How Stay-At-Home Parents May Be Sabotaging Baby’s Sleep

Don’t let that title make you angry — this isn’t an article written to criticize stay-at-home parents! In fact, this author just so happens to be one. ;) Here at The Baby Sleep Site, we have the utmost respect for parents who choose to stay at home and raise their babies. For most parents, the decision to leave the work force and stay at home represents a sacrifice of not just money, but of career ambitions, job-related goals, and even adult interaction! (Although we’re betting most stay-at-home parents out there consider the sacrifice worth it :) ) We know first-hand that stay-at-home parents do NOT have it easier!

Many people are quick to cite the benefits of staying at home, and the benefits certainly are many. But staying at home can have its drawbacks, too, and those drawbacks can include poor quality of sleep for your baby. Through our work with parents over the years, we’ve found that sometimes, stay-at-home parents unintentionally sabotage their babies’ sleep. Let’s explore things you can keep in mind, if you’re home with the baby.

Flexible Hours

Most of the time, staying at home means that a parent has flexible hours. No more rigid 9-5 schedule; a stay-at-home parent’s schedule can follow baby’s schedule! There are benefits to that flexibility, of course. For example, stay-at-home moms often find it much easier to breastfeed than working moms. Or what about when your baby or toddler is ill? If you’re a stay-at-home parent, taking a sick day is really no problem at all!

Nicole’s Note:
“Stay-at-home parents (or working parents with in-home flexible caretakers) have the wonderful ability to adjust schedules on a daily basis for their baby. This is SO important in the early days when baby is napping frequently, especially if a baby is sensitive to being over-tired and doesn’t nap well, if kept awake too long. Add to the fact that baby can be put down in a quiet place to sleep and your baby’s sleep can flourish!”

But, is there such a thing as too much flexibility? Since stay-at-home parents are better able to “sleep when the baby sleeps” (Ha! I know many would laugh at that), they may be more inclined to put off sleep training and continue to get up night after night, many times each night, long after it’s considered necessary. Because stay-at-home parents might have a little less incentive to sleep train (due to their flexible hours), they may be more likely to rock or feed their little ones to sleep, causing their babies to develop sleep associations. This isn’t always the case, of course, but it’s certainly a possibility.

Inconsistent Schedules

Inconsistent schedules tend to go hand-in-hand with flexible hours. For many stay-at-home parents, their schedules are whatever they want them to be. If breakfast doesn’t happen until 10 a.m., that’s okay! If the “afternoon” nap starts around 6 p.m., no big deal! Again, there are definite benefits to having such flexibility in a schedule. Even the most routine-oriented parent needs a little flexibility — life happens, after all!

However, flexible schedules can also mean inconsistent schedules. If lunch starts at 11:30 one afternoon and 2:00 the next, it can really throw your baby off (especially if your baby has a sensitive temperament or slow-to-adapt personality and needs a consistent routine.) The more inconsistent your schedule, the less likely it is that your baby’s going to nap well during the day; when she doesn’t nap well during the day, it can lead to more waking at night. Most babies tend to thrive with a predictable naptime routine in place, so if your schedule tends to be inconsistent, it’s likely your baby’s sleep will suffer.

Nicole’s Note:
“One thing I see a lot is once a baby becomes a toddler, the flexibility in moving nap times based on when baby wakes was once an asset, but now promotes waking too early in the morning or other schedule problems. Sometimes too much flexibility can actually be a bad thing, depending on the baby and the specific problem at hand.”

Stay-At-Home Parents and Working Parents

Please know that we’re not labeling all stay-at-home parents as “Sleep Sabotagers”. We know that plenty of stay-at-home parents understand the importance of a good night’s sleep and work hard to make sure their babies get the sleep they need. What’s more, we’re fully aware that there are plenty of working parents out there who might qualify for the “Sleep Sabotager” label! For example, working parents might be more inclined to keep a baby up way past bedtime, in the hopes of squeezing in a little extra quality time. Or perhaps a working parent, who’s already worn out from a week at the office, might not have the energy and stamina necessary to sleep train consistently. All we’re suggesting here is that total flexibility of schedule, one of the major benefits of staying at home, can backfire when it comes to sleep.

Nicole’s Note:
“The best piece of advice I can give others is to do what works best for your family. I hear both at-home and working parents want their baby to ‘adapt to their lifestyle’ rather then they adapt to the baby’s. Instead of thinking of it that way, plan to have your baby join your family and do what’s best for all of you. You wouldn’t force a spouse to adapt to your schedule. You’d compromise and find one that works for both of you. Maybe you planned to take your baby to all these functions and make him ‘get used to it’ but that doesn’t work for all babies. At the same time, letting your baby dictate the entire routine/schedule can backfire just the same.”

What do you think? Did your staying at home (or working) sabotage your baby’s sleep? Share your story!

At The Baby Sleep Site, we’re committed to remaining judgment-free when it comes to parenting choices. We’ve worked with parents who work as well as those parents who stay at home. So regardless of whether you work outside or inside the home, The Baby Sleep Site has sleep products and services that’ll work for you!

Please be sure to pick up your FREE copy of 5 (tear-free) Ways to Help Your Child Sleep Through the Night, our e-Book with tear-free tips to help your baby sleep better. For those persistent nighttime struggles, check out The 3-Step System to Help Your Baby Sleep (babies) or The 5-Step System to Better Toddler Sleep (toddlers). Using a unique approach and practical tools for success, our e-books help you and your baby sleep through the night and nap better. For those looking for a more customized solution for your unique situation with support along the way, please consider one-on-one baby and toddler sleep consultations, where you will receive a Personalized Sleep Plan™ you can feel good about! It’s not that you can’t make a plan. Sometimes, you’re just too tired to.


advertisement

Comments

  1. Melissa Cain says

    I am a stay at home mom and both my boys(3 and 8 months) are scheduled and are great sleepers. We did sleep training with both. Even though I am at home we have to be scheduled for my own sanity and so that my boys know what to expect. I love being at home with them and gave up my career to do so, but I absolutlely wouldn’t have it any other way! Love your articles!

  2. Inna W says

    I am sure there are plenty of us stay-at-home parents who believe in strict routines! You also don’t seem to have mentioned the stay-at-home working parents — those who look after a baby 7 to 7 (if they are lucky, of course) and then work to earn a living till well past midnight!

  3. Emily DeJeu says

    @ Melissa Cain — Thanks for the kind feedback! I did the same thing — stopped working (outside my home) to care for my three kids. I’m a big schedule person, too, so even though I didn’t really “have” to adopt a schedule with my kids, I did anyway :)

    @ Inna W — There are certainly plenty of stay-at-home parents who are schedulers. As we mentioned in the article, “We know that plenty of stay-at-home parents understand the importance of a good night’s sleep and work hard to make sure their babies get the sleep they need.”

    Thanks for mentioning the third category of parents that we didn’t reference in this article: work-at-home parents. An article on that might be interesting…thanks for the idea :)

  4. Christine says

    Aaarrrrgggghhhh…. The drawbacks of being “flexible” as a SAHM became evident to me yesterday when I lost track of time at a playdate and left a half hour later than planned. My 11-month-old son, who is usually a very scheduled sleeper, fell asleep for 15 minutes during the car ride home, then would not nap in the afternoon. Despite an earlier bedtime to try to make up for it, he slept later than usual this morning…. then had trouble falling asleep for his morning nap today. I could kick myself — who knew that losing track of time for 30 minutes would affect us for 24 hours?!?!?

  5. JK says

    I have been a stay at home mom now for almost three years, and let me tell you I consider it a great privilege to do so! I am the kind of person who does better on a predictable schedule and knowing what comes next. My babies (almost 3 and just turned 1) are the same way. I can tell they like knowing what is coming next. I can see a distinct difference in their behavior when we don’t follow routine, especially if it is for too many days at a time! For example, my father has been visiting this past week, and while we have tried to keep things as close to our routine as possible, him being here just isn’t part of the routine, and everyone is a little off. Also, my husband’s job changes his schedule around about every month or so, and it always takes the kids and I a few days to get used to the new time table of when we see Daddy and when we don’t. And now our routine is also changing a little because my youngest is starting to drop his second nap, so we will have to find a whole new routine to the day. :) I am a big advocate of protecting my babies’ sleep above all else because everyone is just happier that way, including Mommy! Friends will complain that we never take our kids to any of the functions my husband’s work has, or that we don’t take our kids out for all day activities. I tell them if they want to see our kids, then they can’t schedule something to start an hour before the kids bedtime. I also tell them that our social life is not as important as their sleep. I would rather sacrifice being social for a few years rather than deal with a cranky toddler and baby just so we can stay out late. Because being a stay at home mom, I am the one who has to deal with the backlash of those choices the next day! And it just isn’t worth it sometimes.

  6. Emily DeJeu says

    @ Christine — YES. Been there. When they’re so little like that, it seems like every minute matters! That tends to get better as they get older, though (at least, in my experience) — my kids weren’t as sensitive to overtiredeness as toddlers/preschoolers.

    Hope you’re all back on track today! ;)

    @ JK — Well said! I feel the same way. I was such a homebody when my kids were babies (and am now a homebody again, since I work from home!). I used to have friends comment on that, but my philosophy was the same as yours — it’s only for a few years, and I’d rather have a happy, well-rested kid at home with me than an exhausted, screeching one ;)

  7. says

    MAN…up until 18 months, I was an extremely scheduled SAH mama and baby, living life around naps. At 18 mos we went on a month long trip to visit family and MADE myself be ‘flexible’ since I couldn’t require others to live their life around my baby’s needs. Ever since we returned home, I’ve continued on this relatively ‘go with the flow’ method and (as I commented a week or so ago) we are on a horrible sleep path now with many factors: teething, learning new things, separation anxiety, fears – you know all the things you recently posted an article about 2 year sleep regression. I’d been thinking flexible was better to be able to adjust to whatever comes up, but not so much?

  8. Emily DeJeu says

    @ Connie Boyd — Totally! I really do believe there are moms out there who are happier with a completely flexible schedule, but I was never, ever one of them :) To me, total flexibility always felt like chaos, mainly for the reasons that you mention here — it ends up creating a whole mess of problems. The flexibility is nice, but the baggage that come with it usually isn’t!

  9. Sarah says

    This definitely is true for me. My baby’s bad sleep was killing me when I was working full time, but when he was 6 months old I quit work and I lost a lot of motivation to do something about it, because I didn’t need the sleep as much. I also am guilty of continuing to nurse him to sleep for his naps up until 18 months of age because I could. It was lovely, I loved it,meh loved it. But it meant that he couldn’t take a nap without me being present, which became very restricting. Interestingly, he adjusted to the changes when I stopped very easily. Maybe he realized that he was getting special treatment and that it wouldn’t last haha!

  10. Emily DeJeu says

    @ Sarah — Sounds like you experienced both sides of the sleep association coin ;) It’s such a cozy, sweet thing to rock/nurse a baby to sleep, but when you have to do it all.the.time, it starts to feel less cozy and sweet!

    Thanks for sharing your story, Sarah! Glad your son adjusted quickly when you changed the routine.

  11. ERICA says

    WELL BEING A STAY AT HOME MOM IS AN AMAZING THING. I WISH I HAD THE MONEY FOR THIS BC MY DAUGHTER WOULDN’T LATCH SO I ENDED UP PUMPING SO SHE COULD GET MY MILK. I NEVER REALIZED HOW DIFFICULT IT WOULD BE TO HAVE TO PUMP EVERY 2-3 HRS, THEN FEED, THEN TRY AND GET HER TO SLEEP ONLY TO HAVE HER WAKE UP 20-30 MIN LATER. BEING A STAY AT HOME MOM IS NOT ALWAYS A JOY AND SOMETIMES WORKING IS JUST ENOUGH OF A BREAK TO REST UP FROM TRYING TO GET A BABY TO SLEEP AND FEED THEM BY PUMPING MILK. DON’T GET ME WRONG I LOVE BEING A STAY AT HOME MOM BUT SOMETIMES I WISH I WORKED PART TIME JUST FOR THE BREAK.

  12. Emily DeJeu says

    @ Erica — I hear you! I stayed at home exclusively for 5 years, but about 6 months ago, I started working part-time from home, just to have something else to focus on besides my kids :) And the extra money has allowed me to get some limited childcare for them (10-12 hours a week), which has been GREAT. Sometimes, having a nice, 4 hour break from my three kids is just what I need to appreciate them more!

  13. Lil says

    I am a SAHM and my baby girl needed to be nursed to sleep until she was about 13 months old. I say “needed” because we tried sleep training several times and it didn’t work until she was 13 months old. She also had to nap ON me, so I was spending probably 8-10 hours every day in the glider holding her while she slept. She also didn’t sleep in the crib at night until she was a year old. Up until then it was in a swing, swaddled.
    I do wonder what would have happened if I had been a working mom and she had gone to daycare where there is no way she could have had that level of attention. I don’t think she would have gone without sleep for a year! She probably would have adapted and learned how to sleep at daycare so I’m left with the question of how I could have done things differently. We’ll never know, of course, but this article does bring up an interesting point. I had all of the time in the world to give her, and I think she was willing to take it ALL!

  14. Jasmin says

    I’m a stay at home mom – now for 8 months. I am sure that my following “his” schedule has added to his difficulty sleeping. I can’t do the let him cry. If I put him in the crib awake he stands or sits and screams until I get him. My husband put him in his crib once and he cried less than 5 min and was asleep. We have had some consistency with naps at 9am and 2pm. But the last few days have been messed up with him sleeping in later (not getting him to sleep until past 10pm will do it). Yesterday he didn’t take a morning nap until after 12 and had a cat nap at 6pm. I amazingly got him to sleep at 9pm (something I have been trying now for 8 months) and he napped closer to normal today. I am hoping we can get to bed between 8pm and 9pm. One great thing that has happend this week is he has only gotten up once per night – sleeping 6-7 hours before waking. The month before, he was up every 3 hours like a newborn. I am slowly getting a schedule and getting the hang of being a mom and understanding what works for him. His naps have always been easier (until this week) than night time, but we are getting there. I think the hardest time of day is 7pm until he finally is asleep. I am tired and he fights sleep most nights. But a schedule is in the making.

  15. Emily DeJeu says

    @ Lil — Interesting to think about, isn’t it? If you simply hadn’t been able to do all those things for your daughter, would she have simply adapted and adjusted to what you COULD do? But, like you said, no way to know.

    Glad your girl is sleeping well now, and that you survived that first year! Spending hours in your glider must’ve gotten old after awhile ;)

    @ Jasmin — So glad to hear that you see a schedule emerging! That’s exciting. You’re definitely not alone in finding the end of the day the hardest. I feel exactly the same way. I feel like I’m completely useless after about 6 p.m. I just don’t have anything left, but I still have to manage baths/teeth brushing/books/etc. (especially since my husband works a lot in the evenings). So I understand that feeling :)

  16. CJ says

    SAHM here too with a 18 month old who was a 29 week preemie. I still feed her to sleep (nap and bed) which is great, we both love it, and i have a pretty interesting schedule, i always let her sleep as long as she likes in the morning, then breakfast straight away, then down to sleep about 11 (give or take 30 mins, slowly pushing it out to the afternoon she’s only just changed to 1 nap) then when she wakes usually after 2 hours lunch and an outing, then home for dinner around 6, desert 7pm then bath 7.40pm then feed to sleep, works really well for us. weirdly she self settled herself today for her nap out of the blue. i agree with what others have said tho, i do not visit an hour before a nap as she needs that wind down time and i dont want her sleeping in the car for 10mins then restarting her sleep clock! I get more tired and grumpy when her schedule is out than she does tho as i dont know what to expect, quite weird!

  17. Emily DeJeu says

    @ CJ — thanks for sharing this little glimpse of your toddler’s schedule! This is bound to be helpful to other moms :)

  18. says

    My kids are 19, 22, and 24. And each one was different in his/her schedule. But quite honestly, none of that really matters now. What matters is that I bonded with each one, loved each one, met the needs of each one. Who really cares what that looks like? Each parent has to make it work for THEM. The schedule is honestly more for the mom’s/dad’s sanity than anything else. At least mine was. As long as the child grows up loved and with his needs met, the scenario can vary.

  19. Ellen says

    Good advice to SAHMs (although the title is a wee bit provocative… ;-D Having stayed at home for extended periods with both our daughters, I can say in our case schedules are 100% necessary! Learning about sleep with my oldest was our biggest challenge, and we finally got her to a good point (with Nicole’s help!!), and #1 is about as good a sleeper as she will ever be. But having an older child to deal with when number 2 came along meant our youngest *had* to go with the flow more. Unfortunately it turned out she has a less flexible personality than #1! By 6 months #2 was all over the place in terms of sleep, and I realized it was because of how inconsistent I was being. We took a week or 2 (and more of Nicole’s great advice!), and got her on a consistent schedule. We were all so much happier and well-rested! Thankfully I was able to recognize the both the issue and the solution much more easily.

  20. Emily DeJeu says

    @ janis meredith — you bring some good perspective here; thanks! We don’t often hear from moms with grown kids. It can be easy for the young moms who are “in the trenches”, so to speak, to lose perspective sometimes. Thanks for reminding us that 15 or 20 years from now, sleep and scheduling won’t be topics we think about constantly :)

    @ Ellen — thanks for sharing your experience! So glad to hear that our services proved helpful to you in getting your daughters on good, solid sleep schedules!

  21. says

    I’m another work from home mom. It’s tough! My 33 weeker preemie has always been such a good predictable sleeper. He’s almost 6 months now, and he’s been sleeping through the night (at least 8 hours) and taking 1 1/2 hour naps since he was younger than 4 months. He just got his first 2 teeth in, and he’s been a bear about sleep. He was always a good self-soother, a thumb sucker, but not so much anymore. Because I’m home, I do try to resettle him when he wakes early from naps. Now I’m worried that it’s affecting his nighttime sleep. For the past 2 weeks, he’s been waking 2 hours early and having trouble resettling. I end up just putting him in bed with me, and he sleeps for a good 2 or 3 more hours. I don’t want this to become a habit, but I don’t know what to do. I’m the mom who’s up until 2 a.m. working, so I really need him to start sleeping through again without getting in my bed. Any advice?

  22. Emily DeJeu says

    @ Laura — 2 a.m.! Wow. Those are some long nights! It’s no wonder you want to get your little guy sleeping exclusively in his own crib again!

    Have you checked out our free guide on helping your baby sleep through the night? You can find it here: http://www.babysleepsite.com/baby-sleep-through-night-free-ebook/ There may be some tips and strategies you find there that are new to you, and that’ll help you get over this hump. Good luck!

  23. Katelyn says

    I am a stay at home mother. My husband has a rotating schedule so he’s on his own when it differs from us. I have a 22 month old who still nurses to sleep and still wakes throughout the night (we co-sleep. My son gets his sleep and so do I.) He also went through a stretch when he was 2-3 months old where he would not sleep without being held – it only stopped when we placed him down on his side/stomach. We are on a flexible schedule within reason. He currently naps 4-5 hours after waking and goes to bed 6.5-8 hours after waking from nap. His nap averages 1-2 hours and we better be home. I am not interested in “sleep training.” I believe he will sleep through the night when his body is ready. I believe on those days that he will not nap alone that he just needs extra attention/love. I am lucky to be able to stay home and our routine truly works for both of us. He is the center and focus of our family and we do cater to his sleep needs because he is the one with the least amount of choice and the poorest reasoning skills.

    On another note, he’s not a car sleeper. He would rather not nap than sleep in the car. He used to get hysterical in the car when a baby to the point where a short 10 minute drive home would result in an hour screaming/crying after being removed from the car. Luckily, he’s much better now (but still doesn’t sleep in the car.)

  24. Emily DeJeu says

    @ Katelyn — thanks for sharing your story! This is one of the benefits of having so many readers who are willing to comment; it helps give the rest of us lots of viewpoints and experiences to consider :)

  25. Amanda says

    I stay at home with my 4 month old and he has a pretty flexible schedule. Most nights he goes to bed around 7pm, wakes once or twice to feed (exclusive breastfeeding), then wakes between 5 and 6:30. During the day he has 2-3 naps depending on duration and they last 1-4 hours. Total day sleep is about 4-6 hours, total night sleep about 10-12 hours. He seems pretty happy and I like that we can go out together with other moms or friends. Being flexible is a lot less stressful for me so far because I don’t have to worry about being home exactly at a certain time.
    Also from all the posts I’m noticing there are sleep regressions due to age (e.g., 4 or 8 months), teething, milestones (e.g., rolling over, crawling, or walking), time changes, and travel. It seems babies are in a constant sleep regression. :-). So if I have a flexible schedule, isn’t it easier for me to adapt to all those changes and not stress about them so much?

  26. Emily DeJeu says

    @ Amanda — good call on the “constant sleep regressions!” It does often feel like just when we have our babies in a good, predictable groove, they hit another regression phase, and we have to start all over :)

    As for the question of whether flexible schedules are better, I really think that depends on the family and their preferences. I’ve always like having a routine in place; it helps me feel calm and sane, and my kids respond well to it. But I know other families who seem to thrive with more flexibility. And flexible schedules can be good for those families in unique circumstances (i.e. changing work shifts).

  27. says

    Hi Nicole,thanks for all your articles so far.I am a stay at home mom and am enjoying my stay with my 1 and 9mths old toddler.He naps well and also sleeps well at night.Thanks again for all the tips.Looking forward for more.

  28. Emily DeJeu says

    @ Adenike — Thanks for the kind feedback! Glad you find the articles helpful ;)

  29. Lily says

    I think that this can definitely be the case. I work part-time, 2 days a week in an office and 2 days a week from home, so I have my feet in between both worlds. I have found that the “flexiibility” of working from home is very difficult and makes it hard to be on a schedule. Trying to get work done and trying to watch my daughter are often at odds, and I ended up in the trap of “do whatever works,” which in the end seems to lead to poor habits. We have had a lot of difficulties with naps and night wakings. Right now I’m working to change that, but I have to sacrifice some of my work time in order to do it. On the other hand, you could probably title this article “How Daycare Providers Sabotage Babies’ Sleep” and that would be true as well. Daycare tends to be noisy, babies get sick more often (has to happen sometime, but it is disruptive whenever it does), care providers may not be consistent or use the techniques you approve of. Basically, there are ups and downs to either situation!

  30. Emily DeJeu says

    @ Lily — really good points! Maybe the take-away should be that raising kids isn’t easy, regardless of whether you’re a stay-at-home parent or not :)

  31. Lily says

    I think you’re 100% right, Emily! :)
    Every day is an adventure.

  32. Lori says

    I am a SAHM to 25-month-old. I never planned to put my baby on a schedule, but he needed it! He still thinks if he misses his nap one day, he doesn’t have to take it the next. Or, if he goes to bed late one night, it’s harder to get him down early the next. People think I’m crazy because I am so rigid about his schedule…

  33. Emily DeJeu says

    @ Lori — good for you for adapting to your baby’s needs! Funny, isn’t it, how parenting so rarely goes according to our plans. :)