Sleep Regressions and Going Back to Work: 10+ Tips to Help


After my oldest child was born, I wondered how he and I would sleep when I went back to work part-time after my maternity leave ended. I wondered how being in someone else’s care would affect his sleep – and therefore mine!

How will going back to work affect sleep regressions? Expect sleep regressions after going back to work, as it’s a huge change for the whole family. Preparing, planning, and practice can all make the actual transition shorter but expect the first month to be difficult.

So if you’d like to read more about how to manage sleep regressions when going back to work, keep reading!

Why You Should Expect Sleep Regressions When Going Back to Work

Because sleep regressions can happen any time there’s a significant amount of stress or change, it almost shouldn’t be a surprise that going back to work can trigger one.

Some families even experience a pre-going-back-to-work sleep regression, due to the anxiety and anticipation of everything.

Returning to work has a ton of factors and stresses related to it. Some of these factors (and stressors) include:

  • Needing the income to provide for your family;
  • Wondering if you can get by without the income so you can stay home with your baby;
  • Wondering if your baby will miss you;
  • Questioning if and how going back to work will impact your baby;
  • Wondering how your baby will behave while in someone else’s care;
  • and worrying about everything else that could possibly happen while you’re at work.

And that’s just the factors that we, as parents, worry about. Babies will have their own worries, although those tend to be more along the lines of wondering where their primary caregiver went, questions about this new place they’re at, and where’s the milk already?!?

So whether you’ve gone back to work or are still on maternity leave, be mentally prepared for an upcoming sleep regression.

Even so, babies will notice the change and it will impact their sleep. But how long will it affect their sleep?

How Long Will Babies Experience a Sleep Regression After I Go Back to Work?

Because it’s a new change and everyone is adjusting, expect sleep regressions when you go back to work. And expect them to take longer to resolve.

Sleep regressions, in general, can last anywhere from a few days up to 6 weeks, with the average being about 2 weeks long. After surveying 800 parents and doing extensive research, I’ve found that back-to-work sleep regressions typically lasts about a month.

Part of that is because it takes your baby that long to adjust to daycare – so for tips on that, be sure to read my article on sleep regressions and daycare.

But now that we know to expect them, let’s address a few of the top tips to help relieve the stress and hopefully shorten the sleep regression.

Tips To Minimize Sleep Regressions And Back-to-Work Stress

Because going back to work is such a change for everyone, it’s going to cause stress. That’s totally normal. So let’s talk about the top 10 tips to help ease that stress – because that will help minimize sleep regressions, too.

TipRationaleExample
Select a caregiver or daycare you trust.This person will be caring for your child – you want someone who’s on your team.Daycare, family members, and neighbors may all make great caregivers.
Talk about sleep with your childcare provider.Because sleep is vital, your childcare provider will want to know what works for your baby.Write out a sample schedule and communicate regularly to see what schedule changes (if any) occur.
Plan feedings in advance.How will your baby feed once in someone else’s care? If you’re nursing, introduce a bottle early on to minimize transitionary stress.Pump a few weeks before going back to work to 1. build up a supply and 2. practice bottle feeding.
Plan pumping while at workIf you’re going to continue pumping, have a plan in place. Talk to your employer to determine the frequency and length of federally-protected pumping breaks.When I went to work, I was able to pump as needed in a small, private room with a lockable door.
Practice your new schedule in advance.Taking several weeks to adjust to your new work schedule will prepare everyone for the change, which means less stress.Practicing getting ready for shifts helped me find and troubleshoot several issues beforehand, including how to store pumped breastmilk while on the job.
Be flexible on naps.Naps may not go as expected at daycare. Naps and bedtimes may need to be adjusted or rescheduled.My baby boy didn’t nap well at all – and he didn’t nap well for others. Daycare made him crankier, so he needed an earlier bedtime on days I worked.
Know that reverse cycling may be an issue.Reverse cycling: when babies eat more at night and less during the day.My son refused bottles, so he fed via a reverse cycle to get his caloric intake when I worked. We coslept and adjusted our schedule to cope.
Create alternate schedules for days off and weekends.If sleep becomes an issue, it’s okay to create separate schedules for workdays and days off. That way, you can maximize time together while still getting adequate sleep.Workdays and days off had different schedules: naps were more reliable if I was home with my son, so he could have a later bedtime. If I worked a day shift, he had an earlier bedtime which meant I didn’t get to see him until a night feed. If I worked a night shift, then daytime schedules stayed the same but with extra cuddles to make up for missed night feedings.
Focus on quality time and happy reunions.You and your baby will miss each other. Focusing on happy reunions and spending quality time together will make everyone happier while minimizing separation stress.When I picked my son up from the caregiver, we spent the next 15-30 minutes cuddling and playing, followed by nursing at home in his favorite chair. That way, we both felt better and looked forward to reunions after work.
Make the nap location transition easier for your child.Use external sleep associations to help your child nap easier while you’re at work.My kids all sleep better with white noise machines going and being in a cool, quiet, and comfortable place. However, my oldest son ended up sleeping best at a caregiver’s when he slept in his car seat with a favorite stuffed animal and blankie.

Now, the scheduling will probably be the trickiest bit, so let’s go into that a little bit more.

Tips To Help Exhausted Babies (and Moms) When You Get Home From Work

Juggling work schedules, baby’s schedule, and keeping sleep a priority is an amazingly difficult feat. So there’s not going to be one right and one wrong answer.

Instead, it’s going to be what works for your family. That’s going to take some time and experimenting to figure out, which is yet another reason this back-to-work sleep regression will probably last a month.

Even so, here’s what to expect – as well as some ways to help manage the after-work exhaustion for both you and baby.

  • The first couple of weeks will be rough on everyone. The whole first month will be an adjustment. Try to limit any other changes to your family’s regular routine during this time.
  • Going back to work will be rough on you – just as going to daycare will be new and exhausting for your baby. Expect everyone to be on edge – and for sleep to be disrupted.
  • Anyone who’s exhausted (yourself and your baby) may need an earlier bedtime for a few days. For your baby, plan on moving their bedtime up by 30 minutes for a few weeks. Move your own up by a few minutes – it’ll help.
  • Spend extra time with your baby after work – it will help both of you recover from the separation.
  • Talk to your baby about what to expect. They may not understand everything, but saying it out loud will help you be better prepared for the day and know what to expect.
  • Eat healthy snacks and meals. This will help you have the energy to survive each day at work – and any long nights at home with your baby.
  • Take care of yourself and get enough exercise. It’ll help you have enough energy to survive each day better.

Juggling work and parenting is exhausting. Parents who do both report better outcomes when they stick to a regular routine.

If you can’t adjust bedtimes by 30 minutes, there are other ways to help manage and shorten the back-to-work sleep regression. Here are some of the best ways to do that:

  • Have your childcare provider put your child down for a late nap to help them be more rested when you pick them up.
  • Put your child down for a short (30-60 minute) nap when you get home. That way, you can push bedtime back so you can still have family time before bed.
  • Let your child nap in the car, especially if you have a long drive to your childcare provider’s location.
  • Adjust your weekend schedule to allow for long naps and earlier bedtimes so that workdays are easier on everyone.

In any case, it is possible to find a balance. You just have to make a plan, try it, and then make changes as needed!

But since I know you’re probably asking yourself a few more questions about going back to work, let’s make sure those get answered, too.

Answers to Commonly-Asked Back-to-Work Questions That Stress Mom Out (And Cause Sleep Disruptions)

Finally, let’s go over a few final questions that get asked an awful lot. And, because these are big questions that impact everything, these can impact how well everyone is sleeping – as well as how long sleep regressions last.

These answers are based on extensive research, surveying 800+ parents, and my own experience going back to work as a nurse in a hospital setting.

Will My Baby Miss Me When I Go Back to Work?

While babies will adjust to the new schedule while you’re gone, they will miss you while you’re at work. They will miss your sense of familiarity and spending time with you.

So yes, your baby will miss you! Likewise, you’ll miss your baby. Going back to work is hard on everyone. However, give it time. Everyone will adjust. Things will work out.

Which leads me to the next big question: how will my going back to work affect the baby?

Do Babies Suffer When Mothers Return to Work?

This was my big concern going back to work – because what if my going back to work made my son suffer? What if it made him lose ground developmentally?

Thankfully, this is something that scientists study. In fact, I wish this 2016 study’s results had been released back when I went back to work.

Parents can feel reassured that early maternal employment does not harm families, and may even be beneficial in lower-income families.

Child & Family Blog, explaining results on 2016 study: Early Maternal Employment and Children’s Academic Behavioral Skills in Australia and the United Kingdom

As long as your child is with someone you trust, your baby won’t suffer because you went back to work. In fact, for some families, it actually resulted in a distinct advantage.

So no, your baby won’t suffer.

In our case, having a trusted friend watch my two oldest boys while I worked was an amazing experience. I was able to work, bring in a small income, and maintain my nursing license. We gained an adopted family who still checks in on all of us.

What Happens If I Don’t Want To Go Back To Work After Maternity Leave?

After our third child was born, this was my big question. My main concern was that I would be getting no sleep, as I’d been transitioned to full night shifts. And as my kids did not nap well or sleep reliably until they were at least 1, I was worried.

So, as my maternity leave hit the halfway point, I talked with my manager. For my situation, she advised me to wait until the whole maternity leave was over – and then to decide. She would support me no matter my decision.

Now, I was lucky – six weeks later I was able to decide that I did not need or want to return to work. At least for the time being. And my manager, having expected this possibility, wasn’t left short-handed or upset.

But many other people aren’t so lucky. In any case, returning to work after maternity leave boils down to whether or not your family needs the income.

If you decide that you do need to return to work, the best of luck to you.

If you don’t need the income and decide not to return to work, make sure you communicate with your manager about it. That way, should your family’s situation change, you have somewhere to start, even if it’s to ask them to be a reference.

No matter what you decide, good luck with going back to work – and the associated sleep regressions. You’ve got this!

Related Questions

How Long Does Sleep Regression Last? Most sleep regressions last about 1-2 weeks, although they can last anywhere from a few days to 6 weeks. For details and examples, read my article on how long sleep regressions last.

What’s The Earliest You Can Go Back to Work After Having a Baby? Many women can return to work sooner than the usual six week recovery time after delivery. This depends on the level of support, demands of the job, and pressing needs to resume earning an income.

How Long Does An Employer Have to Hold Your Job For Maternity Leave? The length of time an employer is required to hold your job will depend on where you live. In the United States, FMLA provides unpaid job protection for up to 12 weeks, though the average leave taken is just over 6 weeks.

Kimberly C. Starr, RN BSN

I’m a ginger-haired nurse (RN, BSN) who loves getting enough sleep to be a functional parent to my four wonderful kids - who are even more wonderful when they’ve gotten enough sleep, too. To read more about me, click here.

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