-parenting, self-care, and mental health is essential. Even with better sleep, parents may still experience tiredness and burnout if these aspects are not considered.

Reason # 3: Finding Energy Beyond the Home

The third area is closely related, and this is that many parents worry that they won’t cope at work because they’re up in the night. The truth is though, that not only do other aspects of life and parenting make us tired, but also, many things unrelated to sleep can make us feel LESS tired. Sometimes a change of environment can be rejuvenating. Sometimes having some different company is energizing. Being able to have adult conversations, drink hot coffee, or have a lunch break may be novel! I’ve met many parents who have felt like after a bad night with their little one they would actually find it easier to be at work than at home. That’s certainly not true for everyone, but it can be true for some.

Doing a job that they’re good at, are experienced in, and feel valuable and skilled at might also go a long way towards building their self-esteem – especially if they’ve been feeling like parenting and all the unknowns and steep learning curve knocked them and their confidence sideways.

The reason this is relevant is that many parents find they are juggling multiple anxieties – not only the anxiety they have over their child, but also their anxiety about how functional they will be at work. This is often compounded if they have had a significant amount of time away from the workplace. Performance anxiety and the pressure to be highly competent and functional are high. Validating this normalizes this common worry. But also, it may be less significant than the parent fears. If, as I mentioned, there is some re-energising that a parent experiences in a change of scene, then these fears may be exaggerated.

Reason # 4: Strategic Timing for Smooth Transitions

The fourth area to consider when supporting parents as they prepare to return to work is the timing of changes to their child’s sleep routine. The period before returning to work can be tumultuous for both the parent and the child. Children are likely to pick up on their parent’s anxiety, tension, nervous energy, and excitement as the return to work approaches, and starting childcare represents a significant adjustment.

Given these factors, our fourth tip is to thoughtfully discuss the timing of implementing changes to sleep routines. Is it best to introduce changes right now, or could it be more effective to wait until 6-8 weeks after the return to work? This allows time for both parent and child to adapt to their new routines. You and your client might discover that changes to sleep habits tend to be more successful and easier to maintain once everyone has settled into the new normal.

Reason # 5: Age and Stage Considerations: Realistic Expectations for Childcare Transition

The fifth area to talk about with your client is their child’s age and developmental stage. I’m aware that everyone returns to work at different times. Some people have just a couple of weeks, while others may have several months or even a year. For others, they may have had a career break to raise their children for a time. So we could be talking about clients with children at a vast age range here. What is important is that the child’s normal age and developmentally appropriate needs do not pause because of the return to work. That’s not intended to sound uncompassionate. Of course, it is hard on parents. But we shouldn’t expect young infants and toddlers to sleep in a way that is not biologically realistic, just because their parent has gone back to paid work – that’s not fair on children.

Reason # 6: Navigating Challenges: Anticipating Setbacks in the Transition to Childcare

The sixth area and tip is a caution to expect bumps in the road. Sleep progress is never linear, and this is even more true when there’s a big change like starting childcare in the mix. Progress may be one step forward and two steps back. It’s common for parents to become discouraged, so remember to regularly check back and see the overall progress over time, rather than focusing on setbacks which can be discouraging. Whenever children are more dysregulated, their need for more coregulation is absolutely normal. Keep the faith, stay calm, and remember that your reassuring guidance at this huge time of change will be really therapeutic.

Reason # 7: Embracing Adaptability: Navigating the Return to Work and Childcare

Finally, the seventh thing to remember is that the goal of supporting clients and children through the return to work and childcare stage isn’t that childcare can perfectly replicate what the parent does. The childcare will find their own way, and that’s ok. The parent does not need to stop doing something they love in the belief that this will make the nursery’s life easier. Even if the parent stopped feeding to sleep and replaced this with rocking, you may find that the child does not settle with rocking at nursery or with a childminder anyway. So there’s an argument for remembering that young children are intelligent and adaptable. There’s no point in working towards a goal that will make the parent feel like they’ve lost something meaningful, only for it to be of no practical relevance anyway. This is something I have seen blow parents’ minds and immediately lift their anxiety.

This concludes the 7 key areas to consider when supporting parents returning to work. I hope you found this blog useful.

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