Baby Exhausted After Daycare | Should They Be So Tired?

Does your child often doze off in the car after being picked up from daycare? Do they seem cranky in the evenings and appear to be ready for sleep earlier than usual?

Transitioning from home to daycare is a big change that can trigger a variety of reactions from babies. Exhaustion and fatigue are one of them. 

Why is my baby so tired after daycare? Daycare presents a new routine and a lot of new stimuli and changes in the very beginning. All of the exploring and learning they do at daycare is exhausting for babies, and the new stress will be tiring. It will take time for them to adapt and fully transition into this new normal.

We have done our research and gathered information to help you understand just why your baby may be so tired after coming home from daycare.

Why Is Baby So Tired After Daycare: 7 Explanations

When it comes to determining a cause for a baby’s reaction, it is important to keep in mind that every situation is unique as babies and daycare centers are all very different.

However, there are many common factors that can play into a baby’s response to the transition from home to daycare, and each of them can leave your baby totally worn out by the end of the day. 

1. Change in Routine

Babies, just like adults, thrive on a routine. They feel comfortable and safe when they can prepare for what the day will bring. Routines enhance a child’s development and set up a pattern for growth and learning. 

When there is a change in a routine, a transition must take place. It is easier for adults to transition because we can comprehend why the change occurred and we can see the bigger picture.

Changes in our routines do not usually have quite as big an impact on us as they do for little ones. For them, a change in routine presents a whole new world, and they cannot quite understand it as we do.

It is stressful for them and can cause negative responses at first until they have had time to adapt and fully transition to the new routine. Fortunately, babies are pretty flexible and can adapt pretty quickly. 

Daycare is a huge change for babies who are used to being at home with a normal routine. It is a totally new environment for them.

They are in a new space with new faces and are around a lot of other babies their age, which is different and will take some getting used to. Their routine will be different.

They will be eating, sleeping, and playing in a new space with new people that they are not familiar with perhaps at different times than they are accustomed to at home. 

All of the newness and exploring throughout the day can make for an exhausted little one by the time pick-up rolls around. 

2. Difficult To Sleep Away From Home

Most babies prefer sleeping in a comfortable, familiar environment. Who doesn’t, right? In the beginning, daycare can seem like a very strange place, and babies might feel out of their element. This can make nap time a real challenge. 

Sleeping at daycare can be difficult for babies who are used to napping in their own crib and following a consistent sleep routine every day.

At daycare, there may be other babies napping in the same room as they are, and they will be in a new bed that they are not familiar with, not to mention that they may not be totally familiar with their caretakers yet.

If separation anxiety has begun to set in, being away from home and their parents can take an emotional toll on them. These factors can cause stress for babies and make sleeping difficult. 

Even if your baby can sleep anywhere and does not show signs of separation anxiety, they may still fight nap time at daycare simply because there is so much going on around them.

They will likely still be in “explore mode,” and the excitement of discovering the new world around them will keep their minds busy and make nap time impossible. 

3. Overstimulation

Children are constantly learning and growing — it’s amazing! Between all of the toys, activities, and socialization, daycare offers lots of opportunities for learning and development.

Daycare is a whole new world open for exploration, and babies will soak it all in. However, just like anything else in life, there can be too much of a good thing. 

A lot of newness for babies can easily cause overstimulation. This happens when babies become overwhelmed with new experiences, sensations, noise, and activities with which they haven’t learned to cope and manage.

Daycare presents a lot of newness — a new place, new faces, new schedule, etc. In the beginning, all of the new stimuli can be too much for babies to process. 

4. Busy Schedule

For a working parent, the work week is a true grind. The days are packed full as we try to get the very most out of every hour we have. Believe it or not, babies are just as worn out by a busy schedule as adults are. 

A typical work day might include an early morning waking, getting ready, going to daycare and work, picking up from daycare, eating dinner, bedtime routine, and bed.

This doesn’t even include extracurricular activities for older siblings or errands that need to be run in the evening.

There may not be a lot of downtime at home during the work week for babies to unwind and play in their familiar place. It may take some adjustment time for a baby who is just getting started on this busy schedule.

5. Not Comfortable With Caretakers or Other Children

Adjusting to new faces can be difficult for babies who are not used to being around a lot of different people all of the time.

It can be very stressful for babies and cause a lot of emotional fatigue. It could also affect their ability to nap well, which would contribute to exhaustion by the end of the day. 

The best way to combat this would be to ensure that your baby is able to bond and form an attachment with their caregiver. Caretakers at daycares are usually trained and know how to be sensitive and responsive to a baby’s needs.

This will help your baby begin to trust them rather quickly. If possible, find a daycare with a low child-caregiver ratio so that your baby has a better chance of creating an attachment and bonding with the caregiver. 

6. Stress

The introduction of a lot of new stimuli, loud noises, and chaos can easily cause a baby to become stressed.

Daycare, while it is fun and presents a lot of great opportunities, is full of noises and movement and is a lot for a child to take in at first. 

When we become stressed, our bodies release a hormone called cortisol. Thus, high levels of stress increase cortisol levels. Research has shown that babies have higher levels of cortisol after being in daycare than they do while at home.

The stress is related to being away from a parent for an extended period of time and being exposed to a lot of new stimuli.

Once your child comes home from daycare and they are in a familiar environment, the stress will likely manifest itself through exhaustion and fussiness. 

7. Immune System Must Work Harder

There is no denying that babies in daycare are exposed to more germs than babies who stay at home. This is tough for babies whose immune systems are still developing.

Their immune systems are working harder at daycare to combat all of the new germs that they are encountering. 

There is a strong relationship between the amount and quality of sleep that we get and our immune function. If your baby is battling sleep regressions or nap refusals at daycare, their immune system is being compromised due to lack of sleep and fatigue.

This causes their immune system to work overtime in order to keep them healthy. 

A tired baby sitting in a high chair rubbing her eyes and face.

Baby Adjusting to Daycare – Normal Reactions

The transition into daycare will look different for all babies. However, do not be surprised if you experience some of the following reactions from your child: 

  • Frustration and lots of crying.
  • Sleep regressions.
  • Fear of strangers/ separation anxiety.
  • Feeling overwhelmed.
  • Exhaustion.

These are the most common reactions that parents have seen after beginning a new daycare routine. However, for most, it is only temporary.

On average, it will take between two and four weeks for babies to fully adapt and transition into their new daycare routine. 

Daycare Sleep Regression 

Sleep regressions occur whenever there is a big life change or stress. Beginning daycare meets both of these criteria and often triggers a sleep regression. Be aware of this, but also know that it can be managed. 

If you notice your baby going through a sleep regression after beginning daycare, give them time to adjust. Some babies may adjust in a week, while others may need a few months.

Talk to the daycare provider — they know how important it is for a baby to sleep, and they will do what they can to help. Focus on what you can control, such as sending comfort items from home and trying to follow a similar sleep routine.

Understand that you will not be able to control everything. Do what you can to make your baby as comfortable as possible, but also try to be patient with their timeline. They will adjust in time. 

Negative Effects of Daycare on Child Development

Nonparental daycare is not inherently risky for a child’s development. Nevertheless, there is some research showing links between extensive daycare and a child developing aggressive behavior or nonsecure parental attachments.

While that may be the case for some children, there is much more research showing that the effects of daycare are smaller than the effects of a child’s home environment.

Home and family variables account for much more of a child’s development than daycare variables. 

Positive Effects of Daycare on Child Development

The availability of high-quality daycare options is increasing, and they offer a lot of positive developmental opportunities for young children. Research has found several positive effects of daycare on child development, including: 

  • Social interaction and the opportunity to build meaningful connections.
  • Learning through exploration of the outside world.
  • Promoting independence and confidence.
  • Improved cognitive, language, and academic development.

Effects of Daycare on Infants 

There is a lot of research being done on the effects that daycare can have on infants. Many parents are concerned about insecure child-parental attachments, insufficient bonding, and the safety of their baby at daycare.

Unfortunately, there really are no definitive positive or negative effects of childcare on an infant as there are so many other demographic factors to consider. Ultimately, it comes down to the quality of care that is available to you.

Fortunately, daycares are improving due to the high demand for high-quality childcare. Try to seek high-quality daycares with low infant-to-worker ratios and ones that are staffed with trained, responsive, and sensitive caretakers.

Effects of Daycare on Attachment

Beginning daycare is a hard time for both mama and baby. Feelings of guilt and anxiety are normal for any mother who has to leave her baby in someone else’s care for a period of time.

Just remember that what happens at home has a much greater impact on your child than what happens at daycare.

As long as you are prioritizing quality time with your baby outside of daycare hours and making the most of the time that you are with them, it is very unlikely that your baby will develop attachment issues or that your bonding with them will suffer.

It is better to spend a few hours of focused, intent-filled, quality time together than a day full of inattentive and distracted parenting. 

How Much Daycare Is Too Much? 

Most childcare centers limit parents to 10 hours of childcare per day. This is plenty of time to cover a normal, full-time schedule and is a healthy limit for a child.

In order to preserve parental bonding and healthy family relationships, childcare should not exceed 45 hours per week. 

How To Help Baby Adjust to Daycare 

Most babies need about two to four weeks, on average, to adjust to daycare. Try doing these things to help your baby make a smoother transition: 

  • Spend short periods of time away from your baby before beginning daycare. 
  • If possible, visit your daycare a few times before beginning, and let baby interact with other children and the caretakers.
  • Ask about the daycare schedule, and try to get your baby to follow it before beginning.
  • Bring something familiar from home (blanket, favorite toy, etc.).
  • Create a goodbye ritual.
  • Try bedtime 30 minutes earlier, or take a nap after daycare.

Related Questions: 

Why Do Some Babies Sleep Better at Daycare? 

While some babies refuse to nap at daycare, others may get their best naps in the new space. How is that? There are a few possible reasons. 

  1. If babies are not used to having a routine at home, daycare will help them establish a routine that will actually improve their sleeping habits. 
  2. Babies watch and learn from other babies. If they see other babies taking naps at daycare, they may model the behavior. 
  3. Some babies get so worn out from all the busyness and fun at daycare that they have no trouble falling asleep at nap time. 

Do Daycare Babies Have Better Immune Systems?

Daycare babies are more prone to ear infections, colds, and other viruses since they share space and toys with a lot of other children.

However, there is research that proves that increased exposure early on can benefit children with stronger immunity as they get older. 

Conclusion

Making the switch from home to daycare can be physically, mentally, and emotionally challenging for both a baby and parents. Like all major life changes, it gets easier and eventually becomes the way of life.

Just remember that this transition period is temporary. It is only a matter of time before your little one is thriving at daycare!

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