Returning to work soon after delivery can mean putting your 3-month old in daycare. As challenging as this can be emotionally, it can also be a struggle for your baby, especially if her only self-calming strategy has been nursing. Should you (or could you) quit your job or just tough it out? There is another alternative: teach your little one to respond to a wider variety of self-calming cues.
Self-calming at 3 months? Well, yes and no. Babies at this age are learning to respond to messages that we send. This is the very beginning of self-regulation. Actions and sensory inputs that tell their nervous system ” You are safe”, “It’s time to sleep” and “I get it; you need a little more help to calm down and I know what to do”. They aren’t able to devise their own solutions yet, but they can begin to self-calm if we read their behavior correctly and understand what they need developmentally and neurologically. This is where Dr. Harvey Karp’s Happiest Baby on the Block strategies, and his other great sleep solutions, can save your sanity and your child’s sleep. Many of the 5 S’s that worked so well in the first 12 weeks of life can be adjusted to support this transition into daycare.
The weeks between 3 months and 6 months are almost the 5th trimester (Dr. Karp refers to the first 3 months of life as the “4th trimester”). I think it is a bridge period in which babies need more help to calm down than many realize. At this age, they suck their fingers to self-soothe while awake. But… they aren’t strong enough to keep their hands or their thumbs in their mouth when they are lying down and falling asleep. Gravity pulls those heavy hands down to the crib mattress. They don’t babble their way to sleep the way a 6 month-old does, and they are barely ready to listen to lullabies. So what can you do? Be creative and use the 5 S’s as a launching point for your new routines.
Swaddling may not be as effective, or even safe, at this stage. Babies who are rolling could be strong enough to roll onto their bellies. With their arms swaddled, they are at risk for suffocation. Once your baby is in that “I’m gonna practice this rolling thing all day” stage, swaddling becomes more of a risk than a solution.
There are swaddle garments that convert to safer solutions for this stage. The garments that still give firm pressure over the chest but leave legs and arms free are specifically designed to keep that nice calm feeling going. They allow your child to roll freely. Dr. Karp also suggests that swaddling in an infant swing is another safe choice for those babies that are experimenting with rolling but still need swaddling to pull it all together. REMEMBER: your baby needs to be put into the swing calm, and securely strapped in. If she is too big for the swing, then don’t use it. Just because it is calming for her is not a reason to use a too-small swaddling blanket or a tiny infant swing.
Pacifiers are recommended by both Dr. Karp and the American Academy of Pediatrics, but some babies don’t love them, and some parents are afraid of creating a paci addict. For those nervous parents, I wrote a special post: Prevent Pacifier Addiction With A Focus on Building Self-Calming Without Plastic. The truth is that sucking is a normal developmentally-appropriate self-calming behavior, and addiction really doesn’t become an issue until your child has nothing else that works at all.
Between 3-6 months, your little one is still benefitting from sucking, and she can learn to use a paci in daycare. She isn’t at risk of nipple confusion, unlike a 2 week-old, and she won’t reject your breast because of paci use. Nursing is the total package of love, warmth and nutrition. If she says “no more” to nursing, it is likely that she would have done so without the paci. Some babies are just ready to be done early. Use Dr. Karp’s paci learning technique to teach a baby how to handle a paci and keep it in her mouth. By 3 months, she has strong oral muscles, so it is a matter of practice and helping her to realize how handy pacis can be to calm a bit for sleep. If she spits it out while asleep….well, mission accomplished!
White noise is the one HBOTB strategy that never needs to end. But for these little guys, the new noises of daycare are so different from home that this may be the secret weapon. Dr. Karp sells his carefully designed white noise CD. It can be loaded onto a phone as well from iTunes. Select the track that matches your child’s state (crying, drowsy and calm, etc.) and watch the magic begin. Encourage your daycare to use this totally safe method of soothing.
Rocking a baby in your arms can replace the infant swing, and some older newborns still calm down when held on their sides or stomach. Again, this is never a sleep position, just a calming position. But if it works for your baby, feel free to use it when you hold her.
Once you have created an updated HBOTB routine that works, share it with the daycare staff. You may find that they have rules and regulations, and some staff aren’t open to new ideas. My suggestion is to emphasize how easily you can get her calm. Even the most rigid care provider’s ears perk up when she thinks that there is a way to make her job easier. These people work long hours and work hard. Think of this as helping her and your little one have a better day!